Well that was a hell of a ride, wasn’t it? At different times, victory seemed assured, and at others, defeat certain. But the tides kept turning, over and over, taking us on a 63-minute roller coaster ride that probably left you exhausted and disappointed.
The toughest part to swallow is that, with a full lineup, the Raptors fate may have been better. After all, despite Jose Calderon playing a great game, Kyle Lowry certainly would have added an extra element, perhaps putting his foot down when the Jazz made their comeback run late in the fourth. In addition, with Alan Anderson and Landry Fields out, neither huge losses on their own, Dominic McGuire was forced to play 33 minutes, including most of the overtime periods.
As it is though, every team deals with injuries and nobody is going to feel sorry for you, especially with only one legitimate NBA starter missing. And for three quarters, it didn’t look like it really mattered.
Through the first quarter, the Raptors led 28-26 thanks to early scoring bursts from DeMar DeRozan (six), Andrea Bargnani (10) and Jonas Valanciunas (eight), the latter on perfect shooting from the field. With seven assists on just nine field goals and only two turnovers to boot, the Raptors offense was operating in high gear. Unfortunately, the Jazz also shot 56% for the frame and had a major rebounding advantage, giving them extra possessions to work with to keep the game close.
In the second quarter, the Raptors managed to extend the lead to five, ending the half at 57-52. While the shooting cooled ever so slightly, the team kept getting to the line (14 trips in the half) and picked up the effort on the offensive glass, grabbing five offensive rebounds in the quarter. Calderon pushed his assist total to eight at the half, while Linas Kleiza chipped in off the bench to score 17 points in the quarter on six of 10 shooting. As odd as it sometimes sounds outside the context of international ball, Kleiza really took over and looked like a dominant offensive threat. He’s had stretches like this before, though, and it wouldn’t last. Of course, he’s also not a top-notch defender, and the Raptors as a team continued to struggle on that end, with the Jazz shooting 51% at half-time.
In the third, the Raptors had to fight to maintain their lead, barely holding on to it and fighting to a draw for the quarter. The Raptors had a handful of poor defensive rotations that had coach Dwane Casey going zone for small stretches, even against a Williams-Foye-Hayward lineup that has talent from long range. Instead, the Jazz started working their interior advantage, getting Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors more involved. The Jazz took 17 trips to the line in the quarter, including a handful of attempts from Foye, who got hot and scored 13. Offensively, Kleiza lost his touch and, despite a spry start to the quarter, Bargnani’s play tapered off pretty quickly. Instead the scoring burden was left to DeRozan, who attacked with vigor and got hot from mid-range, leading to 12 in the quarter, and Amir Johnson, who finished a pair of Calderon passes for big jams to keep the crowd alive.
In the fourth, the Raptors simply had to maintain their level of play to send the crowd home happy, having won or tied each quarter (which was so very important to Leo Rautins on the broadcast). Ed Davis came up big with five rebounds in the quarter, providing the Raptors with their first rebounding advantage and a few extra possessions, while DeRozan also stayed hot and had 27-7-6 by the end of regulation, all marks nearing in on his career highs (37-10-7, respectively). Instead, the disappearance of Bargnani and the curious benching of Valanciunas gave the Jazz further opportunity to leverage their frontcourt advantage, which they used to narrow the lead to within striking distance late.
With the Raptors leading by five with 70 seconds to go, Mo Williams hit a mid-range jumper to make it a one-possession game. Bargnani then missed a hook shot which led to a wild scramble of bodies hitting the floor, with the ball eventually emerging with Millsap on a breakaway, making it a one-point game. Amir would get a put-back layup off a DeRozan miss to extend the lead back to three, which is where Casey made a boneheaded decision that may or may not have cost the Raptors the game (you can never claim one play or decision was all that mattered).
With 16 seconds remaining and up three, McGuire forced a Williams miss from deep, but Utah got the rebound. The correct play here is to foul the ball-handler, sending the Jazz to the line for two shots. As long as you avoid a player in shooting motion from outside the arc (e.g. a foul on the floor), the Jazz can only get two points at a maximum, and again have to try and foul and score, taking more time off the clock. If you don’t think this is the right play, put yourself in Utah’s shoes and imagine how frustrated you’d be being sent to the line for two when you’re down three late.
Instead, the Raptors allowed Al Jefferson to hit a three to tie the game. Of course, Jefferson was one-for-25 in his career prior to this, so maybe you can’t blame them for letting him take it. With two seconds left, Calderon’s inbounds was deflected and Terrence Ross unfairly gets credited with a missed attempt trying to fling a hail mary.
104-104, and we head to overtime.
In the overtime frame, the teams traded baskets, with the Jazz even taking their first lead of the game. Things looked bad after Mill3ap hit from long range, but some nice work on the boards by Amir and some active hands by Bargnani on defense (no joke) helped keep the Raptors in it. With 23 seconds left, DeRozan apparently decided it was over, driving the lane and throwing down a monster jam to take the lead, but Al Jefferson quickly tied it up thanks to some poor Raptor defense. DeRozan got a chance late but missed a wild turnaround from an isolation, a play where he absolutely should have driven to the rim given his success in doing so thus far (although he was being treated criminally by the referees – he really could have and should have had 20 free throw attempts given his aggression and the amount of contact he faced).
115-115, and we head to a second overtime.
Mill3ap was at it again from distance, and the Raptors trailed by three with two minutes left and Kleiza fouled out (in the first overtime), meaning McGuire was on the floor for key offensive possessions. Amir was left with nobody to pass to on one play and had to throw up an ugly hook shot, and things looked bleak. Instead, Calderon managed a steal and sent McGuire on the break, only for Foye to make a great hustle play and strip the ball out of bounds. Calderon would then force a pass to Amir that got picked off, and Amir fouled out trying to recover the ball. After DeRozan got to the line and the Jazz extended the lead back to three, the Raptors had just 11 seconds left and brought in an ice-cold, I-was-shooting-8%-coming-in-to-this-game John Lucas, who, to steal a pun from Leigh Ellis of the Basketball Jones, hit the III (John Lucas for III, get it?).
125-125, and it’s time for a third overtime.
Aaron Gray is now your center, having played eight seconds up to this point. Jefferson went to work on him and got four quick points, which DeRozan tried to answer by…wait, jacking threes repeatedly? Yup. To this point, or maybe until the end of the first overtime, DeRozan was playing what might have been the best game of his career. But as he crossed the 50-minute mark (he would finish with 60), his desire to drive waned and his shot selection became very poor, making his final line look inefficient despite him playing four-plus very strong quarters. Anyway, after Gray threw the ball as hard as he could off the back of the rim on a pick-and-roll, Mill3ap struck again and the Raptors were stuck four. A few more DeRozan misses, and you have your ballgame. 140-133 Jazz.
The Raptors really did play well given the circumstances, and you can’t fault anyone except for Bargnani and Casey for the loss. Calderon played a really strong 50 minutes and hung in their defensively, finishing with 20 points and 17 assists, while as mentioned DeRozan had 37-8-6, and only some late struggles hurt that line by extending it to 33 field goal attempts and five turnovers. Kleiza carried the second single-handedly, and the Ahmed Johnson Frankenstein Bench Big Monster combined for 15 points and 23 rebounds in 56 minutes.
Really, Casey’s curious decision to play an ice-cold (because he’s a corpse) Gray over a productive Davis and a semi-productive Valanciunas (he was strong offensively but struggled on defense at times), and his decision not to foul at the end of regulation were my only real issues. You can certainly argue against McGuire playing 33 minutes, including important offensive possessions, but I think Casey would argue that Ross wasn’t ready to enter a game cold and play meaningful possessions. I guess that’s fair, although you’d question why with so many injuries he hasn’t been afforded more opportunity. But I digress.
Bargnani was bad. He occasionally picked things up defensively, and started each half off looking to be “the man,” but his energy levels and give-a-damn meter both seemed to sputter after a few minutes. Not a shining night for the man who is supposed to carry the load with Lowry out. He’s now taken 113 field goal attempts and scored just 122 points, which is about as inefficient and high-volume as you can get this side of Jordan Crawford.
Anyway, this is nearing 2,000 words and I’m sure most of you actually watched the game or found a shorter recap. So I apologize, but more basketball (15 minutes free!) means even more free analysis. The Raptors are going to be exhausted heading into tonight’s contest in Indiana against a Pacer team that already beat them once under better circumstances (full roster, at home, non-travel day). And so am I.