The criticism, now as ever, centres on the Raptors’ rookies. During a typically heartbreaking overtime defeat to the Lakers on Friday, Terrence Ross did not get off the bench at all, with Casey saying he did not want him matching up against Kobe Bryant. More bewilderingly, Jonas Valanciunas sat in the fourth quarter and overtime in deference to Aaron Gray. Casey said the coaching staff unanimously agreed that Gray should match up against Dwight Howard. The easy counter-argument: If the rest of this season is about learning, then why are the players who have to do the most learning not playing against the players who could provide the harshest but most integral lessons?
“One of the toughest things . . . to do in sports is develop (as well as) try to win. That’s kinda where we’re caught,” Casey said. “Do we try to catch Milwaukee (for the eighth seed in the East) or do we develop our young guys? Not develop, but see what we have. We want to see what we have.” The fan base understandably and unreasonably wants Casey to do two conflicting things: feature youngsters Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross while competing late in games.
It was only one shot, but it was a big one. With 14 seconds remaining, and the Raptors up by one, Kyle Lowry went all Kemba Walker Alonzo Gee, hitting a remarkable spin step-back fadeaway jumper to win the game for the Raps. Considering how many times the Raps have been on the other end of this type of play…. Lowry’s game-winner felt nice.
Six Raptors scored between eleven and seventeen points. Amir Johnson finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Terrence Ross scored 14, thanks to twice evading a meandering Cavalier defender to hit widen open threes. He also finished his own tip-in after missing a crazy, 360 lay-up. Valanciunas looked strong, posting 11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 0 turnovers on 60% true shooting. And of course, Alan Anderson followed the 17 he scored against Cleveland in January, with 18 tonight.
The Cavs are making me sad.
In the end, the Raptors would win, 100-96, but it was far from pretty and no one can say how the outcome would have finished had Kyrie Irving been able to finish. When a veteran such as Amir Johnson is sacrificing his body, keeping possessions alive and scoring on second-chance opportunities, under no circumstance should the Raptors even ponder moving Johnson this off-season, when yet another period of change will be ushered in.
First it was Ed Davis who couldn’t crack the regular rotation. That didn’t reflect well on Casey after Davis became one of his best players with regular minutes. Now that Davis is gone, it’s Terrence Ross that has been glued to the bench, despite representing a huge part of the team’s future. Then there’s Landry Fields, the big off-season expenditure and one of the few Raptors who knows how to move without the ball and make plays for teammates, but he’s stuck picking up scraps as a small-ball power forward. Ditto Sebastian Telfair, who brings the kind of playmaking the club needs but is stuck behind the one-dimentional John Lucas and his intimidating three-point shooting percentage.
Through the ups and downs of this season (and the season before, and the season before that one, too), Johnson has been the one constant for the Raptors. Whether on the bench or in the starting lineup, Johnson has given his all and left everything on the floor. Against the Cavaliers on Sunday, he scored 17 points and pulled down 16 rebounds while also serving up two assists, a steal and three blocked shots. The Raptors are a better basketball team when Johnson is on the floor.
With the Davis pick, it’s hard to give Colangelo credit for a couple of reasons. First of all, Davis basically dropped in his lap and there was a huge drop-off in projected talent after Davis (although that didn’t stop Rob Babcock from passing on Andre Iguodala to draft Rafael Araujo). Davis was also never one of Colangelo’s “guys”. He was basically who Colangelo felt he had to take. We saw evidence of this with Davis struggling to find minutes, while in Toronto, and with Davis. Colangelo also picked up the 50th pick in the drafted, with which he selected Solomon Alabi. While Alibi was projected to be a first round pick, he never panned out and only lasted a handful of games in Toronto.