This one hurts. Mentally, you were prepared for a loss given the quality of the Grizzlies and things were on course with the visitors maintaining a 9 to 11 point edge for a huge chunk of the game. The Raptors jabbed away, often cutting the lead to 8, sometimes 6, only for Memphis to hit back. Alan Anderson’s 14-straight points helped erase the deficit in its entirety and at that point you felt the stage was set for the struggling Rudy Gay to take center stage, or the Raptors to simply pull through. Neither happened, and if Gay’s horrendous performance was the coffin that sealed the Raptors fate, poor execution down the stretch were the nails.
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Gay’s comment on DeRozan being the best two-guard he’s played inspired Tony Allen to show up with a vengeance and he was on DeRozan like a jersey. The response from DeRozan smelled of panic when it should’ve been of patience. The loose handles don’t help when you’re being pressured and when the response is to convert a high-dribble into an unplanned drive, the percentages of things working out dive. He was taken out of the game by Allen early, which brought Gay into an even sharper focus. DeRozan eventually figured that going to the FT line was his best option for the night and he got some points there. However, in the fourth he was nowhere to be found and was probably still scarred from Allen’s defense. Here’s Allen after the game:
“I heard him, all it did was fire me up,” Allen said. “I was telling my teammates before the game that I was ready to compete. Yeah I heard him, it didn’t do anything but make me prepare even more. I watched like 15 minutes of film on him [DeRozan]. The guy I didn’t study was Alan Anderson.”
Rudy Gay’s play was the worst I’ve seen from a Raptor in many a day. Let’s break it down. First, there was the completely selfish play where he’s not even looking to pass and his only aim is to score for himself. Second, there was a casualness on offense that didn’t serve the occasion, and this time around there wasn’t a game-winner to deflect the conversation elsewhere. Third, the man-defense on the wings was desultory to the point of being neglectful. This was a game where you come out to make a statement by playing team-ball, with the aim of proving that the mud being slung your way about being a selfish player is unwarranted. Instead, Gay reinforced all those beliefs and you can almost hear the Memphis locker-room shaking their heads and being thankful for having Prince instead of Gay. Not good if you’re the Raptors. He started off 0-5, and ended up going 5-15 with only 2 FTs and had 5 turnovers, including two late in the fourth when the game was extremely tight.
The Grizzlies shot 30% in the first and the Raptors were at 20%. These figures didn’t really improve too much throughout the game with both teams coming in at 36%. For the Raptors, it was an aggressive Memphis perimeter defense combined with their superior paint presence doing the trick. Also, the fact that our offense now consists entirely of one-on-one isolation plays is not good. No, not good at all. The Raptors didn’t do themselves any favor by picking up some cheap, entirely unnecessary fouls, with Johnson and Valanciunas both having three in the first half. The defense, which has been much-maligned this season, was what kept the Raptors in it. They might’ve conceded a big edge on the offensive glass due to Memphis’ sheer size and agility, but you can’t ever say Memphis ever found it easy to score. Instead of applying pressure to the Memphis guards, the Raptors forced contested shots and were assisted by an overzealous Bayless (3-9 FG) whose play was almost keeping the Raptors in it. You have to give the team a lot of credit for their defense performance. The Grizzlies may not have a ton of high profile wings, but their big men can be domineering and the Raptors held the combination of Randolph and Gasol to 6-29 FG. There’s a lot to be said for that and credit goes to Johnson, Valanciunas, Gray and even the man-defense of Bargnani (had a great block on Randolph as well).
The Raptors were unable to find a single stretch in the first three quarters where the offense flowed at any consistent rate. This was true to a degree against Washington as well, but the Wizards are a far more forgiving opponent than Memphis (second-best defensive team after Indiana), and whereas in Washington the Raptors managed to hold on to a relatively comfortable lead despite poor play, it wasn’t the case here. The 9 to 11 point lead the Grizzlies maintained wasn’t threatened by anything and it looked like they were going to sail home with it. After Johnson and Valanciunas got in foul-trouble, Bargnani was inserted to provide an offensive spark and he failed miserably. I hate his four-foot drive from the three-point line to just inside the three-point line, which is either followed by a miss or a pass that is close to being picked off. His defense wasn’t completely awful and he did get a few stops against Randolph, but at the end of the day he’s got to be an efficient scorer to have any sort of value and he went 0-4. Enough said.
Down nine entering the fourth, Casey deployed a four-guard lineup with Bargnani in the middle. It coincided with Alan Anderson going off for 14-straight points which made this a game and soon enough the Raptors were tied. When Gay got in the game, Anderson took a backseat and didn’t hoist a shot and that’s a 50-50 decision because we’ve seen him get hot only to go ice cold. It’s Gay’s selfish offensive attitude, poor playmaking, and general ignorance of the type of game this was hurt and ultimately cost the Raptors. Throw in two late turnovers where he’s dribbling into trouble and all Memphis needed to do is rebound and score on every third possession to win. The four-guard lineup with Bargnani might have a high plus-minus due to Anderson’s heroics, but make no mistake, we gave up 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter and the Grizzlies scored 14 points off of it.
The question you have to ask is why Valanciunas wasn’t put in to alleviate the damage. He didn’t even enter the game in the fourth despite having a good showing earlier. It’s no secret that Memphis is strong on the glass and Casey failed to counter, instead sticking with a smaller lineup that paid the price. We’ve seen this over and over again, maybe it was showcasing Bargnani, or maybe it was a continuation of what he’s been doing all season. While Casey went small, Memphis had no trouble matching up with the versatility of Zach Randolph on full display as he guarded Rudy Gay very effectively, all the while talking some serious smack. Casey saw this and didn’t react, maybe he decided to have faith in Gay and stuck to his guns, thinking that this was exactly the matchup he wanted. If Gay would’ve gone off, it would’ve been great coaching, but the fact that he didn’t makes you second-guess the coach.
In the end, it’s a small miracle we were in this game given the quality of the opponent, the performances of DeRozan and Gay, and the plague of foul trouble. Steve raised a point on a recent podcast that now that the Raptor’s season has a different focus, there’s a magnifying glass on Casey’s in-game decision making, play calling, and general X’s and O’s. The days of measuring his performance by the effort exuded by his team alone are over, and that a deeper, more discerning view must be taken. Given this shift, the first area to inspect is that of the offensive sets we run, specifically the amount of isolation plays that are being called and the lack of inside-outside play. Memphis might be the best example in the league of playing inside-out and the Raptors may not have to go to that extreme. However, there isn’t a big on the roster that can add that dimension to the offense and we have to rely on guards, usually DeRozan, to provide any post-up presence. Ed Davis was maturing into that player, and Valanciunas is a couple years away so if we’re hunting at the trade deadline, that’s an area of need. The other aspect of our offense that needs improving is big-passing, as our big men can’t seem to pick out a pass when catching it in the high-post, elbow, or even at the three. It’s a hard skill to find in a big man these days so it’s not exactly a high priority.
If you’re tracking the playoff race you’ll be happy to know that Milwaukee lost keeping the difference at five games.