They say the currency of basketball is possessions and last night the Raptors had enough of them to shoot 26 more times than the Timberwolves (90 versus 64 FGA). When you got that kind of cash, it’s hard to lose. Staring at a potentially 0-5 start with trips to OKC and Dallas coming up, this was an important juncture of the early season and with the bonus of Rubio and Love being out, the Raptors had to get this one and did. The backcourt of DeRozan and Lowry had 22 each and the team forced a ridiculous 24 turnovers. The bench component of production was provided by Alan Anderson, who chipped in with 18 points including some timely contribution in the second and fourth quarters, which is when the bench led key surges.
The Raptors held even with the Timberwolves in the first, a quarter in which the Wolves were getting good shots whenever they managed to hoist one – Pekovic and Kirilenko were the key scorers, the former giving Jonas Valanciunas a punishment in the block courtesy of his strength. For the Raptors, the theme of the first half was forcing turnovers, which they forced 7 of in the first and 9 in the second. The guard play was phenomenal with Lowry and the wings trapping and pressuring Ridnour and Roy at every chance, and doing well to deflect passes on their pick ‘n rolls. I counted at least three occasions where a guard’s raised arms were enough to save two points and spawn the break.
The defense did have its issues, as highlighted by the worst closeout ever by Landry Fields on Kirilenko and reflected by the Timberwolves shooting 56% in the half. But when the defense is forcing the break and the guards are hitting their shots, all seems well. The second quarter stretch which usually sees an offensively anemic lineup deployed gets me weary, and this time around it was Calderon, Ross, Anderson, Johnson, and Davis, a lineup that you would bet on to struggle to score. Not so last night – Calderon and Johnson were in sync, and when those two are working together you milk the cow. Anderson’s eight points in the second were critical and fueled the Raptors offensive engine to a 9 point halftime lead, no doubt helped by a 27-2 advantage in points off turnovers. The Timberwolves suffered yet another injury blow as Juan Barea, who was having a pretty sweet game, was concussed and left the game.
DeRozan and Lowry combined to shoot 16-24 whereas Bargnani registered another poor shooting night (4-16). It’s not worth dwelling on since the Raptors won but a comment is needed. He’s not catching the ball in the post enough and is forced to operate from outside-in and when he does manage to get a step on someone the ensuing finish is wild at best. The rebounding is obviously anemic (1 in 24 minutes last night) so there’s no expectation there, but the Raptors will need his scoring at some point and he’s got to turn things around so that the team doesn’t have to rely on Lowry and DeRozan to have near-perfect offensive games to be competitive. My suggestion to Bargnani would be to get in the post and do what he does reasonably well: turnaround and shoot over people after two post-up dribbles. Maybe he’s feeling the pressure after watching Lowry and DeRozan take charge of the offense, although I don’t think he’s got that kind of personality. More likely is that he’s not the #1 option on offense any more so there aren’t as many plays run specifically for him, which he’ll need to adjust to. I would entertain the idea of beefing up the bench scoring by having him come of it.
Terrence Ross had another Chris Jefferies like performance and just looks nervous out there, which isn’t good for a shooter. Not too worried about him at this juncture even though he’s yet to make a FT or a three this season, and has one field goal.
The third saw a bit of a run from Minnesota where Derrick Williams and Pekovic got them back in the game. Again, Jonas was a bit overwhelmed by Pekovic’s size but managed to contribute with a put-back here and there, and also followed up whenever he missed a shot. It was a quiet night for the rookie with 4 points and 4 rebounds, and I suppose the best thing for him last night was a lesson of how the physical centers in the league are likely to look upon him. You might think that Aaron Gray would’ve been more suitable to defend Pekovic, and you’d be right. However, I’m not ready to question Casey on this one – Valanciunas is the future and needs a baptism by fire, Gray is 6 fouls.
The mini-run that Minny made to cut the lead to a deuce late in the third came a time where the back-to-back was starting to show for the Raptors, so it was left for the Raptors to close out the quarter strong. A Lowry jumper, followed by a steal, an offensive rebound and a Davis layup had the Raptors going in up 6 to the fourth. A key 11-3 run to start the fourth, entirely administered by the bench and punctuated by 5 Anderson points including a three sealed the deal for the home side.
DeRozan chipped in 8 in the fourth quarter, and the brief earlier trouble posed by Kirilenko all seemed to have disappeared. The knockout blow, much like the push in the second quarter, was delivered by the bench. Only this time the lineup was tweaked with Fields, Calderon, Anderson, Johnson, and Davis. Basically, Ross taken out in favor of Fields. Even though Fields struggled again, this was the lineup he looked most comfortable in. His offensive role in such a lineup is immediately escalated from fifth option to second behind Calderon, and this is where he has the most freedom to show what he’s getting paid for. He had a couple nice drives including a layup to start the fourth, and the lineup must’ve given Casey a few ideas.
There’s not much else to report on this one. Much like the opening night loss shouldn’t have been taken to heart, neither should this win as with Love, Rubio and Barea out, the stars were somewhat aligned. I’m quickly finding himself looking forward to seeing Kyle Lowry play (shot chart), as he is a player that we’ve been longing for for quite some time. Three steals again last night and some very timely shots; his partnership with DeRozan looks especially smooth when both are being hounds on defense and the latter can knock down a jumper or two (shot chart).
Ed Davis is quietly having himself a productive season, as in he manages to be active and contribute in small but positive ways. Johnson may be lucky enough to have a couple plays run for him with Calderon, but Davis is resigned to rummage for his points and he’s doing so without complaint. He sees what happened with DeRozan and his contract, and Johnson before him, and must feel that this is a place where contracts are there to be had. Johnson and Davis combined for 14 points and 12 rebounds which was more than enough to outplay their bench counterparts of Amundson and Cunningham.
Raptors win in what was a fun game to watch for me. Lots of offense, forced turnovers, and seeing DeRozan and Lowry at their finest.
Kirilenko commented on the turnovers:
”It’s too many turnovers,” Kirilenko said. ”You can’t win the game when every guy loses three of four balls. We have to work on this. It wasn’t really forced turnovers, we just threw them away.”
To which I say bullshit since the Raptors deserve all the credit for forcing them.