Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Short bench costs Raptors down stretch

Run out of steam, players after building 20-point lead

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TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors' bench was nowhere to be found when the team needed it most Sunday.

The Milwaukee Bucks overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the Raptors 107-96 -- outscoring Toronto's undermanned bench 43-7 while two of the Raptors' leaders were being treated for injuries.

"Our bench has been great all year, I can't commend them enough on how they come in and change the game or at least maintain it for us, but today for whatever reason (Milwaukee's) bench came in and outplayed us," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "They clearly outplayed us, defensively, offensively, all around."

The loss spoiled strong outings from Amir Johnson and Ed Davis -- Johnson finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Davis scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 boards.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, while Jose Calderon had 21 points and eight assists for the Raptors (14-23).

Both Johnson and Calderon played most of the game injured, Calderon tweaking his right calf muscle in the first quarter, Johnson landing awkwardly on the right ankle that had already been bothering him. Both started the second half, Calderon's calf wrapped in a sleeve, Johnson's ankle re-taped.

"Those two guys are warriors," Casey said.

With Calderon firing on all cylinders before the injury, the Raptors raced out to their 20-point lead in the game's first 10 minutes. The point guard who led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in the 10 games prior to Sunday's drained all three of his three-point attempts and led an offence that didn't record one turnover.

He and Johnson had the Air Canada Centre crowd of 17,384 on its feet when Calderon fired a long bounce pass to a sprinting Johnson, who finished with a bucket. The next timeout, teammate Kyle Lowry -- who finished with six assists but zero points -- playfully fanned Calderon with a towel.

The Raptors appeared poised to cruise to its second consecutive rout, coming two days after they clobbered Charlotte 99-78 for their 10th win in 13 games.

But the bench -- undermanned with Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas and Linas Kleiza still out with injuries -- fired blanks and all of a sudden the Bucks were tied with Toronto just prior to halftime.

"We were 20 points up and we gave up the lead so quickly, it was so fast, we've got to work a little better to get those leads and keep those leads," Calderon said. "In this league, you cannot relax for a minute. We should control this game the whole game, and we didn't."

The Raptors led 78-74 going into the fourth, but couldn't put any more distance on the Bucks and a driving layup by Monta Ellis gave the Bucks a 97-91 lead with 2:20 to play. A pair of free throws and a dunk by Larry Sanders later and the Raptors were down by 10.

There were some boos and someone chanted "Let's go Argos!" as the Raptors trudged off the court, finishing up their six-game homestand 3-3.

Brandon Jennings had 19 points and 10 assists, rookie John Henson scored 19, and Monta Ellis added 17 points for the Bucks (19-17).

"If you've watched our games recently this is kind of how we do it," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said on his team's turnaround. "We fight our way back. I've got a good group of guys, they don't quit."

The Raptors played their 13th in a row without Bargani and ninth missing Valanciunas -- both starters. Kleiza missed his sixth straight.

Johnson and Davis have done an admirable job since they were inserted in the starting lineup.

"They're both doing an unbelievable job, everywhere, defence, offence, rebounding. We need them to win games," Calderon said.

Johnson walked gingerly on his right foot in the dressing room after the game, and DeRozan said there are some days his teammate can barely get through practice after playing through an injury.

But DeRozan has no doubt Johnson will be back playing hard on Tuesday night when the Raptors are in Brooklyn to face the Nets.

"We can't have any excuse, there's no excuse when you're out there on the floor, because (Johnson) walks in here, he can't walk, but I guarantee you Amir will be here and help us pick it up next game," DeRozan said.

Calderon had more points than the Bucks combined for most of the first quarter, and his third three of the quarter gave the Raptors an 18-point lead. They would stretch it to 20 before taking a 34-16 advantage into the second.

The Bucks raced out on a 22-6 run to open the second quarter, trimming the Raptors' advantage to just two points. Milwaukee pulled even just before the break, and the Raptors -- who had 11 turnovers in the second quarter -- led just 49-47 at halftime.

Ersan Illyasova's three-pointer five minutes into the third quarter gave the Bucks a five-point lead and drew a smattering of boos from the ACC crowd. Toronto found some much-needed energy to finish out the quarter, and took a 78-74 lead into the fourth.

NOTES: Toronto had lost four straight at home to the Bucks heading into Sunday. . . The Raptors are at Brooklyn on Tuesday then back home to host the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. They visit Philadelphia on Friday before Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Lakers come to town next Sunday.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2013 $sourceSection0

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