Wow. Where to start on this one? I had a hard enough time putting together enough coherent thoughts on what was one of the weirdest, and worst, Raptors games I’ve ever seen to do a Quick Reaction piece last night, so please bear with me if this one’s a bit shorter than usual and veers away from traditional analysis – I’ll do my best to do most of my commenting on the game and the team in general, as I directly commented on each player individually in the Quick Reaction. And honestly, that game messed with my head in ways I didn’t know a basketball game could.
This one started like you’d expect a game between a road-weary team and one missing two of its best players to: both teams were struggling immensely offensively – the Raptors, by taking an unbelievable amount of long shots early in the shot clock (and missing nearly all of them), and Portland through a nice mixed-bag of futility. The only person on the Blazers who seemed to have any success offensively whatsoever was LaMarcus Aldridge, and though the Raps weren’t exactly blowing the doors off the place, you had the feeling that if they slightly altered their game plan, they may have finally found an opponent they could beat with ease (I mean, the Blazers were starting Sacha Pavlovic and Victor Claver, for God’s sake!).
That didn’t really happen, and both teams struggled through a first quarter that resembled my days on my high school’s B-team. The strangest part about the opening stanza for the Raptors was the inexplicably avoidance of DeMar on the offensive side of the ball: not only was he being guarded by the aforementioned Pavlovic (and later by Will Barton), but this kind of game screamed for someone, anyone, to get to the rim and start creating points the old fashioned way, especially given Portland’s seeming inability to score in any way.
Ironically, the first Raptor player to attempt to do this was the much-maligned Andrea Bargnani, who received an offensive foul and a hard knock to the court for his troubles that put him out for the game. X-rays were negative, but as of writing this I haven’t heard an update on the injury – as I wrote last night, no matter what you think of the guy, I hope it isn’t anything serious. It did look like he was in some serious pain and he didn’t come back to the bench, so
In any case, the end of Bargnani for the night also meant the entry of Ed Davis, who was, by and large, the biggest reason the Raptors entered the half only down 4. Davis shone in the second quarter, continually taking the ball to the hole while the other Raptors forced shot after shot from the perimeter, and even bailed out a few broken plays with putbacks. Davis may have had a difficult time with Aldridge on the defensive end (everyone did), but his hustle and heart were key to the Raptors first half, and he essentially cancelled him out in the box score, winding up with 12 points and 7 boards entering the break to Aldridge’s 12 and 6.
That said, for every other Raptor save DeMar and Jonas (who certainly wasn’t lacking in the “hustle points” department, either), the shot selection in the first half was both inexplicable and atrocious. Lost in Portland’s historically futile night from downtown was the Raptors’ almost equally ugly performance from long range – they finished the half 1 for 12 from three point land, ending the game a paltry 3 for 21, with one particularly ridiculous shot by Kyle Lowry in which he was actually out of the TV cameras’ view due to his proximity to half court. The feather in the cap was how quickly the Raptors seemed to be willing to throw caution to the wind and toss up shots; most of them came early in the shot-clock and directly resulting in me yelling at my TV on numerous occasions.
Finally, though, the Raptors seemed to come to the realization that they had stronger personnel, even sans Bargnani, and began taking the ball to the hoop, leading to 4 straight possessions to end the half – all scores – that were either putbacks off of drives to the basket, directly scored on drives, or shots in the low post. As the Raptors went into the half down 4, the game seemed to be turning a corner: even though the Raptors were down, it looked like they had control and were still in good shape to win this one.
But boy, how wrong that was. The sheer ridiculousness of the second half is almost too much to attempt to break down in any coherent fashion, so here are a lot of bullet points, followed by my summarizing thoughts at the end.
In the second half, we saw:
- Lowry walk off the court and straight into the locker room after injuring his tricep. He did return to the bench, which is a good sign regarding the severity of the injury, but it was a strange moment in that that there didn’t seem to be any specific play that precipitated his leaving (we later learned it was due to a fall in the first quarter). Like Bargnani, hopefully he’s alright – though, like I said in my Quick Reaction, he was having a dismal game pre-injury.
- Amir Johnson’s bizarre ejection, beginning with the referee’s refusal to allow his ball-touch-after-free-throws ritual and culminating in what will henceforth be known as MouthguardGate. It was a play that was very out of character for Amir, and will likely result in a reasonable suspension/fine – the league doesn’t tend to take kindly to actions against its referees, and after watching this post-game video, you almost have to feel bad for Amir, who was likely swept up in the emotion of what’s been an extremely rough stretch for the Raptors, coupled with an emotional first half. Regardless, behaviour like that isn’t acceptable, he’ll serve his time and pay his fine, and life will go on.
- Sacha Pavlovic and Nolan Smith taking turns driving through the lane on the hapless Raptor players. Without Lowry and Amir, the Blazer wings were running through the lane with impunity, which eventually led to what seemed like an endless array of alley-oops to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
- Aaron Gray entering late in the third and providing solid minutes, sparking a Raptor run with a good defensive effort and even converting a reverse layup on the other end that helped cut the lead to 5 heading into the fourth. Make no mistake, though – even at this point, this was a game that smelled like a blowout.
- Ed Davis, he of the immense first half effort, inexplicably being sat during Portland’s rush to the lead in the third quarter (and early in the fourth as well) due to having four fouls. In a close game, with a full complement of bigs, moves like this make sense, but Casey’s reluctance to reinsert Davis into the game as it was slipping away seemed like yet another “safe” coaching decision, even if it wasn’t necessarily the correct one.
- Mickael Pietrus throwing up shots in the fourth like they were going out of style – after a made 3 cut the Blazer lead to 7, he didn’t make a shot for the rest of the quarter, but continued to shoot away, stopping the ball and leading to wasted possessions that brought the first half back into mind. I’m not sure if Pietrus was looking to take more of the offense because he sensed a decline in DeMar, who was clearly playing on spent legs at the end of the game, but his gunslinging in the fourth certainly didn’t help matters.
- The spent Raptors getting dunked on from every angle and player, including an almost inconceivable and-1 dunk from the immortal Luke Babbitt, who turned Ed Davis into one of the most obscure NBA posters anyone’s ever seen.
After all the chaos and confusion had cleared, the Blazers had won the game by 18, and the Raptors ended their five game road trip with two injured starters and another key player facing what should be a sure suspension. No, what we saw last night was not acceptable, by any stretch of the imagination. But the sheer insanity of the second half, coupled with the multiple losses of player personnel, the team being clearly fatigued to close the game, and the fact that even while depleted, Portland still boasted one of the game’s top players in LaMarcus Aldridge, means that there may not be too much to take from an analysis of what exactly happened.
Yes, the Raptors have some major issues – the fact that a team like Portland could double their points in the paint being the reddest of red flags. But what we saw last night was no lack of effort, save for some lousy shot selection and a couple of lazy passes. It was simply a tired, depleted team, in the midst of turmoil and at the end of a long road trip, and things like that add up. As weird as it sounds, I’m almost glad the game played out the way it did: I’ll take a wacky outlier of a performance like this one over the team playing at top capacity, energy, and skill, and still getting blown out of the building any day of the week.
So, my advice to Raptor fans? Rip this one off and throw it in the garbage can like one of those page-a-day calendars – the road trip is finally over, and the Raps now head home for 13 of their next 19 in the ACC. Yes, things are bleak right now: but this is about as bleak as they can get – things will get better (even if that’s a subjective term). They have to.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
- Morning Coffee: December 11th Edition
- USA Today Report: Bargnani on the Block, Calderon Wants Out