The Raptors sure don't make it easy on themselves, do they? Once again, after a magnificent win over an awesome team, Toronto struggled to handle a sub-par opponent; except this time, they managed to eke out the win.
In many ways, this was a typical Raptors game. Milwaukee rolled to an all-too-familiar 13-4 lead in the game's opening minutes, exploiting the struggling Raptors starters to the point that Dwane Casey made an early move to bring in Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson before five minutes had wound off the clock. As has become a common occurrence this season, Joseph sparked the team.
"I thought we were a little lethargic, kind of running in mud a little bit. I think in the first half Cory was a plus-23 or something crazy like that. So he came in, jump-started us, got us going, got the ball moving, pushing it up the floor. And that's what he's great with," Casey said after the game.
After those shaky few opening minutes, the Raptors screamed out to a 49-31 half-time lead, holding Milwaukee to 5-for-21 shooting in a 25-14 second quarter.
Milwaukee's misshapen roster certainly contributed to Toronto's stingy first half. A complete lack of outside threats at Jason Kidd's disposal allowed the Raptors to play a collapsing style of defense, sending two men at any and all drivers, resulting in heavily contested shots in the paint (the Bucks shot just 45 percent from in close) or kick outs to open Bucks' shooters who, save for the 45 percent shooting Khris Middleton, are guys the Raptors were clearly okay with launching freely from distance.
Things came apart in the third though, and any hopes of a repeat of last November's Raptors-Bucks game that saw Bruno Caboclo play the entire fourth quarter were crushed.
With Luis Scola back in the game, Greg Monroe found his groove inside, pouring in eight of his 13 points in the frame. Middleton dropped 9 in the third as well. With Kyle Lowry having a rare night off from the flamethrower mode he's been in of late (just 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting), the lead narrowed to an uncomfortable 10 points.
"There's not to many guys who can come out and stay as hot as Kyle has been. He's due one, not too many of them, but he was due one tonight," said Casey of his soon-to-be two-time All-Star point guard.
But even if it was a down game for Lowry, he'd still play a crucial role in the win. With under a minute remaining, the Bucks trailed 88-83, as 10 more points by Middleton in the fourth combined with a pair of Bismack Biyombo gaffes on offense almost brought Milwaukee back from the brink of Bruno. Then Lowry mounted some deer:
That silly bucket, which prompted an "oh my goodness" from P.A. Announcer Herbie "Don't Call Him Hubie" Kuhn, sealed the Raptors third straight win and 15th of the season.
But once again, as has become the norm this season, Toronto couldn't take advantage of an opportunity to bank an easy, rest-providing victory. The troubling trend of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (who notched 27 points with another highly efficient shooting night) compiling hefty minutes totals against creamy opponents continued.
Eventually it's going to be an issue that will come to bite the already short-handed Raptors; whether in the form of another injury in the present, or the eventual wearing down of the Raptors' main contributors.
What did you make of tonight's game?