MILWAUKEE — The bass was rocking and the BMO Harris Bradley Center was jumping during the annual ritual of introducing the entire roster before the home opener. But for some reason, the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t carry any of the juice onto the court.
Sluggish early yet again Saturday, the Bucks fell behind by 13 in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump after tying the game in the fourth quarter. Toronto crushed Milwaukee on the boards and won 97-90, its first victory over the Bucks since January of 2010.
“It was kind of a weird game,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “I kind of sensed early we were in for a struggle. We didn’t have any energy I anticipated for the home opener. I thought we played pretty sluggish through three quarters. It wasn’t until we went with the smaller lineup in the fourth quarter that we began to pick up the pace.
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“I don’t think we played well enough to win this game. We didn’t deserve to win this game.”
Saturday was one of those games where the box score told the story. The Raptors finished with a 60-38 rebounding advantage, including 18 offensive rebounds leading to 21 second-chance points.
Toronto got to the line 38 times and made 28 of them, which made up for its 39.7 field-goal percentage.
“You can’t win like that,” Drew said. “We had a very, very tough time defending them off the dribble. They just constantly blew by us off the dribble.”
The Bucks hung around for most of the first half, but Toronto used a 16-5 run to take a 77-64 lead late in the third quarter. Unafraid to mix and match lineups, Drew decided to go small at the start of the fourth quarter and the move paid off.
Drew used a lineup of Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson for most of the fourth quarter and watched as they got the Bucks back in the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Mayo tied the game at 85 with 5:15 to play.
“I elected to go smaller in the fourth quarter and it actually got us going,” Drew said. “At that point, I was really going to ride that group because they were playing with a lot of energy.”
Despite sluggish play for three quarters, the Bucks would have won the game if they would have executed down the stretch. Milwaukee hung around long enough to put itself in a position to win but fell short in a couple of key areas.
The Bucks missed five-of-six free throws in the fourth quarter, including a pair from Middleton that could have cut the deficit at the time to two and two misses from Antetokounmpo that could have tied the game with 4:25 to play.
Milwaukee’s defense created multiple fast-break opportunities down the stretch, but the Bucks missed multiple layups. The game likely would have broken the way of the Bucks had they converted at the line and in transition.
But the Bucks’ biggest weakness on Saturday eventually did them in. DeMar DeRozan missed two free throws, but Toronto got the offensive rebound. Amir Johnson tipped in a missed shot on Toronto’s next possession to put the Raptors up 95-88 with 40 seconds to play.
“It’s a will thing,” Butler said of Milwaukee’s rebounding woes. “It’s your will against the guy you are boxing out. You have to be more enthused about getting that basketball and creating opportunity on the opposite end from your teammates getting a stop.”
Knight sits again: Bucks point guard Brandon Knight tried to give it a go before Saturday’s game but was held out for the second straight night with a strained right hamstring.
Knight was thought of as a game-time decision by Drew and shot on the court about 90 minutes before the game. There’s a chance Knight may be able to play Wednesday against Cleveland.
Rookie Nate Wolters started instead and put forth another solid performance. Wolters finished seven points and 10 assists in a game-high 36 minutes. He’s the first Bucks player to record 10 or more assists within his first five career games since Scott Skiles had 11 assists in his fifth game during the 1986 season.
“He is solid and that is all you can ask for from a guy only playing his third game ever in the NBA,” Henson said. “He is doing great.”
Mayo disciplined: O.J. Mayo found himself out of the starting lineup Saturday after being late to the team’s walkthrough.
Drew decided to start Gary Neal, but Mayo came off the bench to play 32 minutes and lead the Bucks with 16 points.
“I want to apologize to the fans,” Mayo said after the game. “It was a miscommunication on the back-to-back (games). I needed to be here at five instead of the usual time of 5:30.
“It won’t happen again. I’m truly sorry about that because it definitely was a distraction to this game.”
Spoiling the opener: Saturday’s loss snapped Milwaukee’s four-game winning streak in home openers. The Bucks last lost their home opener in 2008 when they also fell to Toronto.
The Raptors hadn’t won in Milwaukee since beating the Bucks in the home opener of 2008.