MILWAUKEE (CP) — The Milwaukee Bucks wanted to lock up their playoff spot quickly, and Monta Ellis made sure they did.
Ellis had 22 points, nine assists and six steals, and the Bucks clinched their first playoff berth in three seasons with a 100-83 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night.
“It feels great,” Ellis said. “We needed this game tonight. We knew how big it was for us. Now we can start getting focused on finishing the season, trying to go in a positive direction and get ready for the playoffs.”
Brandon Jennings had 16 points and seven assists, while Larry Sanders added 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for Milwaukee, which needed a win and a Miami victory over Philadelphia on Saturday to clinch at least the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat beat the 76ers, 106-87.
The win was Milwaukee’s 10th straight over Toronto, its longest active winning streak over any opponent. And it pulled the Bucks within two games of the idle Boston Celtics for the No. 7 seed.
Alan Anderson led Toronto with 14 points off the bench, and rookie Quincy Acy had a career-high 13. Rudy Gay, Toronto’s leading scorer with 18.2 points per game, made 1-of-10 shots and matched his season low with four points.
Toronto shot just 36 per cent (30 of 83) and had 18 turnovers.
“We came out lethargic, had a hard time getting ourselves going,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They dictated the tone of the game and we never got it back. We let frustration along with the Milwaukee Bucks spank us tonight.
“I told the guys, ‘If we are serious about being a playoff organization, if we are serious about it, our mental approach has to change.”’
The game wasn’t close after the first quarter, as the Bucks used a 15-4 run late in the period to go up 24. They led 61-42 at halftime behind 14 points and seven assists from Ellis.
Milwaukee didn’t let up in the second half. Toronto missed its first nine third-quarter shots and the Bucks outscored the Raptors, 17-6, to open the period and put away the game. A thunderous alley-oop dunk by Sanders, assisted by Jennings, capped the run and made it 78-46.
Toronto scored just 13 points in the quarter and trailed 80-55 after the third. The Raptors got no closer than 15 in the fourth.
“Transition points killed us,” said Raptors forward Amir Johnson, who had two points on 1-of-7 shooting. “A lot of penetration points killed us. There is your ballgame right there.”
The quick start was vital for Milwaukee, coach Jim Boylan said.
“Toronto had won last night against Minnesota on the road, so we know they still had some fight left in them,” he said. “So what we needed to do was come and take the game.”
Now, the real work starts for Milwaukee (37-39), which is likely to play the top-seeded Heat (60-16) in the first round.
Since losing in seven games to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 Eastern Conference finals — with a team that featured Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson — the Bucks have made the playoffs four times. They have lost in the first round each time.
The Bucks last made the playoffs in 2010 as a No. 6 seed after finishing the regular season 46-36. Milwaukee lost in seven games to the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s what we’ve been working for all year,” Sanders said. “It was one of our main goals at the beginning of the season. To finally accomplish that is great. Now we just focus on trying to play better, trying to gain momentum as we go into the playoffs.”
But first things first — the Bucks play five of their last six games on the road, including contests at Miami and Oklahoma City.
“We’re going to do everything we can to try and move up because we just want to keep winning games and end the season on a positive note,” Boylan said. “Whoever we end up playing, we end up playing. Whoever we play against, we’re going to go in and compete and play hard. It would be Miami, New York, Indiana, and those are really good teams.”
The Raptors, coming off wins over Washington and Minnesota, were seeking their first 30-win season since they went 40-42 in 2009-10.
Notes: Bucks F Ekpe Udoh missed the game with a sprained ankle. He is day-to-day, coach Jim Boylan said before the game. . The Raptors’ 10-game losing streak to Milwaukee is the team’s second-longest active losing streak to one opponent. Toronto has lost 11 in a row to the Heat. … Gay also had four points in a 99-94 loss to New York Knicks on March 22. . Up big late, the crowd chanted “We want Drew!” on several occasions, and Bucks F Drew Gooden entered the game with 2:45 left to a standing ovation for his first playing time since March 10 (14 games). “Lot of pressure to get Drew in, so I succumbed to the pressure,” Boylan said. “I figured, we’re in the playoffs, why not? Let’s go for it.”