You don’t know what you got until it’s gone, like a decent bench.
The lights went out in the third quarter of the Superbowl, the Raps provided their own outage a few hours earlier. Two of their starters got into foul trouble as Miami quickly erased a 6 point lead and never looked back.
The Clippers game on Friday night undoubtedly raised the expectation level of this team. Granted, a one game sample size is far too small to to make any judgements, but the ease of the way Blake Griffin and Co. were put away was a little impressive.
Then right on the heels of that come the all-powerful Miami Heat, coming off a tough game in Indiana. And everything played out the way it has all year with the Rudy Gay Raptors, like nothing ever happened.
Good/great start against an elite team. Second half rolls around, elite team steps it up and either pulls away, or the game comes down to one possession and the Raptors lose due to a blown call (usually) followed by an NBA apology.
It’s ironic that two previous Raptor strengths, depth at point guard and the power forward positions, would have come in handy on Sunday.
Sure, John Lucas has had his moments this year but against the likes of Lebron and Wade, disappointment is inevitable. Bench players should be able to at least hang with starters in the league so hopefully this situation gets resolved with a move for a legit guard.
The Raptor defense is still one of the weaker defenses in the league. It’s not the worst, not with Andrea Bargnani out of the equation, but it’s still not very good. When you take clearly the best defensive big off the floor, this team cannot stop NBA offenses. It’s really a bit of a miracle that Miami only scored 27 points in that 3rd quarter.
But it was enough for the Heat, as Toronto’s offense cooled down. With really only Rudy Gay as a palpable offensive threat, the offense dried up, scoring a measly 35 points in the second half.
Yes, Jack Armstrong brought attention to this, and the fact that coach Casey didn’t take a calculated risk by keeping at least one of Lowry and Johnson when they hit 4 fouls early in the third quarter was a bad decision. This is the Miami Heat. You need to be at least tied or winning going into the 4th quarter to have any chance of pulling off a win. How many times have we seen the opposing team have a player in foul trouble, usually in the context of “Player X is has 4 fouls, the Raptors should be going after him on defense, but they aren’t”
It’s done all the time. Perhaps when it’s 2 quick fouls early in a game, that’s a clearer decision. People should now know the impact of Amir Johnson on this team, as a great overall defender, rebounder and growing offensive threat. With Ed Davis gone, you have Aaron Gray or Jonas Valunciunas in there. That’s not going to vut it against elite teams. Even Davis would have been been overmatched in a situation like this. So it would have been nice to see Amir stay in the game at this point. While more disciplined this year, he still has games like these where he fouls too much, and leaving him in there might help actually help him along thaty learning curve.
But after all the questionable decisions and adversity, it was still a winnable game down the stretch when Lowry and Johnson returned to the floor. Rudy Gay had been out there a little longer than Casey would have liked and had him sit for a few minutes. Despite his late game heroics against Orltando, it’s pretty clear DeRozan isn’t ready yet to be this team’s closer. That player has to be either Gay or Lowry, but neither was able to put a sizable dent into that Miami lead, and a Lebron steal off an errant pass intended for Gay iced the game for Miami.
There are some positives to take from the game. One is the continued progression of Demar’s game. This was the third consecutive game with at least one three ball, and most are now aware of his sudden spike in assist numbers. Starting to look like an NBA shooting guard with these new elements to his game. He needs to be able to drop a nice dime in crunch time. Even Lebron, Vince back in his heyday, dished it off at times if the defensive pressure was too great. Regardless, a nice little surprise for someone who looked to be plateauing in terms of development. It’s quite clear that these are conscious attempts are rounding out his game.
Rudy Gay. Another bright light. Did you see that defensive sequence against Lebron in the second quarter where he first blocked him and then forced an airball? Or his offensive explosion in the second quarter, combining perimeter shooting with smooth forays to the rim? Forget what John Hollinger says, that’s talent. Perhaps he doesn’t use it the right way, or wasn’t in Memphis, but a motivated Rudy Gay who doesn’t settle for too many perimeter takes and grabs a few more rebounds will definitely upgrade this team. He would be an All-Star. Would a poor man’s Kevin Durant suffice?
It’s pretty clear now that Kyle Lowry accepted the backup role after returning from injury because he was assured it was a temporary situation. He has been given the reigns to this team, whether you like it or not. Rudy Gay is close friends with Lowry and in some form has been conveyed that the two are going to do big things, and regardless of how you feel about the Raptor point guard, it might instill a sense of ownership and responsibility in Gay that he may never have had.
Whether this will help him lead this franchise towards success, only time will tell.