Ten minutes into the Bucks' Sunday matinee in Toronto, you would have been forgiven for having that "here we go again" feeling. Ed Davis and Amir Johnson were bullying the Bucks down low, while Jose Calderon was shredding Brandon Jennings and the Bucks' sagging help in pick and roll, scoring 15 points in the first 10 minutes alone as the more energetic Raptors worked the Bucks over inside and out to the tune of a 32-12 start. After a disheartening (to put it charitably) home loss to Detroit on Friday, this was not how the Bucks wanted to start their four-game road trip.
But as has been the case so many times this season, the Bucks' depth once again proved their saving grace. This time it was rookie John Henson who keyed the reserves' comeback, scoring 10 of his 19 points before halftime as the Bucks' 31-15 second quarter brought them to within 49-47 at the break. By then the Bucks' starters had also woken up, as Jennings would outscore Calderon the rest of the way to finish with a solid 19-point, 10-assist double-double to Calderon's 21 and 8.
Still, neither team was able to seize control in the third, and it was Toronto taking a five-point lead early in the fourth behind relentless work down low from Johnson (22 points, 14 rebounds) and Davis (20 points, 12 rebounds). Henson would once again come up big in the fourth, scoring seven points in the opening minutes of the period thanks to--what else?--a series of nice left-handed finishes around the cup. Overall the Bucks struggled mightily to keep Toronto's starting bigs off the glass (17 offensive rebounds), but their defense would tighten as the game dragged on before Jennings keyed an 11-0 run that turned a 91-90 deficit into a commanding 101-90 lead inside of two minutes. After slicing through the defense to draw two free throws that restored the Bucks' lead, Jennings would find Mike Dunleavy (15 points on 8 shots) for an open three in transition before putting an exclamation point on the Bucks' run with an alley-oop to Sanders (11 pts, 8 rebs, 2 blk).
Give the Bucks credit for once again staying calm in the face of a big early deficit, though they also owe a huge debt to Toronto's anemic bench for helping them back into the game. The Raptors got 20+ from four of their starters but that was it--the Raptor bench contributed a season-low seven points including none from star sixth man Kyle Lowry (0/4 fg), while fifth starter Landry Fields added just three. The Bucks had no such problems: while Jennings and Monta Ellis shot their customary 40% (12/30), the rest of the team hit 28/47 (60%) to help Milwaukee finish 51% overall.
Toronto also became increasingly content to settle for contested jumpers in the fourth, playing into the Bucks' hands as they were outscored 33-18 in the final period. Milwaukee also adjusted defensively after their disastrous start, showing harder with their bigs on P&R to prevent the easy looks that Calderon was getting early on. The fourth quarter run also included some quality defense from none other than Monta Ellis on the bigger DeMar DeRozan, as Ellis scored eight of his 17 points in the fourth including a pair of tough swooping layups to help close things out. DeRozan still outplayed Ellis overall, but the Bucks' offense never bogged down in the late going and it was Milwaukee which looked like the calmer, more experienced team down the stretch.
Still, questions remain for the Bucks after another worryingly slow start. Ilyasova seems incapable of keeping opposing bigs off the boards, while the Bucks' guards once again looked flat-footed to start the game. Milwaukee's energy and sharpness continues to be unpredictable from quarter to quarter, and in many ways this win paralleled what we saw against the Bulls on Wednesday. That's OK as long as the Bucks can put together two monster quarters to come back and win, but it's not the kind of thing Jim Boylan will be wanting to rely on going forward, especially against stiffer competition.