Raptors drop the ball

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

MILWAUKEE -- How about a mess of onions on your bratwurst, Raptors?

With a great chance to extend their winning streak to three games -- minus Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon, who are nursing injuries -- the Raptors let three quarters of hard work slip away last night in a 107-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"We just didn't get it done," said guard Anthony Parker, as a brief run of success without the two stars ended. "This was certainly a winnable game."

It was the first time this year the Raptors shot more than 50% (54.2) and lost, while Chris Bosh's 31 points, his most productive since a 39-point performance against Charlotte on Nov. 26, also went for naught.

Milwaukee, minus big man Andrew Bogut and feeling the pain of a heavy schedule, warded off the Raptors' attempt to close in on the eighth seed in the East.

"We were short and they played us tough," Bosh said of the Bucks changing gears to shut him down in the late stages of the game. "Just because they're missing a guy ... they're still a good team that has won six out of nine and they were at home."

CLOSE PLAYS

Coach Jay Triano blamed a number of close plays and questionable calls for the loss but also credited a determined Milwaukee defence for blanketing Bosh the way his team did Yao Ming and Dwight Howard in recent victories.

"They were all over Chris, bumping him and making him work for every point that he got," Triano said.

There was little for a sparse Bradley Center crowd of 12,599 to cheer about until the final 15 minutes.

The Raptors solid play began unravelling at the end of the third quarter, with the likes of Jason Kapono struggling from long range and the Bucks getting too many second-chance points. Kapono had five of the team's 15 turnovers. When Triano elected to sit Bosh to start the fourth with three fouls, the Bucks took advantage.

It was the eighth time the Raps have lost this year when holding a 10-point lead, which was as high as 13 last night and back up to 11 in the third quarter after Andrea Bargnani sank a three-pointer.

But a three by Charlie Bell and one by rare long-range shooter Luke Ridnour with a second on the shot clock, proved deadly. The Raps were still in it until Bosh opted to give Will Solomon a wide-open three that didn't stick.

"I can't fault our guys for blowing a lead. I'm not pointing a finger," Triano insisted. "We played good defence, they made tough shots, then Will's rattles around and goes out."

The Raptors now head to Washington to face the Wizards tomorrow.

Earlier yesterday, Triano was complimentary of Bargnani's improved play in O'Neal's place and the point guard platoon of Solomon and Roko Ukic in Calderon's role, but said it wouldn't lead to permanent changes.

"If guys play well, are you going to bench a Calderon?," Triano asked in jest. "But you might be able to buy him more minutes if you can play as effective over a long period of time."

Bargnani had 21 points last night, his average the past four games. As for keeping him in the picture with O'Neal in some kind of big-three starters' group with Bosh, Triano said he'd cross that bridge when O'Neal is back.

"Has (Bargnani) played better as a starter? Yes, but he's played better since the Christmas break (off the bench)," Triano said. "There was a lull for him when he didn't play well and that's a confidence thing. He came back with a great attitude after Christmas with no practices and getting off his feet a couple of days. He's been good (since), whether he's starting or not."

Ukic, an NBA rookie, was hitting the wall, too, as the Croat adjusted to the hectic schedule, travel and practice regimen, yet went through a stretch where he saw little or no game time.

"In the first couple of years it might be tough," Triano said of Ukic. "That's why you have to find an even keel over 82 games. He's got to learn that, but so far, he's handled everything well. He comes to practice and he works hard.

"At the start of the year we told all these guys, you might be inactive one day and then because of a major injury or another opportunity, you might have to play major minutes the next time. So be a professional and be ready."


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