Head Coach Dwane Casey must be tired of losing, so he made some dramatic changes to his rotation on Monday night in Milwaukee and came away with a hard fought 92-89 win over the Bucks. Terrence Ross was replaced in the starting lineup by Greivis Vasquez and James Johnson sat as a healthy DNP-CD. The nine Raptors that played responded with one of their better defensive efforts.
It would be a challenge to lay much of the blame on James Johnson for the Raptors recent 4 win 8 loss slide. Averaging 9.5 points on 61.5 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks over the past 12 games, Johnson was a model of effort and consistency until his 0 point and 3 turnover effort in 11 minutes on Sunday. Johnson took a silly technical foul sandwiched between two turnovers early in the fourth quarter against the Pelicans and Casey subbed him out for good despite needing his defense later in the game. Casey assured everyone Johnson didn’t do anything wrong in Milwaukee.
“It had nothing to do (with James),” Casey said. “Just those three guys were playing, were doing a good job. I would love to play 15 guys. There are going to be some guys out of the rotation. Tonight those three guys did a good job. Terrence came off the bench, Lou (Williams), Greivis, and Kyle (Lowry) – it had nothing to do with James, nothing he did wrong.”
There is a history between Casey and Johnson that saw Johnson traded for a second round draft pick at the end of the 2011-2012 season in which Johnson had put up some solid stats. Hopefully history isn’t repeating itself.
Ross came off the bench a little slow with 4:51 left in the first quarter. After making a quick midrange jump shot, he missed two deep three-point attempts, turned the ball over and blew a defensive assignment. He started the second quarter with some intensity – a dunk, two made threes and three personal fouls. Ross looked alive for an extended period and earned his extra time on the court.
“Terrence responded coming off the bench and did a great job,” Casey said.
Ross had 16 points and five rebounds and scored the Raptors last two field goals including Toronto’s game-winning shot at the 26.4 second mark and a dunk with 15.9 seconds left.
Jonas Valanciunas had a 11 point 11 rebound double-double at the half, but he only played 5.5 minutes after the break and didn’t score as both Toronto and Milwaukee went small. It seemed inevitable that Valanciunas would have a short night as he had trouble hanging onto the ball and coughed it up 5 times, but Patrick Patterson picked up the rebounding effort for the Raptors with Valanciunas on the bench.
“Pat Patterson was a man on the boards,” Casey said. “His energy on the boards was the difference.”
Patterson tied his career-high of 13 rebounds with 10 in the second half as the Raptors dominated the glass by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and out dueling the Bucks 54-43 on the boards.
The Raptors needed those offensive rebounds to escape Milwaukee with the win. They shot 40 percent from the field as a team and DeMar DeRozan legs were gone in his first back-to-back game since returning from injury. He shot 0-9 from the field for 0 points. Lowry also couldn’t find the mark, going 8-25 to score 18 points, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over this game with 5 boards, a steal, a block and charges drawn. Lowry was a force.
“DeMar gave us what he had,” Casey said. “I thought his legs were a little shot from coming back and being out for so long.”
The only real criticism of Casey’s rotation in this game was that after watching DeRozan struggle in the first quarter and looking fatigued, maybe he should have given him the rest of the night off. He did just miss a month and a half with a groin injury.
This game was even closer than the final score indicates. The Bucks missed 9 free throws, going 16-25 from the line while the Raptors bricked their way to 14-24 from the charity stripe. Toronto even managed to brick three technical foul shots and Lowry missed a pair of free throws in the dying seconds that would have put this game out of reach.
It is about time Casey started following his own advice and shortened his rotation to 8 or 9 guys. In his own words, ‘I would love to play 15 guys. (But) there are going to be some guys out of the rotation.’ He can’t play everyone and he can’t keep everyone happy with their playing time or spot in the rotation. Monday night in Milwaukee might be the start of trend – maybe.