Missing Andrea Bargnani’s scoring touch I completely understand. But if you had told me we would miss him on the boards just as much in the fourth quarter, I probably would have laughed. As it were, though, on a night where Bargnani’s shot wasn’t falling he made up for it with a strong presence on the boards, and it was that presence that the team was sorely lacking down the stretch.
Of course, having no reliable threat to score the basketball, regardless of his night shooting (2/13 for the record), certainly didn’t make things easier, either. It honestly looked to be yet another night that could redefine Andrea as a player before a strained left calf muscle derailed him and kept him sidelined for the entire fourth.
You can’t blame Andrea, really, as even a hearty pre-game helping of Primo would have been in tough to keep fatigue from setting in. Even though Dwane Casey limited Andrea to 29 minutes on Tuesday, he still racked up 102 minutes over a three-night span, a total that wouldn’t have been possible under a more spread out schedule without some serious overtime.
To see just how rare a feat it was for Andrea to contribute significantly without his shot falling, I went back through his game logs to try and find other instances where he shot 30% or worse with 10 or more field goal attempts. Surprisingly this occurred 8 times last season, and in those games Andrea averaged 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 30 minutes. Tonight he posted 10-10-0 in 28 minutes. In last season’s 8 instances, Bargs’ top rebound output was 8 and he surpassed 5 only twice. Obviously, then, it’s been rare in the past to see Andrea adjust to a poor shooting night by getting after it on the glass.
All of this is, to say, the Raptors could have used his help keeping DeMarcus Cousins in check. I mean, damn! Attitude or not, Dunk-DMC played incredible, putting his full skill set on display and making it clear why it was coach Paul Westphal, and not him, that suffered the short end of their dispute. Cousins was a savage on the boards en route to 19 rebounds, 5 on the offensive glass. He added 21 extremely efficient points, requiring only 11 field goal attempts (with 11 free throws) to get within a board of a 20-20 night.
Just two nights after Amir Johnson and company did an admirable job keeping Kevin Love at bay, they were absolutely annihilated by the Man Child. You could suggest that’s the difference between the opening and closing game of a back-to-back-to-back, you could chalk it up to random variance on the part of both men, or you could just bow down in appreciation of what was quite a phenomenal night for the 21-year old head case.
The Raptors managed to keep it close until the end, eventually falling 98-91. This is a Sacramento Kings team, by the way, that was 0-4 on the road with an average scoring margin of -23 in those games coming in, a team that travelled the night before, eliminating the Raptors’ only real excuse. The MO on the Kings is well known, a pass-free team full of ISO-heavy chuckers, and the Raps did a good job keeping them to low percentage shots for most of the evening (30/81 for 37%). They did an especially good job forcing Tyreke Evans, an under-the-radar terrible shooter when not close to the rim, to take an array of ugly shots and seeing him finish at 7/22 from the floor. Of course, he’s the perfect example of how the Raps allowed a season-home-high of 98 points, as he got to the free throw line at will, going 14/14 at the stripe to finish with 29 points despite the poor shooting. As a team, Sacramento shot a ridiculous 31/34 at the line, meaning the Raptors were the victims of some old fashioned bad luck in this one.
Nevermind…just don’t give out 34 free throw attempts, and that won’t matter. Noted.
The Raps actually entered the fourth in a tie game with an even mark on the glass before things went awry. As mentioned, the loss of Bargnani loomed and the team was out-rebounded 10-6 while allowing 19 of said free throw attempts with little offense to keep things balanced. Basically, it became hack-a(n)-Everyone strategy, and the defense actually got worse as the Kings went 7/15 from the floor to pull away. Isaiah Thomas was ridiculous off the bench, adding a change-of-pace scoring punch for the Kings. His ability to drive and shoot with range make him a very tough cover, and he dropped a 20-piece with 6 dimes, easily his best game to date. Outside of him, DeMarcus, and Tyreke, only Jimmer was of note, chipping in 10 points on 3/10 shooting and continuing his trend of poor shooting (down to 35% from the floor on the season).
The Raptors did have two bright spots, both coming off the bench and inspiring some hope for a more balanced offensive attack moving forward. Linas Kleiza looked to be in mid-season form in his first game action since microfracture surgery last January. He played a surprising 14 minutes adding 10 points and 3 rebounds, while completely shocking the Kings with barrelling drives to the hoop upon entering. While I’m not the biggest Kleiza supporter, his ability to score in a variety of ways has been sorely missed so far, and at the very least it should mean fewer (hopefully 0) minutes for Rasual Butler’s Corpse moving forward. Leandro Barbosa also played his best game of the young season, adding 24 points on 11/18 shooting and providing the high-octane offensive spark we all expected when we nabbed him from the Suns. Coming off a 5/11 game against the Wizards, the Raptors need to hope this is a sign of Barbosa rounding into form, as another reliable scoring option is desperately needed.
Which of course brings me to DeMar DeRozan. Unlike Andrea, DeMar failed to add much else when his offense wasn’t there – he had just 3 rebounds, a lone assist, and complete disinterest defensively. I realize DeMar may just be a sub-par defensive player, which I can understand (though not accept, given his athletic gifts), but the amount of times he appears lost on coverages and rotations is unacceptable. This is forgivable (I guess) when he’s scoring in the high teens, but this was the first time he crossed 11 points in 6 games. He finished with 13 on 5/9 shooting, but once again limited his output with just 3 free throw attempts. Late in the game the team basically begged him to take over, even passing him the ball three times in a single set before he hit a turn-around jumper off a post-up. On his next touch he showed good vision by finding a wide-open Barbosa for a missed three, then scored an And-1 jam, but then dribbled out-of-control right into a defender for a game-sealing turnover out of a timeout with just a minute to go. Look, I want DeMar to be given the time to grow and work through these kinks, but on nights where you don’t have “it,” you need to pick at least one area to contribute – if it’s not going to be by creating offense and taking on a scoring load, it’s gotta be on the glass or defensive end. Just ask…Andrea??
This is getting a bit long in the tooth, so you can check the box score for more details, but just quickly: Amir looked exhausted in game three of the swing, understandable given his illness earlier in the week. He tried hard on Cousins but was bullied and came out with just 9-and-6, fouling out in 28 minutes; Ed Davis was productive in his 14 minutes (6-and-6) but I can’t help but feel he could still be doing more with his playing time (I’m a big fan, so this may just be the result of high expectations); James Johnson can not shoot (0/4) but at least chipped in with rebounds (5), assists (4), and his usual hustle; Rasual Butler, please leave; Jerryd Bayless, please come back, because watching Anthony Carter is painful; Jamaal Magloire…you can’t wrap a guy that high, though I dig the aggression.
A single day off and then another back-to-back (Indy and Chicago…4-9 here we come!).
Oh – and sorry, I know you were all looking for more puppy stories, but those will have to wait.
Raptors now 1-14 over two seasons in games I cover for RR.