With the Raptors, who have one foot in the present and one reaching toward a hoped-for future, Jonas Valanciunas’s lack of productivity is the far more significant issue. Coach Dwane Casey has entrusted Valanciunas with just 32 minutes over the last two games, as the young centre has had trouble containing Pau Gasol and Al Jefferson. In December, when the Raptors were rolling, Valanciunas averaged 31 minutes per game. He has surpassed that number just once in the last seven games. That is a massive problem, despite the fact Casey is making the right in-game decision. For the Raptors to feel truly good about any success they might have this year, Valanciunas — not to mention DeRozan and Ross, also potentially pieces of the core — have to play a significant part.
“In this league to be a championship (team) or even think about the playoffs you’ve got to play back-to-back, you’ve got to play nicked up, you’ve got to play a little fatigued and right now we have a bunch of guys that are giving in to fatigue and are nicked up. It’s a long season but again, you tell a lot about who you are in these situations. Today was a gut-check game and the fourth quarter we turned it around but it’s about what we did in the first three quarters that’s disappointing.” Whether a decent squad — which is the case this year — or a laughingstock as in the past, the Bobcats play like contenders at home whenever Toronto pays a visit.
I tried to figure out how the Bobcats almost blew that lead and I just can’t. As bad as the bench is, it can hold a 30 point lead. This is a well-coached and disciplined team so when you see them go up a huge margin, even without their best player, you assume that they’re going to hold on. Watching that lead steadily go down was really surprising. I knew the team had the ability to blow leads, as we’ve seen a lot of this season, but never a lead that big. I guess it’s just safe to say we can’t assume any lead is safe with this team.
The Bobcats gave up a lot of points in the paint. Al Jefferson can only do so much, and Charlotte needs some of its other bigs to step up on the defensive end. The Raptors were getting into the paint and to the basket with ease, scoring 44 total points in the paint, and this was the Raptors. A team with a fierce frontcourt could do some serious damage against Charlotte.
For Vasquez – who helped engineer Toronto’s late-game run – his teammates and his coach, there were no moral victories to be celebrated after cutting a 30-point third quarter deficit to one with 26 seconds remaining. No moral victories, not anymore, not if they fancy themselves a playoff contender. Instead the question was, how could they fall behind by 30 to the Bobcats – who had lost 10 of 13 and were playing without Kemba Walker – in the first place? “Effort,” Kyle Lowry said, and repeated six times in a three-minute scrum. For the final 16 minutes they played with plenty of it, outscoring the nemesis Bobcats 54-29 to close out the game. For the first 32 it was nowhere to be found. “That’s it, effort,” the Raptors’ point guard continued. “That simple. Effort.”
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