Like that Dec. 28 win over a Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks, the Raps went into this one vastly undermanned.
Unlike that game, in this one the Raptors came up short.
Just before tip off they added Linas Kleiza to a growing list of players unavailable for duty as he sat out with a sore right knee.
That left Jay Triano with a starting five that included Julian Wright and a bench of four healthy bodies, none of which play the shooting guard or small forward positions.
The Raptors bench consisted of three bigs (including Solomon Alabi who did not play) and point guard and recent arrival Sundiata Gaines, who is here on a 10-day contract.
And yet the Raps had a nine-point lead with three minutes to go in the third and were right there for the win in the dying seconds.
Whether it was fatigue, they had a seven-man rotation to the nine the Hornets had — or yet another spotty officiating effort — Nick Buchert and Gary Zielinski can forget about any Christmas cards from the Raptors after this one — New Orleans did just enough and got just enough breaks in the final two minutes to pull out a 85-81 win.
Where the Hornets were full value for this win was their second-half rebounding. Emeka Okafor pulled down a career and franchise high-tying 12 offensive boards. David West had another four.
In one series that seemed to last three minutes, the Hornets got seven consecutive shots as Okafor got them extra possession after extra possession.
“Emeka had 12 offensive by himself and that’s what really killed us,” DeMar DeRozan, who had a Raptors-high 23 points said after the game. “If we rebound better in our own zone, we will definitely be all right.”
And the Raptors had just enough empty offensive possessions of their own down the stretch to help the Hornets cause along.
The team has lost Reggie Evans, Leandro Barbosa, Weems, Calderon and Bargnani to injury and has never really had Peja Stojakovic. They played with seven capable bodies on Monday and have played other games with nine or 10.
They have used 15 different starting lineups in 41 games, making their 13 wins somewhat impressive.
They are relative kids playing a man’s game and as the second half unfolds, and next season comes over the horizon, they have to hope the hard lessons learned in the first 41 games will translate into more wins in the next 41.
But it will not be easy.
The toughest part may be keeping the players believing that the hard work they are putting in will eventually be rewarded. Frustration mounts when the losses pile up, and the fragile psyches of young professional athletes will have to be watched in the coming three months.
Monday’s game was a perfect case in point. The Raptors led by 12 points in the third quarter and by eight with 10 minutes left in the game. But a series of miscues, missed shots and the inability to grab a defensive rebound at a critical point ultimately did them in.
It’s been a scene that’s been played out so many times before. They are just 3-8 in games decided by five or fewer points; they don’t have the experience or the savvy down the stretch to pull out games.
And as the second half arrives with a game Wednesday night in San Antonio, it is the single biggest thing that needs to change.
Halfway into the first season since Chris Bosh, Toronto’s most recent perennial all-star, fled for Miami, the Raptors appear to be playing without even one all-star. Barring the widespread onset of dementia among the coaches who’ll vote to fill out the East’s roster for the festive February weekend in L.A., Toronto won’t have a single representative in the midseason classic for the first time since 2005, back when a present-day ESPN talking head named Jalen Rose was leading Toronto in scoring in the wake of the Carter-for-nothing trade to the Nets.
In a league ruled by alpha dogs, in other words, the Raptors are rebuilding without one. So maybe the question is, taking stock at the 41-game mark, can they develop one? DeMar DeRozan, as a 21-year-old sophomore swingman, has shown some flashes of all-star-style aggression, after all, at least on the offensive end. Andrea Bargnani, when he’s making his beloved jump shot, is a tough matchup, and, at $10 million (U.S.) a season, he’s decent value. And while rookie forward Ed Davis began the season with a pickup-game knee injury, which called into question both his judgment and his durability, he’s just 21 years old and, with a weight-room makeover, could become a real-deal inside threat.
What becomes of their careers? Well, that’s for them to decide. Nobody playing in Toronto is a lock to become an elite player. Work needs to be done, and it’s a grind to see which few NBA players religiously submit.
Maybe one thing that’s closer to certain is that Bryan Colangelo, the president and GM who put this roster together, will be around to see their development continue, for better or worse. Colangelo, coming up on the fifth anniversary of his arrival in Toronto, is in the final year of his contract. But he’s been told by higher-ups that he’s a part of the long-term picture at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (and no, he’s not one of the hundreds of would-be honchos who’ve forwarded their resumes to the U.S. headhunting firm charged with finding a replacement for outgoing CEO Richard Peddie).
Anybody who knows Colangelo knows he thinks of himself as a basketball guy, first and foremost, and the CEO job isn’t currently on his wish list. And while he has failed to build a winner, save for that 47-victory campaign in his 2006-07 honeymoon phase, those who know the way Colangelo is viewed in the MLSE boardroom will tell you that he is appreciated for his swing-for-the-fences approach to deal-making. (Even if Colangelo’s would-be home runs, and we’re thinking of Jermaine O’Neal and Hedo Turkoglu, turned into weak groundouts, the buzz those moves created helped the sales staff move product).
DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points and Johnson scored 17 points for Toronto, which led from early in the second quarter until late in the fourth.
“It’s definitely frustrating. I wish we could have gotten that game,” DeRozan said. “That would have been a big game for us. We can’t let it get away in the last three minutes.”
Toronto shot 44.6 per cent (33 of 74), but was hurt by turnovers and New Orleans’ 19 offensive rebounds, which helped the Hornets score 15 second-chance points.
Ed Davis had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Andrea Bargnani added 11 points for the Raptors, who were without starting forward Linas Kleiza because of his sore right knee. Former Hornets first-round draft choice Julian Wright started for Kleiza and had 11 points and six rebounds, helping Toronto build its 44-37 halftime lead up to double digits.
Using a 13-6 run that began with Wright’s driving layup as he was fouled and which ended with Wright’s dunk, the Raptors took their largest lead at 57-45.
Toronto still led by nine on Sundiata Gaines’ 22-foot bank shot with 2:34 left in the quarter, but did not score again in the period while Jack hit a jumper, two free throws and a driving floater to cut it to 65-62.
The Hornets finally tied it at 76 on Thornton’s free throws with 4:57 left, then took a brief lead on Jack’s reverse layup.
West scored the Hornets’ final seven points, converting Jack’s feed inside to put the Hornets up 80-79 and hitting a free throw to make it 81-79.
- Jarret Jack looked comfortable running the offense. If Paul has to miss a few games at some point for whatever reason it’s clear that Jack can handle point guard duties. I also really like how Paul and Jack play together in the backcourt. In a few months most of us are going to look on the deal that sent Peja out of town a lot more fondly than we do today.
- Chris Paul was so off his game that Monty had him on the bench until there were four minutes left in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t look 100% out there, and it doesn’t surprise me to hear that he’s nursing a minor injury in his ankle of some sort. Still, 6 points on 8 shots, 11 assists, 0 turnovers, and 3 steals isn’t horrific by any means.
- Without Okafor the Hornets lose this by 20 or 25.
- Someone with really high confidence couldn’t shoot at all today. I think if one of the first couple layups had gone in things would have gone much differently.
- Like Sam Holako said in the preview, Bargnani is a brutal defender. It’s like he’s not even trying most of the time.
- Quincy Pondexter wasn’t as awful as everyone else. He also only played 6 minutes.
- Julian Wright looked like he often did on his good days in New Orleans. I still wasn’t too impressed.
- Belinelli was pressing a little too hard to pay back the Raptors for trading him, and it didn’t work out.
Although Triano cut Andrea some slack, he won’t catch much of a break on Raptors Watch tonight. It wasn’t just his lackluster offensive performance that hurt the Raps, it was his lack of rebounding and defense. Emeka Okafur, who was Andrea’s opposing nemesis, scored 17 points and grabbed a franchise tying 12 offensive rebounds. You can add that stat to the plethora of NBA players who seemingly have career nights on a night-in and night-out basis against the Raptors.
Former team mates Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack had the chance to face up against each other today – both having something to prove. Jack, who’s been playing a very limited amount this season behind Chris Paul, played 26 minutes – 10 minutes more than his season average. He deserved those minutes tonight too, as he scored 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Between Jack and Chris Paul, they were able to hold Jose Calderon to 0 points and 5 turnovers. However, the Spaniard did manage to dish out 13 assists.
A week or so ago my fiancé Ziad and I attended a Raptors basketball game vs. the Hawks (sorry, don’t know where they’re from) my father and his friend Pat were also in attendance. Obviously, I am not a basketball fan. I know the basics, and have been to many Raptors games in the past with my family but I could never be considered an expert on the sport. Nevertheless, I seemed to grasp what many audience members as well as several radio experts on the sport discovered to be amiss at the game. The Refs. Not only were they unfair, (they were biased), but they were obviously so!
Even from a statistical point of view, it is clear that these men weren’t doing the job very well. The Hawks shot more than twice the number of foul shots than the Raptors, often being awarded 3 foul shots, as opposed to the customary 2.
Then there were the plays in review. I don’t know how many times I’ve ever seen a play in basketball in review in my life! Probably two, and both times took place at the game last week. The refs called the first review several minutes after the play had taken place which was disastrous as it automatically awarded the Hawks points over something the disgruntled audience had managed to forget in the last five minutes. Needless to say, we weren’t happy with the call.
As the game continued to progress it was noted by me that the refs were receiving more boo’s by the Raptor’s audience than Vince Carter. It did little to fuel their abilities the way it seems to do for Mr. Carter. Instead they became less and less official and more and more biased.
Offensive fouls that are almost never called were piling up on Bargiani (who I might add was more than frustrated by the end of it all) who was simply planting his feel and allowing players to run into him repeatedly, face-first I might add. Although this is considered to be a foul, I’ve been told by numerous people that this is one that’s not normally called. My sympathies to Bargniani.
Forward Julian Wright, the one-time Hornets’ No. 1 draft choice who spent three rather mercurial years in New Orleans, was back in the Arena as a member of the visiting Raptors on Monday, the first time, he said, he’d ever stepped foot in the opposing locker room.
Wright started Monday in place of Linas Kleiza, who missed with a sore right knee.
"It feels weird but in a good way," Wright said. "I’m like, ‘This is what the visiting team’s locker room is like?’ But it feels good. We had an off-day (Sunday) and I got a home-cooked meal from my mother. She’s still here. It’s good to be back. Everyone is so down-to-earth here."
The Hornets traded Wright to Toronto on Aug. 11 in exchange for guard Marco Belinelli. Belinelli became a starter for New Orleans.
Wright continues to be a role player for Toronto, averaging 3.4 points per game for the Raptors this season. His best game of the year came on Jan. 5 at Cleveland when he scored 15 points with five assists and nine rebounds, going 7 for 9 against the Cavs.
"It’s been a situation where the whole organization is trying to figure out what to do with a guy like Chris Bosh leaving (for Miami)," Wright said. "From training camp to now I think guys have been working hard and I’m just trying to give my best effort and help the team.
"I think with a couple more games, I’ve been able to see where guys like their shot and I’ve been more of a facilitator. We have a high-powered offense. I’ve just tried to do what I can in terms of intangibles. I’ve just tried to play the same way I’ve always played, and just give that maximum effort."
Wright finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
BAYLESS ABSENCE: Former Hornets point guard Jerryd Bayless sat out Monday’s game with a sore left ankle.
Bayless was traded by the Hornets in late November to the Raptors, along with forward Peja Stojakovic, for guard Jarrett Jack, forward David Andersen and guard Marcus Banks.
Stojakovic has been out with a swollen left knee and has not been traveling with the Raptors.
Toronto had just nine players in uniform Monday.