By Jake McCormick
After (what seems like) seven years on the West Coast, the Milwaukee Bucks return to the cozy, frigid, moderately temperate climate of Wisconsin to take on the Toronto Raptors. Traditionally a team that prefers a late entrance to the party, the Bucks rallied from a 56-49 halftime deficit to win 113-107. The Bucks had no answer to Raptor forward Chris Bosh, who was making shots all over the floor and finished with a career high 43 points to go with 12 rebounds. Andrew Bogut notched another double-double (27-12) before fouling out, lifting the Bucks to 12-2 when he scores over 17 points. It was also the Buck debut of veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who made his impact felt in limited minutes. Raptor Island II (seriously, it’s a Sci-Fi channel original SERIES of movies) is set for tip-off at 6 p.m. Friday…Only this time, it’s in Toronto.
“We were able to make big plays,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We were kind of slow in the beginning of the game, which is understandable when you come off a trip like that, but we were able to regroup and had a great second half and a lot of guys contributed, which is what we need.”
After jumping out to an Atonement-like pace, a Scott Skiles timeout and Lady Gaga song injected some energy into the starters at the end of the first quarter, as Milwaukee went on an 11-2 run. The Bucks find themselves down 24-22 after the first quarter, thanks to the foreshadowing relentlessness of Raptor Chris Bosh. Bosh continued to gain all the steam of a Hummer with no brakes heading down the Appalachian Mountains in the second, and Jose Calderon also came off the bench for Toronto to help the Raptors go ahead 56-49 at the half. Needless to say, the Bucks do not shoot the ball extremely well in the first half and had less answers for Chris Bosh than a parent forced to explain what their child saw after inadvertently walking into the master bedroom at midnight.
Milwaukee has consistently been more of a second half team this season, and Wednesday was no different as ball movement and quality shot selection headlined the Bucks resurgence and ultimate victory. Bosh continues to register three point plays like a lucky kid that lands on the most expensive properties in Monopoly on their first three trips around the board. Still, Bosh’s dominance (and the Milwaukee defense, of course) kept Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani from getting into any sort of rythme. Jennings, Delfino and Bogut score the bulk of Milwaukee’s points, including a couple of impressive Jennings drives reminiscent of his play at the beginning of the season. The Bucks entered into the fourth with an 81-78 lead they would not relinquish.
With Jennings on the bench to start the fourth, Luke Ridnour drops nine straight points and 10 of the Bucks’ 15 between the :53 mark in the third and the eight minute mark in the fourth. As good as Bosh was all night, a 2-7 fourth quarter was a gift to the Bucks from the basketball gods, and he began forcing shots when they became more and more critical. The Raptors kept the game close, but even after Bogut fouled out with just over four minutes left, it didn’t feel like some of the other tight rope walks the Bucks have done this season. The team rallied together and Ersan Ilyasova, who Skiles said has been pressing for a few weeks, makes one of the biggest baskets of the game on a follow up three point play layup with 1:28 left.
Jennings, continuing to stay aggressive at the point, pulled off a smooth crossover and reverse lay in after an impressive fast break layup. Although he finished the night 5-21, courtesy of questionable shot selection and some beginning aprehensiveness, Jennings displayed the confidence of a playmaker when it was necessary.
Bogut controlled the Bucks’ scoring early while the rest of the team unshackles the 10 pound weights from their ankles, going 4-5 in the first quarter. It was Bogut’s sixth straight double-double and 19th on the year. Bogut also did a good job of forcing Bosh and Bargnani to settle for jumpers most of the game. He registered three blocks before fouling out, but you couldn’t have really asked for a better performance from the Aussie.
Carlos Delfino continues a string of games resurrecting himself from the dead with 12 points in the second and a 22/8/4 50% 3FG on the night. Delfino recognized his place in this world, as that one Christian song from the informercials says, by letting the game come to him and choosing his shots with surgical precision. When he doesn’t convince himself he can take the point and run the offense, Delfino is very serviceable, and has earned as much time as Skiles is willing to give him.
“I thought he looked good,” Skiles said. “He passed the ball well, rebounded well; got alittle winded out there, but overall I thought he moved around the floor really well.”
On his first entry into the game, newcomer Jerry Stackhouse receives an ovation not heard in Milwaukee since the days of CC Sabathia. Although it was about a quarter of the length and volume, Stackhouse’s debut ends with three points, five rebounds (four offensive), and four assists in 17 minutes. Skiles mentioned before the game that Stackhouse was already one of the team’s best post up players, and he’s always had a pension for getting to the line. It’ll be interesting to see how he continues to respond to increased minutes as he gets his basketball feet under him.
“It was good to get out there and get a little burn and get moving a little bit,” Stackhouse said. “Obviously once I get my legs under me a bit I feel like I’ll be a little bit better. You can work out and do all that stuff, but there’s nothing like getting out there in a game.”
Bosh destroyed everything between him and the basket like a Godzilla rampage through Tokyo. Even the Bucks were expecting any shot, contested or uncontested to drop, and more often than not they did. His only cold streak occurred in the fourth quarter (2-7), but most of those shots were off-balance and the Bucks were making the most of Raptor mistakes.
As opposed to starting, shoot-first point guard Jarrett Jack, Calderon buzzes around the court like a hummingbird, or a Spanish Luke Ridnour. It’s clear Toronto moves the ball much better with him in the game. Calderon dropped eight points and three assists in seven minutes in the second quarter, but was kept out of sync when he returned in the fourth.
After completing their most grueling and brutal road trip of the season out west, Milwaukee bounced back with a quality win over a decent opponent (one in line for a playoff berth if the season ended today). Obviously the Raptor defense is never anything to celebrate conquering, but shooting 53% in the second half still required good shot selection and decision making on the Bucks’ part. Overall, it was a great homecoming for Milwaukee as they get back into the regular mix of home/away games.