Grizzlies 103, Raptors 82 – Box

If you turned the game off at half time, you probably finished the night pretty happy with the Raptors. If you watched the entire game, however, you’re likely left disappointed and with a bitter taste in your mouth, as well as an even more bitter realization that, despite a handful of narrow losses providing hope to the contrary, this is probably not a very good basketball team we’re cheering for.

With no Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis entered the starting line-up looking to build on his recent success off the bench, while Linas Kleiza was also inserted for some additional offense and due to the struggles of Dominic McGuire to make people realize he’s even on the floor. The loss certainly can’t be hung on either player, nor can Bargnani’s absence be used as an excuse given how he’s been vilified when he plays lately. As it was, however, Davis did nothing more than what we’d expect from his bench role, albeit under very tough match-up circumstances, while Kleiza simply decided to chuck and throw the ball at the rim wildly, finishing 5-of-15 in just 25 minutes. There were also numerous times where I rewound to try and figure out who Kleiza was supposed to be guarding. Ed had 10-and-6 but also had four turnovers and had a lot of trouble establishing position offensively, which explains why he had just four field goal attempts in 28 minutes.

The lone benefit of a poor Kleiza performance was more Terrence Ross, who looked to build on his big garbage-time performance against Houston on Tuesday. Instead, in his 30 minutes Ross looked every bit a rookie, struggling with his shot horribly but also providing exciting glimpses of why the Raptors drafted him so high. Yes, he shot 4-of-13 and missed all six three point attempts, which was especially concerning since most of them were open looks, but he also showed some nice skill driving to the basket and forced a handful of turnovers. His man defense isn’t good yet, but the potential is definitely there. It’s clear so far that he’s most comfortable in a wide-open game, which the Raptors rarely play. He’ll only be afforded the opportunity to make that difference in transition if he can also knock down shots, so he’ll need to fix that 28% clip from downtown.

Don’t forget, too, that Ross had Trick or Treat Tony on him for parts of the game. Allen is an elite wing defender and also gave DeMar DeRozan trouble all night. While DeRozan’s line looks like an efficient 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including a pair of threes, half of that damage came in the fourth quarter with Allen either on the bench or not concerned with DeRozan at the three-point line. DeRozan wasn’t nearly assertive enough in the first three quarters, when the team really could have used an offensive spark. Again, though, it’s Tony Allen, so offensive sins can be forgiven.

Speaking of offensive spark, Kyle Lowry once again failed to provide one, putting up a pretty empty 12-4-4 line that also came with three turnovers and a handful of curious decisions on defense. I know the Raptors were in a zone for parts of the game, but even still I made note multiple times of Lowry hedging on a ball carrier into the paint and leaving his man wide open at the three point line. Memphis finished 8-of-18 from behind the arc, but things could have been much worse from out there. Helping on the ball carrier is fine if a) he’s a threat and b) you disrupt him, but simply taking a few steps towards him or wildly reaching for a steal doesn’t help.

Of course, it wouldn’t have made much sense for the Grizzlies to become perimeter-oriented in the face of the Raptor defense. That’s because they are the best interior team in the league, with the ridiculously effective duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Honestly, how any team could look at the Grizzlies and not be worried in a playoff series is beyond me. Gasol gets all of the love for being the best passing big man in the game, but Randolph is no slouch either, and he found Gasol with high-low feeds multiple times for easy baskets or fouls. Gasol shot 6-of-15, a poor mark that speaks to the Raptors doing a decent job defensively when he posted up on the blocks. When he was moving, however, the Raptors had no hope. Randolph was a much cleaner 7-of-10 for a 17-13-6 line, and was really the key difference maker in this game. It’s unbelievable to see how far Randolph has come (I highly recommend this article, by the way).

Obviously, this wasn’t a great match-up for the Raptor bigs. Jonas Valanciunas is being welcomed into the NBA by a steady stream of competent big men, it seems, and it will be good for his development in the long run. Tonight, however, he had trouble getting the ball in the paint and understandably struggled with Randolph. Any time he did touch the ball, it seemed, he turned it over. He did have three blocks and did a good job as a help defender, though. Davis and Amir Johnson are too small to really battle with this duo, and they were both pretty ineffective on them and Marreese Speights, who also had 18-and-12 and was left open in mid-range far too often as the defense keyed in on the paint. I feel bad picking on Davis since he is at least a smart defender and able to help without leaving his man open, a rarity on this team. Aaron Gray was called upon for 18 minutes, too, and while yes, he’s a big body and can lean on Gasol, he picked up four fouls in his short time and also committed three turnovers.

What else is there to say, really? It was a game against a much better team, and the Raptors hung tough in the first half but couldn’t match skill once Lionel Hollins told his crew it was game time. The Raptors shot just 31% in the second half, got creamed on the boards, and started turning the ball over like crazy (11 turnovers in the second half), which is very uncharacteristic for them. The defense got worse, too, but not significantly. The difference at that end was more in the steady stream of foul shots the Grizzlies got rather than the slight up-tick in field goal percentage. It really looked like the Raptors were just worn out in the second half and thus had even more trouble defending than usual.

Or, if you’re Quincy Acy, you just wanted to announce your presence with authority by clobbering Rudy Gay with a flagrant foul.

I’m trying to think if I’ve missed anything important. Basically, the effort defensively was at least better than we’ve seen recently (for some), this is just a very good team and a poor match-up for the Raptors. Offensively, even though Bargnani has his warts, this team struggles at times to create and he could have been of some help, especially in the third quarter (although the Raptors then would have given up 120 points).

It was not a good game, and not a pleasure to watch first thing this morning (I PVR’d).

Sorry if I missed anything…I’m probably purposefully avoiding frustrating topics in my subconscious. You probably are, too, though. Life of a Raptor fan.