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After a week of games filled with listless, uneven efforts, the Toronto Raptors (23-37) finally put together what was nearly a full, 48-minute showing. Unfortunately for them, Saturday night's contest against the Milwaukee Bucks also required overtime.
For a Toronto team that shot 46% (46-100), their highest percentage since shooting 47% against Denver on February 21st, that was where the sharpness, energy and quality play ended. An early 7-0 Bucks run in the extra frame secure what would end up being a 122-114 triumph, putting the visitors an impossible 7.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
It's way too late in the season for moral victories, but credit Toronto for at least getting to overtime. Playing without Rudy Gay (back spasms), the team demonstrated a commitment to balanced scoring so that even when DeMar DeRozan proved to be an ineffective contributor (6-21 shooting), the rest of the team moved the ball around to help him out. Alan Anderson's driving buzzer beater dunk at the end of regulation came off an ISO that no one saw coming (although it was considerably helped by Larry Sanders' back-pedaling stumble), offering a further indication of the Raptors' ability to get secondary scorers going if they move the ball.
The offensive differences from games one day apart were like night and day. Against Indy, exactly three Raptors (Gay, Anderson and John Lucas III) finished in double digits, only one of whom was a member of the starting five, on a night that no one could really get their shot on track. Without their primary scorer in Milwaukee, all five starters were among the seven Toronto players to score 10 points or more. Jumping from 12 to 28 team assists, they more than doubled their distribution totals from one day to the next. Among those key in balancing the scoring and upping the offensive efficiency, Amir Johnson scored 19 points on 9-11 shooting, Lucas shot 6-9 while making four of his five three-point attempts and Landry Fields scored 15 points (his highest output since January 20) on 7-13 shooting.
It wasn't quite on the level of Joakim Noah's monster 23-21-13 (and 11-block) effort earlier this week, but Kyle Lowry's 10-10-10 night still counts as a triple-double, the third of his career and first in a season that has been full of near misses. In general, it was a stat-filling showing that harkened back to his early season do-it-all games (his six turnovers were costly, but somewhat made up for them with five steals).
Allowing Open Looks
Armed with two undisciplined gunners in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee currently owns the sixth-worst team field goal percentage (43.6%) in the NBA. Many teams have learned that they can force their starting backcourt into bad shots and keep the club's offensive efficiency down (that may have been remedied by the recent addition of JJ Redick, but that remains to be seen). Toronto managed to lock in on Jennings (3-12 shooting), but couldn't prevent numerous other easy looks along the way to the Bucks' 50% shooting night (46-92). As a Bucks opponent, you can survive strong shooting nights by SANDERS! (6-8 ... hat tip to Grantland's Zach Lowe) and John Henson (4-5), but simply can't afford to let Ellis (9-18), Redick (6-12) and Ersan Ilyasova (12-21) get on.
The Rookie Comp
You could argue that Henson (eight points on 4-5 shooting) was more productive in less than nine minutes on the court than both Raps rookies combined (Jonas Valanciunas posted four points and five rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench, while Terrence Ross posted zero's across the board over five minutes). Once again, Ross wasn't given much of a chance to produce, not even getting a shot off in his beyond invisible five minutes (I know Anderson scored a team-high 21 points and registered the overtime-clinching bucket, but couldn't Ross have improved on his 1-8 shooting from three?).
- Any Lowe reader who has wondered about his SANDERS! man crush may want to watch the early minutes of overtime. The third-year forward emphatically slammed down an Ellis miss for the first two points of OT, then promptly got back to block a Fields offering on the other end to give Milwaukee all the momentum.
- Not sure if I've mentioned this before (I've certainly thought it!), but those Bucks jerseys are AWFUL.
Can't imagine team morale is too high as the Raptors set out on a Western road swing that begins Monday night in Golden State (10:30pm, SN1).
Prediction: Warriors 109, Raps 107 (38-16 this season)