In the end, there wasn't anything Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis or anybody else could do to save the Milwaukee Bucks' faint playoff hopes. Not even winning.
Jennings scored 25 points in the Bucks' 92-86 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday, but Milwaukee's post-season fate had already been decided. The Philadelphia 76ers beat the New Jersey Nets earlier in the night, clinching the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot and eliminating the Bucks from contention.
"I'm disappointed — very disappointed," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We didn't get done what we were expected to get done, so if everybody in there is not very, very disappointed, then we've got big problems."
Ersan Ilyasova added 19 points and 15 rebounds for Milwaukee.
Ellis played despite an injury to his shooting hand, scoring 17 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Skiles said he wasn't sure how badly the injury was bothering Ellis, but said the guard left the bench and went to the locker room with just over a minute left in the game.
"He battled through it tonight," Skiles said. "But with like a minute to go, a minute-five, I guess, he said he couldn't go any more so he went in the locker room."
James Johnson had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost four straight games.
Toronto's DeMar DeRozan was ejected in the second quarter after he was called for travelling and threw the ball down the court in protest.
"No matter how tough it gets or how much frustration sets in, fatigue, whatever it is, you've got to buckle up and roll with it," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "We talked about it after the game and it's a teaching moment for him. It's part of his maturity process. When you're the man on the team, you've got to be responsible for that."
But even without DeRozan — the top scorer in Toronto's lineup with Andrea Bargnani out injured — the Raptors stayed in control of the game going into the fourth quarter.
With the Bucks trailing by two points, Jennings converted a three-point play and Ellis made two free throws to give Milwaukee an 82-79 lead with 3:27 left.
After a technical foul on Toronto's Linas Kleiza, Jennings hit a free throw for a four-point lead with 2:42 left.
"We can't let frustration set in," Casey said. "We've got to finish the games in professional ways and play the game the right way. It was clearly a foul on [Kleiza]. He ran over a guy and compounded it with a technical. Hopefully, we learned from it. That's what we're teaching right now."
Toronto cut the lead to three points with 32.6 seconds left, but Ilyasova hit two free throws to put the game away.
The Raptors had 22 turnovers, including nine in the fourth quarter.
"I think we just lost our composure," guard Ben Uzoh said.
Trailing the 76ers by three games in the standings going into Monday night, the Bucks needed to win their final three games and have the 76ers lose their last three to make the playoffs.
The 76ers visit the Bucks on Wednesday night, and Milwaukee was hoping to make that game meaningful.
"I didn't really know until after the game that they had clinched," Jennings said.
Instead, Wednesday will just be a playoff tuneup for Philadelphia.
"We were rooting for New Jersey, but it didn't work out in our favour," Drew Gooden said. "We handled our business tonight, but it is what it is."
The Bucks trailed by five points at halftime, then allowed the Raptors to begin the third quarter with a 13-4 run.
Toronto took a 61-47 lead on a jumper by Gary Forbes, who was knocked to the court and got up limping after the shot. Forbes was able to stay in the game.
After a fourth-quarter rally couldn't save their playoff hopes, Jennings says the Bucks are playing for pride in their last two games.
"We still didn't make the playoffs, but if we win these last two games, at least we went out with some wins, and went out with pride and dignity," Jennings said.