If a moral victory comes in a strong effort that results in a near-defeat, is a poor showing that somehow still results in a win considered a moral loss?
Saturday night's 102-98 road win by the Toronto Raptors (45-32) over the 14-63 Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which Dwane Casey derided his team by saying "we played like crap" and that the performance was "not acceptable", was, by all measures, a moral loss if such a thing could exist. They allowed 34 second quarter points to the league's third-weakest offence and spent the game's ugly final minute - which featured 10 free throws, three shot attempts and just one made field goal - barely surviving against a club that has won just one of its last 14 contests.
Greivis Vasquez was the latest player to come through for the Raptors, scoring 26 points on 10-15 shooting, including a go-ahead three-pointer mid-way through the fourth quarter that put Toronto up for good. The win set a franchise record for road wins (21) and helped the club take a step towards the franchise record for total victories. If the Raps can win more of their final five games than they lose, they will be the proud owners of a new franchise wins mark.
V is for Victory
It is also for "Vasquez" and (Jonas) "Valancunas", two of the biggest contributors to the Raptors' admittedly-mediocre showing on Saturday. Vasquez served as the primary scorer, compensating for a second straight off night by DeMar DeRozan (he shot 15-38 over the Indy/Milwaukee back-to-back) by going 6-8 from three-point range. Valanciunas, meanwhile, continued to be the most consistent Raptor of the past month or so, recording his 22nd double double of the season by scoring 17 points on 7-11 shooting and adding 13 rebounds (five on the offensive glass) and three assists.
Snapping Out of It
I would not have wanted to be one of Casey's charges at halftime on Saturday night, facing down what I can only assume was a livid coach after the Bucks had outscored the Raptors 34-19 to take what was then a 56-47 lead into the break. Credit the visitors for heeding their coach's words, though, as they promptly jumped out to what was a 17-4 run to kill whatever momentum Milwaukee had built.
The Second Quarter
At full strength, Milwaukee shouldn't have the talent to post a 34-point quarter on anyone, let alone the bare-bones Bucks line-up that took the court on Saturday. With a rotation of just eight healthy bodies, Milwaukee benefited from a lax defensive effort by the Raptors that enabled what was basically a lay-up line for the home side. Their 18-4 run to start the second came courtesy of three dunks, three lay-ups, a three-pointer, a hook shot and a free throw. Yes, it came against what was mostly a second unit for the Raps (DeRozan was joined by Steve Novak, John Salmons, Tyler Hansbrough and Nando De Colo), but each of those players need to respond better as they help fill the void of Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson. The lack of energy from the Toronto defence may be best exemplified by Milwaukee's 20 fast break points (to three from the Raps).
Apropos of nothing (and since a tilt against the Bucks in Milwaukee didn't produce many notable side stories), a nice Sunday walk with my wife produced my new pipe-dream-but-not-out-of-the-realm-of-possibility scenario for the Raps:
Continue along as a first- or second-round playoff contender in the still-weak East (the 2014 draft class won't likely bring their teams immediate success) for the next two seasons. Use the Tim Lieweke / Drake factor to position the franchise as a player in NBA circles. Go hard in the summer of 2016 after a certain OKC star who will then be a free agent and who just happened to grow up as a Raptors fan. With Lieweke, a deep-pocketed ownership group, a talented young roster and a big market environment in place, why can't the Raptors be major players on the NBA landscape?
We know that the Bucks will wind up with one of the top picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and likely find a prospect to develop around for the next decade. But what else to they have moving forward? The "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo is a building block, even if his raw numbers leave plenty to be desired. Then, you have the volatile Larry Sanders, decent-but-inconsistent John Henson (though he was the best Buck on Saturday), in-over-his-head Nate Wolters, the disappointing Brandon Knight and a potentially appealing trade piece in Ersan Ilyasova. All in all, not a roster that looks primed to improve in a hurry.
The Raps are back home to host the also-woeful Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night (7:00pm, SN1). With Brooklyn visiting Miami on Tuesday night, Toronto could well hold a three-game lead on the division by then and be close to locking things up.
Prediction: Raps 104, Sixers 94 (41-17 this season)