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.
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 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.