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Lewenberg: Raps' season on life support after loss to Bucks

Josh Lewenberg, TSN.ca
3/3/2013 12:32:41 AM
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In many ways it was the perfect microcosm of their season.

The 2012-13 Toronto Raptors (23-37) have experienced ups and downs in many shapes and sizes but on Saturday night their once-salvagible campaign, their playoff aspirations - however slim - may have come to an unofficial conclusion.

Facing the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (29-28) - a team they needed to beat to keep their postseason hopes alive - the Raptors came up just short in overtime, falling 122-114 without their best player at the Bradley Center Saturday.

In a game that featured 11 lead changes and 10 ties, Toronto played without leading scorer Rudy Gay, who was a late scratch suffering from back spasms that began to frustrate him in the first half of Friday night's loss to Indiana.

Without Gay in the lineup, the Raptors - with seven players scoring in double figures - fought hard but ultimately couldn't overcome being undermanned in the second game of a back-to-back after going dormant for most of the second and third quarters.

Alan Anderson led the way with 21 points off the bench, Amir Johnson had 19 points and nine rebounds before fouling out while DeMar DeRozan scored 18 on 6-of-21 shooting with nine assists. John Lucas III added 16, Landry Fields chipped in 15 getting the start in place of the injured Gay, Andrea Bargnani scored 11 and Kyle Lowry registered his third career triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Raptors now find themselves mired in a four-game slide, sitting 7 1/2 behind the Bucks who are in sole possession of the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. With 22 contests remaining in a seemingly lost season, the team must get Bargnani's value trending upwards - he started in place of Jonas Valanciunas on Saturday - while further developing their rookies and young players, closing out the season with enough momentum to carry them into next year.

Fast Breaking Points:

Quick Start:

Playing in the second night of a back-to-back without their leading scorer and working two new faces back into the starting lineup, the Raptors were surprisingly prolific. Not to discount the high-end offensive ability that Gay brings to the table but the Raps started out playing like the team that won seven of eight back in December, without an elite scorer. They were moving the ball, getting out on the break and patiently looking for high-percentage shots, areas of the game that seemed to allude them earlier this week.

Although Bargnani was making his first start since sustaining the elbow injury in Portland on December 10th, he and Fields - who played just two minutes Friday night - brought great energy to the first unit. Lowry, who dropped two points, six assists, six rebounds in the opening quarter, was quietly brilliant, initiating the offence, pushing the tempo while facilitating and finding the hot hand.

Of course, basketball is a game of runs and Milwaukee has basically mastered the comeback so their 11-point lead was unlikely to last but it was good to see the Raptors playing at a high level after coming out (beyond) flat on Friday.

The Stat: The Raptors scored 32 first-quarter points (on 58 per cent shooting). That's 19 points more than they put up in the first period of Friday's loss - when they had a season-low 13 - and just two points fewer than they registered in the first half against Indiana (34).

Comeback Kids

Yes, both teams have been there before. The 2012-13 Bucks won 11 games in which they've trailed by 10 or more, including a 20-point comeback victory in Toronto on January 13th. On the flip side, the Raptors are no stranger to coughing up big leads, so Milwaukee's second-quarter run should not have come as a surprise.

The Bucks feature long, active defenders (Larry Sanders) that create more opportunities for their high volume scorers who can put points on the board in a hurry (Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, J.J. Redick). It's through that formula that Milwaukee got back into and eventually took control of the game. With Ilyasova and Ellis scoring at will, Jennings became the facilitator that Lowry was for Toronto out of the gate. The Bucks' point guard had eight of his 10 first-half assists in the second quarter and finished the game with a career-high 19 dimes (his previous best was 13). Ilysova - a player that has had some big games against the Raptors in the past - scored 12 of his game-high 29 in the third frame. Ellis added 23 while Redick scored 16 off the Bucks bench.

The Raptors simply got away from what they did well to begin the evening. They stopped running (zero fast-break points in the second and third quarters after seven in the first) and they weren't moving the ball (one assist on nine field goals in the second frame, 10 on 14 made shots in the first).

The Stat: Milwaukee outscored Toronto 57-42 in the second and third quarters combined.

Bench Brigade and Final Push

With Gay out and DeRozan struggling, the Raptors were in desperate need of a fill-in scorer trailing by eight going into the fourth. Thanks to their bench - a group that has underwhelmed of late - they found a couple hot hands that helped them claw their way back. Lucas poured in nine points as the Raptors began the fourth on an 11-2 to put them back on top 85-84. Anderson scored 11 and Johnson had 10 in a back-and-forth final period. It was far from a flawless frame but the exhausted Raptors fought hard to force overtime before they simply ran out of gas in the extra period. Nothing came natural for Toronto, everything was forced as the Bucks scored the first seven points of OT and the Raps opened the period with back-to-back offensive fouls, one of them knocking Johnson out of the game with his sixth foul.

The Stat: There were eight lead changes and four ties in the fourth quarter before the Bucks ran away with the game in OT.

Notables

The Bucks lead the season series 2-0, having swept the Raptors in each of the last two campaigns. Milwaukee has won nine straight versus Toronto, including seven consecutive at home. The Raptors' last win at the Bradley Center came in a 91-87 game on November 1, 2008. They will meet for the third and final time of the campaign in Milwaukee on April 6th. ... Saturday's game in Milwaukee was the Raptors' first outside the Eastern Time Zone since December 28th, a span of 29 contests. They have a record of 1-11 in a different time zone. ... Toronto is now 2-6 in overtime and 7-7 in the second game of back-to-back sets this year.

Injury Report

After vowing to play through his back pain after Friday's loss, Gay was unable to overcome it the following night, missing his third game of the season and first since being acquired by the Raptors. Gay, who is averaging 20.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in 13 contests with Toronto, is considered day-to-day.

Up Next

The Raptors go out West for the final three games of a four-game road swing beginning with a trip to the always electric Oracle Arena in Oakland, California for a Monday evening, 10:30 PM Eastern, date with the Golden State Warriors (33-27). Toronto dropped its only other meeting with the Warriors, 114-102 at the ACC back on January 28th. They'll also visit Phoenix (Wednesday, 9pm et) and the Los Angeles Lakers (Friday, 10:30pm et) before heading back home next weekend.

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