Ah, so that’s what it feels like to watch our team lose ugly. And I’d almost forgotten…

Kidding aside, tonight’s game seemed on paper to be a prototypical trap game for the Raps, what with the increasingly impressive string of wins, being favoured by 6.5 in Vegas (their best odds of the season), and a measuring stick game with powerhouse Oklahoma City looming on the weekend. Even Blake couldn’t hide his enthusiasm in our pre-game post, picking the Raptors to win by a comfortable margin. Suffice to say, things were so good in RaptorLand that even the most jaded of fans (and I absolutely include myself) had forgotten for a second that we were watching a 12-20 team, albeit one on a great run, as of late. Tonight, then, is what we call a “reality check,” and not a pretty one, unfortunately. Before I go any further, click here for the Quick Reaction and some brief comments on each of the Raptors’ individual performances.

The elephant in the room tonight for the Kings, quite literally, was DeMarcus Cousins, and he really did run rampant over the Raptors frontline in just about every fashion imaginable, ending up with an insane 31-20 line that really does do justice to the extent he loomed over everything in this game. The Raps began the game by rotating both Gray and Davis on him, both with no success for different reasons – Davis for his lack of strength, and Gray for his slow feet. Within a quarter, both Amir and Gray were in serious foul trouble and Davis had been largely neutered on the defensive end, and that was all due to Boogie in the early going. As we’ve seen during the season with Monroe, Duncan, and now Cousins twice, this Raptor teams’ kryptonite is a big man with a varied offensive game, as every Raptor big has different flaws on the defensive end, and any player who can exploit a few of them is bound to have a big game against us until Jonas puts on some strength, unfortunately.

One more quick note on Cousins: man, oh man, does he have a quick first step for a big man. The way he was able to blow by Davis from the elbow was really something to see, and if he does get moved, as the swirling rumours have indicated, the Kings had better get an absolute haul for him.

Don’t take that last paragraph as an indication that the Raptor bigs played well, but were helpless due to Cousins’ impressive play, though. The first half for Toronto was largely defined by inconsistent defence, punctuated by a lack of blocking out for our post-players. Sure, Davis wound up with 13 rebounds on the night (10 in the first half), but a lot of those were due to his energetic play during the Raps’ second quarter stretch of strong play, when he was the only big on the floor, as well as a healthy amount of offensive boards (5 in total). Multiple times, the Raptors seemed to forget that the play wasn’t over after the shot went up, and Cousins was simply left alone to slip into position underneath the hoop and grab the offensive board.

Even early on, though, it seemed apparent that the Raptors were going to have to let Cousins get his and focus on stopping the rest of the Kings, and the effort by our wing defenders tonight was inconsistent at best, as well. I spoke in the Quick Reaction about the Raptors looking to go one-on-one on the offensive side of the ball, and, for the most part, it seemed like they were content to do that on defence, as well – the help D was really lacking tonight, which is unfortunate given the great effort the team’s put forth on that end recently. As Casey has said, a team’s identity is established on the defensive end, and early on, the Raps looked sluggish and disinterested there – and it slowly permeated to the other aspects of their game. Maybe they were caught up in the hype, too.

We did go into the tunnel only down 1, though, and you couldn’t help but feel watching the game that if the Raptors could keep the game this close playing this poorly that a quick swing would put them over the top. The Raptors’ success on offense in the first half can be largely attributed to a great run by the bench in the 2nd quarter (which, fittingly, coincided with Cousins’ only extended stretch on the Kings bench until garbage time) that was fueled by the Raps deciding to settle down, play team ball, and, most importantly, take the ball through the lane. Alan Anderson and the resurgent Landry Fields were the primary culprits, with Lowry playing his now-expected distributor/outside threat role to a T. Here’s Fields and Anderson’s shot chart in the 2nd quarter, which is a pretty solid indicator of what I’ll always say is this team’s best chance to win ball games when outside shots aren’t falling consistently:

Really, this was the only time in the ball game that the Raptor wings were able to take the ball to the hoop with any consistency – I don’t know if that was due to imposing presences in the lane like Cousins and Thompson, but it sure seemed like poor choices on O were the name of the game tonight. DeRozan in particular had a couple of really ugly drives early on which made me cringe, though he was far from the only culprit.

The third quarter, though, was where this game was lost, and was also where the any semblance of ball movement on the offensive end seemingly disappeared. The Raps were outscored 28-10 in the quarter, and the eye test pointed to way too much one-on-one play as the culprit, while the numbers back it up. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • One assist in the quarter
  • 8 missed threes (most of those thrown up early in the shot clock or contested)
  • 6 turnovers
  • The team’s shooting percentage in the game falling from 49 to 36

Add it up and you have one of the ugliest quarters of basketball Raptor fans have seen in a month. The whole thing was punctuated by a few plays where the Raptors just looked futile, throwing uncontested passes over halfcourt, or having four players go after a defensive rebound against zero Kings… and still losing the ball out of bounds. It was an ugly one, and despite a valiant effort in the fourth to bring the game back into range, particularly by Kyle Lowry, who showed his indomitable will once again tonight, the game was essentially over after that.

Even after a string of excellent performances such as the Raptors’ last month, a loss like this can have fans beginning to ask questions right away – was the streak really a product of the schedule? Was it a fluke? What can we take away from a game like this? Luckily, you’ve come to a Raptors blog, where we occasionally have answers to questions like this, so let me give you my quick thoughts:

  • Let’s not push the panic button just yet. Sure, tonight’s squad looked a lot like the Raptors of November, but we’ve still won 8 of 10 games and are in the midst of a push for a playoff spot. It’d be foolhardy to assume that a young, flawed team like the Raps will win every game they’re expected to, and, given their performance of late, they deserve the benefit of the doubt that this is the exception, not the rule.
  • Sure, the streak was partially due to a soft schedule, but it’s impossible to watch the games of the last month and not think that the Raptors are playing a completely different game than the ones that contributed to our awful start. Yes, tonight was a return to form, but chucking and lazy defence can also be attributed to a team simply taking a game off. I have a feeling our players’ egos may have been artificially inflated by success, and a game like this (as well as a coach like Casey) are good reminders that the Raps can’t expect wins, no matter the opponent. They have to earn it each and every night. As he reminded us at halftime, these Raptors haven’t accomplished anything yet, and a tough loss like this might be a blessing in disguise, as well as a reaffirmation of the style of play that has been working over the past month.

Finally, a couple of positive takeaways from the game, because I focused so much on the negatives earlier:

  • Kyle Lowry is a real leader. He might not know exactly when to do it just yet, but you couldn’t have asked for a better effort in the fourth quarter with the team down 19 and threatening to quit on the game altogether. Sure, he might need to pick his spots a bit better, but that’ll come with experience, and there are few guys in the NBA who have both the ability and the cajones to put a team on their back and try to drag them across the finish line. He’s a work in progress, like the rest of this Raptor team, but it’s an important piece for this team to have any sustained success, both in this season and down the road.
  • Landry Fields continued his impressive play after his return from injury, finishing with a 6 and 5 line that doesn’t really do justice to just how disruptive he was to the Kings in the 2nd quarter, when he finished 3 consecutive plays in the lane against the slower Chuck Hayes. He’s quickly morphing into a jack-of-all-trades player for the Raps, and it’s scary to think where the Raptors’ interior defence would be lately without his and Anderson’s contributions on that end.
  • Quincy Acy finally got into the game for more than 3 minutes, and provided some infectious effort that had the bench buzzing, even though he missed a couple of bunnies and was burned on defensive switches repeatedly. Where he does look very solid, even in the very early stages of his development, is with his man-to-man defence – he was able to stifle Cousins when he had position on him, which is far more than the other Raptor bigs can say. Sure, he’s a few years away, and a rotation player at best, but it was both a feel-good moment for him to get some run and nice to see him flash potential that he may be an above-average NBA player at even one single skill, which is all you can ask from your deep bench guys.

OKC is up next on Sunday. Bring ’em on.

  • Canadian Paul

    I still can’t figure out why Casey didn’t try zone defence and/or doubling Cousins on the catch. Can someone with better bbal knowledge explain?

    • Daniel

      We tried a little bit of zone which Cousins quickly ended with his passing for 3-pointers. We tried double-teaming him at the elbow and he split the double team like melons. The defensive strategy was “guard your yard” which killed us last night. I believe Casey is more of s strategist than a tactician so he won’t change the defensive and offensive approach based on single games. The same as Monroe before, we got eaten alive by a big with exquisite offensive skills. It is concerning because these young bigs will be in NBA for a long time and Davis and Amir won’t cut it against them. Jonas is very stiff defensively, a bit robotic for my liking and it will take a lot of work to react instinctively to the opponent moves with his feet and not his hands.
      It was a letdown game lost in the paint. Everything else is individual agendas.

      • Roarque

        I think Jonas is playing intimidated year to date. I’m hoping that his time on the bench will alow him to return with more confidence in his own skills. That and the refs are whacking him early and often with cheap fouls. I’m being a homer when I say that Jonas could be our white Monroe/Cousins*.

        * I can’t believe I just said that out loud. Excuse me while I skulk away.

    • BCBargnaniJoseCaseyGots2Go!!!

      TRoss needs to start ASAP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EnnoyHF3SE

  • Frustrated

    At the game last night… I have to tell you that you could see this loss coming before the game began.  Some of the players weren’t bothering with shoot around and Amir Johnson and Alan Anderson spent half their time practising their dancing.  Perhaps if Johnson had shot a free throw instead, he wouldn’t have been 0-2 or score 0 points.  Reality check may be exactly the right title for this game as it looked like some of the players “checked out” before this one began. Yeah, they’re supposed to be professionals, but still.
    Unlike Garrett, I never had the sense that one swing would put us in control.  The raps had no answer for Cousins and no defensive effort.  That is not how they won 8-9 and I was calling blow-out in the second quarter.My wife says she’s never going to another game after watching that.

    • Roarque

      You can take me instead.

    • FAQ

      Perhaps after they saw the Vegas line on the game they contacted their friends and bookies because they threw the game with uncharacteristic ease… ya think???

  • John

    I find it funny how quiet people get on this site when they can’t dump on Bargnani.

    • Canadian Paul

      Absolutely. We badly missed his rebounding and tough interior defence last night. But, obviously, everybody just shuts up when we lose.

      • Roarque

        You didn’t see Acy’s one on one D as an alternative to Andrea?

    • sukaTori

       Bargnani was on the bench and his smell influenced the guys all night
      better he stay on locker room next game

    • lloyd

       I was so disgusted with how uninterested Andrea sitting on the bench was.  His sitting was not in good form at all.  If you are going to sit on the edge, sit on the edge, don’t sit on the center, especially when you don’t play like a center.  Don’t sit on the center for 2 quarters, and then on the edge for the other quarters, who does that?  Be consistent in your sitting at least, and don’t get me started on the leaning back. 

      • sukaTori

        Yeah i just wrote that – he can’t also stay on bench in a right way – i’d like also to know if he’s shitting able in right way… otherwise may we teach him, before he cover the locker room …

        that’s disgusting

        C’mon be serious

      • Roarque

        Chuckle. Grin, grin. Smirk.

        Well done, I needed that on game day.

  • Valit

    Reading some of the comments, makes me wonder if some guys  are not waiting in line to just stab player X or Y after 1-2 losses. As Daniel said, this game was lost in the paint and everything else is personal agendas. It was some reality check and we can move on. Some of my observations after the game:

    – We are what we are – a 4-5 games under .500 young team which can switch from over performing to under performing pretty fast.

    – BC did not address the main problems that we had last year; a very solid 3 who can consistently put 15 points/ 5 reb. and a decent back-up C ( faster than Gray and with a better offensive skill ).

    – Casey has to figure out quickly what to do when we are faced with fast defensive teams than are rotating quickly and are clogging the lanes; most of our players are reacting slowly and need to be spoon fed close to the basket.

    – Once the shots are not falling, the team started to panic and reversed  to the old Raptors play one on one. It’s true that  because of Lowry  we  were not down by more , but if the other guys are not contributing, he can score 60p and we would still lose. I dont think that putting the team ONLY on his shoulders would result in any victories.

    OKC will be  a very tough game; They are much more talented and in synch with each other, not to mention their superstars. They just destroy the Sixers last night; Hopefully they will underestimate us.

    • Daniel

      Sacramento showed very good coaching against us. Defensively they took away our first two offensive plays, the PnR and DD double-screened at the elbow. They were more than happy leaving Lowry, Anderson, and Ross taking contested 3’s or attacking a crowded paint. It was the modus operandi of the 4-19 team. Like it or not, the only player we have with the skillset to break the aforementioned defensive game plan is Bargnani, providing he plays 18 feet in, the same as last season. The idea to keep him parked at the 3-point line in order to allow room to operate for Lowry and DD is beyond idiotic because the two are not good finishers in traffic and Andrea is the best shot creator on our roster.
      I don’t want to pick on Lowry however I noticed people mention how we needed his “hero ball” to break the offensive deadlock however they fail to mention how he got abused by Brooks and Salmons defensively. He gave up defensively whatever he made offensively and that’s the main problem with him. 

      • NyAlesund

         I am curious to see what kind of solution Casey will adopt on AB when he’ll come back. I don’t want to see him like a pole beyond the three point line.

    • Roarque

      I don’t agree with your comments. Amir Johnson is an adequate back up at center. When Jonas blossoms, and that will be soon, Amir will only play 10 minutes at the 5.

      Landry Fields will be the answer at the 3. Just watch him play for a few minutes. He understands the game. The points will come – right now he still lacks the confidence in his right hand. Who wouldn’t after what he went through?

      DC should have gone to a zone –  I’d love to hear his answer to that question. Bottom line, Dwane got out-coached.

      • The Truth

        At the start of the game Gray made a few offensive fumbles and got 3 quick fouls. Amir comes out for about the same number of minutes does nothing offensively and gets 3 quick fouls. Not sure I see the difference.

        • Roarque

          Remember that night you spilled red wine on your future in-laws white carpet? Does that mean you can’t drink red wine?

          Amir had a bad night – that’s why he doesn’t start in this league, He’s inconsistent. Aaron Gray is not inconsistent. He is consistently slow on D with very little O.

          He can however be my son-in-law whenever he wants to be.

    • Frustrated

      I, for one, did not throw any player under the bus. People jerked around before the game. They performed like crap in it. The facts are the facts.  Take that for what it is.  I happen to be a big Amir fan, but if the team can’t prepare so they’re ready to plan the teams they can be after some success, those who throw the p-word around can forget it.  Anderson, by the way, who I also implicated, is not young.  At some point a team cannot win without every player taking responsibility – young or old.  That’s an “agenda” I would hope everyone can get behind.

  • Jamshid

    Reality Check Indeed … Raptors have many good rotational players but when it comes to STAR player, we don’t have one and we tend to struggle against team that have REAL STARS …

    By the way, L.F, a “starting caliber SF” as some fans here like to say he is: 6 points and 5 rebounds  😉

    Reality Check People …

    • The Truth

      Might want to have a quick peek at the stats for our actual starting SF, not even sure LF got any time at that spot last night.

  • cdub

    I have to say, AA should not be leading the team in shots….17 taken. 

    • sukaTori

       why not ?
      that’s his job and at least he try to do his best someone else doesn’t
      and also quickly disappears

      • mountio

        because hes shooting 35% for the year

        • lloyd

           He had some good looks, was very aggressive, but yeah 17 shots is probably too much.

        • sukaTori

          and so what ?
          he was shooting so much because somebody else was afraid to miss shots after shots
          Probably AA has some ball under his dick so he decided to be responsable
          not so teammates without balls

  • NyAlesund

    Fortunately, not many teams have the big fella like Cousins. Until we have to play against a decent frontline, ED, AG, AJ and JV can do something otherwise the deficiency are visible. Yesterday 57 points conceded from Cousins and company.

    Bargnani is the problem and the solution. Unfortunately nobody knows what kind of version we will see when he came back. If we trade him, it will be important to pick something really good.
    The other big problem is the SF position. Gay is on the block, we can’t offer anything that the Grizzlies could appreciate but if BC had a chance to pick him he had do it immediatelly. Probably the chance are close to zero.

    The next game will be easy to play. We don’t have nothing to lose.

  • ckh26

    Last night and games against Detroit (Monroe/Drummond), Lakers (Howard) Memphis (Gasol) and to a degree Clippers (Jordan) show that we are going to struggle against teams with a heavy post game. Aaron Gray is not quick enough or skilled enough as a counter and Jonas while quick enough will have to follow Demar to the weight room.

    It was an ugly loss but those will happen. How frequent these happen will be the measure on if we have turned the corner with that impressive 8 of 9 run and can continue to be more than “competitive”

    Regardless of what he did on the scoreboard …Cousins is still a punk.