Doc Rivers finally deploys strategy Bucks fans have begged for in loss to Raptors

Apr 5, 2024; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks coach Doc Rivers calls time out late in the
Apr 5, 2024; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks coach Doc Rivers calls time out late in the / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Friday's key matchup, this past week had been the ugliest stretch of the season for the Milwaukee Bucks, and things did not get any better as they hosted the Toronto Raptors.

Losers of 15 consecutive contests, the Raptors waltzed into Fiserv Forum and simply outplayed the Milwaukee Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Toronto was without key cogs like Scottie Barnes, Bruce Brown and Jakob Poeltl and were coming off a 48-point loss. With two of their stars in Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton back, the Bucks were expected to take this.

As has been the case in most of their recent defeats, the Raptors were simply faster, more athletic and showed more intensity than the veteran-oriented Bucks. Milwaukee fought and clawed back to make it close at the end, but they came up short, a story that will resurface regarding their title hopes unless they do some soul-searching before the NBA Playoffs.

The Raptors delivered the Bucks a gut-punch, which has become to new norm this entire week, with a 117-111 victory.

Doc Rivers finally deploys strategy Bucks fans have begged for in loss to Raptors

With the Raptors washing the Bucks in the pace, athleticism and energy categories, Doc Rivers made an uncharacteristic second-half decision to play Andre Jackson Jr. The rookie hasn't seen much time under Rivers, but fans have been on their hands and knees asking for the youngster to get minutes due to the spark he can bring with his quickness, hustle and heart.

They needed that in this contest, and Jackson obliged. In 16 minutes, Jackson finished with four rebounds, three points, an assist and a blocked shot. On the surface, that may not seem like much. However, his impact went far beyond just the numbers.

Simply having someone out on the floor who could keep up with Toronto's uber-quick players, such as Immanuel Quickley or RJ Barrett, was a nice change of pace. Jackson showed off his athleticism with an emphatic block on Ochai Agbaji, meeting him at the rim on a play that showed shades of what fans are used to seeing from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Above all else, Jackson showed desire and why he needs minutes on a nightly basis, which Bucks fans have been screaming from the rooftops. If he doesn't get real minutes in Milwaukee's next game after what he showed in this game, it would be flat-out baffling. There would be no justification, especially considering how sluggish this team has looked lately. They need an infusion of youth.

Looking at the veterans, Damian Lillard led the way with 36 points and six assists, shouldering a good portion of the scoring load. Yet, he also logged seven turnovers, each of which was more frustrating than the last. The same goes for his six fouls, having exited the game in the clutch after picking up several that were head-scratching and unnecessary.

It was nice to have Lillard back, but despite the 36 points, it was clear there was some rust there.

The same goes for Khris Middleton, who had 21 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. That's a solid stat line for the forward in his return from the lineup, but like Lillard, he could not stop tallying odd fouls, picking up five of his own, which forced Rivers to pull him out of the mix in crucial moments late.

Speaking of very avoidable self-inflicted issues, Bobby Portis picked up a technical foul late after he sent Quickley to the ground. That gave Toronto an extra free throw, which was crucial as this game was within single digits until the final buzzer went off. A seasoned veteran cannot make that play. Portis likes to play with emotion, but it cannot be at the detriment of his own team.

Meanwhile, Malik Beasley's gruesome shooting slump only got worse, with the veteran tallying just three points on 1-of-7 shooting. Pat Connaughton did a bit of everything with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks, but he also continued struggling with his shot, having scored four points on six shot attempts. The Milwaukee Bucks desperately need him to get going.

On the other side, Gary Trent Jr. had 31 points, as he cooked essentially every defender the Bucks sent in his direction, shooting 7-of-15 from deep. The same went for RJ Barrett, who had 26 points, and Immanuel Quickley, who had 25. The Bucks cannot give up these types of performances if they want to reach their full potential.

With five regular season games to go, the Bucks need to get everyone on the floor and start playing like a team with legitimate NBA title aspirations. It would be nice to get the Big 3 on the floor together for these final few regular season games to build some chemistry.

Stay tuned for more Milwaukee Bucks analysis.