This was a reversion to November when the Raptors were playing tight games only to lose them late.  The faint playoff hopes that served as the marquee for this matchup are now unofficially gone, with only mathematical formalities standing in between the Raptors missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year under Colangelo’s watch.

Rudy Gay was out with back spasm which led to Fields starting, and Casey also chose to hand Andrea Bargnani a rare start over Jonas Valanciunas.  I suppose he figured the Bucks frontline of Sanders/Moute/Ilyasova could be countered with a more nimble combination of Johnson/Bargnani/Fields, or maybe he just felt that he should try something different to get Bargnani going.  The matchups didn’t quite play out as nicely as they line up on the box score, as the high tempo had a lot of cross-switching going on pretty much every possession in the first half.

[Related: Reaction: Raptors 114, Bucks 122]

The ball movement was much improved throughout the game, especially in the first quarter where the Raptors went away from the recent isolation-focused trend to a more team-oriented approach.  The up-tempo game had the Raptors up 7-0 in fast-break points in the first, and they even held a rebounding advantage of 14-8, while shooting 58%.  The fruits of their efforts was a 9-point lead at the end of the first, where we even saw a play that I absolutely love: big man at elbow looking for a cutting guard who is working off of screens.

Bargnani (4-14 FG, 11 pts, 7 reb) seemed more relaxed without a hostile home crowd behind him (go figure), and dare I say, was a productive member of the team.  DeRozan (6-21 FG, 18 pts, 9 ast) was struggling to connect on offense with a Buck hanging on to his jersey the whole game.  He was 2-9 FG in the first half before picking things up just ever-so slightly later.  The nine assists are a nice touch and he was trying to drive-and-kick a lot, but overall, his offensive performance was quite disappointing, especially going up against the shorter Ellis.  Also, I think he got blocked about three times in rather severe fashion.

Landry Fields has his best game as a Raptor.  He was 6-11 FG in the first half, and 1-3 FG in the second, and I’d say he had an equal impact in both halves because his defense (some key deflections tonight), and general sound play was the type we were all hoping he’d bring right out of the gates.  The Raptors continued playing the high pace in the second quarter, and were hurt by John Henson scoring 8 points in the second, all of fashionable quality.  Ilyasova was also generally getting wide open at a few players’ expense.

Amir Johnson (19 pts, 9-11 FG, 9 ast) was in foul trouble so his minutes had to be watched, and Jonas Valanciunas did a nice job of stepping in against Sanders, Dalembert and providing some strong hustle on the glass and even some nice back-down moves.  The Raptors held a 15-6 second-chance point advantage at the half, but had surrendered their big lead by halftime, thanks to poor transition play where the back-to-back looked like it had caught up to them.  Milwaukee closed the half making 10 of their last 12 field goals, and the game was tied with the third-quarter meltdown on the horizon.

The meltdown did surely come.  Milwaukee stepped up their interior defense which pushed the Raptors back out to the perimeter, and DeRozan and Bargnani failed to provide the offensive punched that was demanded of them.  Combined, they went 3-13 FG in the third quarter with DeRozan’s drives being extinguished at the rim, and Bargnani missing the jumpers we’ve seen him miss all season.  Ilyasova hurt the Raptors big time as whoever was checking him (Fields, Bargnani, DeRozan…it was a mess) kept losing him and he popped in 12 points on 4-5 shooting in the quarter.  We also got crushed on the boards 14-8 in the third, partially due to Amir Johnson having to sit due to foul trouble.

You’re thinking the game is over, especially after the first possession of the fourth which ended up with Anderson going one-on-three.  Out comes John Lucas III with three threes, and soon enough the Raptors have a one-point lead.  Milwaukee thought they had the game won,  stepped off the pedal, and the opportunistic Lucas took full advantage.  Fields had another great quarter defensively and despite the Raptors generally struggling to keep up with the Bucks’ penetration (Jennings had 19 assists!), found themselves keeping pace due to some good play from Lowry, Johnson and Anderson.

Amir Johnson was the main reason the Raptors took this to OT, as he played the full 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and combined for some great play with Lowry.  He had 10 points on 4-5 FGs.  You’ve seen enough of Amir this year to know, without even looking at the tape, how he got those points.  DeMar DeRozan was deferring to Alan Anderson and the latter had no issue shooting every chance he got.  He went 4-8 in the fourth quarter, including a great drive to tie the game with a second left.  Let’s leave aside the fact that the play coming out of the timeout was to give it to him in the corner with no player movement whatsoever.

Anderson really is a mixed bag.  On the one hand I admire how he tends to step up on both ends of the floor (contract year helps), and by the same token it’s sad to see our fortunes depend on a player like him.  Overall, he’s been Mike Jamish in many senses, but he’s also filling a void on this team which nobody seems to want to take, i.e., applying offensive pressure in the fourth.  Now you might question that he takes too many jumpers and wonder how that is applying offensive pressure, which is when I’d remind you that we’re probably talking too much about Anderson.

Amir fouled out less than two minutes into OT, which the Bucks started on a 7-0 run.  There were some debatable calls down the stretch, and we saw the reason why we’re so lukewarm on Anderson: he went 0-4 in OT.

I have some game-notes which I’ve written down but didn’t expand on much, so I’ll just jot them down:

  1. Ellis is an explosive player on a good run, and the Raptors couldn’t contain his dribble penetration at all. The Bucks threw a variety of looks at DeRozan, Bargnani and even Lowry, and the Raptors were not as deliberate the other way around.
  2. Lots of switching in this game due to the somewhat interchangeable 3/4/5 matchups, which meant rebounding needed to be on point.  DeRozan missed a couple box outs against Ilyasova on switches, and in OT the Raptors got out-rebounded by 6 (not having Johnson hurt).
  3. We saw some plays for Bargnani in the block which had positive outcomes, and the same for Jonas Valanciunas.  I’m not sure how much time investment the franchise wants to make in Bargnani (even if for trade value bump), but for Jonas they really need to start giving him more time and touches ASAP.
  4. The offense looked far more dynamic and a lot less predictable without Rudy Gay initiating action and Lowry deferring to him.  Let this game provide a hint to Casey as to how the offense should be run and what Gay’s role should be in it.  I’d liken it to Paul George in Indiana, except that Gay isn’t as good at reading movement and working two-man games.

Raptors are now 9 back of Milwaukee in the loss column, and since they lost the tie-breaker, need to finish with a better record than them.  What I’m trying to get at is that this is the last time you’ll hear me say the following word this season in context of the Raptors: playoffs.

From here on out we need to seriously shift the focus of this team to evaluating players again, with Terrence Ross still needing to answer more than a few questions.  I’m not privy to Valanciunas’ conditioning so without risking injury, his minutes need to be maximized.  I would take every win with a grain of salt now as the pressure is truly off, and I’d caution that what you see from now till the end of the season can’t be extrapolated to training camp next year.

They had me excited for a while.  They really did.