Well, at least the losing streak is over, right?
Justifications aside, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt less excited about a blowout win then I did after watching last night’s effort against the Suns, who submitted a performance about as inspiring as Oliver Miller leading a weight-loss seminar (click here for player grades). This won’t be as long of a postgame as I’m accustomed to writing, mainly because this game was over just after halftime and could feasibly just be: “Raptors care, opponents don’t.”
Early on, it looked like we were in for an offensive shootout – not really due to either team playing particularly well, but generally lethargic defence on both ends. It’s really not a stretch to say that this game was comparable to an All-Star type game in terms of playing style – both teams seemed to walk up the floor in the first and run whatever play they felt like running, with little to no opposition from the other squad. For the Raptors, this meant DeMar, Rudy, and Andrea taking turns going one-on-one with their assigned defenders, with some success, and for Phoenix, this meant feeding Marcin Gortat on quick cuts and the pick and roll, who seemed to be getting to the rim at will against the Raptors’ thin front line of Jonas and AB.
Late in the first, though, Gortat went down with a foot injury on a seemingly innocuous play (x-rays were negative, but he did not return), sabotaging both his teams’ chances in the game, as well as my fantasy league title hopes, and the game slowly began to turn in the Raptors’ favor. Without a true defensive presence in the middle (we even saw Hamed Haddadi play for stretches), the Suns’ already lacking defence became D-league quality, and the Raptor bench took advantage to the tune of a 26-16 second quarter and a 14 point halftime lead.
Sebastian Telfair was the Raptors’ best player tonight. No, that is not a misprint. Bassy came in early in the second and was the catalyst for the second unit’s run that eventually blew this game open, playing stingy defence on Goran Dragic that seemed to settle the Raptors down on that end (though that may also be partly due to the stabilizing presence of Amir inside), as well as hitting an array of shots from both outside and inside, and providing the ball movement that seemed to be non-existant in the Raptor starters’ iso-heavy sets. Lowry didn’t play poorly by any stretch, yet Telfair was kept in for the duration of the second quarter, and finished the night playing 6 minutes more than his starting counterpart – totally justified given his play and the blowout nature of the game.
The second half of this game doesn’t deserve much of a write-up, so let’s just explain it with this little tidbit: the Raptors committed 17 turnovers in the half, a number they’ve exceeded only 7 times in a FULL GAME this season, yet still outscored the Suns by 13. Sloppy. Basketball. I really can’t overstate how disinterested the Suns looked tonight – every player on the team looked like they’d rather be somewhere else, particularly Shannon Brown, who was inexplicably passed over by Diante Garrett on the depth chart. In any case, sometimes, late in the season, effort is all it takes to win games against a mediocre team, and effort is something the Raptors have always had in spades, even though the execution has been flawed at times.
We’ve given a lot of space to criticisms of Dwayne Casey’s rotations in this space, and I don’t want to pile on after a 27-point blowout, but I did want to single out the use of Jonas Valanciunas in tonight’s game. Jonas had an excellent game while he was in, showcasing a versatile offensive game against Phoenix’s depleted front line and holding down the fort on D admirably after Gortat went down.
That said, the amount of touches – and minutes – he received last night was borderline criminal. I know 20 minutes seems like a reasonable amount, but in a game where the outcome is never really in doubt and the other team doesn’t have a real matchup threat, why not just let him play until he asks out? I’m also quite concerned about the effect that playing with so many one-on-one offensive players in the Raptor starting lineup can have on his offensive development – the guy works so hard for his touches, and just doesn’t get enough of them. If he’s really supposed to be the future of our franchise, FEED HIM WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE. It’s not rocket science, people. I really wish he’d have gotten some burn with the second unit, who seemed far more interested in sharing the ball, particularly early in the game before things got Harlem Globetrotters-y.
In any case, a win’s a win, and one that was certainly good for team morale with games against the Lakers, Celtics, and Heat looming on the horizon. Keep calm, feed Jonas, and carry on.