This is a back-to-back for me too so I might just start off strong only to lose the use of my wrists halfway through.
Don’t you hate losing “winnable” games? I don’t know what exactly defines winnable but this game felt like it was one, even after we blew our halftime lead. The result is hardly surprising, we saw the team lose their way in the third quarter against Indiana on a back-to-back and the same happened in Milwaukee. The lead wasn’t as big as the one in Indiana so you won’t read any dramatic headlines, but the formula for the loss was eerily similar. A strong start to the game, the bench pushing the lead as the team shows a sense of purpose in evening out the roadtrip, a confident halftime interview, and then poof! It’s all gone, the legs start sagging, the defensive effort drops, the offense becomes stagnant and we lean on Chris Bosh on every possession. We stay in the game by clawing a point here, making a stop there but when it matters, when it really matters, we fail to make plays to win the game.
You look at the rosters of the two teams and the only clear advantage the Bucks are supposed to have is Andrew Bogut in the middle. Even then Bargnani’s been playing good post-defense of late which you hoped would go some ways in containing the Aussie. Bogut was problematic from the beginning, we had single-coverage on him and he proved to be too crafty for us. When you have a refined soft hook and an up-and-under move, you automatically become a threat to go either way on the block and Bargnani realized that early. We could’ve neutralized their inside game by collapsing or sending frequent help, but it turns out we played them on an night when they shot 44% from three (a full 8 points higher than their season average).
Last time Roko Ukic killed us, this time it was Carlos Delfino who nailed four threes and had 22/8/4. The Bucks weren’t killing us with their dribble penetration by any means, but somehow their three-point shooters still managed to find themselves open. We saw more of the preemptive help and shading towards the middle last night than we have for a while. Maybe it was the threat/confusion of how to deal with Bogut inside, but we failed on both fronts – didn’t stop them inside or outside.
As has been the case on most nights this season, Chris Bosh was a rock steady performer. He had everyone’s number in this game on his way to a career-high 44 points. Bogut or Warrick couldn’t stay with him and Scott Skiles even tried the mobile Mbah a Moute, but even he failed the assignment as the Raptors offense did an excellent job of freeing Bosh using some simple but effective misdirection screens on the baseline. As great as Bosh was, he needed some help tonight and never really got any. The next highest scorer on the Raptors was Turkoglu with 13 and Calderon with 10, that’s about it. Bargnani missed a lot of close-range shots from the post and was errant on his jumpers again, lately he’s been making up for these sorts of nights by doing other things but tonight managed only 4 rebounds while being taught a lesson by Bogut. Why Rasho wasn’t brought in to help matters remains a mystery.
Jose Calderon led the bench charge with success in the second quarter, he was making some very well-timed passes to Bosh, Turkoglu and Bargnani, and looked very sharp. Jack had already done a good job defensively on Jennings and Calderon administered more punishment by running circles around the rookie in the second. The Bucks were down by 10+ in the second but their effort was unwavering, they were getting all the 50-50 balls and ran their offense with real belief. The Raptors were always a step slow in this game and you got the feeling that we needed a big lead to hold off the inevitable second half charge, what with the back-to-back and all. Jerry Stackhouse, playing his first game for them, delivered some great minutes, he drained a corner three and got some offensive rebounds against DeRozan and Jack that he had no business getting. I thought he inspired the Bucks when they were down.
The halftime lead was cut from 11 to 7 as Bell and Delfino drained two threes to slightly shift momentum in their favor. The imbalance in our offense wasn’t as noticeable in the second as it was in the third. Calderon and Jack had given us a nice boost in the second quarter while the rest of the bench had struggled. Belinelli had a cameo in the second but was yanked after one turnover and saw only three minutes of playing time, he didn’t play the entire second half. Shocking considering what a big impact he had had a night ago in Cleveland, not sure what Triano was thinking. Same with Weems, he had a nice little offensive rebound and a jumper in that stretch but only saw 6 minutes of action and never played in the second half (well, he was brought in with 28 seconds left to play on offense for some reason).
Given how lethargic we appeared in the third quarter, you have to wonder why neither of these two “young guns” were inserted. I suppose Triano likes to mess with their heads on a random basis and it’s not always fair to pick on DeRozan. Oh wait, DeRozan also didn’t play the fourth quarter. Back to the third though, not sure what was said at halftime but the message that the team needed to dig deep, drink some Red Bull and find some energy to pull this one wasn’t communicated. We looked tired on the very first possession of the third quarter and I knew then that it was only a matter of time before I would reach for my first of five shots of Jack Daniels.
You don’t win many games when you give up multiple 30+ quarters and Milwaukee had 32 in the third and fourth. Bosh had 14 points in the third and our offense did not run smoothly under Jack. Jennings’ pressure was bothering him to the point where he just wanted to get rid of the ball and the offense suffered. Bargnani was too busy chasing Bogut’s shadows and went 1-4 in the second half. We needed somebody to step up and keep the offense ticking in the third quarter because we sure as hell weren’t going to get stops. Turkoglu didn’t score in the frame and I thought Triano waited too long to make the customary Calderon for Jack third quarter sub. The Raptors lost the quarter by 10 and were -7 on the offensive glass for the game. The third was also an offensive-rebound heavy quarter for the Bucks who were clearly motivated by Skiles at the break. They won the second-chance points read 22-13 and PITP battle was lost 52-30.
Tim Donaghy taught us that the referrers target certain players based and Jack Armstrong feels Amir Johnson was one of them tonight. He’s saying that just because Johnson has a high foul rate, referees are quick in giving the benefit of any doubt to the other guy. Johnson was a solid 6-6 from the line and played with good intensity collecting 7 rebounds in only 23 minutes. He also picked up four fouls. Download the audio or click the play button below:[audio:http://raptorsrepublic.com/audio/clips/2010-01-21-clip-JackArmstrongOnAmirJohnson.mp3]
The stretch that we lost this game in was the early fourth. Turkoglu finally drained a three to tie things up on the Raptors’ first possession but after the Bucks’ second-unit was the story. Luke Ridnour and Charlie Bell spaced the floor extremely well and they got good dribble penetration and great ball movement for scores. Ilyasova and Stackhouse’s defense on Turkoglu and Bargnani was notable, and the Bucks looked to be energized. The Raptors lineup here was Calderon, Turkoglu, Bargnani, Bosh and Johnson. That’s basically four starters right there playing against the Bucks bench, we have to win this scrimmage! We didn’t, what we did was rely too heavily on Bosh’s tiring legs and gave him the ball in iso situations too far from the basket, he clanged two long jumpers and picked up an offensive foul in transition. I would’ve liked to seen him drive the ball but asking more from a guy who gave you 15 FTs and 44 points seems lame. Just like in Cleveland, the situational offense didn’t come through and we had a six point deficit with 6:43 left, by no means impossible to overcome but definitely difficult given the contrast of energy levels of the two teams.
Defensive stops were needed but Bogut got six straight on us, no shock since he was doing it all game (27/12, 11-14 FG). Once he fouled out with 4:11 left and the Raptors down 5, I sensed some hope. A Bosh And1 and a Turk 3 turned that hope into belief as we trailed by one and got the defensive stop. But wait, oh no, what’s that? Oh crap, that’s Turkoglu losing Mbah a Moute who tips it in. Oh crap, what’s that now? Huh, is that Antoine Wright, what’s he doing? Oh no, no, no…please..no, not a three? Oh s**t, he missed the three. Please, we need a defensive stop here, got it, awesome! But wait, what the hell is that? Is that…oh no..that is, that is Ersan Ilyasova tipping in an offensive rebound as we fail to rotate after the Jennings drive. Oh crap, this game’s over.
I got to say, I can look in the other way on Turkoglu’s 5-14 shooting and attribute that to gelling, Triano’s system, unfamiliarity with whoever and whatever, and any other kind of lame ass excuse anybody wants to drum up. But there is no excuse for this guy’s defense, he’s not even trying, in fact, he gets into “blame mode” immediately after screwing up which, for those of you who play the game, know is the worst kind of teammate to have. Fouling Ridnour, allowing that crucial offensive rebound, not checking Ilyasova and Stackhouse, that’s just lazy basketball having nothing to do with a system and everything to do with attitude. He was hired for his but is averaging only 10 points on 34% shooting in January, he needs to be producing at a much higher rate for what he gives up on defense. If I had to pick one player on the Raptors that I’d like to part with, it’s him.
This team should be doing better with the talent they have. For a club with aspirations of a 5th seed and playoff success, a back-to-back in Milwaukee shouldn’t be this big of an issue. Yes, we spent a lot of effort in Cleveland the night before, but that’s no excuse for the way we came out in that third quarter. We got these Bucks at home tomorrow before Kobe on Sunday. Realistically, we got one shot at avoiding an 0-4 week and that’s on Friday.
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