TORONTO — In what coach Nick Nurse called one of the craziest games of his career, the Toronto Raptors almost pulled off the unlikeliest of victories.
They scored 12 points in the first quarter. And 18 in the final 74 seconds of regulation. But their furious finish fell just short in a 104-101 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
"I don't think I've seen one that weird," Nurse said. "I don’t really know what to say as far as the offence goes and not being able to put the ball in … I do know what to say about the defence: the defence kept on plugging and plugging and plugging all the way."
Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 12 assists for the Raptors (16-22), who had the worst shooting first quarter of any NBA team in the last seven years.
"It's at the top, for sure," VanVleet said, on the scale of weird games. "That was an experience.
"Wish we could have came out with a W there. That would have made up for how ugly it was. We'll take an ugly win."
Gary Trent Jr. had 22 points, including the three-pointer that sent the game to extra time. Scottie Barnes finished with 19 points, O.G. Anunoby had 14, and Pascal Siakam had 11 for the Raptors, who've lost four of their last five games, and 10 of their last 13.
The Raptors' narrow loss came despite shooting 2-for-30 to start the game and taking a season-high 116 shots on the night.
The Bucks, however, coughed up 32 points on 28 turnovers.
"Defensively, we were locked in tonight and we competed our asses off," VanVleet said.
The final few thrilling minutes of regulation saw the Raptors completely flip the switch. Trailing by 21 points with 3:50 to play, Barnes' basket with 25.1 seconds left pulled them to within 97-94. And then, with the fans on their feet, Trent hit another long bomb with 1.5 on the clock, to tie the game 97-97 and send it into overtime.
"We just fought," VanVleet said. "We just fought and we guarded ‘em. We guarded ‘em and they didn't shoot much better. They threw a couple of threes in in very key moments."
Barnes scored both of Toronto's baskets in the extra period, before Grayson Allen, off a pass from Antetokounmpo, hit a three-pointer with 11.1 seconds to seal the victory. VanVleet's last-ditch three clanged off the rim.
"It felt like it was a dart to Grayson," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It hit him right in the shooting pocket. Big-time play, big-time pass."
The Raptors had hoped to tip off a key six-game homestand with a victory. Last season, they reeled off a five-game win streak after the new year that proved to be a season turning point.
Not so on Wednesday. The Raptors missed their first 15 shots of the game, prompting a smattering of boos before the game was even five minutes old. VanVleet's running layup that ended the drought with 4:36 left in the first quarter earned loud applause from the Scotiabank Arena crowd.
The Raptors shot a mind-numbing 2-for-23 in the first quarter for 8.7 per cent, the worst shooting percentage in the first quarter by any team since Toronto shot just 5.3 per cent versus Golden State in 2015.
Still, the Bucks — who could at least blame tired legs for their lackadaisical start coming off a 123-113 win over Washington the previous night — led just 13-12 to start the second quarter.
The Raptors trailed by as many as 11 points in the second, but an 18-8 run pulled them to within a point and Toronto went into the halftime break down 39-38.
Chris Boucher's cutting dunk with 43 seconds left in the third quarter was one of the highlights of a barely better third quarter, and pulled Toronto to within 65-61 with one frame to play.
The Raptors looked destined for an ugly loss when MarJon Beauchamp dished the ball to Lopez for his second consecutive dunk, putting the Bucks up 90-69 with 3:50 to play and sending dozens of disgruntled fans to the exits early.
TIP-INS: Nurse (346) passed Sam Mitchell (345) for second on Toronto's all-time games coached list. Dwane Casey is the franchise leader, coaching 397 Raptors regular-season games.
UP NEXT: The Raptors host the Knicks on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press