The Raptors bounced back from a disappointing defeat in Atlanta, with a win over the Bucks on Saturday night, 97-90. Rudy Gay top-scored for the Raptors with 18 points and 15 boards (a career high), DeMar DeRozan had 17 points; while Landry Fields (more on him later) put in a really impressive shift -- possibly his best game in a Raptors uniform -- finishing with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. O.J. Mayo finished with 16 points off the bench for the Bucks, who fall to 1-2.
Entering tonight's game the Raps had lost 10 straight games to the Bucks, which as well as being one of the more bizarre/random losing streaks in professional sports, is sort of indicative of where the team's been over the past few seasons -- Milwaukee haven't exactly been world-beaters during that losing streak. The Raps snapped the skid tonight, however, and although it wasn't pretty, it was a much-improved effort at both ends, after Friday's loss.
Both teams shot the ball poorly -- the Raptors, in particular, had trouble finding their range. The Raps shot a putrid 39% from the floor as a team, with the starters going a combined 22-57. But the game was won on the boards and at the free-throw line. The Raptors pounded the Bucks on the glass, winning the rebounding battle, 60-38; snaring 18 offensive boards. And despite the poor shooting display the Raps did a much better job of getting to the line. The free-throw shooting itself wasn't great (just 73% as a team) but the Raps shot 38 free-throws, compared with just the 14 they attempted on Friday night.
And while the Raptors did struggle shooting the ball, the offense (at times) looked more fluid than it has in the team's previous 2 games. Gay himself still took some pretty awful shots -- a 22-foot brick that was thankfully rebounded by Tyler Hansbrough, stands out as being particularly egregious - but there were a lot of misses that came within the flow of something resembling an NBA offense. Yep, that's right, Casey looked like he was running some offensive sets out there. It was hardly Spurs-like, but the ball wasn't sticking quite as much.
In the first quarter Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas ran a beautiful high pick-n-roll, with the Raptors point-guard finding Jonas rolling hard to the rim for an easy finish. It was just one play, but it set a good tone for the Raptors early. Valanciunas once again played limited minutes, with Casey preferring Amir Johnson and Hansbrough in what he felt were necessary small-ball lineups (this is a subject for an entire article, by the way). But early on his teammates - Lowry, in particular - made an effort to go to him in the post, making the offense a little less predictable.
And overall the team did a solid job of looking for the extra pass -- swinging the ball around the perimeter to find the open man. In the second quarter Kyle Lowry knocked down an open 3 in transition after some great ball movement, and in the 3rd, DeRozan finished off a nice sequence with a 3 in the corner. The team finished with 19 assists on 31 made field-goals; a big improvement over their last two games.
A big reason for the team's improved fluidity on offense was the play of Landry Fields. Fields played a lot of minutes in the second half in that small-ball Raptors line-up, alluded to above, with Rudy at the 4 and Amir Johnson (who was excellent, by the way) at centre. From about the mid-way point of pre-season, carrying over until the present, Fields has looked excellent. And last night he continued his good form, playing to his strengths with intelligent off-the-ball cuts, solid rebounding, and excellent play in transition. As a playmaker in a point-forward type role, he looked great. He set up 2 buckets for Aaron Gray (Yep, Gray saw minutes), including a fantastic no-look dish to Gray in transition, and was always looking to make that extra pass.
We're only 3 games into the season, but Fields looks like a completely different player from last year. He should see a lot of minutes in the rotation if he continues to play this well going forward. It's unlikely that Fields replaces DeRozan or Gay in the starting lineup, but in an ideal world it would be given serious consideration by the coaching staff. With his movement off the ball, and play-making abilities, the offense just looks better with him on the floor.
Of course, the Raptors being the Raptors, things had to get interesting in the 4th quarter. After a fantastic 3rd quarter, in which the Raps played really solid interior defense, and opened the game up with a 14-4 run, things got ugly in the 4th. The Bucks went on a 14-5 run, aided by some really sloppy turnovers - which John Henson and Khris Middleton took advantage of in transition - and an Mayo 3 tied the game up at 85-85. DeRozan closed the game, however, with 6 big points down the stretch, before Lowry drew a charge on rookie Nate Wolters to seal the win.
Although it seems a little premature to call any game this early in the season a 'must-win', last night's tilt was important given what's coming up on the schedule. In 6 of their next 8 games the Raps face the Heat, Rockets, Grizzlies, Bulls, Pacers, and Trail Blazers -- a brutal stretch. Games against the Bucks, a borderline playoff team, are games you just have to win if you want to make the post-season.
- Gay was a big culprit in the Raptors mid-4th quarter turnover fest - he had 5 turnovers in the game and was briefly benched in the 4th for Terrence Ross (note: if you're getting benched for Ross, Casey is REALLY pissed at you). Granted, Gay made more of an effort to get to the free-throw line, and his rebounding was solid, but those contested 2s are just brutal to the team's offensive flow.
- Dwane Casey had a much better showing tonight. His use of time-outs actually made sense; unlike in Atlanta, where the game got way out of hand before he felt compelled to call one. And the plays he ran out of timeouts looked decent for the most part. For example, their seemed to be an attempt to get DeRozan the ball deep in the post following a timeout, which is something.
- I'm not sure what the heck is going on in Milwaukee, but the last time I checked they've had NBA basketball in the city since 1968; they shouldn't have this much trouble hosting a basketball game. Last week it was the floor, and last night it was the malfunctioning scoreboard. It seemed like no one knew what the score was for the entire first half. Are we even sure about the score now, or is the final score just a ball-park estimate? It feels like this shouldn't happen in 2013. Oh well, the Raps won, so it's all good.