Zoned in
Bucks 101, Raptors 96

Reflecting on the game after the Raps pulled off a 101 – 96 thriller, piecing together my thoughts for the RR recap, and I’m thinking. Where do you start?

Hedo Turkoglu’s continuing struggles while under the glaring spotlight punctuated by a (relieving) flash of brilliance late in the game?
Jarret Jack’s best game in a Raptor uniform in a heroic 4th quarter effort?
Or Jay Triano’s brilliant 2 – 3 zone call that turned the tide when the game was all but lost?

Storylines, loads of drama, plenty of excitement, perhaps a wee bit of luck, and one hell of a game.

In terms of luck, how’s 5 – 26 from 3 point land for the Bucks, many of which were open looks? The Raps were lucky that the game was even close midway through the 3rd when the unthinkable happened. Jay Triano made a change to his hermetically sealed gameplan. Sensing the Bucks couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and Luke Ridnour was penetrating into the pain at will, he switched to a zone, and it paid immediate dividends. The Bucks did eventually crack it a few times, but it definitely slowed them down a lot. The other thing Triano did was switch to a smaller lineup of Bosh, Turk, Belli, Jose and Jack late in the 4th. That move also proved to be effective. There have been a few games this year where it felt like the coach on the other sideline made moves to win the game. Tonight, finally, it felt like our coach. Makes you wonder whether it was the zone itself that made the difference or the fact that the Raps stepped up their defensive intensity because of the novelty of trying some new. It might be even more effective with Andrea anchoring it in the middle.

Speaking of Andrea, the Raps looked completely different without him. And not in the good way. It’s becoming more apparent now that the recent success of the Raps was due partly to Andrea’s effectiveness this last month. The offense suffered from lack of spacing, and no one was willing to accept the role of secondary scorer to Bosh, although Jack turned into one in the 4th. As good as Andrew Bogut started the game, the Buck went away from him in the second half, partly due to the zone tactic. Milwaukee’s point guards dominated the play for most of the game. Brandon Jennings continued to jack, and miss, shots and Luke Ridnour was much more successful but continued to dominate the ball like Jennings. Why a guy like Ridnour carved up the Raps is a little disconcerting. Jerry Stackhouse, who looks like he could still play, was not a factor after some quality burn in the first half. If Stackhouse can continue his progress, this season may not be a write-off for them just yet.

The Raps started off the night lukewarm, trading buckets with the Bucks. Andrew Bogut picked up where he left off on Wednesday, dropping 8 points in the 1st quarter. All eyes were on Turkoglu, however, after a very questionable effort in Milwaukee. You could tell he knew that. He looked to be very aggressive, and picked up a bunch of assists early on. But early foul trouble derailed any momentum he had. If the fourth quarter is any indication, Hedo is trying to show his worth. His defence and rebounding picked up a notch, and his usual nonchalant on-court demeanor was replaced with that of concentration, disgust with his own play, and a priceless look of relief on a pivotal and1 on a driving layup late in the game. This means he does care about what people perceive him to be, but the queston remains whether he is a player already in decline, and that just “trying harder” won’t make him any better. Just more forced plays like we saw tonight. In terms of Hedo being a 19 pt-a-game scorer last year, it seems that he benefited from having a guy like Dwight Howard for open looks. The thing is he hasn’t hit those open shots lately. Some times they’re not even close. Hard to figure this one out.

One of the greatest revelations of this epic night was the show that Jarret Jack put on in the 4th quarter. He abused Jennings and Ridnour with his combination of strength and speed. The dude can finish with contact, and that’s vital when the refs swallow their whistles in crucial moments. His shot has been falling with some consistency, and he passes enough off the drive to keep defenses honest. That floater is working to near perfection, and he should go to it more often. Hedo should still be a focal point in the 4th, it was good to see him kick out to Calderon for a corner three, and Marco Belinelli showed some quality playmaking as well, but Jack should be handling the rock a little more. You need aggressiveness in these situations, and Calderon hasn’t displayed enough of it. He’s too risk-averse fundamentally. Dump it to Bosh and spot up. That hasn’t worked so well this year.

This was the kind of win you feel that the Raps didn’t deserve but managed to pull out anyway. They took advantage of a raucous crowd and everyone dug deep, including the coach and pulled it off with smoke and mirrors. It was an important win that brought the Raps back to .500 and hopefully restored some of the confidence that the team had after that dominating performance against the Mavericks. It will take a much, much more complete effort to have any chance of beating the defending NBA champions on Sunday.