With Jose Calderon out of the lineup, and the team coming off of one of their worst losses of the season, the Toronto Raptors were right back at it against the Bucks last night. How did they fare with Jerryd Bayless running the point? the HQ has the answers including why the Raptors are in a very strange position following last night's contest.
The Raptors entered Sunday evening's affair with the Milwaukee Bucks following one of their most embarrassing losses of the season in Detroit--a game in which starting point guard Jose Calderon went down with an ankle sprain, leaving him unable to compete Sunday against the Bucks.
In the aftermath of the train wreck that was the loss to the Pistons, the Raptors were left with two burning questions to answer heading into a matchup with the Bucks: how would the Raptors respond after looking absolutely terrible against the Pistons? And how well will the Raptors' offense function without Jose in the starting lineup?
Both of these questions were answered within the first three minutes of the game as the Raptors came out strong, making their first six attempts from the floor and jumping out to a 10-4 lead. The Raps continued that big effort for the remainder of the quarter, building their lead to seven by the time it came to its conclusion.
The Dinos' early success on the offensive end of the floor was a function of how well the team moved the ball--they finished the half with 17 total assists. This came as a bit of a surprise considering the concern over Jerryd Bayless' propensity to over-dribble, over-shoot and make poor decisions with the ball. Instead, the fans at the ACC were treated to an under control, more team-oriented Jerryd Bayless and in turn, a much more fluid and effective Raptor offense.
Defensively however, the Raptors failed to bring that same energy level.
After the Dinos stretched the lead to 13 points midway through the second quarter, Milwaukee went on a run of their own, sparked by the efforts of Ersan Ilyasova who lit up the Raptors for 31 points and 12 rebounds--the result of which, saw the Raptor lead cut to just five at the break.
Both teams shot over 50% from the floor in the half, a definite sign of lackadaisical defense from both sides. Fortunately for the Bucks, they would tighten up their D in the second half. Unfortunately for the Raptors, they failed to follow suit.
The second half was not kind to the Dinos as the ball movement that was cause for so much success in the first half disappeared, resulting in just six second half assists. The Bucks on the other hand, caught fire, making some timely baskets in crunch time.
Drew Gooden and Mike Dunleavy were both huge, scoring 21 and 19 points respectively. Dunleavy nailed what would turn out to be one of, if not the biggest shot of the game to put the Bucks up for good in the fourth.
The win for the Bucks was a big one, putting them just one game back of the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The win also came on a night where the Bucks had just 10 active players on the roster resulting in some heavy minutes for the likes of Ilyasova, Dunleavy and Brandon Jennings.
For the Raptors, this loss is their third in the last four games, putting them a full five games back of the Knicks for that final playoff spot in the East--a fact which is almost unfathomable considering that the Raptors also own the fourth worst record in the entire NBA, yet is a true testament to how bad the majority of the teams in the Eastern Conference have been this season.
The loss isn't all bad for the Raptors who got some had some solid contributors on the night. Ed Davis finished with 10 rebounds in 21 minutes; DeMar DeRozan scored a team high 21, albeit on an inefficient 9 of 22 shooting and Andrea Bargnani showed some signs of progress, grabbing eight rebounds, scoring 11 points and was the only Raptors to finish with a positive plus/minus stat.
Jerryd Bayless was possibly the best player on the floor last night for the Dinos. Bayless' line of 16 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal was modest; yet, when you consider that he made over half of his shots, committed only one turnover and held Brandon Jennings to one of his worst shooting games of the season, his performance looks a little more impressive.
There were stretches in this game, particularly in the second half, where maybe he shot when he should have looked to pass, but his overall game on Sunday has to be considered a positive for a guy that has struggled to prove that he can run a team at this level. Whichever way you look at it, these next few games without Jose Calderon will be huge for Bayless to try and prove that he can be a viable option as a starting point guard in this league.
With 13 wins on the season the Raptors are now that much closer to being at the bottom of the barrel in the NBA so to speak. The Raptors currently sit three games up on the third worst team in the league--the New Orleans Hornets, although the Hornets will embark on a stretch of games that will see them play Charlotte, Washington and New Jersey in the coming week--all potential wins for the Hornets.
In the event that the Raptors continue to slide, and the Hornets are able to bounce a few fellow lottery bound teams, this could be a good week for those supporting the Tanknation movement.
We will see how this all plays out beginning on Monday when the Raptors play their first of five straight on the road, starting in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.