Raptors Lose to Lakers, Fly Home, Jonas Still on Staples Bench

Raptors play it tight, until Casey decides to play Aaron Gray over Jonas Valanciunas.

It’s 1:30 AM on the East coast so I’m not too inclined to go deep here. The Raptors lost another one in OT, dropping their record in extra time to 2-87. The troops showed up to play in this one against a Lakers team playing their third game in four nights. Sheer ridiculous shooting is what pushed the Raptors ahead by 15 in the second quarter. DeRozan was 7-9 FG in the first half and 12-18 FG overall. I don’t recall his jumper working this well all season but when it counted late in OT, Kobe was put on him and he went 0-2 in the extra frame, his handles and lack of blow-by moves letting him down. His shot-chart is pristine:


I would’ve liked to have seen him pick up Kobe when the latter was tearing us up – video below (11-22 FG, 41 pts, 12 ast). If Kobe can step up and take responsibility for DeRozan, that favor should’ve been returned, and watching Anderson guard Kobe left me with an empty feeling.

[Also: Reaction: Raptors 116, Lakers 118 (OT)

[Also: Andrea Bargnani Injured in Lakers Loss – What’s Next?]

Gay was also on in the first half going 5-11, before going 2-15 in the fourth and OT. Call it a tale of two halves, the first where the jumpers were going and the second where the same jumpers weren’t. In both cases, he’s taking jumpers. The Raptors shot 58% in the first quarter and were helped by a strong showing from Lowry and Lucas off the bench, great play from Jonas Valanciunas (12 pts, 8 reb, 6-8 FG) against Howard, and held a 6-point lead at halftime, which had been cut from 15 due to some poor rebounding in the second where the Lakers got 9 offensive rebounds and went 12-3 overall on the glass.

Seeing a 15-point lead shrink down to six is disheartening and you’d expect the Lakers to wake up from their turnover-prone play and come back strong in the third. That’s where the Raptors surprised us. Not only did they correct the rebounding issues of the second quarter by outrebounding the Lakers 11-7 in the third, DeRozan and Valanciunas went a combined 6-7 from the field to win the quarter by 4 and give the Raptors a 10 point lead heading into the fourth (Valanciunas played less than five minutes in the third after picking up his fourth foul). The Lakers were hitting us and we had an answer. It was great to watch and entirely unexpected.

So, the fourth started and we soon see the lineup of Anderson, DeRozan, Gay, Lowry, and Johnson. Valanciunas is nowhere to be found, this after he was playing the screen ‘n roll game beautifully and even coming out on top in one-on-one situations. You can call Mulder and Scully for this one because this baby is an X-File. Let me put it this way: our most productive big man did not play a second in the fourth quarter and OT, in which span the Raptors managed to blow a 10 point lead. Dwane Casey has no explanation for this, and the only (and I’m reaaaallly reaching here) excuse here is that he believes in his silly 4G lineup to such a degree that he’s willing to bench proven productivity, but even then, what’s to say Jonas can’t function in such a setup?

This sub-pattern, if you want to call it that, makes even less sense when you see Casey go back to a 2-big lineup and choose to play Aaron Gray ahead of Valanciunas. Someone please explain this behaviour because I sure as hell can’t. What is perplexing to me is why Casey wouldn’t put two bigs in Johnson and Valanciunas out there permanently. The Lakers are 19th in the league in terms of defensive rebounding rate and both Valanciunas and Johnson are capable offensive rebounders.

Rudy Gay went 0-4 in the fourth quarter in which Alan Anderson was our best player. I’ll spare you the details, but basically he played the full 12 minutes and Casey began to run the offense through him, especially in OT against Meeks (where he also played the full five minutes) as DeRozan was seeing tight coverage in Kobe. Ross did not play. Coach’s decision.

Rudy Gay had a chance to win it in regulation and tie it in OT where it bounced on the rim a couple times before spilling out. Digging deeper into the late stages of regulation and OT, you’ll find missed offensive opportunities through Gay, concession of key offensive rebounds, and defensive breakdowns of which I’ll pick two:

  1. The Raptors are up three with 49 seconds left in OT and the Lakers are taking it out of bounds. Nash is given the ball and a screen is set for him, Gray half-hedges and because he’s found to be too slow to move laterally, can’t put pressure on Nash and in the process ends up setting a screen on Lowry. Nash hits three.
  2. Between this point and point #1, Rudy Gay missed a jumper and then, tith 12 seconds left in OT, Kobe cuts down a disorganized perimeter defense and drives right into the heart of the interior defense which has the slow-footed Gray manning it instead of Valanciunas, for a gut-wrenching dunk. I wish we had a center who liked to defend and contest the paint. Oh, we have one! But he’s on the bench.

Gut-wrenching loss aside, any time you take the Lakers into OT at Staples you’re doing a lot of things right and it’s important to highlight those here:

  1. We’re seeing a lot more passing play from our big men. The stuff that the Raptors ran with Amir as the big-man facilitating hi-los was great.
  2. The screen ‘n roll defense may have been awful, but some of the interplay between Lowry and the bigs was tuned. Even Gay, who isn’t known to run good pick ‘n rolls, was catching Howard napping.
  3. There was a calmness and composure to DeRozan’s game throughout and you got the sense that he wanted the ball late on. I’m thinking since Rudy Gay is the “closer” on this team, those game-winning shot attempts go directly to him now. DeRozan needs to be more assertive, but this was a primetime performance by him.
  4. Good glue-play from Fields and Lucas, who came in and did their jobs well. Lucas provided the offense for the second-unit which is now basically a second-line hockey shift (Johnson, Gray, Anderson, Telfair, Lucas), presumably because Casey can’t be bothered to think about mixing the starters and bench to even things up a bit. Fields gave good minutes and kept Kobe at bay while he was in, while providing a little offense of his own. Good stuff.

That is all I have to write for this one. With no draft pick this year even tanking doesn’t make sense, which makes this loss even harder to take. If the Raptors would have won last night it would’ve resonated around the league, which is a small win for a Raptors fan.

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