For Amir Johnson, it is a rite of passage following a basketball game; take delivery of a basin filled with ice to plunge your right ankle in for 10 or 15 minutes.
Johnson’s ankles are what Bobby Orr’s knees were – terrible – but the stoic 6-foot-9 forward for the Toronto Raptors realizes he has little choice but to try and grin and bear it.
The Raptors already have two bigs out of the lineup in Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas and can ill-afford a third.
Johnson was on the limp – again – Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre, rolling his right ankle for the fourth time this season after he stepped on the foot of a Milwaukee Bucks player while grabbing a rebound late in the first half.
Johnson winced in discomfort but it was the Raptors who felt the collective pain, blowing a 20-point first-quarter lead as the Bucks (19-17) stormed back to earn a 107-96 victory over Toronto (14-23) before 17,384 disgruntled fans.
Johnson headed to the Raptors locker room for some servicing after he turned his ankle, but returned to start the third quarter.
Jose Calderon, the starting point guard who felt some pain in his right calf muscle late in the first quarter, also made a quick visit to the locker room for some repairs and played the remainder of the game with a pressure sleeve on the offending leg.
Johnson wound up logging more court time than any other player, almost 44 minutes, while Calderon was out there for just over 31.
“They’re definitely two of our toughest players, especially Amir,” DeMar DeRozan said afterward.
Johnson had surgery on his left ankle two off-seasons ago and his right one has been acting up all this year. He said he doesn’t even want to know what might be broken inside.
“I’m scared to even check,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to try to continue playing, try to strengthen my ankle and see in the off-season what the damage is.”
If there is such a thing as a must-win National Basketball Association game for the Raptors this early in the season, Sunday’s contest was it.
The Raptors had won 10 of 13 games heading into the contest against the Bucks, who are battling the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The loss left the Raptors 5 ½-games behind Milwaukee.
The game concluded a 3-3 home stand for the Raptors, who will next play in New York against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. They play the Chicago Bulls in Toronto on Wednesday, hitting the road again to play Philadelphia in a Friday night game, and conclude the week on Sunday with a big home game against Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Lakers.
For a while on Sunday the Raptors seemed intent on blowing out the Bucks, leading by as many as 20 points in an opening frame where they blitzed to a 34-16 lead.
Calderon was especially dynamic, scoring 15 of his 21-point total in the opening frame.
But the second unit that came in to start the second quarter, which included point guard Kyle Lowry and centre Quincy Acy, could not maintain the momentum. The Bucks outscored Toronto 31-15 in the period to trail 49-47 heading into the second half.
“After the first quarter we went out of our defensive focus,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “ I don’t know what it was but we let up. I thought we started out with the right defensive focus and mindset.”
The game remained tight until late in the fourth quarter where the Bucks sealed the deal over the final three minutes where they erupted on an 11-0 run.
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