What’s with this team and playing up to the level of good teams? Yes, they came out on the short end, but this had all the ingredients of an entertaining match.
You got the marquee team with the marquee player coming into town for their only visit. You got a furious comeback by the underdog home team after everyone writes them off after a horrible first quarter. Then you have a close game at the wire with big plays at both ends. Throw in a little controversy at the end of the game on a questionable call by the refs, and you got yourself a real barnburner.
The start was bad. It wasn’t anything in particular, just a Laker team that looked focused after a high profile loss to New York. It also coincides with an emerging trend on this young Raptor team; they start slow, especially on defense. An explanation for this could be that the reputation that Toronto built over the years of having an epic-ally bad defense gives teams that carefree confidence to attack without hesitation. It’s only when a few possessions go by where an improved Raptor defense presents itself that teams realize that there is a difference and become a little more tentative on offense.
Once the defense came around, the Raptors started chipping away at the sizable Laker lead. Linas Kleiza continued a strong return from major injury to lead the bench, while Leandro Barbosa gave his expected contribution of instant offense. What really ignited the Raptors biggest run in the first half was the entrance of Jamaal Magloire into the game.
Wise people have articulated that teams should be built around centers and point guards. This game gave Raptors fans both. Magloire played Andrew Bynum to a near standstill with tough defense and some timely buckets. Aaron Gray was no slouch either, with a spirited effort in the second half.
The story of this game from the Raptor perspective was really the play of the somewhat enigmatic Jose Calderon. It’s really too bad that he has such an unselfish attitude, because when he has that smaller guard on him, he can shoot over the top and shoot it well. It seems that he gets discouraged after missing a couple early in the game and that’s that. Again, with Amir Johnson fading away this season, Numero Ocho is the best player this team has. And he plays good against good teams too. It does seem his days are numbered, and if he does find his way onto a contender, he will be a great fit. That’s because the type of game he plays works very well in structured offenses. That’s why he’s having a resurgence this year. Dwayne Casey actually has a coherent system in place.
Casey also threw different looks at the Lakers, which he’s done to great effect this year. Sometimes it’s just to take good teams out of their rhythm. Veteran squads do figure it out, but it might take a few possessions, and that’s the little edge you need sometimes to cut into a lead, or build one. Weaker teams might just be freelancing more on offense, so it may be less relevant to try these kind of tactics.
DeMar DeRozan was Buzz Killington on this day, for those who watch Family Guy. (For those who don’t, start now.) Whenever the Raptors were on a roll, DeMar tried to fan the flames, but got burnt instead. I don’t understand his frustration with officials. It’s not a conspiracy, sometimes you run over guys for offensive fouls and you get called for it. It’s just when your boss the GM, fills your head up that you’re the next Vince Carter, that you feel entitled to superstar treatment before you’ve actually become one. DeMar will probably go off for 20 points next game, because he’s been given the keys to the offense and he is talented. Just not that talented. He did get 7 assists, which is great for him and hopefully he continues to develop court awareness.
Can’t NOT talk about the call. Yes, Casey called a timeout, but it was a little too nonchalant when it was very close to 5 seconds already. Rasual Butler probably should not have in-bounded. It’s hard to be on the bench cold like that and then expect to make an important play like that. That play is kind of like being a quarterback. And being a quarterback isn’t easy, am I right?
You can look at that play like most do, but what gets overlooked is giving Kobe Bryant an easy three pointer over Linas Kleiza a couple plays before that. If any team on this planet should know about Kobe Bryant’s ability to hit big shots with a defender in his grill, it should the Toronto Raptors. You do not let that man take a three with Kleiza, only Linas Kleiza on him and a 4 point lead. You do a hard double or you put a bigger mobile guy like Amir Johnson on him and crowd him on the 3pt line. Let him get blow right by, but you take the three away from that equation. The winning shot on the baseline was just a great misdirection by a great finisher who’s done this kind of stuff in his sleep. But that three, it really hurt, especially after Kleiza’s three ball right before that barely missed going in and would have probably iced the game.
The main point here, Raptor faithful is that this is a competitive team that plays hard and at the very least is watchable on most nights. You look at these players that used to literally laugh and have a good time at the Raptors’ expense in previous years. Then they come onto the court this year and by the end of the first half that smirk gets a little smaller when they realize that this won’t be a layup drill anymore. And by the fourth quarter that smile is completely replaced by a frown of frustration as they wonder why they haven’t put this team of unproven youngsters and journeyman out of their misery already, along with a couple of unwelcome nicks and bruises.
That puts a smile on this fan’s face, win or lose.
Photo Credit: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
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