Biting and scratching could be the motto of some of the less than average teams in the Eastern Conference. Bucks fans know that feeling all too well when they’re watching this team, because they know that they’re not the finest team in the league but they know they’ll put up a fight. Speaking of putting up a fight, the Raptors have done anything possible to at least keep up with the Bucks to try to overtake them and grab that 8th seed.
Going into this game the Raptors were 10th in the Eastern Conference standings sitting a game behind the Pistons and 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee. Yes, that might seem like a bit of a towering advantage but there were some whispers that the Raptors or Pistons could possibly overtake Milwaukee and grab that 8th seed. With that said, the Bucks did their best impersonation of Dr. Ian Malcom (Jurassic Park reference) to kill off the Raptors in overtime, 122-114.
The Raptors started the game taking advantage of the fact that Sanders was on the bench by working their way around the paint. The likes of Amir Johnson, Landry Fields and DeMar DeRozan were either manuvering their way around the below average perimeter defense to drive to the basket or to make some easy shots in the post. With the mediocre start defensively, the Bucks really didn’t have much luck on the offensive side of the court by throwing up some questionable shots that largely failed to go in.
The Bucks luck changed at the start of the 2nd quarter thanks to the play of John Henson. While that may sound surprising, Henson started out the second quarter on an absolute roll putting in some beautiful hook shots to help spark up a Bucks run.
While the second quarter was about getting even, the third quarter was about the team taking over the game. The leader of the charge was Brandon Jennings but more because of his abilities as a distributor. Jennings’ stroke wasn’t working tonight but he was absolutely outstanding as a pass distributor. Jennings just looked like a completely different player tonight which was actually a good thing because the team wouldn’t have won without his career-high 19 assists. Most of those assists came in the 1st half but he still was the leader of the team mainly because of how he opened up the game to the front court players.
Going back to the game and the third quarter. I’ve already mentioned how Jennings was the general during the games, but Ilyasova and Sanders were the trusted soldiers leading the troops on the battlefield. Ersan has slowly been improving since his horrendous start of the season and perhaps had his best game tonight. While Ersan didn’t make any three-point shots, he still was extremely productive on the offensive side with 29 points and 11 rebounds that included some key plays in overtime .
I know he’s been basically talked about by every single basketball analyst out there but Larry Sanders is just a remarkable player to watch. Matt Moore of CBS’s Eye on Basketball blog did a feature this week where he talked to Sanders about his approach to both defense and blocking. After listening to Sanders actually break down his approach, you appreciate what he does on a game by game basis especially after tonight’s game. Sanders had a simple double-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, but those baskets and points seem a little more special than most of other players in the league. He doesn’t block shots with the tenacity of a player like Javale McGee or Serge Ibaka but he doesn’t have to, because he blocks shots to help the offense rather than to make a statement.
The Raptors bench made a statement in the fourth quarter when they led the team back into the game with the three-point shooting of journeymen guards John Lucas and Alan Anderson. Those two bench players combined for a remarkable 20 points that included four 3’s between them. While it’s agonizing to watch a bench player like Lucas or Anderson go crazy on your team, it’s just really hard to guard any player in the NBA if they’re having a hot shooting night like they were having.
The Raptors, of course, tied the game up in the closing moments of the fourth to force an overtime but the Bucks quickly sealed the deal in the period thanks to the play of the aforementioned Sanders and Ilyasova. One thing I noticed about that overtime period was that Boylan actually played the three-guard set of Redick, Jennings and Ellis. That’s a risky move but it worked out for the team because they got the victory in the end. Also, both Redick and Ellis had solid games of their own which will quite possibly make the rest of the season more interesting because you really can’t predict how Boylan will use all of these guards.
This victory helps bring the Bucks back above .500 and pulls them within a game and a half behind the Celtics. It now appears that the Bucks are locks to make the playoffs now that they’re 5.0 games ahead of Detroit and 6.5 ahead of Toronto (Milwaukee holds the playoff tie-breaker). This Bucks team is filled with inconsistencies but can still give the fans an enjoyable brand of basketball.