Terrence Ross on challenge of starting: "I know what to expect now, still learning some new things, but for the most part, I'm just ready.”
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) December 11, 2013
The Raptors have very little depth, and it could get worse if general manager Masai Ujiri continues to chop from the top of the roster. On Monday, when discussing the deal, Ujiri said he is judging everybody, including Raptors coach Dwane Casey, on player development. Ujiri rightly pointed out that if he were being guided by wins and losses, he would have made more severe changes by now.
For the second straight game, the Raptors’ offense looked much improved as the club finished with 23 assists (season average is 17.4) and showed off some much improved ball movement, meaning easy looks for a bevy of players. DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry all got involved early and again, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson dominated down low. But that was the starting group. (Yes, Ross got the nod tonight.) The bench…that’s another story.
“We were trying to play big minutes with (the starters) and they got us in the second quarter and that was the difference in the game. I’m going to chalk this one up to travel, we ran out of gas as the game ran on,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.
On Tuesday the Spurs looked dead in the water eight minutes into the game. Tim Duncan couldn’t hit a shot and Tony Parker couldn’t hold on to the ball. To make matters worse, Raptors big men Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson looked like All-Stars. Gregg Popovich’s leash is short on back-to-backs and San Antonio looked headed for a night of frustration. But thanks to the organizational systems in place and a team culture that emphasizes readiness and preparation, the Spurs left Toronto with a big win. And a large Australian (Aron Baynes) man had a night he’ll never forget.
Aron Baynes, you guys. This was Baynes best game as a NBA player, by far, and his biggest contributions surprisingly came on the offensive end. Baynes provided a presence inside that the Spurs were lacking. His screens were as wide (and possibly illegal) as ever. Bangers scored 14 points on 7-9 shooting and pulled down four offensive boards. He also faked a hand-off and darted to the rim for a thunderous dunk. It was glorious and hopefully it nets him another chance in the rotation. Stop it. I know a part of you, a little voice inside is saying “if Baynes can play like this, then Splitter is expendable.” Stop it.
Valanciunas was a force in the opening minutes, scoring 10 of the Raptors 24 first-quarter points and making all five attempted field goals, flipping in a hook over Duncan after an up-fake, and taking a Lowry pass at the chest, backing down Duncan before turning around and hitting a short jumper. By the time the game was six minutes old, DeRozan and Lowry had combined for seven assists. But Valanciunas spent the final 6:40 of the first half on the bench after two quick turnovers, and the Spurs came back from a 43-42 deficit to lead 59-53 at the half. Valanciunas didn’t score another point until making two free throws and throwing down a dunk with less than two minutes remaining.
For the second straight contest, sans Gay, there was a more cohesive flow to the team’s offence. With 23 on the night – nine coming in the first quarter – the Raptors reached the 20-assist benchmark for the first time in seven games and only the fourth time in 20 games to begin the season. “I did like the ball movement,” Casey said. “I’m really going on the first quarter when we were fresh, humming and in sync more, so to speak.” As per usual, the drop-off was most significant when Lowry went to the bench.
“You have to coach the guys that you’re given,” said Casey, in a one-on-one interview Tuesday. “Whatever happens (with me) happens. I’m not worried about ping pong balls (NBA draft lottery) or anything like that. “My job is to make DeMar (DeRozan) better, to make Terrence (Ross) better and make Jonas (Valanciunas) better. Whether we win or not, that’s a different story. “Nobody has said anything to me about tanking … We’re trying to teach these guys how to win. The most difficult thing in sports is to win and grow. We’re trying to do both.