A 38-point first quarter set the tone for what was one of the easier nights that the Toronto Raptors (19-17) have had during their recent surge. Beyond a slight letdown in the second quarter, the home side was nearly flawless in a 116-94 romp over the league-worst 7-30 Milwaukee Bucks, not that they were really challenged.
Kyle Lowry's 23 points (on 6-8 shooting) led a balanced group of Raps scorers on what was an offensively efficient night. Five Raptors (Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons) all scored in double figures, as the team shot better than 50% from the field (40-79) and beyond the arc (12-23) and 80% (24-30) from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Toronto held their opponents under 45% shooting and 100 points for the eighth time over their past 10 games, continuing a recent stretch of stellar defensive execution.
There aren't many eye-popping individual numbers to be found in Monday night's win, but balance can be found throughout the box score for the Raps. Beyond the five double digit scorers, you also had seven Raptors with four rebounds or more and four players with a least four assists. Several of Toronto's standouts were contributing across a number of area's, including DeRozan's 19 points / 7 rebounds / 7 assists, Lowry's 23 points / 5 assists / 4 steals, Valanciunas' 17 points / 10 rebounds and Terrence Ross' 8 points / 5 rebounds / 3 steals.
A Return to Relevance
It wasn't quite an atmosphere on the level of Saturday's Drake Night, but positive vibes were unmistakable inside the Air Canada Centre on what, in other years, would have been a dreary, sparsely-attended Monday night game against a blah opponent. Fans feted the starting line-up with applause during player introductions, got even more excited when the increasingly popular Patterson entered the game and saved their loudest ovation to celebrate the performance of several Raptors as they checked out to allow for some garbage time fill-ins. Contending for the crowd's affection were prized TFC newcomers Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, who recieved a warm reception upon being introduced during a timeout. Positivity surrounding the Raptors and the Reds? Imagine that.
Momentary Lapses, I Guess?
I could use this space to discuss a second quarter drop-off that saw what had been a 19-point lead narrow down to as close as six or to harp on allowing Ersan Ilyasova to amass 29 points on 11-16 shooting, but there really isn't much to nitpick here.
Sure, it's a blatant shill for page hits, but doesn't this Michael Grange piece get you at least a teensy bit hopeful?
My main thought while watching the Bucks on Monday: how did this team manage to win seven games?? Quite simply, this is a poorly-constructed roster that is clearly not designed to win right now. And yet, there is some serious potential here. Larry Sanders has all the physical skills but needs the maturity, Brandon Knight is continuing to learn how to run an offence, John Henson has shown flashes of becoming a match-up nightmare as a long, athletic front court presence and Miroslav Raduljica is a raw, bruising presence. The crown jewels of the Bucks' rebuilding effort, however, are what will surely be a top five pick in the deep 2014 draft and the continued growth (both figurative and literal) of the mesmerizing Giannis "Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo. Give them a few years and watch out.
Remember when the Celtics were an unlikely early season success story, holding the pole position in the Atlantic? Well, as Toronto gets set to pay a Wednesday night visit to Boston (7:30pm, SN1), their hosts are mired in a nine-game skid while sitting 7.5 games behind the division-leading Raps.
Prediction: Raps 99, Celtics 89 (21-7 this season)