Milwaukee Bucks Squeak Out Win Over Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson (right) drives hard to the basket against Milwaukee Buck forward Luc Mbah a Moute on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre (JP Dhanoa)

Jerryd Bayless Leaves Game After Re-injuring Left Ankle 

Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson (right) drives hard to the basket against Milwaukee Buck forward Luc Mbah a Moute on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre (JP Dhanoa)

As the Toronto Raptors approach the halfway mark of the season it seems the team is losing more than just games at the moment. Whether its pride or players to injuries – the short, compressed season is turning into a long one.

The Toronto Raptors got another taste of disappointment on Wednesday night after dropping a 105-99 decision to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks. The game was close right up until midway through the fourth quarter when the Bucks were finally able to pull away for good.

Both teams showed offensive flair and started the game with a high scoring first quarter, with the Raptors finishing with a season-high 29 points after 12 minutes. Although Toronto was finally able to get the fast start it has been so often looking for, the defensive aspect of the game for both teams left much to be desired.

After seeing the positive results and success of adopting new defensive strategies, Head Coach Dwane Casey is seeing his team start to get sloppy in its own end of the court. The Raptors allowed its opponent to score 100 points or more for just the seventh time this season, but four of those have come in its last six games.

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“I just mentioned to the team that we’ve lost that pride of guarding our yard,” said Casey. “What we established in training camp has slipped. Again, it’s on me as a coach, it’s on us as a staff to maintain that somehow, someway with the lack of practice time or whatever it is, we still have to keep instilling that in our guys. It’s what we started out the season doing…and somewhere down the line we lost it.”

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan guards Bucks guard Stephen Jackson. Both players had good offensive nights with DeRozan tying a game-high 25 points and Jackson scoring 17 (JP Dhanoa)

Former-Raptor Carlos Delfino led the Bucks with 25 points but also got double-digit contributions from five others, most notably Drew Gooden who had a game-high 14 rebounds to go along with his 20 points.

For the Raptors (8-19), DeRozan had a big night not only showing his ability to shoot beyond the arc (4-of-6) as he demonstrated often this season, but once again attacked the basket to tie the game-high of 25 points. James Johnson had 15 while Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza added 11 and 12 points, respectively, off the bench. Jose Calderon finished with a game-high 15 assists.

“You don’t want anyone scoring on you or to be the target of a go-to play,” said DeRozan when asked to respond to Casey’s comments. “That’s one thing that he means and we definitely have got to take pride in that and be able to lock our men down. If each of us does that and limits our men to 10-15, I think everybody did their job.”

One area where the Bucks (11-14) excelled was from three-point range where the team shot 48 per cent accounting for 36 of its points. It has been an area of concern for many years for the Raptors – consistently leaving a man open and not running out to challenge the jumper.

“We have got to run the three pointers off the line and trust our help,” said DeRozan. That’s one thing that we didn’t do. We kept letting them line up three’s and they kept knocking them down.”

“We had the game. To let it get away with turnovers and costly mistakes is definitely frustrating.”

From Bad to Worse 

Johnson finds the open lane for an uncontested layup and finished with 15 points to go along with seven rebounds, two steals and three blocked shots (JP Dhanoa)

The phrase couldn’t be more appropriate for the Raptors this season. With leading scorer Andrea Bargnani still out with a strained left calf, the team’s fortunes will continue to be bleak at best. He has now missed 14 games in two separate stretches this season, six when he first injured the calf and eight more since re-aggravating it in late January.

On Wednesday, the Raptors lost guard Jerryd Bayless once again as well. He re-injured his left ankle and was forced off the floor with 5:05 left in the third quarter. Bayless has already missed 13 games this season as a result of the left ankle sprain and could miss a lot more. The team did not issue a statement after the game and Bayless will likely be re-evaluated on Thursday.

The turning point in the game may have come when Bayless left the game. The score was 67-66 for the Bucks and the Raptors were on the verge of taking the lead. Anthony Carter and Rasual Butler took turns playing in place for the injured guard but it just wasn’t the same. Carter being a more defensive option and Butler, despite hitting a couple of big threes was a liability at times on both ends of the court.

Toronto kept it close and even took a slim 83-82 lead briefly in the fourth quarter before Milwaukee was able to pull away. Bayless wasn’t having a stellar night offensively by any means and certainly not like he did on Monday when he scored a season-high 30 points at Washington. He had just six points and seven assists but was a presence on the floor and was very efficient distributing the ball to his teammates.

Raptors guard Jerryd Bayless (right) was effective distributing the ball along with Jose Calderon in the back court. He was forced to leave the game in the third quarter after re-injuring his strained left ankle (JP Dhanoa)If the Raptors had a healthy Bargnani and Bayless for the entire season the team would probably be challenging the Bucks and the surprisingly disappointing Knicks for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are 6-7 with Bargnani in the lineup and the Italian certainly would have helped his team pull out at least a few more victories.

On the bright side, the Raptors won’t have to worry about travel wearing them down for almost the rest of February as Wednesday’s game marked the start of a franchise-record tying seven-game home stand, which will be followed by the NBA All-Star break.

Toronto will play its next game on Friday night against the Boston Celtics with tip-off at 7 p.m. ET at the Air Canada Centre followed by an afternoon contest against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Contact Aman Dhanoa at aman@oyetimes.com    
 
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Photos courtesy of J.P Dhanoa

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