And while in the end they summoned up enough defensive stops and key buckets--mostly from Ersan Ilyasova--to overcome Toronto's double-digit second half lead, their efforts were rendered academic by Philly's easy 105-87 win in New Jersey.
In other words, we can officially stop entertaining the idea of a playoff miracle and begin focusing on the key decision points the Bucks will face over the summer, not least of which will be the futures of Ilyasova (19 points, 6/10 fg, 15 rebounds) and Brandon Jennings (25 pts, 9/23 fg, 3/6 thees, 4/6 ft, 5 ast, 3 stl, 2 to), who combined to drag the Bucks to victory following an uninspired first three quarters.
In what's become a running theme, the Bucks started both halves slowly and didn't hit their stride until Ekpe Udoh and Mike Dunleavy were inserted. With Toronto leading 25-15 late in the first and 61-47 early in the third, you'd be forgiven for mixing up which team was shooting for the lottery and which one was fighting for their playoff lives, but the Bucks slowly reeled them in each time despite one of their colder shooting nights (37%) in recent memory.
James Johnson was the Raps' primary danger man, doing a bit of everything (22 pts, 13 rebs, 4 ast) even if he was a bit too interested in hoisting up long twos (3/10 fg from 16-23 ft, 6/6 fg at the rim), while Linas Kleiza and Gary Forbes (15 each) provided some punch off the bench for a Raptor team playing without Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless.
Ersan Ilyasova. Quiet offensively for three quarters, Ilyasova controlled the boards all night and erupted in the fourth, scoring the Bucks' final nine points with a little bit of everything. He showed no hesitation (or pump-faking) in splashing his last three jumpers and seemingly came away with every rebound and loose ball down the stretch.
Ekpe Udoh. Udoh sparked the Bucks off the bench with some surprisingly effective offense (11 pts, 4/7 g) and his usual brand of effective help defense (3 blk), not surprisingly tying for he team lead in +- (+23) with Mike Dunleavy.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings was the only Buck who didn't sleepwalk through the first quarter, scoring 11 in the opening stanza and once again leading the Bucks in scoring (9/23 fg, 25 pts, 5 ast, 2 to). Drove and finished a key three point play with just under four minutes remaining to give the Bucks their first lead of the game, but he also cooled off down the stretch (2/8 fg in 4th) and didn't help his team's cause with some poor shot selection.
30-19. The Bucks showed again that they're a fourth quarter team, outscoring the visitors by 11 while erasing a double-digit Raptor lead,
28/36. The Bucks earned more than 30 free throw attempts just six times in their first 61 games, but have now cracked 30+ attempts in each of the last three games.
24-13. Maybe it was their lack of point guards, but Toronto turned it over a whopping 21 times and the Bucks made them pay with 24 points off turnovers.
Late show. This game shouldn't have gone down to the wire, but it did and the Bucks thankfully didn't let all the distractions prevent them from making plays down the stretch. It might not matter in practicality, but there's something to be said for finishing a season without a bad aftertaste in your mouth.
Ersanity. Ironically, the Raptors' announcers remarked early in the fourth that Ilyasova had not been a factor up until that point, but he quickly made amends with a putback, three jump shots and four free throws in the game's final six minutes. Too bad Ilyasova's strong finish is only going to make re-signing him for a reasonable amount that much more challenging.
Tobias played! Wasn't a whole lot to write home about (1/4 fg, 2/2 ft, 4 pts, 1 reb), but it was nice to see the rookie play some meaningful minutes for the first time in a long while. Playing the entire second quarter, Tobias got free for a dunk off a nice feed from Ellis and went to the line after a nice baseline cut. but in general there's clearly plenty of work to do before he's ready to be a consistent performer.
Reality bites. The Bucks will finish 9th in the East for a second straight season; good luck finding anyone who sees that as a desirable result.
Ellis. Monta started off well (4/7 fg) and managed six rebs, five ast and four steals, but he went 0/7 in the second half on his way to another bad shooting night. While I originally viewed the Ellis acquisition as giving the Bucks cover to move Jennings this summer, it's becoming increasingly clear that Jennings (younger, cheaper, longer contract control, more productive) would be the better bet to keep if/when the Bucks have to choose between the two.