Game No. 27: Bucks 105, Raptors 99

When two teams open a game shooting as well and scoring as prolifically as the Raptors and Bucks did to open this game, it is often said that the first team to play defence wins. Well that theory was proven correct again tonight, as the Bucks picked up their defensive intensity well before the Raptors did, handing Toronto its third straight loss.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- Finally, the Raptors started a ball game without digging themselves an early hole. The Raps outscored Milwaukee in the first quarter, 29-28, marking the first time in 15 games (since January 13 vs. the Pacers) that Toronto has won a first quarter. They do still have an 11-game first quarter losing streak on the road, however.

2- DeMar DeRozan had a solid game overall, but ultimately kind of fell asleep or was ignored by his teammates down the stretch. DeMar had 21 points before the end of the third quarter but finished with just 25 total and committed a very careless turnover out of a Raptors timeout late in the ball game. It was nice to see DeRozan find his long range jumper again, finishing four-of-six from deep, but you’ll remember that the last big game he had from three-point range (a five-for-eight performance against the Cavs) preceded a month long slump. A good shooting night from DeRozan should never be considered a bad sign, but his three free throw attempts and lack of a complete effort from start to finish discouraged me.

3- Speaking of discouraging signs, I did not like the Raptors’ effort on the boards. Sure, they were only out-rebounded 47-41, but how many times did we see a smaller Bucks player just stroll by and rip the ball out of a Raptors big man’s hands. It was very indicative of the kind of effort the Raps displayed tonight. At times they looked ready to go on a big run and assert their will, at other times it looked like they just wanted the game to be over, especially on the defensive end, which could not have left Dwane Casey very happy with his team. I know that wins don’t matter in the grand scheme of things this season and that losses may actually benefit this franchise down the road, but it’s still hard to watch a game like this, where the only thing keeping the Raptors from picking up a W was the lack of a consistent effort.

4- In typical Raptors fashion, it was a former Raptor, Carlos Delfino, who did the most damage. Delfino scored a season-high 25 points and matched a Raptors opponent season-high with six three-pointers. Is there any other franchise in the NBA or in North American pro sports for that matter that is so often burned by former players?

5- A few words on the Bucks. Milwaukee has a good mix of savvy and capable veterans like Stephen Jackson, Drew Gooden, Carlos Delfino and Mike Dunleavy. They have a couple of young pieces that intrigue me in Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and they are well coached by no-nonsense Scott Skiles. If Brandon Jennings could capitalize on his enormous potential sooner, rather than later, they would be a legitimate playoff team in the East. But at this stage of his career, Jennings is a shoot-first point guard that can’t shoot and turns the ball over too often, which is a terrible mix. The unfortunate thing for Bucks fans is that their veteran talent is good enough to keep them from landing a high draft pick and young talent that they desperately need, but their young star may not become an actual star until that veteran talent is gone and he has nothing left to work with.

It’s a tough situation, and one that I think will keep the Bucks on a treadmill going nowhere for the next couple of seasons.

6- Jerryd Bayless left the game and did not return with what the team is saying is a sore left ankle. It would be a deflating blow if Bayless has to miss time again. The 23-year-old was enjoying one of his best stretches as a Raptor and of his young NBA career. I’m very interested to see what Bayless can do with consistent minutes the rest of this season and how he can build on some of these recent performances. I’d hate to see another extended absence curtail his progress again. Here’s hoping that’s not the case and that it is simply what the team has called it, just a “sore” ankle.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 25 Pts, 9-18 FG, 4-6 3PT, 3-3 FT, 4 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Bucks Player of the Game: Carlos Delfino – 34 Min, 25 Pts, 7-12 FG, 6-8 3PT, 5-6 FT, 9 Reb, 2 Ast, 4 Stl, 3 TO