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Bucks 100, Raptors 110 – Box

Fanapalooza was in effect at the ACC; DeMar DeRozan was given the night off after ushering in the Atlantic banner to the tune of fireworks; There was a dude doing an oil painting on the sidelines of an in-game Ross dunk; The well-fed ACC crowd executed a flawed but respectable Mexican wave; and the night was capped off with an ever-so-tasty ‘Za made extra special by a franchise-high 48th win which was never, ever in doubt.

There was an opposing team at the ACC, namely the Bucks who were no more than a prop in a stage show. Their role on the night was reduced to playing mannequins to the Raptors shopping themselves to any shot they fancied, and it was the three they fancied. The Raptors were 14-32 (46%) from long-range and were in cruise-control past the first minute of the game.

This was a night of celebration more than competition, one which was long overdue given the meagre returns on past seasons. Even Kyle Lowry, the focused veteran who has been the Raptors’ heart and soul all season, decided to play around a little and shot the ball 24 times, a season-high by some distance.  It was an amiable night for everyone – Greivis Vasquez Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, everyone.  Vasquez got to shoot his floaters and trailer threes, Ross threw a few down, Johnson hit some “summer” threes, and Valanciunas dominated in the same fashion as he had in Milwaukee a week past.

The Raptors were up by 13 in the first quarter and extended their lead to as many as 22 in the second half, but it may as well have been 74.  Any time the Bucks got a couple in a row to cut it to 12 or so, the Raptors executed a modest and predictable play to get a score and pull the game back.  Even when the Bucks slashed it to six in the fourth quarter, you knew a response was coming and it did in the form of forced turnovers punctuated by more threes.  Given the quality of the opponent we can’t quite draw any conclusions about anyone’s play, except to say that the team is having fun, clicking well, and that this game served as a good stretching exercise before things get real in a week or so, regardless of opponent.

“It felt good to get my bounce back. It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”

Amir Johnson

The Bucks did shoot 52% in the game, one which the Raptors didn’t necessarily approach with a view to tightening a leaky defense, but that of down-shifting on a back-to-back, so I’m not going to dwell on that little negative, nor am I going to read much into them crushing the Bucks 46-32 on the glass.  This was a glorified pick-up game where the outcome was settled very soon after tip-off.

Speaking as a fan rather than someone assigned to report on the game, it’s great to be in springtime (ignore the bloody weather for a second) and still have the best part of Raptors basketball to look forward to.  This has been a season of labour and toil.  The team has undergone a transformation, achieved surprised success and more importantly, sustained that success after the secret was out.  They’ve won big games, lost close ones, and have been in every contest. The Raptors remain the only Eastern-conference playoff team not to suffer a 20+ point blowout this season, and you already know about how we’re amongst the leaders in every meaningful statistical category since December.

The final game of the regular season looms large – Chicago is in Charlotte and the Bobcats have all to play for.  They’re one game back of Washington for the sixth seed and hold the tie-breaker, meaning that with a win coupled with a Washington loss, they could steal the sixth spot.  Washington, in turn, could move up to fifth with a win in Boston combined with Brooklyn losing to the Knicks and Cleveland.  Everything’s possible.  All teasier tors have to do is maintain their seeding is beat the Knicks on Wednesday, which is very much a possibility given how poorly we played last time out against them and how close the game was. Taking the longer view, with the Pacers grabbing the top seed the silver lining in a Nets 4-5 matchup might be that the second round, if we get there, might be easier than if we progress as the third seed.

“I’m more worried about us than I am who we play. I’m not going into this final game trying to control who we play. I’m more worried about our health, rest for our guys, and rhythm, and there’s a fine line between the two.”

– Dwane Casey

The playoffs will be challenging.  It would be foolish to discount the lack of playoff experience on the roster as a non-factor.  Playoff jitters are a fact of life, Vince Carter felt them, Chris Bosh felt them, and DeMar DeRozan will feel them.  There will be moments of self-doubt and hopelessness where every aspect of the game will seemingly go against them, and in those testing times it’s the safety net of the team that can buoy them.  Carter was eaten alive by Latrell Sprewell, Bosh was handcuffed by Mikki Moore, and the playoffs will bring rise to a nemesis for DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as well.  The difference between these playoff virgins and those of Carter and Bosh’s will be that this version of the Raptors is more likely to respond as a team rather than individually.  The mantra of the season has been collectiveness and winning without a bonafide superstar, and as much as you need a “star” to bring you playoff success, earlier versions of the Raptors had that player yet failed.  This group is the opposite, this wolfpack’s strength is in numbers rather than the size of one lone wolf, which makes them better equipped to handle the adversity that any playoff appearance surely brings.

Coming up a bit later, the Nick and Barry have Jack Armstrong on the pod but if you really can’t wait…

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