NBA: Undermanned Bucks pull past Raptors Special
Coming off a humiliating lopsided loss in Detroit the Toronto Raptors responded with a great bounce back effort against the Milwaukee Bucks at home but it was a familiar ending.
Toronto got off to a quick start buoyed by its fans at the Air Canada Centre, but once again, a few bad possessions in the fourth quarter led to another breakdown and giving up the lead to the visitors. Milwaukee pulled ahead and hung on for a 105-99 despite only having 10 players dressed for the game. Ironically, the score was the same the last time these two teams met when the Bucks also prevailed on Feb. 8 in Toronto.
“Somewhere in the game we have a stretch of about three possessions where we just don’t execute, don’t complete a play or finish the play,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “The other team can come down fumble, throw it out of bounds, roll the ball, catch it and throw in a three. That’s kind of our M.O.”
The Raptors (13-27) have now lost four of its last six games and three of them have come by less than six points. The effort is there but Toronto continues to fall just short and the team is clearly frustrated with the inability to close out tight games. Narrow losses have been the theme of the season and are playing in the minds of the players like a broken record.
“I know what we are able to do,” said point guard Jerryd Bayless. “It is just frustrating, this year we have beaten ourselves so many games and we have been in so many close games it gets kind of frustrating when it keeps on continuing. But we are still a young team, we are still learning and it is a process that we are going to have to go through to get to where we want to be.”
DeMar DeRozan had a team-high 21 points and was one of six double-digit scorers on the Raptors. Amir Johnson and Leandro Barbosa each had 12 points, Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza had 11 and 10, respectively. Bayless started in place of the injured Jose Calderon and finished with 16 points and tied a game-high six assists.
With the win, the Bucks (17-24) are now just a single game back of the New York Knicks for the final playoff spot. Forward Ersan Ilyasova lead all scorers with 31 points, just a point shy of his career high and he also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Veteran Drew Gooden added 21 points, six rebound and five assists.
Mike Dunleavy led all bench scorers with 19 points and tied a game-high six assists with teammate Brandon Jennings who finished with 11 points. Guard Beno Udrih added 11 points as well.
The Bucks are currently besieged by injuries and felt tired as the game ticked down. The team was without Stephen Jackson (sore right hamstring), Shaun Livingston (left ankle sprain), Luc Mbah a Moute (Right knee soreness) and Andrew Bogut (left ankle fracture), who has missed the last 22 games.
The Raptors are no stranger to injuries this season but have not had more than two at any given time. On Saturday night Bargnani returned to the lineup after missing 20 games with a strained left calf, but the team lost Calderon with a sprained right ankle, missing his first game of the season.
“I feel good and happy to be back,” said Bargnani. “I got to get back in shape and get back into rhythm so got to keep pushing hard.”
“I felt much better tonight. Of course in the second half my legs weren’t there but it’s going to come.”
Bargnani played just 20 minutes against Detroit and was limited to 30 minutes on Sunday. He played well but it will take him time to get back to the all-star worthy numbers he was putting up before his injury.
“He’s getting much better,” said Casey. “Believe me, it’s not fair to him to throw him in and expect a whole lot. The guy misses 20 games, believe me all the workouts you can have, it’s not even fair to simulate an NBA game with not a lot of practice. I think his conditioning is getting back, he’s getting a little more confident.”
Many observers believe that if the Raptors had a healthy Bargnani in the line-up instead of the sidelines, the team would be fighting for a playoff spot. Strangely enough, with the Eastern Conference being as weak as it is, the Raptors sit just five games behind Knicks for the final postseason berth.
One thing is for sure, Bargnani’s teammates are glad to see him back playing with the team - his offence has been sorely missed.
“It’s great having Andrea back,” said Bayless. “Obviously he is still trying to work himself back into shape and the way he was playing before. We know how good he is and I need him back, everybody needs him back, and when he gets back to the level that he was at, we are going to be a very dangerous team.”
The Raptors will head out on a five-game road trip against teams it has played well against this season, with the exception of the disappointing loss to the last-place Charlotte Bobcats. Toronto will play in Cleveland on Tuesday, New Jersey on Wednesday, Memphis on Friday, Charlotte on Saturday and in New York the following Tuesday.
All games are winnable. Raptors are 2-0 against the Cavaliers, 1-1 with the Knicks and Nets, 0-1 against both the Bobcats and Grizzlies, a team it had lost to by just three points last week.
Perhaps, Bayless is on to something there. With its leading scorer back in the fold and Calderon being listed as just day-to-day, Toronto could soon have a completely healthy line-up. And maybe, just maybe, with a winning streak could suddenly find itself in the playoff race. Strange indeed.
Aman Dhanoa is a Toronto sports beat reporter covering games live and bringing Digital Journal insights from within the locker room.
This article was originally published on Oye! Times