Greivis Vasquez Rescues Raptors in Return to Bayou

Greivis Vasquez pulls one out of the bag against his former team to salvage the back-to-back.

Raptors 107, Pelicans 100 – Box
Are you not entertained?

The Hawks loss was something of a downer yet it can’t be said that it wasn’t an entertaining and pulsating game that went the wrong way. A night later in New Orleans, something similar transpired against a Pelicans side which had to overcome the absence of Anthony Davis, while the Raptors had to make do without Jonas Valanciunas (back) and Patrick Patterson (elbow). This mean that Tyler Hansbrough (13 rebounds) got the nod in the lineup and so the Raptors embarked on a quest to rectify the wrongs of their last two outings.

Events unfolded in a manner that were not pleasing. As an indicator of how poor the Raptors defense was, let this observer only point out that Bryan Roberts was made to look like Chris Paul. With no Valanciunas to clog the middle and Patterson out, there was no rim protection which invited pests like Austin River, Tyreke Evans and Roberts an open invitation to feast on the hefty-legged and hot-minded Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough, respectively.

The gentle reader, at this point, might wonder why there was such a dire need for help defense on driving guards and what became of the first line of defense. To illustrate that, I will rely on advanced internet technologies such as GIFs to show the reader how easily the Raptors perimeter defense was split, thus initiating a call for interior help. What follows are breakdowns from different parts from the game, indicating that the problem was pandemic rather than an contained to a specific period in time [1, 2, 3, 4]:





There you have it. I have given you a visual taste of just how porous the Raptors perimeter defense was, and I haven’t even talked much about how Aminu and Evans were jogging their way to the rim at will and finishing easily against a lunging Raptors defense that was more recovering than reacting. I suppose this was somewhat expected since Hansbrough and Hayes were being asked to play roles that they’re not accustomed to this season. The stat that speaks volumes is the Pelicans’ 20-2 points in the paint edge to start the game, and that they didn’t miss two consecutive shots till 4:20 of the second! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stat.

More from RR today:

DeMar DeRozan (31 pts, 9-19 FG, 3 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl) and Kyle Lowry (23 pts, 6-18 FG, 8 reb, 5 ast) were forced to carry the load and were 10-17 combined in the first half. The shots they took weren’t products of the excellent ball-movement heavy Raptors offense that we’re accustomed to, but born of necessity given the surrounding options. Terrence Ross tried to carry the load, often quite on his own, and went 3-9 in the half. It was understandable as the Raptors were getting killed on defense which affected their offensive patience. My only complaint was that the Raptors should have looked to run more plays with Amir Johnson as the recipient of the ball rather than him being reduced to setting the screen and then being sent away on rebound-collection duties. He’s a good finisher in traffic, even against size, so I felt it was a road that went less travelled for no particular reason.

Incremental corrective measures were applied by the Raptors as the game progressed, and the 13-point lead built by the Pelicans was whittled down to a single point after a 5-point 2-for-1 executed by Lowry and DeRozan to end the first half. Mother Momentum, unlike the night before against Atlanta, was on the Raptors side heading into the break.

The halftime score offered an opportunity to reset and get it right for both teams. The Raptors had to have been thinking that they couldn’t possibly repeat a defensive performance so bereft of organization, while the Pelicans would have hoped to return to their early penetration-focused dominance.

The third quarter belonged to Alexis Ajinca. I’m pretty sure those words have never been typed before on the internet. The sheer size of the looming Frenchman was causing Hansbrough fits, and the Pelicans were looking to play to their size advantage every single time down the court. I would like to single out Hansbrough for playing like a man possessed. Ignoring the hustle and energy he contributed in getting several key offensive rebounds while focusing solely on his height-oriented defensive issues would be unfair. I thought he was immense in giving the Pelicans a taste of their own medicine and provided a psychological boost with his energy. The same can be said for Chuck Hayes, although to a lower degree. The latter did have a couple key moments in the fourth, though, including a block and out-of-bounds recovery that made me pump my chest in pride.

DeRozan had 10 points in the third as the the Raptors and Pelicans traded punches in what promised to be a tight game, with neither unit looking likely to extend the lead which remained in the 2-6 range in favor of the home team, until Greivis Vasquez’s three tied it late in the third. The Raptors went into the final quarter down four.

There were frustrating moments in the fourth quarter when DeRozan or Lowry got to the lane, were met with the defense and dished out to someone like Hansbrough or Hayes as a pressure release. That’s where Patterson would usually be to make something of the play, but instead Hansbrough and Hayes opted to pass back out and reset the possession, resulting in some late-clock situations.
[aside header=”Casey on Toughness”]
“They brought it and no matter how many guys we have out, no matter who walks on that floor, he has to bring that intensity and that toughness and all the skill things will take care of themselves if you do the hard things. I think Amir had one rebound in the first half and came back had eight … Tyler had 13 boards.

This game was about mental toughness, physical toughness more so than skill. No matter who you’re playing, you have to bring that each and every night and I thought our guys did.”

Dwane Casey
DeRozan, who was the sole reason the Raptors survived the third quarter, was 1-8 in the fourth, five of which were jumpers (all missed). The defense had figured out that on his post-ups, DeRozan prefers to turn baseline and fake the shot, and that if you don’t bite the possession dies as he’s trapped. With DeRozan neutralized and Lowry misfiring, who would step up? Who would seize the day and rescue the Raptors on a back-to-back on the road? Who would go into the nearest telephone booth, don their Batman cape, and spawn the web that would ultimately lay the death blow on these annoying, vile creatures known as the Pelicans. Greivis Vasquez, that’s who.

Having spent the pre-game signing autographs for the New Orleans faithful who remember him fondly, the Venezuelan went 3-6 in the fourth for 9 points and 2 assists, which included baskets that made the score 86-87, 96-94, 98-94, and assists that made it 90-91 and 94-94. That is clutch. His drive/floater was in effect which made his passing an even greater threat. No doubt he left the arena with an even more elevated reputation. Credit to Hayes for standing tall against Ajinca on some critical possessions in the fourth, Amir Johnson for finishing in traffic, Hansbrough for keeping balls alive, and John Salmons and Kyle Lowry for executing Dwane Casey’s strategy of trapping Eric Gordon whenever he had the ball in the fourth. It paid off.

The Raptors escaped New Orleans with a win and if there’s one thing we learned on this back-to-back, it’s that the Raptors don’t have great team depth and missing key players like Patterson and Valanciunas puts them in tough situations that take some serious shot-making to overcome. Let’s get healthy, nail the third spot down, and head to the playoffs on a high.

Much like the Raptor on the back-to-back, Will and I sign off on back-to-back Reaction/Post-Game coverage. Raptors win, all is well.

Game Notes via Associated Press: The Pelicans went 3-3 on their six-game home stand. New Orleans next plays at Atlanta on Friday, then hosts Miami on Saturday to open a four-game home stand. … The Raptors have not lost three straight since making a seven-player trade with Sacramento on Dec. 9.

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