The shrug-off loss, if a team as young and unproven as the Raptors deserves one, came earlier in the week when the Raptors failed to match the Celtics physically and paid the price with the first real disappointing loss since an overtime defeat at home to Charlotte back on Dec. 18. The way the Raptors went about their business Sunday, you would have sworn they thought another double-digit lead was right around the corner. They managed to give a 19-point lead away and rebound after the first half but couldn’t do it again, losing 112-106 for the second bad loss in the week.
How about rookie Ryan Kelly? Coming off a career best day against the Celtics on Friday, Kelly continued his strong play against the Raptors by scoring 17 points on only 7 shots to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. The rebounding numbers could stand an uptick, but the benefits of what Kelly provides offensively really do matter. He is a true stretch 4 with range that must be respected. Further, against the Raps, Kelly showed the off the dribble work that guys who play his style need in order to be effective in this league. Kelly attacked closeouts consistently and got into the mid-range area where he either pulled up for short jumpers or drew fouls when getting closer to the rim. Kelly went 6-6 from the line, including 3 big ones in the closing minutes when the defense respected his three point shot so much he was able to draw a foul on an aggressive close out. It has only been two games, but Kelly is starting to show that he truly does belong in this league.
What the Raptors weren’t expecting was for Ryan Kelly and Nick Young to look like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry circa 2010. In his first NBA start, Kelly may have made coach Mike D’Antoni whip out the permanent marker, as the former Duke Blue Devil went for 17 points on 7 shots, including a spectacular fourth quarter. His accomplice in closing the game? Nick Young, returning from a one-game suspension, who hit 7 of 13 shots and went 10 for 11 from the free throw line for a sterling 29 points today. The two essentially put away the Raptors themselves, as Toronto collapsed on both ends of the floor after commanding a double-digit lead late in the third.
This was a bad, bad loss owing to another batch of horrible fourth quarter shot selection, especially from DeMar DeRozan, who said just a day earlier he’s learning what he needs to do better late in games. Not up to par defence also was a key culprit. Toronto might look back on this one and really lament what could have been. The game was there for the taking and the Raptors simply did not play smart enough to close it out. The team has a clear blueprint of what works and what wasn’t offensively, yet, DeRozan (and the other Raptors who allow him to do so) is returning to the Rudy Gay era offence late in games and it’s a massive mistake. It’s not all on DeRozan, but blowing 17 and 19 point leads in the same game is inexcusable and Casey surely will be making that crystal clear.
Since the trade their offence has been much improved but Casey has and always will prioritize his team’s effort on defence. The Raptors’ coach would rather win ugly than lose pretty, his team had gotten quite good at it, but on Sunday they lost that identity. “We didn’t [play] a defensive game and that allows big runs,” said Casey, his team giving up 112 points, the most they’ve surrendered since Dec. 23 against the Spurs. “That’s not who we are. We’ve got to be a defence-first team not a three-point shooting team. We got caught up in their quick threes, which they’re very good at and that’s not who we are.”
“He needed to do a better job on Pau Gasol and I thought Chuck (Hayes) and Amir (Johnson) did a better job on him and we went for the defensive matchup,” Casey explained. Early foul trouble limited Valanciunas to just under eight minutes in the first half but the six minutes in the second half were all a result of Casey’s decision to go with a more effective Hayes.
The frontcourt is struggling. Jonas Valanciunas scored just 13 points over the last three games, while Amir Johnson has not been his normal self. Against the Lakers, the Raptors allowed 18 more points than they scored when Johnson was on the floor. Johnson has struggled against perimeter-minded forwards like the Lakers’ Ryan Kelly and Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova over the last week. With the injury to Hansbrough, the undersized Chuck Hayes has been forced into action. Hayes as performed admirably, especially against Los Angeles big man Pau Gasol. However, paint presence has been an issue overall.
This was the stretch of games that Raptors had an opportunity to pile up a few W’s with teams holding losing records. Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Lakers was one of them. The Lakers had a shorthanded roster without guys like Kobe, Nash and Steve Blake, so an early matinee against the Lakers was an opportunity to steal a season series win against the Lakers. However, Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Pau Gasol didn’t let it happen as the Lakers pulled out a 112-106 win.
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