By Jake McCormick
It would be way too easy to kick the Toronto Raptors while they’re down by making a clichéd joke about their nonexistent defense. But when a team like the Milwaukee Bucks crossover 100 points halfway through the fourth quarter and start slacking defensively because they’re that confident in their chances of a basket, it’s almost necessary. With a 77% field goal percentage in the fourth and a 53% clip overall, it’s inevitable.
The Toronto Raptors play defense with less frequency than hearing a good joke from Jeff Dunham. Even with seven players in double figures for points, it was no more apparent than in the play of reserve Roko Ukic, who was part of the trade with the Raptors that brought in Carlos Delfino. Overall, the entire offense was clicking no matter who set foor on the floor (a lot of the time without Andrew Bogut, too).
Milwaukee was also fortunate enough to face Toronto without Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon, and instead drew the portly point guard Marcus Banks, who’s girth rivaled his fat contract signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2006.
Although Brandon Jennings led the team with 22 points (14 in the first quarter) and the Bucks went 24-28 from the line (Skiles called it a “miracle”), the story of the night was reserve Roko Ukic and his surprisingly strong performance. After riding the pine for four out of the last five games, Ukic scored 17 points, dished four assists, grabbed two rebounds and added a steal in 25 minutes. Skiles said Ukic has earned more looks and playing time because of his performance.
“I haven’t really been satisfied with some of our off the bench energy,” Skiles said. “Roko is a guy that every day is the same. He’s good with the ball, he made shots, and he’s got a burst of quickness and you can tell it’s evident when he’s out there.”
Ukic’s night seemed unlikely to nearly everyone in the building except the 12 players in red, white, and green. Ukic said doing well against his old team was something he did enjoy, but it certainly wasn’t his dominant focus heading into the game.
“Any game I get in I just want to make sure I get everything I can, play well,” Roko said. “I think energy is good part of my game; I tried to provide it and got a good spark from all guys coming off bench.”
Keeping with the theme of ex-Raptors acquired in trades for guys who had never worn a Bucks uniform yet were part of the team for a few days, Carlos Delfino also showed a few surprise moves that went beyong his stat line of 14 points and eight rebounds. The Venezuelan guard/forward stole a straight minute and a half of the highlight reel with an impressive drive and dunk and a more impressive block of a DeMar DeRozan dunk attempt late in the third quarter.
Watch this, starting at the 1:21 mark.
“He’s deceptive athletically, above average laterally,” Skiles said. “He’s a sneaky defensive rebounder. He’s not always above rim so you don’t always see it, but that block is one of best blocks I’ve seen this year.”
The Bucks have a day off today and tomorrow after playing 15 games in 26 days. On Saturday, they take on the Greg Oden-less, Rudy Fernandez-less, Nicolas Batum-less, and Travis Outlaw-less Portland Trail Blazers at the Bradley Center. Portland still shouldn’t be taken lightly because of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Bucks should have enough momentum built from the all-around team effort against Toronto to overtake an injury-riddled Portland team.
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