cover

Raptors tighten up on defense down the stretch to snag victory against a formidable foe.

I’m not going to lie; I thought this was a sure win for the Warriors.

In my opinion, Golden State is a decidedly better team with legitimate championship aspirations, and I thought they matched up perfectly against the Raptors. Igoudala would shut down Derozan on the perimeter, Lowry and Curry would play to a standstill, and the rest of the Warriors would trump Toronto’s second unit. I even went as far as to predict a 20 point blowout loss in last week’s episode of the Raptors Weekly podcast.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The news at the start of the game was grim. It was announced at game-time that Terrence Ross would be unavailable, and I was worried that a hobbled Lowry (ankle injury) would struggle with chasing Curry around screens for an entire game.

However in his stead, Landry Fields stepped into his spot in the starting lineup and performed admirably. Fields stayed within his game and did his best Shane Battier impersonation on the court. He moved the ball well, flinging 30 passes in 24 minutes of play (in comparison, David Lee made 31 passes in 43 minutes, Iggy threw 24 in 30 minutes), getting the ball to the right players at the right time. He also made some timely backdoor cuts and even sprinkled in a pair of hook-floaters in the lane. It should be noted that the Warriors hid Curry — a poor defender — on him to avoid the Curry/Lowry match-up, but despite his lack of shooting ability, Fields was able to not hamper the offense by making good decisions.

As is his wont, Dwane Casey elected to feature Jonas in the post early against Bogut. On paper, the match-up seemex ill-advised given Bogut’s stature as one of the best defensive players in the Western Conference, but Jonas was up to the challenge. He worked hard to get position in the post, held his ground and presented an easy target for his teammates to hit. Once he got the ball, he strung together an impressive string of shots against Bogut — a turnaround lefty hook, a sweeping right hook, a fall-away short jumper, an open dunk.

Despite Landry and Jonas stepping up, the Warriors carried a 3 point lead going into the second quarter thanks to the combined efforts of David Lee and Stephen Curry. Both players scored 10 points apiece by repeatedly attacking via the pick-and-roll. Lowry compensated for his injury by playing with more aggression (if you can believe that) which led to early foul trouble. Needless to say, Greivis Molassquez didn’t exactly turn off the tap.

The second quarter was another story altogether. As usual, Casey trotted out the lineup of Vasquez, Derozan, Salmons, Hansbrough and Patterson to start the quarter, but instead of Derozan captaining the ship, it was Vasquez who managed to steal the spotlight. Vasquez managed to keep the Raptors close despite some lackluster performances for the bench. Patrick Patterson’s shot was off early on, and John Salmons was slower than the 510 Spadina during rush hour. He reeled off 10 points in a row, dropping a pair of threes and embarrassing Marreesse Speights with this wicked inside-out dribble:

In addition to Vasquez, Demar Derozan also chipped in with 10 points of his own in the second. Demar was mostly kept to the outside, but he hit 2-of-3 jumpers from the midrange, and he earned 6 free-throws. It should be noted that Derozan was the beneficiary of some “superstar” calls, which isn’t a slight on Demar, but rather it’s a sign of how far he’s come, and of course, it’s a welcomed sign for us fans. The Raptors shot 52.5% from the field in the first half and they carried a five-point lead going into the break.

The Warriors asserted themselves in the third quarter. Stephen Curry capitalized on Lowry’s bum ankles as he exploded for 14 points in the third by draining three’s and getting to the basket. The Warriors also made a concerted effort to crash the offensive boards, and Jonas looked overwhelmed in lieu of Golden State’s aggression. Their perimeter defense was also quite solid, and aside from David Lee’s incompetence, the Warriors did a great job contesting baskets, which led to the Raptors shooting just 28% in the third.

The Raptors managed to keep it tied going into the fourth by repeatedly trotting the stripe. Toronto shot nine free-throws in the quarter and sunk all of their attempts. Casey decided to trot out some peculiar line-ups, freeing the likes of Nando de Colo and Landry Fields in an effort to buy minutes for his starters, and luckily he wasn’t burned.

However, Casey compounded his mistake by leaving the bench out to start the fourth. A lineup of Vasquez, Derozan, Salmons, Hansbrough and 2Pat struggled to generate offense. In particular, Vasquez insisted on running the pick-and-roll with Hansbrough, as opposed to Patterson. Golden State responded by helping off Tyler, electing to double Vasquez instead. This shaved valuable seconds off the shot clock and prevented Vasquez from penetrating into the paint.

Fortunately, the Warriors’ bench proved to be equally as ineffective, and the game stayed tight until the starters subbed back in for the final stretch.

With the Raptors leading 97-95 late in the fourth, they elected to run pick-and-roll with Salmons and Johnson on back-to-back possessions. On the first, Golden States’ defense momentarily broke down, and Salmons was able to find Amir wide open in the lane for a dunk. On the second, Salmons worked himself free from his defender after curling around Amir’s screen, and knocked down a line-drive 16 footer.

Meanwhile on the defensive end, the Raptors forced the Warriors into turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions. Patterson and Salmons trapped Curry, which led to him losing it out of bounds. On their next trip down the floor, Derozan broke up a post-entry pass and finally, Patterson intercepted an errant pass from Bogut. Thanks to the Raptors’ aggressive defense, the Warriors scored just 3 points over the final 3:35 of the game.

And just for good measure, Derozan tossed in this incredibly difficult shot to hammer the nail into the coffin.

With the win, the Raptors improved to 33-26 on the season, and are tied with Chicago for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They now have a four day break before taking on Rudy Gay’s Sacramento Kings on Friday. Funtimes in Raptorland!

On a separate note, I would like to wish my father a happy birthday. Today marks his 49th year on Earth 1, which means less hair and more beer gut in the future. Love you, dad!