Grizzlies 86, Raptors 99 – Box

Even watching on mute you could feel the playoff atmosphere. This was a matchup I was wary of on account of the Grizzlies’ massive frontline and strong perimeter defense. Their strengths align with the Raptors’ weaknesses when it comes to frontline physicality, and they have the weapons to counter the Raptors’ strength on the perimeter. The only way the Raptors were going to win a game like this is through attrition, soaking the Memphis defensive pressure, and making an interior stand. They did all that and came away with, for me, the most impressive win of the season.

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Memphis, right from the start, looked to exploit their advantage in the paint by creating situations for Marc Gasol that send him right down the middle, and through Zach Randolph in the face-up against Jonas Valanciunas. As has been customary, the PF/C switch was on with Valanciunas matching up against Randolph and Amir Johnson against Gasol. Those two were 6-10 for 12 points in the first quarter alone, and were the reason for Memphis’ early 14-6 points-in-the-paint edge, and a 13-8 rebounding advantage. The Raptors responded on two fronts, both charges led by Kyle Lowry. Lowry was superb in navigating pick ‘n roll play against a tight-checking Memphis defense through screens and setting up his bigs on easy rolls. His individual offense was headlined by an early three and a three-fake-foul where he nailed all his fouls shots.

The amount of touches Valanciunas received in the early going was surprising, considering the current defensive player of the year was guarding him. He did make the most of it though some one-on-one moves like hooks, but mostly he found himself on the tail end of a well-executed play to get his points. Let not some of his shaky fouls and turnovers stand out for you because that would shadow an otherwise excellent performance against a formidable frontline.

On the wings, DeMar DeRozan was being checked by Tayshaun Prince, while Terrence Ross was being guarded by Tony Allen. The Raptors duo were being funneled into Gasol and were settling for shooting over him, leading to sub par results. Memphis extended their 5-point first quarter lead to 9 in the second by, 1) forcing the Raptors into very tight spaces, 2) playing to their interior strengths on offense, 3) quick-penetration PG play which kept the Raptors wings on the tips of their toes. It looked like the Raptors were bending to break. Greivis Vasquez, sporty haircut and all, had other plans. He played the full second quarter and went 4-7 for 12 points, including two threes. The floater was happening and the pull-up surprise three was falling. Of course, all of his misses were cringeworthy to the extreme, but his offensive play buoyed the Raptors against a Memphis team that was highly organized and able to manufacture quality shots consistently.

Ross and DeRozan were a combined 1-8 in the first half, being effectively taken out of the game by Allen and Prince, respectively, so the Raptors have Valanciunas and Vasquez’s combined 26 points at the break to thank for being up three at the half.  Ross did sprain his ankle, returned briefly before heading out.

The second quarter is where Dwane Casey experimented with different looks against Gasol, before settling on sending DeRozan as a help defender on Gasol’s dribble. DeRozan rotational defense was not good in this game, especially on down-screens where he’s responsible for rotating to the top. So it makes some sense for Casey to use him as the help leaving other, more able defenders, to figure out rotations.

The third quarter was about holding serve and both sides stuck to their strengths. The Grizzlies went to Kosta Koufos with good effect in the block, and the ensuing crashing of the boards netted them 16 points in the paint in the third alone, to the Raptors’ meager four. The Raptors, as they have time and time again this season, relied on the engine that is Kyle Lowry. From step-back threes to some gorgeous passing play with the bigs to the tune of four assists in the frame had the Raptors go into the fourth up four. The Memphis defense was so intent on meeting Lowry before he got to the paint, that a quick interior pass or two freed up Amir Johnson or Valanciunas on the baselines after they flashed. Johnson had two such assists to Valanciunas in the second half.

The dynamic of having Lowry play off the ball was also evident. His three-point shooting is a threat to the degree that when Vasquez is on the court, the floor is more open for pick ‘n roll opportunities. Lowry also doesn’t get enough credit for moving without the ball and eluding defenders to find himself room at the three. Dwane Casey, having tried creative lineups such as Chuck Hayes and Valanciunas together, had done well to reach the fourth quarter with a chance, and it was time to bring it home.

The lineup to start the fourth was Hayes, Salmons, Novak, DeRozan and Vasquez. The quarter got off to a horrid start with the offense looking a shambles and the Grizzlies going back inside. The modest four-point lead was erased in a matter of 79 seconds and the ensuing Raptors possession was not looking promising. Then the bail-out. The Raptors earned a reprieve when DeRozan was fouled on a deep, end-of-clock three which had no chance and drilled all his free throws.

Out-Memphising Memphis

“I don’t mean this in a bad way with Memphis because I love the style of defence that they play, but the only way you challenge a bully is you hit him first and I don’t think we did that in the first quarter,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “You have to have a physical mentality against a team like that, and I thought our guys did that after the first quarter.

“It’s a man’s game in the paint. In that red area, if you don’t make a muscle, you’re going to get pushed around and I thought we did in the first quarter.”

Dwane Casey

The game remained tight with DeRozan hitting two jumpers and Lowry executing a pick ‘n roll with Johnson. The Grizzlies obliged by committing three turnovers in the midst of a very Gasol-oriented stretch, and the game was deadlocked with six minutes left. Vasquez, seemingly out of nowhere, changed the complexion of the game with a three, followed by a steal and score, giving the Raptors a five-point edge. Ironically, it was his defense, something he was maligned for earlier in the game against Nick Calathes, that created the separation that would eventually prove to be fatal for Memphis.

Memphis went very jumper-heavy for a two-minute stretch, which made little sense given the outcomes they were getting when going to their frontline. Lowry setup Valanciunas under the rim on a pick’ n roll and DeRozan nailed the dagger to extend the lead to ten, promptly staring down the Memphis bench. Tony Allen and Co. must have been talking some smack during the game for DeRozan to even consider pulling out theatrics. The great part of that play was the collective sigh that Amir Johnson passing up the three yielded.

For me, this was as impressive a game the Raptors have played. Jonas Valanciunas has to be given the game-ball as his 11-15 for 23 points against serious defense was entirely unexpected, Vasquez’s second and fourth quarter cameos provided the timely boosts, Lowry’s constant influence served as the ship’s rudder, and DeRozan’s dagger was the nail in the coffin.

Tremendous result, and the cherry on top is the Raptors out-rebounding Memphis by one.  With the playoffs on the horizon, close games like these where you have to rely on defense, shot-making, and execution to win you games is the perfect preparation.

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  • The Mega Sage

    Wary, not weary.

  • I’m giving a lot of credit to Casey on this one as well. With the Raptors having no discernible advantage in any position, save for PG, he was forced to be creative and make changes during the course of the game. There is no way he game planned to have his wings be shut-down the entire first half, so finding and riding the (unusual) hot hands was crucial. This is in addition to the changes he made on defense in the second half. Great game overall for everyone…except Salmons. He had a rough night at the office.

  • nd

    Great W.
    Greivis and Kyle could be a great weapon come the playoffs. If Jonas and Terrence keep it up, this team has a good motor and could cause some suffering around the conference.
    TRoss would like to have the Nets on the 1st round: I kindly disagree, too dangerous.

    • jjdynomite

      Wizards > Nets > Bulls.

    • afrocarter

      But that’s exactly why Ross wants the Nets in the 1st round (I’m guessing): not because he thinks it’d be easy, but because it’d be a very competitive series.

      • nd

        Oh yeah, I see his point and I like his attitude. But I rather have more chances to get to second round, after all these years…

  • ItsAboutFun

    Casey isn’t getting enough credit for this one. It took them the 1st qtr to adjust to the Griz game, but putting Amir on Gasol and JV on ZBo was brilliant. And on offense, they worked it out when Griz kept using Gasol on their double teaming and swarming the wings plan. That left JV, eventual top scorer, open a lot. Very well coached and well played game by the good guys.

    • Wes mantooth

      I disagree about Casey. Amazing game! Glad we won , but his use of Novak at the four was atrocious! That’s when Memphis went on there run in the second half. I don’t mind Novak but if you’re going to play him and not run one play to get him atleast one shot! You are seriously hurting the team.
      Also in the post game he spoke about Val being the beneficiary of other players being doubled that’s why he was open. Val took it to whomever was guarding him and owned last night. Long jumpers post ups. Great! Casey has a strange tone when talking about JV. Anyone else notice this??
      Loved the game! Go raps KL mvp

  • Nerius

    “Let not some of his shaky fouls and turnovers stand out for you”, he had one foul and 2 TOs, one of which was a ridiculous travel call. I think you were going default JV mode on this one.

  • Icarus Descending

    Agreed on Casey deserving a lot of credit on this one. I’ve complained before when he didn’t ride the hot hand, this time he made great adjustments in game.

  • robertparish00

    Casey deserves a lot of credit. I usually complain about him, but hard to after this one. I even complained at the beginning wondering why JV had Zbo and amir-gasol…but it worked. Such a great team. Thanks again to Sactown. love it.

  • jakdripr

    Glad to see people giving Casey credit in the comment section, he’s far from perfect but he’s a solid coach that I think gets too much of the blame for our losses and not enough credit for our wins.

  • AnthonyF

    At home playing a team with a similar record at tail end of a road trip is a game the Raptors should win. Yet it is always a surprise when they dig deep and grind it out. This year has been so unexpected and eye-opening. Derozan a little off, Ross only 20 minutes and 5 shots, the bench outside GV thin and unproductive and still a solid win.

    I dislike the hyperbole about how big a win this was and a playoff atmosphere. The Raptors’ fans and media should start to expect it and not be surprised by it.

    What people need to watch for is how well the middle of the East is playing. Charlotte is dangerous, Cleveland is winning as are the Knicks. Chicago, Brooklyn & Washington are not pushovers. There are not many gimmes from here on in.

    BTW 14-12 vs. the West including losses to Sac & the Lakers (at home)…..

    • rapierraptor

      I disagree that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of this win only because Memphis’ strengths really do match our weaknesses perfectly and we still stood up to the challenge. But I’m totally with you on your point about the East. Chicago, Brooklyn, Washington and Charlotte are all dangerous teams in their own regard, and they’re all getting better as the season goes along.

      • AnthonyF

        Agreed but the point is we shouldn’t be surprised by a Raptor win. On the road vs. Memphis, maybe, but at home the way they’ve played this season, should look at it as a solid victory, impressive game by GV & JV not a ‘season defining’ victory as it was dubbed by the announcing crew. Heck Chicago blew out a very hot Houston team Thursday @ home.

        Got to quit slobbering over every Raptor victory which is funny to say considering the teams history.

        Admit all the playoff match-ups are tough too.

        • GoingBig

          Defeat Detroit – NOT slobber
          Memphis – slobber a bit

      • Roarque

        You do make a point about the East resurgence after the All Star break but no one should discount the consistent effort by the team from Toronto since “the trade”. Jaw dropping last night, absolutely jaw dropping in victory.

    • jjdynomite

      You do realize Memphis was an Eastern Conference Finalist last season (while the Raps were enduring their 5th season in a row without playoffs)? Sure, the Grizz got smoked by the Spurs, but Gasol being back after a long lay-off means they are now a lot better than their current record shows, and have pretty much the same team as last year — plus Courtney Lee is better than Bayless. So yeah, as opposed to dominating dysfunctional teams like the Pistons, this is most definitely a big win, and not one the Raptors “should win”. This is not hyperbole, this is reality.

    • Haim not Feldman

      Such valid points. In other words, act like you’ve been there. The thing is, Rap fandumb hasn’t been there, we’re at the beginning stages of success that’s totally new for this organization.

  • Tim J

    Consider changing the subject line of this post. Do you really want this website referring to scalping?

    • jjdynomite

      Seriously Tim W… er, Tim J? Have a sense of humour. The title would have been inappropriate if the Raps played the Blackhawks, Braves, Redskins or Chiefs in some sort of weird cross-sport competition. Grizzlies are bears, for f*ck’s sake.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      why not? I’ll bet you thought you could blame whitey.

      • Tim J

        Your call

        • Tanks-a-lot

          I’ll take your nonsensical response as befuddlement

  • Roarque

    I couldn’t get over the difference in the swagger factor of the Grizzly bigs between the first quarter and the fourth quarter. At the end of regulation, those guys acted like they’d been taken out to the wood shed and been given the licking of their life by the tandem of Lowry and Vasquez. In my opinion, Valamir was the beneficiary of the superb play of the dual point guard offense that forced the Grizz out of their comfort zone and to the top of the key thus allowing JV and Amir to slide underneath for bunnies at the rim. My mouth was catching flies for the final ten minutes as the mighty Memphis juggernaut was humbled and sent to the bench to sulk.

  • DC

    Best part of this game for me was JV taking and making jump shots confidently. Takes his game to an entirely different level, and can be huge for the team going forward.

  • ckh26

    That was a slugfest. Memphis lineup plays a relentlessly tough (but clean unlke the Nets) defense for 48 minutes. A win against those guys is important (borrowing from Arsenalist) because it adds a significant scalp to the lodge pole. In the adhoc world of NBA refeering we will get the benefit of the call since we have shown we can run with the big dogs.

    Demar the Allstar is now going to get doubled and see the best defender the opponent has gluded to his shirt. Tonite it was Prince and Allen and while he looked a bit frustrated he worked through it and got to the line and made 4th quarter shots when we need them.
    Lowry just does not have off nites. This guy is like a 400 HP motor that just keeps churning.
    JV had a night. Hope there are a couple more like that in late April on both ends of the floor. Amir is Amir.
    Ross is becoming more consistent and will benefit greatly from the playoff atmosphere.
    Salmons needs rest but can give you 20 good minutes of perimiter defense and can settle the game down as he seems to have a heart rate in the low 40’s..
    And oh yeah.. We get PPAT back soon.
    I think Casey is playing all the guys in different sets to see what they do and how they react and to give them minutes to be part of the team. We will need every single guy ready for the playoffs. Raptors and playoffs in the same sentence in a postive light. Whodathunkit. ?

  • GetLicks

    Man…raptor fans are fickle as hell. Not just a few days ago, JV was getting absolutely ripped to shreds on here. Some even suggesting we should trade him. And now? Serious ball-washing going on. I’m sure every single one of you has bad days at your job, and at life in general, I don’t care if you think this is an excuse cause it’s not. He’s 21, period. I’m all for pointing out what a player isn’t doing well, but for the love of God stop bashing our guys if they have a bad game or mini-slump. Seriously makes me tune out of the republic for long stretches. As a fan base, we’ve had plenty of years to be rightfully negative…this season is not one of them. Let’s stay behind our guys, yes?

    • Tee

      I know its really bad.

      I remember last year Arse stated that he didn’t think Derozan was a Nba starter.
      People were pissed cause Ross had a bad summer league.

      Its really bad in Toronto. BUT– there has been no point in raptors history where we have had this many draft picks playing together so, I guess people are jaded?

      Hopefully fans & bloggers get more educated.

      Organic growth!!!

      • redrap

        guys .. if you want to be cheerleaders there are probably sites where you can, as the first guy said, ‘ball-wash’ all you want to. It’s not up to me say this (I don’t work here; I just comment now and then) but I will because I’m procrastinating on the run I’ve been planning for this afternoon … but this is a site that promotes discussion of basketball talent, ability and teamwork, as well as countless other more-or-less related items all centered around the favorite team of most who visit here, the Raps. Sometimes, fans get pissed (off) about this or that player and they say shit that they may change their minds on a day or so later. Comes with the territory. So .. chill dudes. Most everyone here loves the Raps and cheers their hearts out for them. Some even like to boo .. but all for the cause. (Lol.) Go Raps.

        • Tee

          Im pretty chill don’t worry about that.
          “Sometimes, fans get pissed (off) about this or that player and they say shit that they may change their minds on a day or so later”

          Yeah man I agree, Im just suggesting some patience and reflection from bloggers and fans.
          You must agree with me though that the Toronto media is very impatient (leafs & raps).

          For example C. Kelly and Jeff Blair called this roster some despicable names as recently as August.

          Go Raps.

    • morgan c

      To be clear, as one of the people who has called him out this year, it’s not that I wanted him traded or felt he would never be good. It was just venting frustration when it seemed he had totally stalled / regressed. I think that’s normal for fans – to call players out when they deserve it. And a lot of this is within the context of so many of us simply expecting it was a mere inevitability that JV would become a perennial all-star.
      Regardless, it’s great he’s playing well now, and I’m the first to congratulate him. Just keep improving…

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    I feel Tross and JV are the keys to our success more then demar .

    • jjdynomite

      Agreed, but just remember that T-Ross and JV usually don’t have the opposition’s best defender assigned to them. The Grizz have two all-world wing defenders (Allen and Tayshawn) and Courtney Lee is decent as well.

      • BallerShotCaller

        Stop reducing success to one or two players. Successful teams have at least three allstar caliber players. Toronto fans and announcers have the habit of speaking as if one or two solid players will earn a championship; it’s just not so.

  • Mexiballer

    J.V. has clearly been working on shooting the face up jumper quickly when its there, while losing that pump fake that wasnt fooling anyone. If he can hit the 12-15 foot jumper consistently it will open everything for him, including the pump fake. Its a game changer in his development and effectiveness.

    • DC

      He has had that shot all along, but lost the confidence to shoot it. Looks like he was persuaded – or persuaded himself – to get over his hesitation. Hope it stays!

  • Mexiballer

    I thought the win in OKC was the biggest win of the season and marked a turning point. And that was a second game of a back to back and an away game.

  • DryDry

    “The great part of that play was the collective sigh that Amir Johnson passing up the three yielded.”


    I actually said NO AMIRRRRRrrrrrrr as loudly as I could without waking my children.

  • tweed8

    Kyle Lowry needs to remain a Raptor. I wasn’t an advocate for him when we first got him, but he’s had so many disruptions to his career it was easy to be that way. This year he’s proven not just to the team, but the entire league that he’s not only a leader, but a leader by example; Fight, fight, fight! I also really love the way he takes care of JV on the court.

  • Mark A

    nailed it

  • tweed8

    PS. I also have to agree with Casey, “Why are you doing the wave during a Raptors’ free throw?” It’s frigging distracting.

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