Raptors Beat Timberwolves: Needed Response Signed and Delivered

The Raptors beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 94-89, delivering an appropriate response to their loss in Boston two nights earlier.

Timberwolves 89, Raptors 94 – Box

One-line summary of this game: The Raptors delivered an appropriate response to the Boston disappointment. Beyond that it’s just details.

After the Boston debacle the fear was that losing to Minnesota would put the Raptors on a slippery slope towards the wrong end of .500. Those fears were put to rest with a rather comfortable, if at times squeaky, win where the Raptors led from start to finish. They played from a position of control for the balance of the game and responded with a sharp bite to every Wolves bark. The questions asked of the defense in the fourth quarter were answered and when it came time to put the Wolves to bed, there was enough offensive ammunition to gun down the pack.

[Read: Player Grades – Raptors vs Timberwolves]

[aside header=”Big Man Redemption”]
“The bigs redeemed themselves. You’ve got to command the paint. We’ve got a lot of bigs that we work on it with all of the time, boxing out. They did a heck of a job. It was nothing more than what we need them to do each night.”

Dwane Casey
The Wolves frontline featuring Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic was the primary cause of concern and rightfully so. Jonas Valanciunas gives up 54lbs to Pekovic and Amir Johnson lays 33lbs to Kevin Love. Both Minny big men are excellent at carving out space to wrestle away rebounds and offensive positioning, two areas where their Raptors counterparts have weaknesses. There isn’t much depth beyond Valanciunas and Johnson either, with Chuck Hayes acting as the lone backup big with Tyler Hansbrough out. Given these matchups it wouldn’t surprise to see Minny dominate the glass, second-chance points, and points-in-the-paint to a huge advantage. Let’s look at those three stats for the first and second halves – they are written as TOR-MIN:

1st Half 2nd Half
Offesive Rebounds 6-10 6-2
Total Rebounds 21-25 22-19
Points in the Paint 18-28 12-28
Second-chance Points 8-11 3-2

This paints the picture for this game – Minnesota was able to get 10 offensive rebounds in the first half to make-up for their poor outside shooting to go into halftime only down 4 after a blistering 9-0 run to end the half.  Prior to that, the Raptors were on the verge of opening up a sizeable lead courtesy of the post-Gay play that we’re used to seeing.  Overall, the Raptors were outstanding with their ball distribution – 26 of the 34 field goals made were assisted, that’s a ridiculous 76% of made shots.  Other than DeMar DeRozan – guarded aggressively by Corey Brewer with no justice from the officials – and his cringeworthy shot-selection for the majority of this game, the Raptors offense was free flowing and movement heavy.  If you take out DeRozan’s 5-17 shooting the Raptors would have shot 48% in this game which is quite respectable.

DeRozan did have 5 assists and 5 rebounds as well while playing a game-high 40 minutes but labored on offense, often opting for a shot that was neither prudent or worse, in context of the offense.   However, what will be most remembered about DeRozan in this game is the short clutch fade in the lane which helped win the game (his only FG of the half).  Such is basketball:

I feel he takes on too much at times when he doesn’t need to – this isn’t a team that is dependent on a star to provide scoring, and when DeRozan tries to assume that responsibility (usually unasked), bad things happen.

Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson need to be commended for their defensive efforts.  For Valanciunas, it was about denying Pekovic position on both ends of the floor, which he did admirably.  His straight-arm defense with Pekovic hovering around the rim proved to be quite effective and forced the latter to angle his layup attempts just a little too acutely for his liking.  Holding a beast like Pekovic to six rebounds (3 below his season average) was impressive, and so was his commitment to not let Pekovic establish any early position offensively as he out-hustled him in getting back up the floor.   In screen situations, he was quick to get back into defensive position knowing that conceding space in those scenarios would be disaster.

[aside header=”Kevin Love Game Plan”]
“The game-plan was to stick on Kevin Love like white on rice”.

Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson’s game plan was to use his length against Kevin Love’s uncanny ability to gain position near the rim, and although Love got his 16/12, he shot 7-19 for 37% which is 9% below his season average.  Throw in a mix of Chuck Hayes heroics (9 rebounds in 19 minutes), and you have the depleted Raptors frontline negating Minnesota’s primary power.  That’s something that needed to happen for the Raptors to have a chance in this game and Dwane Casey needs to be credited for seeing it through.

On the wing spots, the usual suspects did their thing.  Kyle Lowry went under every screen against Ricky Rubio, begging the Spaniard to shoot which resulted in the desired Raptors outcome.  Rubio’s path to the rim was sealed on all but a few occasions in transition, and his inability to create against a sagging defense was apparent.  He ended up being benched for the entire fourth quarter in favor of Barea, and it was the diminutive guard that gave the Raptors a host of problems.  Lowry, being aggressive on defense looking for turnovers in that third quarter with the lead at 14, gambled on a number of plays only to get burned by Barea for the Timberwolves to head into the final quarter down eight. To be fair, without Lowry that 14 point lead never would have existed so it’s OK if it was left up to Terrence Rosss to slow down Barea in the fourth with his length.

[aside header=”Lowry on MVP Chants”]
“Didn’t hear them, but you’ll see some pigs flying over there (the other side of the locker room) if I win MVP”

– Kyle Lowry

Lowry has become the constant in the Raptors offense (24 pts, 8 ast, 5 reb, 7-12 FG).  It seems that whenever we need a score, a momentum shift, a play to be made, he pops up and delivers time and time again.  He was 6-9 from threes and each one felt like a huge shot (especially the one with 15 seconds left) because it game at a time where the Raptors needed it the most.  The three-point line was also the biggest advantage the Raptors had on the night: 11-24 to the Wolves’ 3-18.

Dwane Casey used Greivis Vasquez at the start of the fourth quarter to give Lowry a breather and introduced the latter after a rest of 5:10.  During this span the Timberwolves had only managed to cut the 8 point lead to 5.  That is a trade-off that you make any day.  After losing a ball-handler in Salmons at halftime to injury,  Casey chose to play a two-guard lineup with Lowry and Vasquez, which produced a positive result (field goals or FTs) on four out of five possessions which took the game to 3:19 left and the Raptors holding a seven point lead.  At that time, DeRozan was re-introduced and along with Ross and Co. helped bring the game home.

The relative omission of Terrence Ross from this report thus far is by design.  I feel I may as well just show you what he did rather than write about it – here are his six made field goals.

What you saw in there was:

  1. A cut to the basket followed by a left-handed finish against a contest
  2. A three coming off a screen
  3. A drive followed by a short jumper/floater in the lane
  4. A mid-range jumper after putting the ball on the floor
  5. A baseline post-up followed by a nifty move for a layup
  6. A curl, followed by a drive which uses the screen and another finish in the lane

He’s adding a little diversity to his game (also had 4 assists and 4 rebounds).  After the Gay trade he adopted the role of the 3-guy.  That gave him some confidence which helped his defense making him a 3-and-D guy.  Last night he did more than that.  In the framework of the offense he experimented with putting it on the floor knowing his jumper garners greater respect, and in the fourth quarter he made the correct decision of not opting for the easy jumper every time, and going in there to challenge the Minnesota frontline.  It’s baby steps for Ross, but we’ve come a long way from the days when he was air-balling wide open dead-center threes.

I was surprised that Minny didn’t bring Love and Pekovic back sooner in the fourth quarter, but mathematically speaking it was a justifiable decision for them.   They each sat till the 4:11 mark of the fourth quarter when the Raptors lead was down to 3.  The game seemed primed from a Minnesota run with their two big guys fresh, but Casey timed Jonas Valanciunas’ substitution in line with that of Pekovic’s.  In those last 4:11, Love and Pekovic combined for 0 rebounds.  That, right there, was crucial.

I had targeted a 6-1 stretch before the home-stand and we’re 4-1 on it with the Lakers and Bobcats (away) to go.  I had anticipated the loss to come against Minnesota instead of Boston, but as it stands I think we can do it.

Insert generic love for Patrick Patterson.  He’s great to watch and if I had to buy a jersey right now, it’d be him.

In case you haven’t seen Kevin Martin’s impression of Ashley Young from Manchester United, here it is.

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