First and foremost, Happy New Year to you and yours.
When Chase Budinger scores 13 points in one quarter with nary a hand in his face, you can pretty safely assume defence is not a priority, and it wasn’t, as the Rockets pulled away for good.
Budinger would add nine more to that total in the second half for a season-high 22 but it was that one 12-minute lapse that doomed the Raptors to their second defeat in three games on this trip.
“With only eight guys like that tonight, we needed to have more guys play better,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. “They worked hard and we rebounded well (a 53-47 advantage over Houston) but I think we were about
2-for-14 from four feet tonight. We have to finish those shots.”
Hard-working big men Joey Dorsey and Ed Davis were huge factors in that domination of the boards, but offensively, with most of their touches coming within that four-foot area, the two had hands of stone.
Dorsey finished the night 1-for-8 while Davis
“It’s tough because if even one of the two of them finish their shots, it’s a different game,” Triano said.
Give Houston credit for taking full advantage of the one area where they dominated the Raptors — scoring — not to mention number of bodies, off its bench.
Thirty-three of those 42 second-quarter points came from Houston reserves. For the game the Rockets bench accounted for 65 of the 114 points led by Budinger’s 22. Three other Rockets reserves were also in double digits.
Toronto, conversely had just three bench players contribute 23 points to its total, 17 of them from Leandro Barbosa alone.
“With eight bodies like that, we need to have more guys play better,” said coach Jay Triano. “Guys worked hard, we rebounded, we hung tight, but I think we were 2-for-14 from about four feet. You have to finish those shots.”
While Toronto did get injured guard Jose Calderon back (and he had 11 points and 11 rebounds), guard Jerryd Bayless could only give the Raptors eight scoreless minutes before his night ended in the second quarter.
And while Amir Johnson looked as healthy as he has been in weeks (14 points and 11 rebounds is a testament to that), Sonny Weems again watched from the bench in street clothes.
Toss in a monster second quarter from the Rockets and the night was doomed.
“We gave up 42 points in the second quarter and got into foul trouble and that killed us,” said Johnson. “We missed too many layups, it was tough. We tried to come back but they killed us.”
Joey Dorsey, starting once again in place of Andrea Bargnani, was just 1-for-8 from the floor and Ed Davis was a mere 1-for-6. All 12 of the combined misses were from within a metre or two of the basket.
Houston shot 64 per cent in the second quarter (18 of 28) and led 62-55 at the break. Martin and Luis Scola scored seven points apiece in the third quarter to keep the Rockets in front.
Julian Wright’s dunk punctuated a 12-0 run in the first quarter that gave Toronto a 29-16 lead. Martin scored 11 points during that span, drawing fouls with drives down the lane and going 7 for 8 from the free-throw line.
Kleiza made a deep 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer to put Toronto up 14. The Raptors shot 54 per cent (14 of 26) and outrebounded Houston 18-8 in the first.
In all likelihood the Raptors won’t sniff the Eastern Conference playoffs, but in the opening quarter they dashed past the Rockets with such ease that it was easy to forget Toronto was without its best player, center Andrea Bargnani. The Rockets missed their first seven shots yet trailed by just one point before the Raptors reeled off a 17-4 blitz to close the first, a spurt capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Linas Kleiza.
The Rockets’ reserves responded – quickly. Patterson and Miller combined to score the first seven points of the second, and by the time some of the starters began to trickle back into the game, the deficit was down to 47-46 following a three-point play from Chase Budinger. The haste in which the Rockets answered the Raptors’ opening surge proved decisive, with defense and transition baskets at the root of their rally.
Former Rockets center Joey Dorsey, starting for Toronto withAndrea Bargnani out, said he "would love to" show the Rockets what they are missing after trading him in February.
"I was unhappy, I was," Dorsey said of being included in the three-team deal that brought Kevin Martin to the Rockets. "I got really close with some of the guys and some of the coaching staff. Me andDaryl (Morey, Rockets GM) had a good relationship. Once I started playing, I thought I found my place here. I got stuck in that trade. I was a little upset."
Dorsey signed with the Raptors last season after he was released by Sacramento. He is averaging 3.9 points and five rebounds this season. He had three points, making one of eight shots with nine rebounds Friday.
"It’s going well," Dorsey said. "I’m getting an opportunity to play with some guys out. I think I’m producing very well while I’m getting a chance to play. When I was here and I got the opportunity to play I played well. It’s all about getting the opportunity to play. I think here (with the Rockets) there just wasn’t enough patience with me."
Even the player I’m most skeptical of on this team, DeMar DeRozan, has shown me a thing or two recently. He still loses focus on D, but is starting to show signs that he might realize just how good he can become. Last night was his best offensive display yet as he dropped a career-high 37 on the Rockets, and did so in impressive fashion, shooting a high percentage, attacking the basket, and mixing up his shot selection. If he can be a yin to Bargnani’s yang offensively…
That being said, this team still needs a major influx of tier one talent (this was made painfully obvious again last night against the Rockets), and a top pick in the upcoming draft would be a big start. But it’s hard not to like a lot of the pieces that are now in place. In fact, this is the happiest I’ve been as a fan of the team in almost three years! And yes, that’s factoring in the 11 win season to date!
On this New Year’s Day 2011, instead of going over game number 32 in the season in huge detail, I wanted us all to reflect on the transition this club has made from this time last year. On January 1 2010, there was reason for false optimism thanks to a sudden playoff push, however the reality was that this was not a cohesive roster, nor one that could do much better than another first round exit, and there was little future hope thanks to a lack of draft picks and financial flexibility.