TORONTO — It didn’t look promising for the Milwaukee Bucks late in the first quarter when they trailed the Toronto Raptors by 20 points.
But they turned the game around with a 31-point second quarter and took command of the game late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Raptors 107-96 before a crowd of 17,384 at Air Canada Centre.
“After the first quarter we went out of our defensive focus,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t know what it was, we let up. We started with the proper focus and mindset.”
Brandon Jennings had 19 points and 10 assists for the Bucks and John Henson also had 19, but Larry Sanders made the key play in the game late in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks were leading by one point with 3:09 to play when Sanders blocked DeMar DeRozan’s attempted running layup. Sanders got the rebound and the Bucks took the ball to the other end where Mike Dunleavy made a 3-point shot to give Milwaukee a four-point lead.
“We made plays down the stretch,” Dunleavy said. “Obviously the biggest being Larry’s block. It was tremendous. It really made a five-point difference. It went from two points for them and then we were able to come down and hit a three. After that we were looking good.”
“Luckily for us in the fourth quarter, Larry was a big around the basket,” Bucks head coach Jim Boylan said. “They were hurting us with their play at the hoop by their big guys. But toward the end Ers [Ersan Ilyasova] and Larry, especially Larry, were a big presence around the hoop. I thought that was the difference in the game for us.”
Monta Ellis scored 17, Dunleavy had 15 and Sanders added 11 points for the Bucks.
DeRozan led Toronto with 23 points and Amir Johnson had 22 with 14 rebounds. Jose Calderon scored 21 points and had eight assists and Ed Davis added 20 with 12 rebounds.
The Raptors (14-23) finished a six-game homestand 3-3, and have lost eight in a row overall to the Bucks, who are 3-1 since Boylan took over as head coach nearly a week ago.
Jennings said that sluggish starts have been too common for the Bucks.
“Lately, we have been starting like that and we end up winning,” Jennings said. “We can’t say that is going to happen every time. So we have to find a way to start the game better, stop teams from scoring over 30 points. Our second unit came in with a lot of energy and helped us get back in the game.”
Boylan also praised his reserves.
“The second unit came in, as they’ve come in before and provided a big spark,” Boylan said. “The way they move the ball, they screen for each other and they do a whole bunch of things to facilitate for each other.”
Boylan said without the performance of his bench players the Bucks “were in big trouble.”
Meanwhile, Casey wondered what happened to his bench, which this season often has been a big factor for the Raptors.
“Our bench has been great all year,” Casey said. “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, their bench came in and outplayed us. They clearly outplayed us defensively, offensively, all around.”
The Raptors’ starting unit had to deal with injuries. Johnson twisted his already injured right ankle when he stepped on someone’s foot on a defensive rebound with 1:30 to play in the first half. He left the game to have the ankle retaped and returned for the second half, as did Calderon who missed a good part of the second quarter after tweaking his calf.
The Raptors led by four points entering the fourth quarter, but the Bucks tied it on Dunleavy’s 3-pointer with 8:25 to play. Henson’s hook shot gave Milwaukee a one-point lead with 6:53 to play and, after a three-second violation by Toronto, Sanders’ tip shot put the Bucks ahead by three.
With the lead down to one with 4:23 to play, Sanders missed two free throws and the Raptors took a 91-90 lead on a dunk by Davis.
But Jennings hit both free throws with 3:34 to play to put the Bucks back up by one.
After Sanders’ blocked shot, the Bucks went up 95-91 on Dunleavy’s 3-pointer. Ellis made it a six-point lead with a layup with 2:20 to play and Sanders hit a pair of free throws to make the score 99-91.
The Bucks, who were down by two points entering the second half, took a 52-51 lead early in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Jennings. They built the lead to five on a 3-pointer by Ilyasova with 6:54 left in the third.
Calderon scored 15 points and had four assists as Toronto led 34-16 after the first quarter.
The Raptors did not score for the first four minutes of the second quarter when the Bucks cut the lead to four on Henson’s driving layup with 6:11 left in the half. The lead was down to two with 4:47 to play after Toronto was called for goaltending on Dunleavy’s layup.
Jennings fast-break layup after Calderon’s missed shot tied the game with 23 seconds left but Quincy Acy converted two free throws for Toronto’s 49-47 lead.
“We were 20 points up and just gave up the lead so quickly,” Calderon said. “We have to work a little better and get those leads and keep those leads. At the end, I think it was just a matter of them making their shots and we didn’t.”
Notes: Casey acknowledged that Sunday’s game against a team like the Bucks was important for his team if they are to put themselves in a position for a playoff run. But Casey continues to talk about the process of building a consistent winner. “It’s an important game, but they’re all important,” Casey said before the game. “There are a lot of games left and we’re nowhere near where we need to be.” … Forward/center Andrea Bargnani (right elbow), center Jonas Valanciunas (right ring finger) and forward Linas Kleiza (right knee) are still out for Toronto. … Milwaukee on Saturday assigned guard Doron Lamb to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA D-League. … Boylan was in his fourth game as head coach of the Bucks since taking over from Scott Skiles on Jan. 8. … The Bucks won all three of their games with the Raptors last season and entered Sunday having won seven in a row against them. … After playing six in a row at home, the Raptors’ next game is Tuesday when they visit the Nets in Brooklyn. … The Bucks visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.