MILWAUKEE (AP) - The Bradley Center was throbbing, filled with raucous basketball fans eager to watch one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams.
The Milwaukee Bucks fed off the energy that pulsed through the stands, overwhelming the cold-shooting Toronto Raptors from the opening tip.
Khris Middleton scored 20 points in a 104-77 win on Thursday night that gave the Bucks a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Greg Monroe added 16 points and seven rebounds for the sixth-seeded Bucks, who held DeMar DeRozan without a basket and never looked back after leading by 20 points after the first quarter.
If the Bucks take this series, Game 3 might be seen as a turning point in the development of a rebuilding franchise in a town starving for basketball success. Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series since going to the conference finals in 2001.
“It was big from the first play,” All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said about the home-court environment. “It was just fun, fun to play with such great fans … Hopefully they can show some love and be loud in Game 4.”
The teams meet again on Saturday back in Milwaukee.
Making this blowout even more impressive was that they barely needed Antetokounmpo. He finished with 19 points and eight boards.
With raucous fans wearing black Bucks giveaway T-shirts to match the players’ uniforms, Milwaukee put on a dominating display of basketball worthy of the team’s “Fear the Deer” slogan.
The Raptors looked frazzled after shooting 4 of 18 in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry had 13 points.
“I thought our defense was active, and guys were picking each other up,” coach Jason Kidd said.
DeRozan scored eight but was 0 of 8 from the field. The Raptors and their playoff-tested backcourt looked nothing like the crew that held off the Bucks in Game 2 in Toronto.
This night belonged to Milwaukee.
“They ambushed us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “There was no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”
Raptors: Toronto trailed 57-30 at the half, tying the team’s regular-season low for scoring in a half. The Raptors scored 30 in the second half of a loss at Charlotte on Jan. 20, 2017. … Frustration was evident early in the game. Serge Ibaka was whistled for a technical foul with 2:03 left in the first half and Toronto trailing by 31 points after slamming the ball hard on the floor following a defensive goaltending call.
Bucks: Middleton finished 8 of 15 after hitting his first five shots to get the offense going. The 6-foot-8 forward is the Bucks’ best all-around player after Antetokounmpo with his ability to hit from the 3-point line, create in traffic and defend on the perimeter. … Monroe fouled out with 8:07 left.
The Bucks moved the ball well, hit open shots and had a double-digit edge on points in the paint for much of the night.
On the other end, the Bucks’ length bothered the Raptors. Toronto also started poorly from the 3-point line, missing its first six shots from behind the arc.
“We were just trying to make them work. Forcing DeRozan and Lowry into tough shots and try to make everybody else make plays,” Middleton said.
With about 6 minutes left in the second quarter, the Raptors had called their fourth timeout while trailing by 31. They had only six field goals at the time.
Toronto finished 24 of 71 on the night (33 percent) and 6 of 22 from 3-point range (27 percent). The Bucks shot 52 percent from the floor overall and from 3-point range.
“It’s a terrible feeling. We better pick it up,” Lowry said. “Our confidence is not changed. We’ll be fine.”
“We’ll make changes … As a staff we have to do a better job of finding ways for openings and space for us to score.” - Casey.
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