Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks

It was already unlikely, but with an overtime loss in Milwaukee on Saturday night, the Raptors’ chances of making a run at the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed virtually went out the window.

Here are some thoughts on the game…

Bucks 122, Raptors 114

- Finding out just before tip-off that Rudy Gay would miss the game with back spasms was a let down, but the most disappointing pre-game development was that Andrea Bargnani would be replacing Jonas Valanciunas in the starting lineup. The fact that the team was “trying to get Andrea going” was referenced multiple times, and frankly, that’s quite the pathetic stance to take for the Raptors. Essentially, Bargnani has played with zero energy and effort for the last couple of weeks (after seven years of mostly the same) while Valanciunas was playing as well as ever during that same stretch, but since Andrea simply wasn’t as bad as usual on Friday night, Dwane Casey and the coaching staff/organization thought this was the perfect time to reward him.

As I tweeted before the game, most organizations punish players like Bargnani for consistently failing to deliver an honest effort by limiting their minutes before eventually just flat out benching him. The Raptors instead coddle and unjustifiably reward Bargnani with the hope that said rewards will inspire him to merely do his job.

If it really is Casey’s call, then we should all feel incredibly naive for believing his remarks earlier this season that players will actually have to earn minutes from here on out. If, as many conspiracy theorists believe, the call is coming from Bryan Colangelo, then BC is a lost cause. Either way, this whole situation has become an embarrassing farce for the franchise.

- By the way, after collecting four points and five rebounds in his first eight minutes of action off of the bench tonight, Valanciunas only logged another three minutes after that and didn’t touch the floor at all in the second half or in overtime. But remember, they’re rewarding the guys who deserve minutes!

- While my frustration over the Bargnani situation (and Alan Anderson’s shot selection down the stretch) consumed me for a while after the game, there are plenty of other things to discuss. The game itself was actually quite entertaining and provided plenty of drama and lead changes, with the Gay-less Raptors putting forth a commendable effort for the most part. Sure, the Raps blew an 11-point lead in the first half, but they also entered the fourth quarter down eight points before outscoring the Bucks 30-22 in the fourth to force overtime, where Milwaukee simply dominated both ends of the floor.

- The catalyst for Toronto’s fourth quarter rally was none other than John Lucas III. I’ve mentioned before that when Lucas’ shot isn’t falling, he can ruin a team’s offensive flow because he doesn’t move the ball or penetrate enough. Well tonight we saw what it looks like when his shot is falling, as Lucas finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (including 4-of-5 three-point shooting) in just 17:38 of playing time. Nine of Lucas’ 16 points came on three straight three-pointers within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.

- The Raptors used a small-ball lineup to rally in the fourth quarter, and it worked, but it also left the team vulnerable on the boards and in the paint, as the Bucks crashed the offensive glass and cashed in on second chance points down the stretch. Again, the small lineup worked for Toronto, but there was one play where I thought the Raptors should’ve used a bigger unit. The Bucks had the ball in a tie game with about 28 seconds remaining coming out of a timeout, and after the Raps forced a Monta Ellis miss, Ersan Ilyasova tipped home the offensive rebound to put the Bucks up two with just seven seconds left. The thing is, the Raptors still had a timeout remaining (and they eventually tied the game to send it to OT after calling that timeout), so they could have gone big again to prevent the offensive rebound for Milwaukee while still having the luxury of making a substitution to go small again on the offensive end.

- Kyle Lowry committed six turnovers and still wasn’t nearly as aggressive as I would have liked him to be with Gay out of the lineup (Lowry only took seven shots in 36 minutes), but he also recorded his third career triple-double with 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds while adding five steals for good measure. Unfortunately, as Lowry mentioned postgame, the triple-double doesn’t mean “a damn thing” in a loss.

- While no one was happy with Bargnani in the starting lineup, I didn’t have a problem with Landry Fields taking Gay’s spot for the night. Fields was arguably the best Raptor on the floor tonight (with Amir Johnson also in the conversation), as his constant movement off the ball kept the Raptors’ offence flowing while he crashed the boards and defended as well as anyone, finishing with four steals. Landry also logged a team-high 47:37 of floor time.

- When the Bucks blew a seven-point lead in the final three minutes against the Hawks last Saturday to drop their third straight game and seventh in their last eight, the Raptors (winners of six of seven at the time) moved within four games of Milwaukee and for the first time in nearly two months, I was legitimately thinking we had ourselves a playoff race. I came into this week thinking that the Raptors had to go 3-1 (2-2 at worst) while beating the Bucks tonight to continue the exciting push. Instead, the Raptors went 0-4 while the Bucks went 3-0 in a week that provided a harsh reminder of just how far away this team still is.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Landry Fields – 15 Pts, 7/13 FG, 0/2 3PT, 1/1 FT, 7 Reb, 4 Ast, 4 Stl in 47:37

Bucks Player Of the Game: Ersan Ilyasova – 29 Pts, 12/21 FG, 0/3 3PT, 5/5 FT, 11 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk 1 TO in 42:24

I’d love to say that the one positive of the Bucks putting the Raptors out of their misery is that the rookies (even Acy) will finally start logging major minutes over some of the veteran bit-players who won’t even be here next season, but at this point, do any of us even believe that?