Raptors 99, Spurs 112 – Box

There’s a certain amount of respect being afforded to the Raptors these days on account of their recent form and team play, and last night’s loss in San Antonio would have only increased that.   The signs of a blowout were on the wall as the back-to-back commenced a night after a grueling win in Oklahoma City.  The game was anything but.  The Raptors hung tight with the Spurs for the balance of the game, being up by 1 after the first, down by six at halftime and the end of the third, before bowing out by 13.

As I try to breakdown this game and try to come up with reasons why the Raptors lost, I’m forced to point out San Antonio’s effectiveness more than Toronto’s shortcomings.  The Spurs make you work.   They make you work on offense by not doing anything that might help you out, and they test the elasticity of a defense by forcing it to cover ground constantly.  The Raptors, to their credit, did it for a majority of the game but not for 48 minutes.

[Read Garrett’s Reaction Post for Individual Player Analysis]

Whenever the Raptors play the Spurs there are two statistics I keep an eye out for (don’t worry, they’re not “advanced”): the first is rebounding, because rebounding ends up equating to possessions and the Spurs are masterful at converting possessions to points.   The Raptors were -10 overall, and -5 on the offensive glass.  Second-chance are the obvious negative side-effect but it’s also the energy you have to expend trying to defend those extra possessions, the mental setbacks of conceding offensive rebounds on the road that hurt more.  The other stat is simply FG% because it shows whether the Raptors were able to prevent the Spurs from converting.  The Spurs shot 45%, which isn’t quite so bad for the Raptors, but they did take 10 extra shots in the game which went some ways in deciding the outcome.


The Raptors, for the third game in a row, gave Jonas Valanciunas some touches in the post to start the game and although he got called for a foul, a three-second violation, and a travel early on, I thought he remained troublesome for the Spurs on account of his size.  The best player in the first quarter was Kyle Lowry who had 12 points on 3-4 shooting.  With DeMar DeRozan having issues (offensive and defensive) against Kawhi Leonard, Lowry stepped up against Tony Parker, and was helped out by Patterson, Vasquez and Hansbrough hitting key shots to knock back the Spurs.  The Raptors shot 57% in the first quarter and out-rebounded the Spurs 10-8 to come back from an early deficit to win the quarter by one.

It almost goes without saying that the ball-movement was pristine to the point where it was comparable to the Spurs, and some of the seven turnovers committed were borne out of excessive ball movement.  The Lowry/Vasquez two-guard combination paid dividends early with Vasquez at the point and Lowry using his long-range shooting to spread the floor.  Everybody coming off the bench knew their role: Patterson to provide that mid-range game, Vasquez to quarterback the half-court set, Salmons to play defense and handle the ball when the PGs are pressured, Hansbrough to bang down low.   Other than the occasional Rudy Gay-tribute shot by Vasquez, it was good, solid play.   At one point, when the Raptors were down early, Dwane Casey called a timeout and set up a beautiful baseline play for DeRozan which he nailed the jumper on.  Of course, on the next possession he gave it up but we’re taking baby steps here.

“We won that game because of Tony Parker’s aggressiveness.  His juice. His aggression all night long.”

– Greg Popovic

The points in the paint were being dominated by the Spurs (52-36); the crafty Boris Diaw and the annoying Tiago Splitter did a lot of damage but so did Tim Duncan who somehow manages to be effective despite looking like a wonky crane and shooting 4-15.  How Tony Parker slices his way to the rim through defenders, screens, and his own teammates remains the Spurs’ biggest threat in my opinion, and that kept the Raptors defense expending energy at a very high rate and eventually, in my opinion, won the Spurs the game.  Once Parker passes the ball, the movement doesn’t stop there, in fact it has just started.  Marco Belinelli, Leonard, Manu Ginobili are all part of the machine that prolongs the Spurs’ possession, to the degree where a defense is required to defend and defend well for the full 24 seconds.  It’s exhausting to watch if you’re supporting the opponent.

“A win is a win.  They’ve been playing well, the Raptors. They had a big win in (Oklahoma City) and they made it hard on us.”

– Tony Parker

There’s something you should know about me before I discuss the second quarter.  It’s that I pretty much hate every player in the NBA not on the Raptors.  I loathe them.  I’m forced to appreciate them because of their skill, but make no mistake, I hate them.  Climbing on top of that “hate list” are Jeff Ayres and Patty Mills, the latter because he seems to hurt the Raptors every time (I went to the Spurs home game where he killed us as well) and the former because every time he scores I feel like he’s too shitty of a player to be scoring against us.   Mills’ torching of Vasquez from the perimeter and Ayres’ tendency to keep balls helped the Spurs to a +8 in rebounding for the quarter and a +12 in second-chance points.

The Raptors bench was outscored 18-2 in the second, and it was all due to rebounding.  Late-quarter heroics by Lowry brought them closer, and they would’ve cut it to four hadn’t Lowry blown a layup after a great drive, thus the halftime deficit stayed at six.  DeRozan was 2-5 at the half for six points, but his cumulative impact on the game was minimal.  Falling for Leonard’s head and shoulder fakes created holes in the defense that the Spurs exploited with good effect, on the other end he didn’t supply the needed pressure on the Spurs’ defense, opting for perimeter looks that met front rim which is understandable on the back end of a back-to-back.

DeRozan T'd Up

DeRozan was assessed a technical foul with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter for continuing to argue a continuation call against him after official Lauren Holtkamp warned him, “That’s enough.”

The third was all about staying close which the Raptors did by being much better at defending the rim once the Spurs got there.  Valanciunas and Johnson stood tall against Tim Duncan, the pesky Tiago Splitter, and even Tony Parker on his stretches to the rim between two defenders.  The Raptors tried to post-up Kyle Lowry against Parker but damned if they could get an entry-pass right.  The same was even true for passes down to Valanciunas, who caught it far too away from the rim to be effective.   The Spurs, to their credit, do make you catch the ball in undesirable positions on every possession. For example, on hedges the PG ends up releasing the ball to someone well beyond the three-point line, on down-screens the guy catching the ball is denied a path to the rim and has to shift towards the sideline to catch the ball.

The Spurs did come out a little nonchalant in the third which helped the Raptors, but once again a 6-0 advantage in second-chance points in the third quarter prevented the Raptors from closing the gap.  Casey tried the zone which worked on a few possession but the Spurs figure it out and started sending cutters right down the heart of the defense which led to fouls or layups.  The deficit remained at six heading into the final quarter.   DeMar DeRozan went 2-8 in the fourth quarter with a rather perimeter-oriented shot-chart.  You could point to the 39% shooting in the fourth as the source of the loss, but I’d suggest that once the deficit ballooned to ten early, the Raptors couldn’t get a stretch of stops to get back in the game.  They simply couldn’t keep up defensively and have the Spurs’ 60% fourth quarter field goal percentage to show for it, which included the Spurs going 6-7 from three.  Those six three-pointers came as a tired Raptors defense tried but struggled to cover that ground the Spurs force you to cover.  It would’ve required some offensive failings from the Spurs for the Raptors to claw back, and on this night there simply wasn’t any help coming and the tank (no, not that one) was running empty.

Like is customary in every game, Dwane Casey does end up doing something that makes you wonder if he’s paying any attention to the game. The Raptors had sliced the lead down to five after back-to-back Terrence Ross baskets with 2:17 left when the Spurs called timeout. Surprisingly, Amir Johnson who had been benched for the completely ineffective Steve Novak at 3:16 of the quarter wasn’t inserted back into the lineup. From that point on a Raptor did not grab a single offensive rebound, which I thought would be a huge focus that late in the game. I don’t want to rip on Casey too much as he is managing Ross and Valanciunas better and has overseen a huge improvement in ball movement, but this was a truly inexplicable, if not unforgivable decision which he didn’t have to explain in his post-game interview.

“I wish we would have got that last win. The two wins is great but it would have been nice to finish with one more. I guess we just ran out of gas. We fought hard and got it down to five but we just didn’t finish it.”

– Amir Johnson

Against a lesser team things might have turned out differently even if the exact same approach had been tried but these are the Spurs and margin for error is low.  That margin was surpassed by giving up 24 second-chance points and committing 21 turnovers.  On the bright side, there are some individual performances that need to be pointed out within the larger context.  The first is Terrence Ross – his opening stint was quite forgettable but as the game got on he discovered his outside touch, managed to hit a couple jumpers off pull-ups and even got in for a dunk in traffic.  If he even manages to stay at the level of play he showed last night and Salmons continues his consistent play, the Raptors will have decent offense at the wings.  Defensively, he was caught leaving his feet too often but that’s what these minutes are there to rectify.

Patrick Patterson, an after-thought in the Gay trade, is bringing some timely offense into the lineup.  There aren’t any plays called for him but if the shot-clock is running down and Patterson is passed the ball, you get the sense that he’ll manage to manufacture a decent look through a step-back, a dribble and pull-up, or simply a fade.  The guy’s got a jumper in him which he puts to use.  He’s still an undersized power-forward and has his issues defensively, but if the team’s looking to go on a run he’s a good option to have in the lineup.

The Western swing ends at 2-1, far better than anyone expected with two big scalps.  I’ll take it.  From a personal perspective, I thoroughly enjoy watching this side since the Gay trade.  They have their weaknesses and I enjoy watching them try to make up for it.  I enjoyed watching DeRozan struggle against Leonard, you could almost see his brain churning as he was thinking what he could do better on the next possession.  Seeing Jonas Valanciunas try to defend Tim Duncan, and then Amir Johnson switch on him, followed soon by Tyler Hansbrough was great.  Casey tried a bunch of things to throw off the talismanic big man, and none of them quite worked, but it was great to see every Raptor go out there and fight.  Watching Kyle Lowry go head-to-head with a Hall of Famer in Tony Parker without playing me-ball was awesome and as I said, on a different night against a lesser opponent, this kind of effort can easily result in a win.

Let’s go Raptors.


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  • Ds

    You can’t blame Casey too much for the Novak move. If DeRozan throws him that ball right at his hands, we might be talking about a 2-point game with 2 minutes to go, and how inspired that move was by Casey.

    And you’re right, I hate the other players. You get the sense that apart from Parker and Ginobili, all the other players are average to below-average, but somehow, someway, they make you pay. Green, Bonner, Ayres, Mills, etc. are all scrubs, but goddam ball movement makes them look like world-beaters.

    • GetLicks

      I think you’re giving Novak too much credit here. The pass was a bit low, but all he had to do was bend a lil and grab it, but that’s why he shouldn’t be in there ice cold in the first place. He catches that ball and he has an open look from 3.

      • MalcomX

        GetLicks – I would agree with you if it was any player but Novak. This guy has quite the rep for being able to score on command and regularly comes in cold and drops threes. He just could not handle the low pass from DDR and that was unusual. Did it change the game? Guess we’ll never know.

    • Roarque

      It’s called Popovich. And he’s peerless.

  • ac1011990

    Even as a pro tanker I really enjoyed the game. Good effort and seemed like they never gave up, overall a good solid effort and they played really really hard. Casey did a pretty good job to, I really liked the timings of his time outs. Ross and Valnciunas played great, held their own against a great team. Only problem was Derozan, he seemed to be trying to shoot himself out of the slump, took some bad shots, but really like his new found passing, seems to like passing the ball around.

  • GoingBig

    Tweeted by a SA Fan

    Project Spurs @projectspurs
    “Why won’t you just die already, Raptors?”

  • nyStef

    What an uncommonly good game break-down.

    (“Talismanic big man”.) (Damn.)

  • dc

    “Let’s go Raptors.”

  • akashsingh

    I also hate every player in the league not on the raptors. People look at me weird when I tell them it makes me happy to see derrick rose injured, so I just keep my opinions to myself.

    • Wilson

      … Funny how behaviours considered psychopathic in any other arena of discussion is somehow acceptable in sports. And by funny, I mean not at all.

    • ac1011990

      You do realize there’s an actual human being behind the screen don’t you? I personally thought his deacon to sit the year out, after being medically cleared was a bad choice, but when he got hurt the second time I felt really really bad for the guy. You might want to get yourself checked out if someone injures them self and it makes you happy.

    • Mexiballer

      Keeping your opinions to yourself is a good idea.

  • Chuck B

    This loss is on Casey – what were the keys to the victories in Oklahoma and Dallas? Salmons and Amir down the stretch. So Raps pull within 5 points on the road, and Casey benches Amir and brings in Novak. Novak’s 2 turnovers at the end of the game cost the Raps a legit shot at stealing a victory.

    • MalcolmX

      The Amir I saw with five minutes to play was dead on his feet and demoralized by fouls calls by a team of refs determined to support the home team. There were 2-3 close ups of his face after the play stopped and the guy was done. I commented to the people around me that Amir needed to take a blow before his legs buckled underneath him. I expected Dwane to sub in Tyler and was surprised the Novak was chosen.

  • rtzyyz

    The spurs are the number one piece of evidence why tanking is for fools. Year in and year out they field players (other than Duncan) who in all essence were drafted in positions of scrubs or were scrubs the organization picked up from other teams. Through superior scouting, having a vision adopted by the entire organization and a system of play that everyone buys into the team had been Superior to any other. That didn’t buy championships (heat, latest celtics champs) try to buy one (knicks nets or rockets come to mind).

    If there was any doubt add to how much the players believe in the organization all you need to do is watch them play. They never panic. Even with the shot clock down to 4 when almost every other team in the league goes to iso mode they keep paying and moving. There is so much movement of the ball it is a thing of beauty.

    Lastly, I want to point out the Suns at this point. The Suns last summer made a decision to adopted a San Antonio mentality. The hired what is turning out to be a great coach and surrounded him with great pieces. Smart cap management and great trades. They will have 4 picks in first round and guess what.. they will be a playoff team this year with a young core and a great future.

    I hope this is what masai is trying to do to. If he isn’t…Well he should. ..it works.

    • Wilson

      ……… lol, maybe it’s just me but Duncan deserves more than a mention in parenthesis. You know, the surefire Hall-of-Famer they drafted with the #1 overall pick? That unselfish superstar they’ve built their entire foundation on?

      … But yeah, high draft picks… who needs those? So many valid arguments to pick from and you pick this.

      • rtzyyz

        There are many valid arguments but there are many sure fire hall of famers in the league but not many play in a system like Duncan.

        It is also possible to argue that the system made him great. Put him on another team or with Dwayne Casey as a coach and the guy ends up being just another center.

        Bottom line, San Antonio would have made zan tabak a serviceable big man.

        • ac1011990

          Instead of trying to do what pretty much only the spurs have been able to pull off, why don’t we try and acquire elite talent. It’s much harder to change the whole culture of an entire organization then to get that one elite talent that could make this team pretty good for a number of years. I think this new regime change in Toronto has done a fairly good job, they have said the right things and Masai has made some pretty good moves. People talk about a winning culture but fail to realize that you establish that through continuous wins and solid play. Recently this team has played very very good basketball, but it’s not the first time this same scenario has happened. I feel we have a great core, if we can get that one elite piece we’d have a very good future, then we can talk about establishing the winning culture.

    • Alex Vostrikov

      agree 100%.
      Duncan plays within a system and his game. he wont put himself in front of the team in anyway. this is pretty much respect for the organization and coaching team.
      raps for the moment, have none.
      if you remember, Duncan didn’t come as a #1 labeled from the get go.
      you bring any top draft pick to toronto, and the kids will have the wrong understanding of star and team leader. they will simply take over. is wiggins leading his team anywhere in the moment? doesn’t look like. one year away from college, he needs 3-4 more years to make any sort of name to himself.
      would you want Durant to lead your team the first few years he came into the league??? not me. I mean, its great to have him now, as everyone knows what he is now. but back then, he had green light to shoot 30 shots a game. probably that’s what made him the player he is today.
      my point is also, tanking is not the best option for any one. tanking like spurs did, and tanking by giving up everyone just to get the pick…. are not the same things.

      • Wilson

        Nobody says they are the same thing. Very few fans that I know in favour of rebuilding properly want to give up every single player with any value solely for the sake of fielding an atrocious team. One of the most frustrating things about being an advocate for a rebuild instead of just “letting the chips fall where they may and hope for the best” is the frequency with which some fans conflate the two concepts.

        • Alex Vostrikov

          but how can you tank with the roster raps have now? do you think lowry-less raps are good enough to finish bottom 3? no way. add to that amir or DD, and you have it. look at suns for example. Ppl called for them to beat nets loosing record. they pretty much hanging with the big boys until now. players don’t give up.
          I mean it doesn’t really matter. win or loose. Toronto simply doesn’t have winning mentality. one individual winning season doesn’t make it a habit (playoff run billion years ago).

      • guest of the republic

        Just cuz I gots to call b.s. when it’s this silly … saying Tim “Duncan didn’t
        come as a #1 labeled from the get go” is … well … it kinda invalidates anything
        else you say on the subject. No offense, just is what it is. Copied and pasted the first
        thing that came up when googled, below. With link after it.

        “The San Antonio Spurs, fresh off a season in
        which they were forced to play without franchise player David Robinson for the
        bulk of the year, got lucky and won the rights to select Wake Forest
        star-in-the-making Tim Duncan.
        Not since Shaquille O’Neal was selected five
        years earlier had the top pick been such a sure thing.”


  • MalcomX

    In case anyone here is feeling bad about a loss to the Spurs, here’s some quotes from Sacramento Bloggers.

    1. Rudy Gay tries a bounce pass to DeMarcus Cousins into the
    post, but Anthony Davis easily steals it.

    2. Gay gets a rebound while sitting down, but the Pelicans take
    it away from him.

    3. Gay isolates on Davis, gets his shot blocked.

    4. Gay passes up an open three and ends up missing a contested

    5. Tyreke runs a picture perfect pick and roll with Davis. It’s
    picture perfect primarily because Jason Thompson and Gay glue themselves to
    Tyreke, leaving Davis totally free.

    6. Isaiah and Gay hook up for one of ugliest turnovers of the
    night. I’m not really sure how to describe except to say they were 25 feet from
    the basket, four feet from each other, and a lob pass didn’t connect.

    7. Tyreke beats Gay off the dribble, draws a foul. Hits both.

    8. Rudy Gay was totally horrible on both ends; he shot 2-12 and had six turnovers.
    Call me vindictive but I just can’t get enough of these Rudy-isms. Wonder if the bloom is off the rose yet in Sacramento?

    • justafan

      Nobody cares about rudy anymore

  • Steve Fisher

    The biggest factor in determining the outcome not mentioned is the fact that the SA game was the 4th game in 5 nights. Enough said