Well, they kept it close for a quarter. Desperately needing a win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, the Bucks coasted into Toronto on Wednesday and allowed the Raptors (a team with nothing to play for) to blow their doors off in the second quarter. Kudos go to the bench for making it look respectable with a fourth quarter run, but this one was never in doubt following a second quarter that saw the Raps outscore the Bucks 40-24.
Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon (eight points each) keying a second- quarter onslaught that saw Toronto rain in six three pointers to stretch a five-point first quarter lead into a 65-44 laugher at the break. Maybe we should have seen it coming, given that Ramon Sessions (18 pts, 7 dimes) and Richard Jefferson (22 pts) single-handedly kept the Bucks in the game early, scoring 18 of the Bucks 20 first quarter points.
The Bucks then got an unexpected lift in the fourth when Charlie Bell (20 pts), Damon Jones (12), and Joe Alexander started hitting threes to make the scoreline look a bit more respectable, but it seemed pretty clear there was no New Orleans-like comeback in store.
Chris Bosh scored 18 on eight shots to go with 14 boards and five assists, with 14 of his points coming before half. Jose Calderon added an efficient 19/11 (7/12 fg, 3/5 threes) while Anthony Parker scored 18 on just nine shots. And Andrea Bargnani led six Raps in double figures with 23 (but just 7/17 fg), outplaying a thoroughly frustrated Charlie Villanueva (eight pts, 4/11 fg).
- Charlie Bell. Let's start with a major disclaimer: Bell stunk in the pivotal second quarter, going 1/6 in the first half while the Raptors shredded the Bucks with excellent ball movement along the perimeter. So if you want to ignore his second half surge that resulted in 20 points, seven dimes, and six boards, I can accept that on the it-didn't-matter-at-that-point hypothesis. That said, the Bucks finally showed some signs of life when Bell went to work with a scrubtacular lineup that also featured Damon Jones and Joe Alexander. Despite playing in that horrid first half, Bell still managed to post a +2 rating for the game.
- Ramon Sessions. He couldn't stop the Raps' backcourt from doing their thing, but Sessions held his own (18 pts, 8/13 fg, seven ast, one turnover) in what was an encouraging bounce-back performance after his brutal showing against Portland. Sessions only got to the line once but was otherwise aggressively looking for his shot; the floater was working and he nailed a couple jumpers, too.
Richard Jefferson. OK, I think I've got it. Richard Jefferson without Michael Redd is....Michael Redd? He sat with the other starters for much of the second half, but RJ finally got back on track offensively in the early going and finished with a solid 22 points (10/18 fg) in 28 minutes.
Otherwise...not much to report. A Redd-like three rebounds and two assists, which is pretty much what he's been doing for two months now--just 3.7 rpg and 2.5 apg over the past two months to go with scoring averages of 23.2 ppg and 22.2 ppg. Considering the problems the Bucks have had rebounding the ball, the decline in RJ's rebounding over the course of the season is a troubling sign that he's not the player he once was. Also a problem: .408/.222/.831 shooting splits this month after a robust .477/.500/.742 line last month.
- -28. The two teams' shooting splits were quite similar: .479/.500/.875 for the Raps and .478/.481/.778 for the Bucks. And after the Raps six threes in the second, the Bucks also caught up and eventually surpassed them from distance with a 13-12 edge from deep while hitting nine more field goals overall. So yeah, you can guess what the difference was. The Bucks outfouled the Raps by a 28-15 margin and were -28 from the charity stripe as Toronto hit 35/40 compared to the Bucks' mere 7/9.
- -16. Though the Bucks outscored Toronto by 14 in the fourth, this game was all about the second quarter, when the Raps' 16 point edge blew open a close game.
- 13. The Bucks nailed an uncharacteristic 13 triples, the weird thing being that all of them came courtesy of the bench: Jones and Bell hit four each while Bogans and Alexander added a pair.
- Sessions bounces back. Against Portland Sessions look bizarrely off his game--almost like a golfer who suddenly has a case of the yips. So it's at least somewhat reassuring to see Sessions looking confident again, attacking defenses and doing his thing.
- Scrubs. Early in the season it seemed like the bench guys were always making games look respectable with good fourth quarters in otherwise bad games; given that half of the bench is now in the starting lineup it's probably no surprise we see less of it. Still, Skiles always seems to get his scrubs guys to beat the other teams' scrubs, and tonight was no exception. Somewhat similar to the game in New Orleans, the Bucks looked like toast by the time halftime hit, but then used seven fourth quarter threes to make the remaining Raptors fans at least slightly nervous. Jones was finally shooting well enough to justify his mouth, Bell once again had a nice game after the contest seemed over, and even Joe Alexander popped in a couple threes before fouling out in just 18 minutes (OK, so a couple of those were intentional fouls late)..
T-Dot. Toronto's a lovely town. Hopefully the Bucks got to enjoy it before they stepped on the court.
- Q2. More and more the Bucks look out of gas, incapable of bringing the necessary intensity for 48 minutes. Tonight their problems came in the second quarter (40-24); against Portland it was the third (30-17); and against Orlando it was the opening stanza (36-20).
- Charlie Down. If there was one guy who you would have expected a motivated showing from it would have been CV--while he's struggled on the road, Villanueva has feasted on the Raps (22.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and always seems to relish playing in front of his old fans. Instead, Villanueva was bothered by the length of Bosh, Bargnani and Marion and never found a comfort zone. He struggled with the burlier Bargnani in the third quarter before eventually taking a seat with just eight points.
- Curtains? I'd love to be proven wrong, but I'm not sure you can make a rational argument for the Bucks making the playoffs at this point. The Bucks are now a full three games behind Chicago for the final spot and have slipped percentage points behind Charlotte as well. For all you tankers, the Bucks are also just 2.5 games ahead of the Knicks for 13th in the conference, which would be the ninth slot in the lottery. Then again, at this point I'd guess the Bucks trade the pick for cap relief anyway. Ugh.