A bumpy ride on the Chuck Wagon, Dirk Sullinger’s magnum opus part deux, burritos and the woes of the bench.

You have to hand it to these Raptors. They sure do keep it interesting.

On paper, the game should not have been close. The Boston Celtics (23-48) boast an average defense, and the third worst offense in the league. Conversely, since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors (40-31) are the owners of the 10th best offense, and the 5th best defense. It shouldn’t have been close.

But then you zoom in, and look at the micro. The Raptors had lost 4 of their last 6 games. They were on the second night of a traveling back-to-back. The second unit had been a giant sinkhole ever since Patrick Patterson went down with injury. Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson were hobbled with nagging injuries. The little things add up.

[Whoa! You could save yourself a lot of time if you just read Garrett’s Quick Reaction instead]

The Raptors got off to a good start in the first quarter. DeMar DeRozan, seemingly determined to rectify the his passivity in recent outings, attacked the Celtics off cuts and dribble drives which resulted in a number of easy points. Kyle Lowry made a concerted effort to deliver the ball to DeRozan, who was able to use his speed to get by Jeff Green. DeRozan finished the quarter with 11 points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field, to go along with 7 well-earned trips to the free-throw line.

Any missed baskets were cleaned up by Jonas Valanciunas, who capitalized on his size advantage over the Celtics’ stunted front-court. Jonas was active on the glass, collecting five rebounds, and pulled out a few moves in the post. He had 9 points by the end of the quarter, as the Raptors held the 31-22 point edge. (If you can’t see the GIF below, click here)

At this point, you should be able to guess what happened next. As is his wont, Dwane Casey elected to deploy his all-bench unit to start the second, which predictably coughed up the lead. Casey tried to introduce a new wrinkle by playing de Colo in place of DeRozan. Unfortunately, de Yolo promptly missed a shot and committed an extremely silly turnover because he’s Nando de Yolo (it’s all in the name, really). In the span of three minutes, the Raptors’ 9-point lead turned into a four-point deficit thanks to a 15-2 run from the Celtics. Rajon Rondo moved the ball methodically, carefully setting up his bigs on pick-and-pop plays.

To his credit, Dwane Casey bailed early, and reintroduced Lowry and DeRozan at around the nine minute mark. The two managed to turn the game back in favor of the Raptors by steadying the offense, and by plugging up Rajon Rondo’s drives. Lowry repeatedly used dribble penetration to get into the lane, before setting up his teammates with open looks. Terrence Ross entered the game late in the quarter, drove to the rim and finished in traffic, which is only noteworthy because he literally never drives. The Raptors maintained their nine-point lead going into the half.

This is where the game recap gets spotty because I missed the first seven minutes of the third quarter. I left to get a burrito for dinner, and got held up. The taco place is only a 5 minute walk from my house, but there were like, 2080330822 waiting in line, who all had complicated orders (seriously, who really wants a spinach-wrapped burrito with cilantro, lime and white sauce? What are you, a horse?) For that, I apologize.

I asked my roommate to keep an eye on the game while I was out. From what he tells me, the Raptors starters kept pace, and Casey was able to sneak in a few minutes of rest for Amir Johnson. He also told me that Chuck Hayes dropped a nice pass down-low to Jonas Valanciunas for a dunk. Naturally, given Hayes’ general ineptitude on things relating to basketball, I had to investigate this incredulous claim. Turns out, he was right. Look at this bad boy. (if the GIF doesn’t load, click here)

Things quickly turned sour when I returned. I watched in horror as Greivis Vasquez made mistake after mistake. On one play, he turned down an open three, took one step inside the line, and bricked an equally open twenty-two footer. On another, he missed an easy layup. However, Chuck Hayes wasn’t going to cede the bad basketball crown without a fight. After seeing Vasquez shit the bed, he topped his effort by launching two hilariously ugly floaters that both drew nothing but iron.

Luckily, I had a delicious chicken burrito in hand which managed to tide me over the usual anger and self-immolation associated with watching Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez play basketball for your favorite team. For every clanked jumper, I took two bites into the burrito. This formula worked until I ran out of burrito. Then I was just sad (but full!)

The end of the third quarter was salvaged by Jonas and DeRozan, who managed to score enough points on the Celtics bench unit to stretch the lead to 15 points. The quarter was capped off with a beautiful two-way sequence wherein Hayes protected the paint, Jonas collected the rebound, Greivis pushed the ball up the court, and Terrence Ross sunk a pull-up three at the buzzer. No burrito bites needed for that sequence.

The game looked to be in hand in the fourth, but then Jared Sullinger happened. I say this without a smidgen of sarcasm — Jared Sullinger turned into Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter. He leveraged his inside-out game into 19 points in the quarter. His quickness overwhelmed Chuck Hayes on the perimeter, and his bulk was too much for both Amir and Jonas. He hit three triples by playing pick-and-pop with Rajon Rondo, who was all-too eager to pass the ball. Of course, this didn’t stop the Raptors from stepping up and closing out hard on Rondo for no apparent reason.

Fortunately, a man named Kyle Lowry took to the court on behalf of the Raptors, and he bailed out his team. Whenever the Raptors needed a bucket, Lowry would calmly work off a screen, get into the lane, and hit a floater or short jumper. This was made possible by the defensive ineptitude of the Celtics’ bigs, who stood flat-footed, waiting idly as Lowry whizzed by them en route to the basket. Without Lowry’s efforts, this game would have been lost. Then again, I could have said that about every single Raptors game this season.

The game got as close as three points with six minutes left after Sullinger sank his third three-pointer of the quarter. This is where I remind you that he shoots 24.1% from deep on the year, so naturally he was a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond. Hayes lacked the foot-speed to close out on the perimeter, but it’s Jared Sullinger, (again, 24% shooter) at the line, so I can’t exactly fault him for failing to scamper. Then again, Casey simply could have evened out the match-up by subbing in Jonas for Hayes, but instead, he elected to do the opposite and sub out Jonas for Amir Johnson (the opposite to reason, that is).

And hey, it worked out. Sullinger stopped hitting every shot that left his hands — which had something to do with Hayes, who to his credit, did a solid job defending in the post as always — and the Raptors’ backcourt stepped up. Lowry sank a jumper. Ross got the switch onto Sully, and took him to the hole. DeRozan sank a patented long-two. Within the blink of an eye, the Raptors batten down the hatches and the chickens came home to roost. The Raptors acquitted themselves well down the stretch, and walked away with the 99-90 victory, snapping a 6-year, 11-game losing streak in Boston.

I really can’t say enough about the Raptors back-court, as the talented combo of DeRozan, Lowry and Ross combined for 67 points, 20 rebounds and 9 assists in the victory. Ross’ outside shooting really paced the Raptors, while DeRozan’s aggressiveness early on earned him a free-pass to the charity stripe. On the whole, the Raptors starters combined for 92 points.

The downside, of course, is that the bench stunk it up for what seems like the umpteenth time. The bench managed a grand total of 7 points in nearly 49 minutes of play, and they all belonged to Vasquez (who didn’t even have a good game as he shot 3-for-10). Every Celtics run coincided with the presence of the bench. The starters would build up a lead, only to return with a sloppy mess on their hands. If the Raptors were a relay team, the starters would build a lead, hand the baton to the bench, only to have the bench toss the baton into the stands. As you can imagine, not many relays are won with this strategy.

The troubles of the bench does not fall solely on the shoulders of any one man. Dwane Casey is trying new line-ups (just none with Fields), but nothing is working. He could try to avoid playing the all-bench unit, but no starter makes a tangible difference except for Lowry and DeRozan, and those guys are the ones he’s desperately trying to buy time for.

For some strange reason, Greivis Vasquez has seemingly abandoned the pick-and-roll, a play he rode to fame and glory last season with the Pelicans en route to being number one in the NBA in total assists. Then again, who could he reasonably pass to? Hansbrough’s only source of offense is rebounding and fouls, Hayes can only drop sweet dimes to other bigs, and John Salmons can’t hit a shot to save his life (and at this rate, he might need to; we’re an unforgiving fan base). The best option for the bench might actually be for Vasquez to go full YOLO.

Regardless of who’s to blame, the lack of production from the bench is costing the Raptors in both the short, and the long-run. On a game-to-game basis, the bench forces easy games — like this one against the Celtics — into becoming nail-biters. In the overall picture, their play is forcing Dwane Casey into over-exerting his starters, which risks burning them out before the playoffs. Then again, he’s on an expiring deal, so he has to coach to win now. Open the Kimono however you’d like, but it’s eating you either way. Actually, I think I’m confusing Japanese clothing with deadly Indonesian lizard-dragons, but you catch my drift.

The Raptors will do this all over again come Friday, when they take on the Celtics for the second half of their home-and-home. Hopefully, Patterson will be back by then. I miss him dearly.

  • afrocarter

    Spinach-wrapped burritos are abominations in the eyes of Mother Nature and should immediately cease to exist.

  • Yoshi

    #FreeLandry

    • sitnonDfence

      Even my girlfriend knows this guys needs to get off the bench….

    • afrocarter

      Does anyone else think it’s strange how we, as a fan base, have gone from making fun of how terrible Fields is, to now begging desperately for him to get some PT?

      I do wonder, however, about what he’s done to get nailed so firmly to the bench. Maybe he doesn’t work hard in practice or something?

      • Yoshi

        I believe much of the criticism was based on his production in comparison to his contract…which will never be validated. However, he is a very serviceable bench player. His defensive savvy alone trumps the contributions of Salmons. Add his crafty cuts and high bball IQ, it’s peculiar that he has sat so much. I loved Landry in NYC. It was Melo’s intro to the team that hindered his progress…I think he has the capability of being a great 6-7th man if given consistent time and utilized in the right way.

        • DC

          Before too long, Fields – like many other Raptors castoffs – will be a contributing player on another team and Toronto fans will be shaking their heads once more.

          • alucart999

            Really? It seems to me like there are more Raptors castoffs that disappear than there are former Raptors contributing much of anything to an actual NBA team.

            Jamario Moon, Roko Ukic, Marcus Banks, Rasual Butler, Joey Dorsey, Quincy Douby, Gary Forbes, etc.

            • Steverino

              Jarrett Jack, Anthony Parker, Carlos Delfino (pre-injury), Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Gay, James Johnson, Hedo Turkoglu, Vince Carter, Leandro Barbosa, Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans. Even Quincy Acy and Aaron Grey are getting more PT in Sac than Toronto. I think you’re just remembering the misses and forgetting the hits. I’m sure there are more. That’s just off the top of my head.

              • DC

                Chauncey Billups, Corliss Williamson, Matt Bonner, Marco Belinelli, Kris Humphries, and DJ Augustin are some other names that were under-utilized here and found productive – or better – roles on other teams.

              • DDayLewis

                Are you just naming NBA players who played in Toronto, and then continued to succeed in small regard as NBA players elsewhere?

                Because you can literally repeat this exercise for every single franchise.

                • Steverino

                  Exactly my point. But you constantly read during the past five or so seasons from the doom and gloomers about how shitty the roster was and how nobody from the Raptors could even play for a contender, let alone from any other team in the league. The truth was there were plenty of fine players. The mix wasn’t right, though. Or the system. Let that be a lesson for next time.

              • Abused Raptors Fan

                I was PISSED about that James Johnson trade. Ujiri better find a steal with that early second rounder this summer

              • Mexiballer

                Also… remember that BC brought in so many players over the years that there were a lot of Raptors in his time as GM. He would bring in player after player hoping something stuck. There are a lot of ex Raptors floating around out there in the world.

                • Steverino

                  Forgot about Bellinelli, who was another guy roasted here by people who said he could never play significant minutes for a contender. Meanwhile, he’s a rotation player on the team with the best record in the league, 17 in a row and counting.

        • bobmasa

          This is Dwen Casey problem becouse he hate Landry (for reasons unknown) and by not giving him any minites he reduce his market price during trade I hope Masai Ujuri notice this.

          • asifyouknow

            Casey is toast , he will not have a job next year in Toronto…So he is going to play his horses to death so he can keep on winning. He knows he is not going far in the playoffs so he is YOLOing his stats..lol

        • morgan c

          I also think it’s about how he plays. I mean, if Lowry is out there starting, laying bricks and being generally ineffective (re: beginning of last year), then ya, we don’t want him playing. But if he’s able to contribute better in a bench roll as the first or second wing off the bench, especially when Salmons by comparison has been doing nothing, then it’s okay to ask for more Fields. Again, if Fields starts sucking, we can give Salmons another try. There is a difference between randomly inserting guys into and out of the line-up and simply giving guys a chance based on who is playing well (and who isn’t).

      • mountio

        I think it is humorous. People forget how historically bad LF is. Yes, its true hes a decent defender, and yes he has very solid off the ball skills. But, the fact remains, that you can not play in the NBA at the wing position if you are afraid to shoot outside of 5 feet. Maybe you survive for 5-7 minute stretches, but after a while, the defense will leave you wide open and it totally will mess up our offensive spacing.
        LF seems like a decent guy and I feel bad for his injuries, but you just cant be an effective wing player in the NBA without being able to shoot at least a little bid .. doesnt matter how good you are at everything else.

        • DDayLewis

          It’s not really about Fields as a player, it’s more “can he outperform Salmons in the bench wing role”.

          And at this point, it’s probably best to give Salmons some time off, as he only seems to be effective with ample rest. At a minimum, Fields can at least replicate what Salmons brings.

          • mountio

            I should have been more clear … all of my points dont mean that he shouldnt get some time instead of Salmons (who is also quite bad). Im totally in favour of switching up fields for Salmons in SHORT stretches.
            My biggest issue is when either of these guys takes key minutes (especially down the stretch) from Ross.

            • DDayLewis

              Sure, but when Ross gets into a shooting funk (often happens when defenses clue in on him along the perimeter), or when he gets into foul trouble, the need for wing depth behind him gets exposed, and at that point, we’re stuck with a poo-poo platter of Fields/Salmons.

              • mountio

                Totally .. and in these situations, bring on Landry. My big issue is the idea of slotting him into JS’s 22 mins / game (yes .. you read that right, JS plays 22 mins / game!!!) is a very bad idea. Id be more than happy to split that between the two and give more to Ross overall.

                • DDayLewis

                  22 minutes per game? Good lord.

                  Yeah, split that up. 5 more for Ross, 5 for Fields.

                  Actually, there really isn’t a good way to divvy up those minutes. Yikes.

        • DC

          Fields was a decent shooter before his arm(?) injury, and could be again with some playing time to regain confidence in his jump shot.

          • Abused Raptors Fan

            Even without it, Landry’s basketball IQ allows him to maintain the team’s floor spacing through crafty cuts, wing to wing screens and timely passing. Beyond that, his defense is at the very least on par with Salmons while his size and rebounding at the 3 are sorely needed.

            • Abused Raptors Fan

              Oh, & on top of that, in all likelihood, Fields is here next season while fish boy is bear food. Thus, it behooves us to integrate fields now, especially since he’s still playing for something. For all intents and purposes, Salmons’ career is over, so I can’t see him laying it all on the line for the Raptors. Mean while, Fields still wants to prove that he can be a valuable contributor on an NBA team.

        • puffer

          Isn’t that the point? LF in 6-7 minute stretches would mean effective defence from at least one bench position with the option of strong cuts leading to layups. With the alternatives of Salmons, Hayes, De Colo, I will take that.

          • mountio

            Yes .. and Im down with 6-7 min stretches (especially to mix it up). BUT – a) Casey has shown no ability to be creative in his rotations .. I feel like he will either swap LF for JS or he wont and b) I feel like the consensus is that LF should take all of JS’s minutes .. which he shouldnt .. thats way too long for someone who cant shoot to be on the court.

            • Steverino

              I don’t think Fields should be given all of Salmons minutes, but maybe in time he can. It all depends on what he does in those 5-7-minute stretches. At least give him a shot. But see what you have and move from there.

        • bobmasa

          This is not a reason why he shouldn’t get any minites even during end of a winning game, what is John Salmon contributing he dosnt even deserve to be in D league.

          • mountio

            Agreed – see above and below

        • Yoshi

          Where do you get “historically bad” from? He had a great rookie season, a sophomore slump and an injury riddled 3rd season with the Raps. I wouldn’t forge a historically bad rep based on that. He had to reinvent his shooting stroke, that is a crazy thing to do in the midst of your basketball career. He won’t be playing 30 minutes a night for his shooting range to become an impediment on offense. I actually think that’s what the raptors lack in the wings: somewhat adept dribblers willing to get into the paint. And yes, Demar does drive into the paint to get his free throws, but he also gives up plays to complain to refs or wrap-up guys for fouls…which off-sets the original advantage.

          Seriously this kid has game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZjzpi3nW7o

          • mountio

            Throw everything pre injury out the door. I would LOVE that Landry to be on our team .. but he isnt. Its like saying that Greg Oden had a good season at Ohio State … just not relevant.
            Again, I wish, wish, wish that he could shoot to save his life … but post injury he simply can not. So, Im cool with 5-7 minute stretches (especially when we are sucking) to mix it up, have him help up the tempo, being in some defensive energy, etc. BUT – he is not a guy who should get Salmons old 20ish minutes a game (neither is Salmons .. most of those should go to Ross). He just isnt.

        • higdale

          You think Salmons can shoot just a little bit and that’s why he’s gone 16 – 60 the last 14 games with being a slow defender, no off the ball skills and a diminished basketball IQ. You overvalue what Fields does the least and fail to see what wing players really do. Maybe because Casey’s system is mainly outside jump shots that’s all you know. Historically Fields hasn’t been bad he plays hard and brings energy when he’s on the court, hasn’t embarrassed himself, the team or the organization or has his historically bad play as you say effected the outcome of a game. Fields has an old school game that keeps the game simple but is playing in a perimeter based system where guys don’t look for cutters because the majority of the players don’t have that skillset. Fields didn’t play bad at the beginning of the season he ran the floor, played defense, ran the pick and roll, didn’t turn the ball over, collected assist, rebounded, made great cuts, kept the ball moving didn’t make silly mistakes, played the 4th quarter and yes made a few shots even had a top ten play on ESPN. Then Casey decided that the plan was to develop Ross and when he got the bench players from Sac that all basically do the same thing Fields was the odd man out. Put Salmons in the Heat or the Spurs system what’s he give you as opposed to what Fields’ skillset would bring. Put Salmons in Casey’s system he gives you just enough well at least enough until the last 14 games. Even though both players don’t shoot well Salmons is shooting 35% and Fields is just over 39% in limited play. Fields could guard Salmons while I don’t think Salmons could guard Fields

  • A G

    What does it take for fields to get some minutes? Ugh!

    • mike, prague

      Divorce his wife and give DC a chance.

  • redrap

    Good writeup. Not to be douchey (and it totally might be) but actually, it’s ‘batten down the hatches’. (In case you’d want to know if it wasn’t a typo.)

    Vasquez. He’s kind of exiting in his way but maybe I’m confusing ‘exciting’ for makes-me-nervous. It’s weird cuz I kind of like him and at the same time, I really don’t. Also, that left elbow he hung out that Rondo ran into wasn’t as innocent as he made out, I didn’t think. Kind of Dwyane Wade-ish-y of him.

    Burritos. Discovered this amazing food item (only) a couple of years ago when, for whatever reason I don’t recall, I saw a Jose Bautista tweet that enthusiastically endorsed Burrito Boyz. So I made it a point to try one and I’ve been totally hooked — once every 7 to 10 days without fail .. and I have to drive a ways each time — ever since. Only tried one other burrito place and comparatively, it stunk but .. I wonder occasionally. Is there another that’s as good or better?

    • DDayLewis

      Nice catch! I wasn’t sure if it was batten/batted. Fixed it.

      Burrito Boyz is definitely the best place to get a burrito in Toronto. I also don’t mind z-teca, or if you’re really in a pinch, Taco Del Mar.

      • DutchyBrown

        Burro Burrito … Mmm
        College and Beatrice

      • asifyouknow

        I went to Toronto many many years ago to see the Phantom of the Opera (my ex-wife) It was a very clean and sophisticated city I don’t see it being a Taco heaven,,,lol,,,

        • redrap

          What a maroon. Between the irrational Vasquez-love, the condescending attitude warranted by little more than your elderly age and the creepy passive-aggressive comments you sneak into a thread — like this one, here — you’re a dope. You know it, don’t you? Stop being a dope.

          • redrap

            PS – “creepy” is bit strong. If I could edit, I’d change it to borderline-creepy. Fwiw.

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      Completely agree about the elbow. It wasn’t out until until right as Rondo passed by, and Vasquez had to raise it up at an awkward angle to make contact

  • Pong

    ‘Everybody knows you never go full YOLO.’

    • afrocarter

      “I know who Fields is! He’s the dude that subs in for the other dude who subs in for that other dude!”

  • bobmasa

    FREE LANDRY FIELDS!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hassan Mehmood Khan

      I think DC thinks salmons can shoot threes and he knows landry cant so maybe thats why he gets the mins . No other reason because salmons is completely useless when he is tired, we should rest him for the remainder of the season and maybe he will be useful again come playoff time

  • mike, prague

    The pass was off the knee of Bass.

  • morgan c

    Play Landry instead of Salmons.
    Greivis, get back to the pick and roll / pick and pop…
    Patterson come back.

    (Oh and DC, play Jonas when he’s playing well)
    (And team, please play hard consistently when you play shit teams. Thanks!)

    • asifyouknow

      He will once Patterson is back, they are asking him to shot…Last 5 games 14 points averege… 4 rebounds ….4 assists and 46% shooting in 21 minutes per game….don’t know what the hell more this fans want…lol

  • Bobby G.

    Does anyone know if anyone has asked Casey directly about why he doesn’t play Fields?

  • Andrey

    More bench more problems

  • Lyall

    DAMMIT, EVERY TIME SOMEONE TYPES THE LETTERS Y, O, L, AND O IN SUCCESSION, DRAKE GETS A LITTLE BIT RICHER THAN ALL OF US! FOR THE LOVE OF STRIPES, STOP GIVING HIM ROYALTIES!

  • asifyouknow

    I have no idea what the hell some of this Toronto fans want from Greivis Vasquez:
    Last 5 games:
    14 points avg…
    4 rebounds avg…
    4 assists avg
    46% shooting
    In 21 minutes per game….Don’t know what the hell MORE this fans want…lol..
    If I was a cursing man I would say…”.WHAT THE ………do this people want!” lmao
    Last ten games:
    11 point avg.
    Same rebounds and assists
    41% shooting.
    What the hell! Those are better stats than 3 of the starters…

    • afrocarter

      I think people want him to play some defence.

      But, seriously dude, stop getting riled up over nothing. A majority of the fan base has grown to like the General’s style of play (see current RR poll). You’re complaining for absolutely no reason.

      • asifyouknow

        OK seriously dude I’m just informing the fantasy players that he may be a good pick for the rest of the year…probably can get him cheap..

    • Guest

      There’s a lot more to being a point guard than ppg, rpg, apg and sh% guy.

  • caccia

    One thing I have noticed with the bench lineups is their lack of consistency. Coach Casey wants to “match up” with the other team, so he is constantly shifting the lineup, who gets to play, who does not, so it is really hard on the players to anticipate their roles on any particular night. Casey is certainly not Mr. Communication when it comes to telling his guys what he wants them to do. Besides that, he has not given them a chance to develop chemistry or an identity since Patterson went out three weeks ago. If anything, the chemistry has become worse.

    As a fan, I am just amazed at the lineups he is throwing out there sometimes. Look at the top five-man units for any bench player and note how few minutes most of them have been together on the court. Like others, I also have become concerned because the starters are not getting rested up in preparation for the playoffs, especially Lowry, Johnson, and DeRozan.