TORONTO – When Chris Bosh launched a three-pointer late in the third quarter, the Raptors all-star forward let out a guttural scream as he strutted back up the court.
The basket was part of a third-quarter Raptors surge that turned the game in Toronto’s favour and helped erase the self-doubt that seemed to be creeping into the team’s locker-room.
Bosh had 32 points and 11 rebounds to go with four blocks and three steals, as the Raptors ended their three-game losing streak with a 111-93 win Wednesday over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“A win always is a good remedy for things like that,” said Bosh, when asked about the team chemistry and confidence. “We made shots, we made good plays, we attacked the basket, we got points in the paint, things really worked out for us.”
Former Raptor Charlie Villanueva scored a season-high 38 points, including a career-high seven three-pointers, and added 12 rebounds to lead Milwaukee (26-52).
Anthony Parker finished with 18 points for Toronto (39-39), while Rasho Nesterovic and T.J. Ford finished with 14 apiece, and Andrea Bargnani added 10.
“The guys played hard and hopefully this gives them a bit of individual confidence and we’re going to continue to build on tonight,” said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell.
The one negative on the night for Bosh was the crowd of 18,569 at the Air Canada Centre, which ended a streak of nine consecutive sellouts. Bosh criticized the fans after the game for being too quiet.
“Could you hear yourself talk?” Bosh said. “We’re getting ready for the playoffs. I’m just saying, I’m excited. I don’t know if anyone else is excited, I’m not waiting for next week, I’m trying to do it right now, and that’s the kind of mentality we have to take, the whole organization.”
With four games to go in the regular season, the Raptors entered Wednesday’s matchup having won just four of their previous 15, and in danger of staggering into the playoffs in seventh place, which would pit them against the Detroit Pistons in the first round.
Looking to halt their recent slide, the Raptors spent a couple of practices focusing solely on defence.
“We’ve got to play better defence. Better defence. D. . . fence,” a testy Mitchell said before the game. “You know, like the people hold up that gate with the ‘D’ and the fence? Defence. It’s as simple as that.”
The work paid off. The Raptors didn’t lead by more than eight points in the first half, but kept the Bucks in check – save Villanueva and his hot hand. The Raptors finally took control with an energetic third quarter in which they stretched their lead to 16 points and outscored the Bucks 33-20 to take an 83-68 advantage into the fourth.
“This was our must-win game,” said Rasho Nesterovic. “We carried on what we did in practices the last couple of days and played like we did in practice, and I hope we’re going to carry it on in the next four games and in the playoffs.”
The lottery-bound Bucks cut Toronto’s lead to 10 points with 4:45 to go, but that was as close as they would come as five consecutive points by Parker, including a three with 2:45 left, put the Raptors back up by 16, and Toronto cruised to a much-needed win.
The Raptors shot 54 per cent on the night, and held the Bucks to 42 per cent. Both teams grabbed 41 rebounds. Toronto outscored the Bucks 48-32 in the paint.
“We ran into a little bit of a buzz saw with energy,” said Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I think the Raptors had three days off getting ready for us.”
Villanueva looked bent on revenge against the team that traded him to Milwaukee in the summer of 2006 for Ford. He’d already tied his career high for threes (six) early in the second quarter, glaring at the Raptors bench after one of them.
“I was looking forward to it,” Villanueva said. “I always have this extra boost when I come to Toronto, I don’t know why. I played well but I don’t like losing. I like to be a winner.”
Villanueva had managed just two points the previous night in the Bucks’ overtime loss to Boston. He’s averaged 16.6 points his previous 16 games.
Villanueva had 14 points in the first quarter, but his teammates contributed little as the Raptors took an eight-point lead and were up 23-18 heading into the second.
He scored Milwaukee’s first 13 points of the second, including three consecutive threes, that gave the visitors a four-point lead. But that would be the Bucks’ biggest lead of the game, and a three by Jamario Moon with 24 seconds on the clock sent Toronto into the dressing at halftime with a 50-48 lead.
Ford led the way with 10 points in the third quarter, as the Raptors took a 15-point lead into the fourth.
NOTES: Jamario Moon made his 71st start Wednesday, surpassing Damon Stoudamire’s record of 70 starts by a Raptors rookie. . . The Raptors host the Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets on Friday, then head to Detroit on Sunday. They’re back home to host Miami on Monday, then close out the regular season at Chicago.