fRaptors 107, Rockets 103 – Box

The playing field was more or less even, perhaps even tilted in the favor of the home team, but the Toronto Raptors’ victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night feels like an important one.

The Raptors, after all, had to play without their most important player in Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with left knee soreness, an issue that is not due to any structural damage but, because of swelling and discomfort, wasn’t worth risking. It was the right call, albeit one that threatened to sink the Raptors. When Amir Johnson exited three minutes into the game – he tweaked his troublesome right ankle, another injury with no structural damage but one that could linger – things seemed dire.

This Raptors team has at times been buoyed by its depth and at times been sunk by its apparent lack thereof. A win would require a major game from DeMar DeRozan and at least a few reserves to respond to the challenge and seize the opportunity.

“Guys stepped in and stepped up,” head coach Dwane Casey summarized after the game, and it’s tough to find fault in that simple, somewhat cliched evaluation.

Look at Tyler Hansbrough, for example. Hansbrough emerged from the doghouse for some first-half run and had maybe the best half, offensively, that he’s had as a Raptor. He finished with just seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes, but he was the team’s best roll man in the first half when the offense was sputtering.

And look at Patrick Patterson. While he’s been a regular contributor since his acquisition, he was also in just his second game back from injury, still clearly working through rust. He hit a few shots and added some athleticism to the frontline that was desperately needed with Johnson out. Nothing special, sure, but the next guy down the line kept doing his job.

Look at Nando De Colo. A bit-player in San Antonio, De Colo still looks terrified to shoot the ball but played an important 13 minutes on Wednesday. He exited with just two assists, but he surely had another two or three so-called hockey assists, capably setting up the team’s action when Greivis Vasquez wasn’t handling the rock.

Jonas speaks...kind of

Whenever I talk to Jonas Valanciunas with the microphone off, he’s a really likeable, and often funny, guy. He’s fun and light. Turn the recorder on, though, and he gets really plain, really fast. Here’s his scrum from last night, and I almost got him to say something of value at the end (questions from RR in bold).

On resiliency
“We showed that we can play without those guys. I’m not saying that they are not important but we still have some good guys. Tyler came in, Nando did a hell of a job, Greivis did a good job. We have a long bench.”

On guys being ready
“You have to step on the court, be ready and do a good job. You come to play basketball every single night. Starters, not the starters, every guy is coming with 100 percent focus, hungry to win.”

On Dwight not playing
“I’m okay with that.” (laughing)

On Omer Asik being a capable replacement
“Yeah, he’s really strong and he knows how to play basketball.”

On the team’s FG% defense
“(How many) percent they shoot? That’s pretty good, huh? We’re just tyring to defend the basket, that’s our goal. 40 percent or 50 percent, we just want to defend the basket.”

On hitting his stride on the offensive end of late
“It’s me trusting in my coaches, teammates passing me the ball. I feel great on the offensive end.”

On improving decision making as the roll-man
“Some of the teams are blitzing, so you have to show roll to give an outlet for the point guard. You have to see all the floor.”


Even, dare I say, John Salmons played well for stretches. Checking James Harden is no easy task, but it was one that Salmons didn’t shy away from for stretches. He also must have known I was in attendance, as he hit a pair of threes and managed 12 points, his largest output since Feb. 3. He refused to accept my compliments on the two enormous, shiny chains he was wearing after the game, too. He knows.

As we go down the line, only Steve Novak had an off night, but even he managed a strong defensive performance by his standards.

And then there’s Vasquez, who was forced into starting duty and played a season-high 40 minutes. While he shot just 4-of-12, he finished with 15 points, four rebounds and eight assists, running a movement-heavy offense that finally got back to their unofficial benchmark of 20 assists each time out. It’s not necessarily surprising that Vasquez played well – he’s been much better since the All-Star break, and “I led the league in assists,” as he reminded me before the game. But again, another man stepped up.

“Every win is equally important and hopefully gives our guys some confidence to go where we need to go,” Casey said after the game.

His point about building confidence is interesting. Ideally, these are the kind of situations you run into early in the year, so that in the event injuries strike later, guys are prepared to step up. That didn’t happen with the Raptors, who have been lucky when it comes to injuries this season. Instead, the trying times are occurring late, when you’d prefer to have the team peaking. But having guys ready to step up and confident when they do so isn’t nothing – rotations shorten in the playoffs and depth becomes less of a game-by-game factor, but injuries still happen, and it’d be nice to feel more confident that the team’s success isn’t a house of cards of which Lowry is the primary support beam.

And now, we need to turn to the regulars who were still in action, because it wans’t just the depth that led to the victory.

Terrence Ross had a solid night on the offensive end and really contributed on the glass, scooping up nine defensive rebounds. He, too, took his turns on Harden, helping to keep the bearded star to 7-of-17 shooting (though it’s impossible to keep him off the line, so he still amnaged 26 points). He and DeRozan occasionally lost track of who had who in transition, leading to Chandler Parsons getting dunk after dunk, melting hearts in the process, but it was, overall, a strong outing for Trey Rozay.

Jonas Valanciunas had a fantastic second half offensively, too, picking up where Hansbrough left off. Valanciunas had 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and five rebounds in the second half, rebounding from a 1-of-3 first half with just a single board. You can see he’s making progress on the offensive end, and while it might be slower than some would like, the turnovers are down and the field goal percentage is up – over his past 11 games, he’s averaging 14.2 points on 59.4 percent shooting, grabbing 8.6 boards and turning the ball over just 1.3 times a night. It’s coming along.

Then there’s DeRozan, and things looked bleak early. Parsons was dunking everything, and the Raptors play log to open the game made it seem like DeRozan was the one who was injured, only the team had dressed the wrong player:

11:45 – DeRozan misses 19-footer
11:26 – DeRozan makes two-point shot
11:00 – DeRozan misses two free throws
10:33 – DeRozan misses 18-footer
10:00 – DeRozan bad pass turnover
8:48 – DeRozan assist
7:54 – DeRozan lost ball turnover
5:18 – DeRozan misses 17-footer
3:43 – DeRozan misses 11-footer

So DeRozan sat down with two points and two turnovers on 1-of-5 shooting in 9:16. From that point on, DeRozan played some of his best ball for 31:47. 9-of-14 shooting, 8-of-8 at the line, a three mixed in, six boards, two dimes, two steals and a huge charge drawn down the stretch.

He started the game out playing like hot garbage, and then for three quarters he put this undermanned team on his back. His final line won’t look all that impressive – 29 points on 19 shots is solid, but he’s scored more before and shot better – but the box score can’t do justice to his offensive impact, in particular carrying the offense alone at the end of the second quarter. He shot poorly again in the fourth – 2-of-7 – but then looked to distribute, setting up a Ross bucket and a late Valanciunas layup that essentially put the game out of reach.

We can’t look past the fact that Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley sat out for Houston and Terrence Jones played just 10 minutes. As mentioned off the top, the deck was stacked just as much against Houston as it was against Toronto. The Raptors didn’t beat a Western Conference playoff team shorthanded, they beat a shorthanded Western Conference playoff team, on the second night of a back-to-back, that was just as shorthanded or worse.

That’s relevant, but it doesn’t really change the narrative here. DeRozan traded buckets with Harden, one of the league’s best scorers, and every other player took on a role slightly larger than the one they’re used to taking on. It’s a learning experience you don’t wish upon your team, because it means guys are hurt, but it’s a positive one in retrospect, one that could matter later.

As Casey said when asked about how the team will prepare in the event Lowry and Johnson can’t go on Friday, there’s not really any choice in the matter.

“Next man up.”

  • Bendit

    Nice write up.

    “…De Colo still looks terrified to shoot the ball…”. haha. You’d be too if you had Popovich giving you strict instructions not to and that your foremost job is to find the open man. From what I have seen he has a decent stroke. The coaches should encourage him to shoot but he does have a backup/secondary role right now. Wonder how Austin Daye is doing?

    • KuH

      Austin Daye has played 70 minutes of ball for the Spurs, is shooting 60% from 3 and also had 3 blocks for them during that limited time.

      • jjdynomite

        And 29 of those minutes were against the worst team in the league (the Sixers). In garbage time. With Danny Green out.

        /small sample size

    • CJT

      Who cares he doesn’t play for us.

  • Maahfaace

    Daye got injured the other day

  • jakdripr

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Jonas’s defensive effort. It isn’t reflected in the box score(only 1 block) but he changed so many shots and his rotations were really solid. He even forced a number of turnovers.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Just chose to focus on the O, since the Rockets don’t really employ an interior scoring threat. I do remember he altered one shot really significantly using the ol’ verticality, I think maybe on a Harden drive. Was huge.

  • Will

    Any word on DeRozan’s hand injury? I’m just glad it’s his left hand.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Was just a bad cut, as I understand it, though I didn’t see him after the game.

  • FLUXLAND

    No. Dwight. Howard.

    • guest

      No Kyle Lowry. No Amir Johnson.

      • FLUXLAND

        Yeah, I’m sure the Rockets are really scared when those two are playing.

        • guest

          I’m sure they are too. In what universe are the Rockets thrilled about Jeremy Lin having to guard Kyle Lowry?

          • FLUXLAND

            Why would they be thrilled about him having to guard anyone, for that matter?

            Are you implying the impact of Howard is equal to the impact of KL and AJ?

            • noname

              hey btw when did those raptors play the houston rockets? In November. When fucking rudy gay was in town bricklaying worse than john Salmons and making everyone want to just take stupid shots so that they can actually try and get something out of the stagnant, no movement offense that the raptors had back then.

            • James Slim

              Howard is terribly overrated – Kyle is better on his own

              • FLUXLAND

                Sorry, I am not anti KL in any way, but I am taking DH12 over KL any day of the week.

                • James Slim

                  I’m looking at it this way
                  My MVP rankings
                  Durant
                  Lowry
                  Noah
                  Aldridge
                  Lebron
                  Harden
                  Curry

                  Howard wouldn’t be anywhere close. Plus you can just foul him and make his shoot free throws
                  Certainly imo Lowry/Amir > Howard/Beverly

                • FLUXLAND

                  I would say that if you’re playing the hack a Dwight game, chances are you’re having bigger issues with your team. And it’s not a strategy I would use, either way.

                  As far that list, I would only take Durant over Dwight. And in any combination of players, I am taking Dwight. When a guy is a threat to pull down 20 plus rebounds a night, it shouldn’t even be debatable what impact he has on the game.

                • Steverino

                  By “threat”, do you mean he has the ability? Um, I’m not disagreeing, but he’s done it a grand total of five times this season. So are you saying he’s an underachiever?

                • FLUXLAND

                  Yeah, I would agree to that. I do not think he’s playing at his max every game. It was finally revealed he was having back issues while with the Lakers and to some degree he’s still dealing with it.

                  Grand total of 5 times? As if this is a regular occurrence in the NBA? I guess I just don’t easily dismiss a player who impacts the most important aspect of the game, as far as I am concerned.

                • Steverino

                  Not a regular occurrence for sure. But Reggie Evans had nine 20+ rebound games last year in Brooklyn and he averaged less than 25 minutes per game. And I’m betting you dismiss Reggie Evans. Or at least you probably did when he was a Raptor.

                • FLUXLAND

                  Do you see the irony in you talking about reading comprehension?

                  If anything, one would think, through our exchanges you would have caught onto the premium I put on rebounding, as I have been very explicit about it on several occasions. But now you are betting I dismissed RE?

                  Paying attention, reading comprehension and all that, right Stevo? I gotta say, these are kinda losing their gusto, when you are going to keep making me repeat myself. In fact, I am starting to think you are trolling.

            • Rapchat

              Sooo you think because KL didnt have a great game against the Rockets months ago, the coaching staff and team aren’t “really scared” about facing him now… despite him playing all star caliber ball most of the year….hmmm perhaps you’re right. I mean there’s got to be a reason why the Rockets are playing so shitty right now. Perhaps they are simply underestimating the opposing teams BEST players on purpose for some unknown reason. Hey, remember the all star game when Howard tried to guard Irving in that hilarious ISO play and got vertigo in the process of an easy 2 points for Irving? HAHA What a dummy. Lowry would do the same.

              • FLUXLAND

                You’re right, it’s not like the Rockets would adjust, at all. And it really is strange how they’ve lost games and Dwight hasn’t played, but you’re probably right they just underestimate the BEST players on purpose.

                True, I should have remembered Howard getting scored on in the AS game by a PG 4 inches taller than KL, before suggesting they have different impacts on the game. I’ll remember that next time, thanks.

    • Rapchat

      Outstanding observation!

      • FLUXLAND

        Thank you.

    • Steverino

      Yes, the mighty Dwight who’s won all those championships and been on contending teams his whole career. And Asik is a complete scrub.

      • FLUXLAND

        I’m sorry, little confused with the trolling…are you calling DH12 a scrub and non factor?

        • Steverino

          No, I was not calling him a scrub (although he was close to one with the Lakers). I’m saying, though, that he’s never won a championship and that most of the teams he’s been on have not been contenders. You do the math. Also that his replacement, Asik, is a fair player and a starter on most teams, so even though Dwight was out, it’s not like Houston was gutted. And as someone else pointed out, the Rockets were playing the Raptors who were without their best player and another starter. So saw-off?

          • FLUXLAND

            What math? And his teams have not been contenders? So, what’s a team that make the Finals in the NBA, according to you?

            Saw off? Not IMO, obviously. I don’t think the Raps stand a chance with him in the lineup, even with the Raps at full strength.

            We clearly regard him in different lights, yours being the new age stats driven NBA fan who dismisses a big that regulates the paint and eats glass as insignificant.

            • Steverino

              Okay, he was on one contender in ten seasons. He’s made the playoffs six times. And three of those times his team was eliminated in the first round. All I’m saying is that if he were as dominating as you suggest, he’d make his team better.

              • FLUXLAND

                Well, that’s your opinion. I never said anything about him making his teams better. That wasn’t even the discussion, nor were his team.

                You want to keep building arguments about him being a poor player, while using his teams as proof, go ahead. I am just going to have to disagree. It’s pretty much the same argument people were using about LBJ in Cleveland – asinine.

        • Steverino

          Yes, I can understand you get confused while trolling. It must be hard to keep up with all the teams trash. I imagine you were all excited to come on here if the Raptors had lost and gloated that they couldn’t even beat a team without Dwight Howard. But you got your out: big deal, they beat a team without Dwight Howard. Win-win for you, I guess.

          As for Lowry/Amir, it’s not individuals matching up. It’s a team game. All that matters is how important a given player is to his own team. Dirk isn’t as good as Howard, but the Mavs are a lot worse without Dirk than the Rockets are without Howard.

          • FLUXLAND

            And, in turn, you got yours, I am guessing? By somehow attempting to dismiss the point by trashing Howard? mmmkkkk.

            Excited and gloated? You got all that from “No, Dwight, Howard.” Impressive stuff, my man.

            It is a team game, and I could not disagree more… the Rockets are going nowhere without Howard. The Maves are a lot worse maybe, but they are also not going very far with him in the lineup, whereas the Rockets can legit win the West this year.

            • Steverino

              So you agree you got yours. Good. I’m only a homer in relation to your anti-homerness. I’ve never in my life used “we” or “us” when talking about a team I cheer for (and I’m not saying you do, I should point out because reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit). It’s just that you’re so laughably predictable in your responses that it brings out the homer in me, I guess. If you were in any way as rational as you like to think you are, we could have a reasonable exchange. But you come on here goading so you get what you came for.

              Also, I don’t mean to trash Howard. I just don’t think he’s as dominant as you do. I think he has the potential to be, but somehow isn’t. You mentioned he’s a threat to get 20 rebounds in any game, yet I pointed out he’s only done that 5 times in over 60 games this season. Is that really a threat? I guess in the loosest definition.

              What it boils down to is this: Do you believe the Rockets are a worse team than the Raptors when Howard and Beverly aren’t playing? And does your opinion change when you take Lowry and Amir out of the equation, i.e. Are the Rockets still worse? Simple questions.

              • FLUXLAND

                I thought we previously agreed there’s no rationality while commenting about sports. Doesn’t the word fanatic imply an absence of rationality?

                We have reasonable exchanges, you just insist on sprinkling your comments with snarky homer bits, which is fine, I can play that game.

                Yup, totally agree on Howard. Has the potential, and will probably go down like Shaq as one of the guys that just didn’t tap into it fully. I would take that potential threat, that just needs to be engaged properly as opposed to praying for a guy to eventually have that threat (see, V,J.)

                No. In any case, I am taking the Rockets.

    • BigDickKamen

      NO KOBE BRYANT

      • FLUXLAND

        Shame, right?

    • GoingBig

      Got.A.Win
      BKN.Got.Smashed.
      Atlantic.Conference.Win
      5.Magic.Number.
      Lowry.Needs.Rest
      Amir.Needs.Rest

      • FLUXLAND

        Fu.Ga.Zzi.
        BKN. Aint. Scared.
        Titanic. Division. Yay.
        5.Game.Exit.
        Lowry. Needs. Height.
        Amir.Needs. Weight.

        It’s Atlantic Division, btw. Welcome to basketball.

  • sleepz

    Only saw the 2nd half but from what I did see Demar played one of his best games imho.

    Effort on both ends of the floor and smart with the ball. He needs to play like that more often.

    • mountio

      Clearly you didnt see the 1st quarter by this comment. I was probably the worst / most disinterested Ive seen DD play in a long time on both ends. He was horrible.
      He made up for it by picking it up big time … but wow, he was lost to start this one ..

  • DP-Baller

    Great win. Good Write up. Seriously tho, wtf is up with this teams inbounding of the basketball especially in tight game situations. Feel like it needs to be addressed.

    • ckh26

      Yeah agree. Twice now in the past 3 games Salmons has kinda jammed the ball into traffic on the inbounds play. Thank god the Ghost of Rasul Butler has not come back to lose us one late but your right. Need to come up with a better option than what we have seen the past few games.

  • asifyouknow

    Greivis Vasquez will start vs Indiana tonight…

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