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Kyle Lowry carries shorthanded Raptors over sickly Kings.
|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 3-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | +15Left the grade incomplete, because that’s what Amir is right now. He’s clearly not healthy, to the point in which he can barely move laterally. He’s the glue that holds the Raptors’ defense together, and the seams are showing on nights like tonight. Somehow, he eked out just enough tonight to get the Raptors’ the win. Get well, soon.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 8-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +10Unbelievably hot in the first quarter, dropping 15 points, before cooling off and disappearing on both ends of the floor. Story of his career, basically.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 33 MIN | 3-6 FG | 9-10 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +13The Raptors ran like 3 total plays for him (despite being guarded by a litany of thin centers and short power forwards) and yet he continued to grind on both ends. Didn’t provide much rim protection but the relentless hustle on the glass was rewarded with 10 trips to the line.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 10-21 FG | 6-6 FT | 0 REB | 13 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 27 PTS | +20He found the balance. Against the Lakers, Lowry shot too often and passed too seldom. He just took whatever he wanted from the Kings’ defense, setting up his teammates when they were open and hitting tough shots when the game looked to be slipping away. He’s putting the team on his back, doe.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +10A quiet night in terms of flash, but rather effective in playing as the off-guard. Struggled mightily on defense, as his footspeed is on-par with that of a hobbled Amir. Didn’t play in crunch time as a result, but his strong play helped to buoy the team in the first half.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3He played?|
|James Johnson, PF 28 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-1 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 19 PTS | -4The X-factor tonight. He relentlessly attacked the Kings’ smaller wings on offense, driving to the basket at will. Didn’t make any questionable decisions and helped balance a weak performance from the bench. Was awarded crunch time minutes and did a decent job checking RUDAYYY!|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -9His three-point stroke is back! Sadly, the rebounding isn’t. He’s just not physical enough to bang down low with scrappers like Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson. That’s fine, as long as he puts in enough of an impact on offense like tonight.|
|Louis Williams, SG 19 MIN | 1-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -12Just awful. Questionable decision making, and tried to shoot himself out of a funk, to no avail. It’s tough to watch him when he’s just chucking. In reality, his decision making is the same as it was all season, only he cooled off. Sadly, he didn’t apply his energy defensively, either, as McLemore ate him alive on drives. Just terrible.|
Strange night. The game never really felt in doubt. Managed his team’s minutes well so his closers were fresh to end the game. Handed the keys to Lowry on offense, which was a good call.
Five Thing We Saw
- What an ugly contest. The refs made a few ticky-tack fouls to start the game, and stuck with it, culminating in 58 combined free-throws attempted and 52 fouls called. It felt like half of them were harmless loose ball fouls. Not a fun watch; killed the flow.
- The LouWill buzzer beaters are fun, but it’d be nice if Casey — just once — ran an actual play. It’s all about process over results. Lou isn’t going to stay hot forever. Why not at least set something up once in a while? Team have scouted the Raptors inside-out. They all know Lou’s going to dribble, dribble, dribble and fade to his left on a triple.
- Every game without DeRozan is going to be a struggle. Lowry can shoulder the burden for now, but Casey is running the risk of wearing Lowry out. Dude is working his ass off out there, but he needs his teammates to step up as well. Sure, the offense should struggle without DeRozan, but the Raptors have looked listless defensively for three straight nights. That’s forcing the Raptors to stay blisteringly hot on offense, which is a huge task for Lowry alone.
- Weird thought: Both James Johnson and Rudy Gay have each played for the Raptors, Kings and Grizzlies in their careers. Weird.
- Tough game coming up against the Jazz tomorrow. Playing on the road on the second night of a back-to-back in Utah is never easy. With Cleveland laying in wait for Friday, the Raptors can’t be caught looking past a scrappy Jazz squad.
Raptors holding on to a 6-point lead with three minutes left. There’s no defense being played here, by either team.
And he did it Williams too:Direct Link
It’s all about the small wins, JV, all about the small wins.
He’s got 17 off the bench as the Raptors have assumed a 14 point lead with three minutes left in the third.
Johnson’s a warrior man, the guy gets up every time. Here he picks up the charge and gets knocked out.
I know this is a Raptor site and all that, but oh man, this was intense. As for the last time a Raptor player got dunked this hard, our YouTube channel commenter off this: Tyrus Thomas on Jermaine O’Neal. Here’s a GIF.
Entering tonight’s game there is an important consecutive streak the Raptors will be determined to extend which began the day of the trade December 8, 2013: Toronto hasn’t lost 3-games in a row since.
If we learned anything from the Raptor loss to the West’s worst Lakers it’s that a Toronto squad sans DeMar DeRozan felt as peculiar for the players as it did to the viewers. While we’ve become accustomed to the iron man’s presence over the past 5-plus seasons imagine how odd it was on the floor for his teammates. Consider how many plays are cued for DeRozan and how many sets run through him. Then factor in his presence on the court during critical game moments and it’s easier to understand why the team appeared out of sync.
Moving forward, individuals need to adjust to the increased defensive coverage brought by DeRozan’s absence which should be absorbed by the bolstered roster depth, set repetition and better offensive distribution. Ultimately though for Toronto to control their own fate and continue to succeed they need to embrace their identity as a defensive squad.
Sacramento are a far superior team to the Lakers and one we’ve historically not played well against in Sleep Train Arena. On one hand this will be a huge test for Toronto as they acclimate to life without DeRozan especially considering DeMarcus Cousins has feasted on the Raptors and Rudy Gay will want to make a statement to the team who traded him and many blamed for their woeful start last season. On the other hand, given this is the NBA Fan Night feature it could actually benefit Toronto as it’s unlikely the zebras will replicate what occurred in their last visit when officials doled out 51 free throws for Sacramento to Toronto’s 24. And, of course there was this controversial late game call that sent Kyle Lowry to the showers just as the Raptors had all but erased the Kings 22-point lead.
Greivis Vasquez will be looking to make his own statement following poor showings in both games he faced the Kings last season. Conversely, Patrick Patterson played well in those outings and Chuck Hayes was key in the Raptor win at home when he shut Cousins down while the Raptors simultaneously built a big lead. The x-factor could be James Johnson who historically has his best games facing his previous teams and could draw the end of game defensive assignment to shut down Gay.
Free Agent/Trade Additions:
The change of addresses for LeBron James, Kevin Love and Pau Gasol captured most headlines this summer, but the less touted moves have been the ones paying initial rewards 17-games into this season.
Masai Ujiri’s trade of John Salmons for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira and signing of free agent James Johnson have unquestionably played an integral part in the Raptors’ quick start as Williams and Johnson specifically have meshed seamlessly into Casey’s system and their personal roles.
For Sacramento, the addition of Darren Collison made their starting unit more cohesive and was an upgrade on the defensive end. As witnessed in the Phoenix game, Isaiah Thomas is a shoot first point guard, so his presence was counter productive to Kings’ stars Cousins and Gay’s talents. Collison is more of a prototypical point guard whose presence has resulted in a better use of their starters’ assets. Further, the addition of free agents: Omri Casspi and Ramon Sessions coupled with a healthy Carl Landry who played only 18-games last season due to hip surgery have added depth to the Kings’ roster.
Comparing the Teams:
Toronto still ranks as the East’s best in all but Marc Stein’s rankings who has Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Washington grouped eighth through eleventh. Analysts aren’t as sure about Sacramento who rank them as high as eighth and low as sixteenth.
Turnovers: Toronto takes care of the ball boasting the second best rank with 11.4 while Sacramento ranks 26th with 16.4 turnovers. Working in concert with protecting the ball Toronto forces the fourth most opponent turnovers (16.5) while Sacramento are the second worst at forcing just 11.6 turnovers.
Point Differential: Toronto holds a huge margin in this category ranking 2nd (plus 9.6) to Sacramento’s 15th rank (plus 0.6).
Three Point Shooting: Not only does Toronto shoot a better percentage (35.9%) but they make almost twice as many three’s (8.5) per game to Sacramento (shoot: 31.8%, make 4.6)
Rebounding: The clear advantage for rebounding belongs to the Kings who rank tenth on offensive boards (11.2), fourth in defensive boards (34.5) and third overall (45.7), Couple this with the fact they rank first in keeping their opponents off the boards and it’s sure to be a key focus for Casey’s game plan tonight.
Intangibles: Toronto bests Sacramento in steals, blocks (surprisingly), points, pace and our bench is better in almost every category (as per below).
Guards: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore
As noted Collison has proven to be a great addition and stabilizing presence for the Kings. McLemore has been emerging as a quality producer potentially urged on by the presence of Canadian Rookie: Nic Stauskas. I’m expecting Casey to stay with Vasquez in the starting line-up as the duo of Lowry and Vasquez were extremely productive on court together last season with an established familiarity and it offers an additional ball handler to start the game while keeping the bench basically intact. In games where Toronto went at Cousins from the onset endeavoring to get him in early foul trouble the results prove successful, so look for them to run the pick and roll early and often with Valanciunas.
Edge: Raptors- it will be close, but I anticipate Lowry will be looking to lead the team through the DeRozan transition and will be more fluid in his approach in the second game without their All Star. Though DeRozan’s minutes and tasks are being spread amongst a number of players it’s Lowry who carries the lion’s share of the responsibility. Look for Lowry to quarterback ball movement and better shot distribution.
Front Court: Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas – Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins missed the past 2-games with an illness, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on him missing this one given his penchant for big nights versus Toronto and also because it’s the featured NBA Fan Night game. No one has ever disputed Cousins’ talent but this season a new maturity has emerged making him a more complete player. Amir Johnson’s health is a question as he stated post game in L.A. he was suffering from an injured toe that was bleeding through his sock and hampered his ability to run and jump (of note: Johnson tends to run on his toes, so this has a greater impact on him than it would flat-footed runners). The obvious key match-ups fall upon our youngsters Valanciunas and Ross who’ll need to assert themselves on both ends facing the Kings stars Cousins and Gay.
Watch for any carry over from the World Championships this summer where Valanciunas and Cousins got into a bit of a scruff.
Edge: Kings- Valanciunas will be inspired to better his counterpart, but Cousins is playing at an All Star level and Ross’ will need to keep Gay invested on both ends if the Raptors are to keep the game close.
Bench: Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes/ Ramon Sessions, Omri Casspi, Derrick Williams, Carl Landry, Nic Stauskas, Ryan Hollins, Reggie Evans
With so much added depth on the Kings’ roster it’s a little surprising they aren’t performing better. Toronto bests Sacramento in almost every bench category
Slight Edge: Raptors – with Vasquez moving to the starting line-up Williams, Johnson and Patterson (and possibly Hayes if required to shut down Cousins) should have the upper hand. Watch for Casspi who played well against Toronto this preseason. The Raptors bench is better in all key categories especially points: 38.1 PPG (Kings 28.4 PPG) and point differential where Toronto ranks 2nd with a plus +13.8 (Kings rank 23rd with a minus -4.7).
Bench statistics via hoopsstats.com
Bits and Pieces:
- Dwane Casey is first Raptor Coach to win Coach of the Month honors twice
- Eric Koreen of the National Post made an astute observation: Raptors have lost both road games Drake attended (Miami & L.A), but won all others
- Sacramento averages 94.5 points in losses, 107.2 points in wins
- Could the increased knowledge DeRozan will gain via inclusion in coaches meetings translate immediately upon his return?
- In first outing without DeRozan Toronto were +1.5 free throws above their season average
- Will DeRozan’s absence expedite Masai Ujiri’s ability to gauge the growth/ceilings of Valanciunas and Ross as well as highlight roster holes sooner?
- Sacramento has won 6 of the last 8 games vs. Toronto
- Sunday’s loss to the Lakers marked the Raptors first loss of the season to a sub-500 team
Until a minute ago Vegas had the game as a pick-em, but now has Sacramento as a 1-point favorite with an O/U of 202.5. Historically the Raptors don’t perform well in Sacramento (2-15), but the streak of not losing three in a row looms large and I’m crossing my fingers it continues.
Catch our Quick React following the game and join the conversation.
The two-game slump hasn’t dampened the mood on the pod, well, maybe a little bit, but we took it out on Terrence Ross and now feel much better. Andrew and Zarar review the events of Dallas and LA, and look ahead to a testing week.
- Who do we fire for the DeRozan injury?
- Vasquez replacing DeRozan instead of Johnson
- Kobe showing up for the Raptors again
- Kobe’s passing
- Refs vs Lakers
- Being angry at Ross despite good statistical game
- Jonas Valanciunas vs Jordan Hill
- Touches for Jonas – does he deserve more?
- Raptors too good for JV and Ross’ development
- Feed JV and Ross more?
- Individuals compensating for DeRozan absence without having a sytem to fall back on
- Timeout issue at the end of regulation vs Lakers
- Robert Sacre – WTF
- Nick Young for Terrence Ross – yay/nay
- Recalling the Dallas game
- Chandler Parsons being annoying
- Dallas role players unaccounted for by Raptors defense
- Defensive resignation versus Dallas
- Giving up high opponent FG%
- Is Patrick Patterson a good small-ball player?
- Landry Fields small ball, if only
- Imposing “big man ball” with Valanciunas – even possible?
- Previewing the week
- Sacramento revival
- Dealing with DeMarcus Cousins
- Jazz on the back-to-back on the elevation
- JV versus European bigs (Kanter)
- Dwane Casey’s confidence management with young players (JV, Ross)
- Strategy versus Cleveland the second time
A disturbing trend is emerging with the Toronto Raptors, who fell to 4-2 on the road with an overtime loss against the Lakers on Sunday. They have lost in Miami and Los Angeles, games that the team’s global brand ambassador, Drake, attended. They have won in Orlando, Boston, Cleveland and Atlanta, with Drake nowhere to be seen. Keep Drake in Canada. It is the only solution.
In a move most Raptors fans saw coming a week ago, the NBA named Dwane Casey the Eastern Conference coach of the month for November. Casey’s Raptors were an Eastern Conference best 13-4 in the month. Two of those losses have come in the past two games. On Sunday night in Los Angeles the Raptors dropped their first game to an opponent that didn’t boast a winning record, losing 129-122 in overtime to the Lakers.
So after being congratulated on the award and trying to wave away any more compliments that he didn’t really want, Casey put the whole thing in perspective. “I’d rather win Friday night or last night,” he said. And with that he was pretty much done talking about it. Sure, when the cameras arrived a little later, he gave the necessary sound byte, but anyone who has spent any time with him knows where he stands. “I’m sure he doesn’t really care, it’s all about how we’re going to play defence tomorrow and stuff like that,” second-year Raptor Greivis Vasquez said.
Casey last won the award following an 8-6 December last season, becoming the first Raptors’ bench boss to win Coach of the Month twice. If you’re looking forward to his acceptance speech, a heads up, it will be brief and unassuming. “I don’t give a crap,” he had said after winning the award last year. “I mean, it’s not about me. It’s about that team in there, in that locker room. I’m going to be in coaching for a long time so it’s not about me, it’s about those guys.” The 57-year-old Casey has always taken individual acknowledgement – either for himself or one of his players – as an indication that collectively everyone is doing their job the way they’re supposed to.
The DeRozan injury will also provide Terrence Ross another opportunity to take that next step as a player. The best way the 23-year-old can accomplish this is to improve his consistency on the offensive end and continue to play solid defence. Despite Kobe Bryant’s excellent game (and this move), Ross played the future-Hall of Famer very well. Over the next few games the Washington product will get a chance to guard a few more of the league’s top wing players in the Sacramento Kings’ Rudy Gay, the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward and four-time league MVP LeBron James. All are tough assignments, but there’s no better way for Ross to heat up than to be tossed into the fire.
While the accolade is nice, it really doesn’t mean a lot. What concerns Casey the most is finding a way to stop a mini-slide by the Raptors, the conference-leading team that’s now lost two in a row. That’s hardly a streak that should cause major concern but it’s worth pointing out that the Raptors haven’t lost three successive games in almost a calendar year. And heading into a matchup with the Kings here Tuesday night, that’s a streak they’d like to keep intact.
Casey led the Raptors to the Eastern Conference’s best record (13-4, .765) for games played in October/November. Toronto compiled a five-game winning streak from Nov. 4-11, during which it won games by an average margin of 14 points. Following a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 13, the Raptors reeled off six consecutive wins from Nov. 15-26, by an average margin of 16 points. Toronto’s +9.6 points per game differential ranked second in the league to the Golden State Warriors’ +10.6.
The East was scary bad last year. The Hawks got in with 38 wins. It’s worse now. Forty-five victories would’ve got you the Atlantic Division, and that’s worse this season by several amplifications. If Toronto plays .450 basketball from here until April, it wins the Atlantic and takes home court into the first round of the playoffs. If the Raptors get beyond that, we’re into unmapped territory. So why worry? The regular season should still be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really matter any more. Its only function is as preparation for the postseason. Everything has to be viewed through that lens. DeRozan is young and tough, but he’s already got a lot of hard miles on him. He’s led the team in minutes played – and by huge margins – for the past four seasons. He spends the off-season working out like he’s got exercise-based OCD. The salutary results have shown in his game, but there’s been no pause built in for rest. This coming month might be the most sedentary in DeRozan’s life since infancy.
Lou Williams was available for practically nothing last summer, when the Raptors acquired him and Lucas Noguiera for the price of John Salmons. After tearing his ACL in 2013, a slow recovery had made Williams expendable. He had never developed into anything beyond a scorer, so he had a hard time impacting the game without his typical burst. He has been reborn in Toronto, where he has a chance to be 6th man of the year, if they win enough games. Amir Johnson is the longest-tenured member of the Raptors, one of the leaders of the team with the best record in the East. He wound up in Toronto after spending four years as an understudy to Ben and Rasheed Wallace in Detroit, a situation similar to what happened to Jermaine O’Neal in Portland. Johnson isn’t on that level, but he’s just now coming into his own, a 27-year old two-way big man who should be able to start well into the foreseeable future.
DeMarcus Cousins missed two games with a virus but is expected back for Tuesday night. . . . Mississauga’s rookie Nik Stauskas has had an up and down season for the Kings, coming into the game off a Sunday outing where he missed all four shots (including three 3-pointers) he attempted. . . . Ex-Raptor Rudy Gay is averaging just over 20 points per game and is shooting 46 per cent from the field. . . . Ex-Raptor Reggie Evans had 20 rebounds and 17 points in Sacramento’s loss to Memphis on Sunday.
Even without injured All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Toronto has plenty of guards to throw at the Kings. Starters Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez and reserve Lou Williams could present problems.
Sacramento had taken four straight and six of seven from Toronto before suffering a 99-87 road loss March 7. Cousins is averaging 26.3 points and 12.5 boards in the last four meetings. The Raptors own a 2-15 record in Sacramento and have dropped their last four visits while allowing 110.0 points per game, but they’re averaging an NBA-best 113.0 on the road. Rudy Gay is averaging 22.3 points at home while shooting 50.0 percent, up from his road mark of 42.2. He totaled 39 points and shot 40.0 percent (12 of 30) in last season’s two-game series against the Raptors after they traded him to Sacramento on Dec. 9.
The Kings (9-8) are on the verge of a season-worst fourth consecutive loss after falling 97-85 to Memphis on Sunday. Reggie Evans had 17 points and 20 rebounds as Sacramento was held to under 90 points for the second time in three games. Cousins, who’s missed the last two with an illness, is listed as questionable for Tuesday. He was averaging 27.3 points on 54.9 percent shooting and 15.7 rebounds over a three-game stretch before getting sick. “He’s feeling better,” coach Mike Malone said of Cousins, averaging what would be career bests of 23.5 points and 12.6 rebounds. “He’s still running a couple more tests to see where he is at. Optimistically, he’ll be back with us (Tuesday) with a chance to play (Tuesday) night.”
Ben McLemore made 7-of-13 shots to finish Sunday’s game second on the team with 18 points. He added one three-pointer, two rebounds, two assists and one steal in a team-high 41 minutes of action. No. 23 has now scored in double-figures in 11 of the last 13 games, including the last six straight.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Congrats to coach Casey, who guided his team to a 13-4 start to the season.
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been named as the Eastern Conference coach of the month for November, as elucidated by Raptors Media Relations on Monday.
@Raptors head coach Dwane Casey named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November after guiding team to a 13-4 start.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) December 1, 2014
Casey is the first @Raptors coach to win the award twice. He won for Dec. '13. Lenny Wilkens won for Apr. '02 and Sam Mitchell for Jan. '07
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) December 1, 2014
As noted above, the distinction puts Casey into rarefied territory as far as Toronto Raptors head coaches go. Casey also picked up a coach of the month award last season. Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger picked up the award in the Western Conference.
Given that the Raptors sit somewhat unexpectedly atop the East, the honor is a fitting one for Casey and his assistants. We gripe about his rotations quite a bit on these here parts, but guiding the team to so many early-season wins is no simple task. He maintained the team’s gritty identity from last season, and found ways to introduce new wrinkles in Lou Williams and James Johnson to great effect.
The task at hand will not be to manage the squad in the absence of DeMar DeRozan, who seems likely to miss a month after suffering a groin tear. The Raptors have dropped their last two contests, and Casey has his hands full in trying to keep the team afloat without its leading scorer.
Congratulations, once again, to coach Casey and his staff!
As the subject states, what do we do? Perhaps long term if DeMar’s injury is more serious then originally suspected. Add your two cents.
I was going to write about the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors today. I should probably write about the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors today. Unfortunately, the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors played like hot garbage on Sunday, and I no longer really feel like devoting a couple of hours to them.
Instead, let’s talk about a much, much worse team: the 2004-05 Toronto Raptors. It is the franchise’s 20th season, after all, and I’m personally of the mind we haven’t done enough ridiculous looking back at the hilarious and until-now moribund history of this franchise.
The 04-05 season is best known in Raptors lore because it’s the year Vince Carter forced a trade to the New Jersey Nets, returning a package of players that had about as much impact on the franchise as me or you have had. It was an ugly year, but it was a very Raptors year – Chris Bosh was a sophomore improving by the game, Jalen Rose was as entertaining as he always was, Donyell Marshall was bombing away from long range, Skip to My Lou was an actual NBA player, and the Raptors’ had two players on the all-time best name squad in Pape Sow and Milt Palacio. Seriously, how good a handle is Milt Palacio?
The team was garbage, finishing 33-49 and 25-33 following the Carter trade. A quick 9-6 post-trade stretch was the only brief glimmer of hope all season, but hey, we were going to have two draft picks!
One of said draft picks would be Joey Graham, chosen No. 16 using one of the picks acquired in the Carter deal. Graham would spend four seasons looking the part of an NBA wing when standing still but never quite looking right after ball in.
The other pick in that draft, though, the Raptors’ own No. 7 overall selection, still has a tangential impact on the franchise to this day (depending on how you value Euro prospects). That pick was Charlie Villanueva, a smooth-headed and smooth-shooting 6-foot-11 stretch forward out of U-Conn. He’d play just one year for the Raptors, but he touched the franchise far beyond just the memories of his 48-point outburst in a March, 2006 loss against Milwaukee. You see, Villanueva would ultimately be dealt ahead of his sophomore season, setting off quite the chain of events over the next half-decade.
Bryan Colangelo took over as general manager of the team in early 2006, and so the 2006 offseason saw him look to reshape the team in his image. That meant he needed point guard help, because he clearly didn’t believe Mike James’ Amityville Scorer shtick from 2005-06 was sustainable. And so Colangelo shipped Villanueva and cash to the Milwaukee Bucks for T.J. Ford.
It wasn’t a bad deal, though it was a risky one given Ford’s injury history. Still, he was a 23-year-old point guard coming off of a solid offensive season, and he could create the kind of chaos off the bounce that would conceivably open up shots for teammates.
Of course, there was still the matter of holdover Jose Calderon, who took major steps forward in the two years he shared with Ford, ultimately leading to the poorly-named and even more poorly-argued “Forderon” debates. Calderon won out, as became his calling card until Kyle Lowry vanquished him, and so Ford, too, was on the move. Shortly after the 2008 draft, the Raptors packaged Ford with Maceo Baston, Rasho Nesterovic, and the draft rights to No. 17 pick Roy Hibbert, sending them to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal and the draft rights to second round pick Nathan Jawai (put a pin in Jawai, he re-enters this story later).
Once again, you can understand Colangelo’s logic. Ford had lost his job, Nesterovic in need of an upgrade, and Hibbert wasn’t expected to be anything like the Hibbert he is today, at least not for some time. O’Neal, meanwhile, appeared to be somewhat of a buy-low following an injury plagued season that saw him post his worst numbers since 2000-01. Unfortunately, that buy-low was actually just the start of O’Neal’s decline from an All-Star into a serviceable reserve big, something useful but quite overpriced at $21.4 million.
He lasted 41 games before the once again struggling Raptors decided he was superfluous with Bosh and Andrea Bargnani forming a formidable offensive tag team. And so Colangelo reached out for a versatile staple from his Phoenix days, flipping O’Neal with Jamario Moon, a second round pick that would become Da’Sean Butler, and a first round pick for Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks and cash.
Here’s where things get interesting, and we require two quick diversions.
1) Banks would eventually be traded with Jarrett Jack and David Andersen for Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic. Bayless would eventually leave as a free agent, while Stojakovic was waived after just two appearances, leaving as the Raptors’ all-time leader in PER. He scored 20 points in 22 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting and 4-of-6 from long range, surely selling plenty of jerseys in Toronto’s
Croatian Serbian community (that mistake isn’t going to upset anybody, nope).
2) Dealing that pick was very nearly a huge blow to the Raptors, and the Marion-O’Neal swap actually made The Big Three era a possibility. While O’Neal had another year left on his contract, he expired in the summer of 2010, keeping the books clean for Miami. Far more importantly, the pick Toronto sent in that deal allowed the Heat to eventually land Chris Bosh in a sign-and-trade – while Colangelo is derided for getting nothing for Bosh, the Raptors received a pair of first round picks to help facilitate his move. One would get flipped to the Chicago Bulls for James Johnson (round one), eventually getting dealt to Minnesota and then back to Miami, where it would become Norris Cole. The other was that same pick the Raptors had sent out for Marion, and would become Jonas Valanciunas.
So, if you follow the bouncing balls here, the Raptors had Marion on an expiring deal and had very nearly lost Valanciunas and Hibbert in the chain of events that got them there. Depending on whether you think Bosh could have left without a sign-and-trade agreement, flipping Villanueva for Ford for O’Neal for Marion paved the way for Bosh to leave (the mismanagement probably didn’t help either). But hey, they got the pick back.
Anyway, back to the chain. Remember Jawai from earlier? Aussie Shaq, as it were? Well he factored back in one year after being acquired, getting paired with a sign-and-traded Marion, Kris Humphries, cash, and a 2016 second round pick. It was a four-team trade, so the machinations are messy, but the Raptors turned Marion’s Bird rights, Jawai, Humphries, cash and a second into Devean George (later flipped for Marco Belinelli, who was later flipped for Julian Wright), Antoine Wright and … Hedo Turkoglu.
Yes, that failed, five-year, $50-million deal the Raptors gave Turkoglu was part of a giant, four-team, multiple-sign-and-trade deal. And again, Colangelo’s logic is clear – with Marion out, the team needed a versatile point forward, and Turkoglu was coming off a season in which he averaged 16.8-45.3-4.9 for a team that went to the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, Turkoglu immediately turned into a Pizza Pizza-pushing, night club-visiting, shot-missing waste of cap space, averaging 11.3-4.6-4.1 for a 40-42 team and seeing his efficiency drop across the board. Once again, Colangelo was willing to cut bait, flipping Turkoglu to Phoenix after just one season and turning him into Leandro Barbosa, Dwayne Jones, and some additional financial flexibility.
Barbosa wasn’t anything special in his year-plus with the Raptors, but he was a nice bench spark for a pair of awful teams. Late in 2011-12, the out-of-it Raptors flipped him for a second round pick that they would use to select Tomislav Zubcic. That’s this guy:
And that’s it. Villanueva became Ford, who with Hibbert became O’Neal, who with Valanciunas became Marion, who became Turkoglu, who became Barbosa, who became Zubcic. Quite the impact that Charlie V has had. It’s also quite the reminder that Colangelo’s tenure was never, ever boring, and that there was never too long a wait once the struggle began before things got shaken up. The struggle, though, was always quite real.
Zubcic, by the way, is a 6-foot-11 Croatian playing for Cedevita Zagreb in the Croatian League who retweets a lot of stuff about his team and looks like he’s still 18. Considering he only averages 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds and is now 24 years old, I think we’ve seen the last of the Villanueva returns.
And that, folks, is how you avoid writing about a team after a terrible outing.
(Vintage Kobe) – (defense) – (DeMar DeRozan) = (frustrating loss)
Look, the time is currently 1:30 a.m., I am covering for a friend on this post, I just got home from work and the Raptors just lost to this pathetic iteration of the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime. As you can imagine, I’m not exactly in the best mood. Unpleasantness aside, maintaining perspective is always important, a coherent recap even more so, but a night like this does make a homie want to kick and scream. Let’s appease both sides with a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act.
Mr. Hyde: “They’re the Lakers!”
Forget levity. Forget the poor officiating. Forget that Kobe managed to turn in his best performance in almost two years. Let’s just focus on this: the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors lost to the Western Conference worst Los Angeles Lakers. That is inexcusable.
Let’s start with the Raptors’ savior and killer tonight: Kyle Lowry. Look, you took the reins when nobody else would, and I applaud you for that. If every Raptor had the heart you have, the Raptors would not have lost this game. But aggressiveness is a tricky balance, and you were on the wrong end of it. Plain and simple. Yeah, DeRozan’s out and the team is slumping, but you cannot take 28 shots as the point guard and only come away with 29 points. That’s not your game. You morphed into a ball-hog, and you had exactly one trick: drive recklessly into the lane. Here’s the thing — you’re six-feet-nothing. It’s not exactly hard to stop that type of play. That’s why Jordan Hill blocked your ass repeatedly in the fourth and in overtime. Even with everyone struggling, you’re still the straw that stirs the drink. You need to do that. Otherwise, the Raptors’ offense turns into a settled cup of bubble tea, with nothing but tapioca beads lodged in the straw. I could really go for bubble tea right now.
And Terrence, what on Earth were you doing with Kobe tonight? Yeah, he’s a tough cover. I get that. Dude has five rings and the fourth-most points of all time. I get that. But he’s a full 13 years older than you, and he had you looking like Jalen Rose’s ancient bag of bones on that fateful night in 2006. At least try to fight through screens. At least hit him back with a drive of your own. Kobe got everything he wanted against you tonight. Dude is 156% of your age, Terrence.
Oh, and don’t think you’ve escaped this #hottakery, Patrick Patterson. What happened to your three? All you got was open looks from deep, and you couldn’t sink a single one. What was that?
As for the team defense, don’t even get me started. Sure, the Lakers made a tonne of tough shots in the first, but what happened in the second? Where did the effort go? Every screen demolished the wings. There is no excuse to take an opponent on the road lightly, especially in the second quarter. No closeouts, dying on screens, no rotations, poor boxouts. Shit was pathetic.
Finally, what is up with your rotations, Dwane? You’re shorthanded in a big way without DeRozan, I know. But James Johnson didn’t get a crack at guarding Kobe in the fourth until there was three minutes left, after Kobe had took a giant shit all over Ross’s sorry carcass? Really? Ross was needed for floor spacing, but with your point guard going all “I’m the captain, now”, was there really a need? That was silly.
One last thing: you lost to the 2014-15 Los Angeles Lakers. Seriously. This Lakers team beat you. Robert Sacre beat you. Robert Sacre scored twice in one quarter. Robert Sacre. WoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOOO. Robert Sacre.
Dr. Jekyll: Let’s not overreact
Deep breath everyone. Come on now, I’m a fictitious doctor that occasionally morphs uncontrollably into a monster that murders dudes. I know what’s best for you.
Look, the Raptors should have won. Even without DeRozan, the Raptors were the better team on paper. But games aren’t played on paper, because that would be very slippery, and you would need a lot of paper.
Case in point: Kobe doesn’t have 31-11-12 games on paper. Swaggy don’t drop 20 on 11 shots on paper. Robert Sacre isn’t an NBA-calibre player on paper. Patrick Patterson’s three-point shot doesn’t disappear randomly on paper. Kyle Lowry doesn’t become a ball-hog on paper.
It’s a bad beat, but let’s put everything in perspective. The Lakers’ shot lights out all night, and it didn’t help that the refs awarded every single call (save for Jonas’s verticality) to Kobe. Shit like this happens. It could have happened in the Oklahoma City game. Same with the Utah Jazz game, or the second Orlando Magic game. It was mere inches from happening in the Celtics game. The Raptors are supposed to beat up on lower teams, but it’s a tough task to win them all.
Look, the Raptors’ offense was fine in the first half. Greivis Vasquez and Lowry picked up right where they left off last season, demonstrating the same chemistry that almost beat the Nets in the playoffs last year. The shots didn’t fall so the stats won’t bear it out, but if you watched the first quarter, you’d know: there’s hope of the offense staying afloat without DeRozan for (possibly) the next month.
And don’t forget: this was their first game sans DeRozan. They were rocking a sans DeMar (shouts to the Starters). When you rid the team of its leading scorer, you’re taking away one of the team’s pillars. There’s a great scene in The Wire, where two detectives ramble incoherently about how shit rolls downhill, and that applies here: shit does roll downhill. Taking out DeRozan freed the Lakers to put their only decent perimeter defender (Wes Johnson) onto Lowry, which really hurt his ability to score. It also took away a decent defender that could have logged some time checking Kobe. And of course, DeRozan is the team’s best attacker by far. With the Lakers rocking a sans rim-protector all game long, DeRozan probably would have put Hill, Boozer, Sacre — anyone — into foul trouble. DeRozan also gives the team another set of options, and his presence means Lowry doesn’t need to take every single shot. Shit rolls downhill, don’t forget that.
So just take a deep breath, watch this video, and lighten up. There’s still 65 more games to go.
- I’ll say it again: the two-PG lineup worked. Shots didn’t fall, but they played well. It allows the Raptors’ starting unit to keep running the same types of action. It also gives the Raptors a second ball-handler on the floor, which they cannot go without, unless you like all of the action flowing through Lowry
- Speaking of Lowry, he only passed on 59 percent of his touches and he took 18 contested field goals (seven went in). That is inexcusable. He means well, and I’m sure he’ll bounce back.
- Amir spoke after the game and apparently the dude was bleeding through his socks after injuring his foot in the third. For the record, he did not have a good game before that, but there is no doubting that man’s heart.
- The interior attack through their bigs worked. The Raptors turned away form that in the second half and in overtime because the guards — namely Lowry, Williams and Vasquez — monopolized possessions. That can’t happen, especially against terrible interior defenders like the Lakers’ frontline.
- Are you shitting bricks going up against DeMarcus Cousins and the suddenly decent Sacramento Kings on the road? Because I am. I’m pegging that one as a loss. Playing the following night in Utah also worries me tremendously. This was the game to win and they blew it. We could have a four-game losing streak on our hands.
- At the end of the day, it was a bad loss. Keep a level head and learn from the mistakes. It’s not going to be easy without DeRozan, but the season is long. They can get through this.
Photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The shame of it is that the Lakers roster is of such dubious quality that if the Raptors had come out with any kind of first half fire, that was a game they could have had, with or without their top scorer and a guy who facilitates a fair amount of what they do offensively. But they waltzed through lot of the first half, and a huge chunk of the second quarter in particular, and it bit ‘em in the bum, hard. It’s pretty much the main point Dwane was making after the game. “We got to come out no matter who is on the floor and make sure we compete, hit people, keep people off the boards and out of the paint the way we did in the second half,” he said. But here’s the big thing. It’s test time for these guys, physically and mentally.
The Lakers had held the Raptors in check offensively for the first half, but they allowed yet another opponent to score over 100 points that almost led to another late-game disaster. Entering the second half, Los Angeles held a nine-point advantage that quickly disappeared with Toronto starting the the third quarter on an 8-0 run. The Raptors scored 31 points on 50 percent shooting (9-of-18), which included making 1o-of-12 free throw attempts in the quarter. Los Angeles also for the second consecutive game, allowed another bench player to go off offensively as Louis Williams had 1o of his 20 points on the night in the third quarter. However, they were able to tighten up in overtime forcing the Raptors to shoot just 31.3 percent (5-of-16). Hill made two crucial blocks in the period that proved to be monumental to the outcome. The first came on a block off Kyle Lowry‘s layup with the game tied at 110, which resulted in a 3-pointer by Johnson that gave Los Angeles a 113-110 advantage.
“That’s the motivation here, to bring the fan closer to the team, and [do] it on all the platforms that Bell has,” said Nicolas Poitras, Bell’s vice-president of marketing communications. BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail. Bell is “still struggling” to build awareness of its mobile TV apps, said executive vice-president Dominic Vivolo at a recent event hosted by CTAM Canada. But it will take more than awareness for the apps to catch on: 71 per cent of Canadians know mobile TV products are available, but only 25 per cent have used one, according to survey data from Charlton Strategic Research.
Without DeRozan, it seemed like an unsure night overall for Toronto, as Dwane Casey experimented with lineups quite a bit. Several different five-man combinations played at different times as he tried to balance defence and offence. The Raptors effort showed that disconnect, many times trying to spark their offence with a long three, a shot they went just 9-for-34 on overall. It was ugly basketball for the most part, proof of a team that will need to find their way without their All-Star. To their credit, the Lakers were able to ride a hot start all the way through. Los Angeles shot 57 per cent from the field in the first half as Kobe distributed effectively. Wayne Ellington provided an unexpected ten points off the bench, but most of the buckets from Bryant’s generosity went to Hill and Boozer down low. Kobe then was able to take over late shooting the ball, which may be a recipe for success if the now 4-13 Lakers are to improve on their lowly start.
“We’ve got to make sure that it’s something that fits and will last,” the coach said. “Who’s to say tonight’s game and Tuesday night’s game (in Sacramento) will be that, but we’ve got to find a combination that will last for the duration that DeMar is going to be out.” And once he finds that combination, that’s the way it’s going to stay. “When we decide on it, we want it to be consistent,” he said. “We don’t want to be changing lineups every game or every other game. Once we hit it, we’ll know. We’ll know when that time and that group and that combination and that rhythm hits.”
Kobe was the man of the match. While his shooting numbers were again under the 50% mark, he hit big shots down the stretch to put the Lakers in a position to win. Bigger than those buckets, though, was the way he whipped the ball around the court for assists. Early in the game he set up his teammates wonderfully and then late in OT he had another big assist to Young for a three pointer. His triple double tells the story of his night — a night that also saw him become the lone member of the 30K career points and 6K career assists club.
The Lakers – who have been outscored in the third quarter almost every game this season – gave the Raptors life in the third. The Raptors scored the first eight points of the quarter, and while the Lakers went on a 7-0 run, Toronto went on a 12-2 run to take a three-point lead. The Raptors outscored the Lakers 31-23 in the third, and Lou Williams had ten of his 19 points in that quarter. Most notably, he replaced his end-of-quarter three-bomb with a baseline drive and dunk.
“Offensively I thought we were a little out of rhythm but that’s no excuse,” he said of the first taste of life without his leading scorer who suffered a severe groin strain on Friday and is out at least a month. “This is who we are, this is who we are going to be. We got to get it together,” Casey said. “Everybody is happy during good times but we’ve lost a couple of games and now we will see what we are made of. We have to make a muscle, stay together and stay positive. Two games don’t make a season. We’ve had it pretty good here for a while but now we have to bounce back, regroup and reload.”
Seven players scored in double figures for the Lakers, including all five starters. Nick Young added 20 off the bench, Carlos Boozer scored 18 and Jordan Hill had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Kyle Lowry had 29 points, nine assists and six rebounds for Toronto before fouling out with 2.8 seconds left in overtime. Terrence Ross had 20 points and Lou Williams added 19 off the bench for the Raptors, whose 13-3 record coming in represented the best start in franchise history. Toronto played without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who tore a tendon in his left groin during Friday’s 106-102 loss to Dallas and is out indefinitely. Greivis Vasquez made his first start of the season at shooting guard and scored 19 points in 33 minutes.
Offence: B+ The Raptors scored 122 points. That’s not bad. In fact, it could have been so much worse considering Terrence Ross was the only player who could hit an outside shot all night. Toronto shot 1-11 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished the game scoring at a 26.5 per cent clip from deep. They managed to keep the game close by doing plenty of damage inside. The Raptors outscored the Lakers 58-34 in the paint. It was no doubt the path of least Lakers resistance. Bryant wasn’t kidding when he called out his squad’s “lazy” defense.
Having DeRozan sidelined will also help Jonas Valanciunas see a bump from the 7.3 field goal attempts per game he has been averaging so far. Valanciunas sees the fewest touches of any Toronto starter and a big part of his development is getting more field goal attempts. Casey likes having Williams come off the bench, so, while Williams may seem a bump in his minutes, it is likely that James Johnson will get the chance to start while DeRozan is sidelined. It was Johnson who was heralded earlier this month by fans as a better option in the starting five than Terrence Ross. If James starts, Toronto will have two defenders in Ross and Johnson to harass teams and help make things even more intimidating for opponents on the defensive end.
The Toronto Raptors have the city of Toronto on their side and now, it is time to put in the work in and secure a sport in the playoffs. With Lebron James back in Cleveland and Derrick Rose in good health, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls are the favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference finals. However, the Raptors are poised to make the leap with a deep bench and the unproven first draft pick, Bruno “Brazilian Kevin Durant” Caboclo. The Raptors are young, hungry, tenacious and are ready to take the step forward to become a powerhouse in the East.
|Amir Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -4
Boozer out played him in the first half, and he was invisible in the 2nd. He did injure his ankle and left the game, but that came a bit late to excuse most of the egg he laid. Was hoping for a continuation of the Mavs game, but didn’t even get close.
|Terrence Ross, SF 38 MIN | 8-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | -3
Could have had 30 tonight if he just put it on the floor and went to the rack. Ross is too quick, and his handles too tight for the Lakers perimeter defenders to have done anything about it. Had a hard time with Kobe, but was up on him for the most part (Kobe just felt it tonight). Huge clutch threes in crunch time.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 33 MIN | 4-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -7
Jordan Hill got everything he wanted. Helped Amir lay that egg tonight. That block on Kobe at the end of the regulation saved the game and seemed to energize him in overtime for some time, but wasn’t enough.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 41 MIN | 10-28 FG | 8-12 FT | 6 REB | 9 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 29 PTS | -7
Felt like he could have done more to help out, but came on in waves. Fortunately, he was focused in the clutch on both ends of the floor. That charge at the end of regulation was the right call, but tough to take considering how hard he worked. Missed a few layups he normally makes…and I’m nitpicking. He played hard, and just didn’t have enough.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 34 MIN | 8-16 FG | 2-4 FT | 0 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 19 PTS | -7
Consistently looked to attack off the dribble, but took two-too many jumpers for my taste. Didn’t do enough to get the rest of the involved, but you could make the case that his offense was crucial early in the game.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +2
Was key with 2Pat in giving the Lakers front court something to adjust to off the bench. He just doesn’t do enough offensively to warrant extended minutes in games like this.
|James Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -7
Elite defense on Kobe throughout the game. None more important than when he pushed Kobe into the waiting JV for the block. Eventually fouled out on a BS call, but it would have been much worse without him.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 34 MIN | 3-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -2
I don’t have much to say about 2Pat, but he was up on the glass, and made key buckets. Good game, not great, but like JJ, things would have been much worse without him.
|Chuck Hayes, C 5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -6
He could have been used more than 5 minutes tonight; never thought I’d say that.
|Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 5-17 FG | 6-7 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 19 PTS | +6
When he was attacking off the dribble, really good things happened (dunk off the hop in the 3rd the highlight), but forced too many contested jumpers from the perimeter. That fourth quarter, though.
|Landry Fields, SG 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0
Can’t get playing time with DeMar out; probably out of the league next season.
Good job of refocusing the team after the half and in the 3rd when the Lakers went on that 7-2 run. Had the right guys out on the floor, but it’s not his fault the team was missing shots they should have been hitting, or watching Kobe orchestrate things. The 33 three-pointers they took and the 24 they missed he could have did something about.
Three Things We Saw
- Shot far too many threes when the Lakers were more than willing to give up any lane they could. This is what cost the Raptors the game: 24 missed threes. Ridiculous.
- Here’s an idea, how about when Kobe gets the ball, you don’t do anything. Let him orchestrate shit like it’s 2010. Please explain how Kobe goes into the half with 10 assists with this Laker team around him? He finished with a triple-double (31pts 11reb 12ast), but it could have been worse.
- Kobe got a lot of bullshit calls. Not unexpected, but still really annoying to watch call after call after call after call after call go his way. To be fair, he puts himself in the position to get the benefit of the doubt, and had a phenomenal game, but man, the calls are automatic.
Didn’t matter in the end, but still.
This is pretty horrible. The Raptors should have had a chance to win the game – clearly the ref sees Lowry with time still on the clock.
Update: We didn’t have timeouts.
Team is allowed 3 TOs in the fourth quarter. We took them at 7:52, 4:49, and 1:24.
Raptors/Lakers tight entering the fourth.Direct Link
The Mavs game was a very expensive one on two counts: 1) they lost a winnable game against a good team that would have shut a lot of people up about how good this team is 2) they lost DeMar for up to an indefinite amount of time (or 4-6 weeks, depending on who’s reporting you trust more). It will be weird to watch the Raptors without DeMar since he’s become such a mainstay for us over the last five years. Missing only 11 games over that stretch tells you the kind of shape he’s in, and how well he treats his body, which should also come as no surprise given his famous work ethic.
Listen, we’re not so deluded a fan base that we think the Raptors are the best team in the league, but not giving them credit for handling business early in the season is a slight, but what can you expect when the rest of the league has watched less Raptors games over the last few years as they’ve already won this season.
The Lakers are….a mess. It’s barely a team; more an assembly of players who’s collective salaries add up to the minimum amount of money the Lakers organization can legally spend until they figure out how to turn this around and win another for Kobe in his twilight. The fact that they’ve won 3 games is stunning given two of those came against The Hawks and Rockets (Disclaimer: Howard was injured, but still should have lost to them).
What else about the Lakers…?? They have three of my least favourite players in the league in (order) Boozer, Kobe, and Young. Speaking of Young, he really isn’t a good basketball player. At least Boozer can do two things well (score and rebound); Young is more inefficient than Kobe and puts up shots like he thinks he’s Melo.
I’m really not looking forward to the brick-fest the Lakers are going to assault us with, but to dig into things a bit, I spoke with Rey Moralde, who blogs everywhere about everything to get a sense of Kobe, Ed Davis, and the lackluster-Lakers.
Sam Holako: Kobe recently came out and said that owners forcing star-players to take a pay cut is a huge coup for them. Even if Kobe took less, how much better off would the Lakers have been over the next two seasons?
Rey Moralde: Maybe a little better? I don’t even know why I was a little bit shocked that Kobe Bryant didn’t take much of a paycut; I assumed he would be like Tim Duncan and take a 2-year, $20 million deal or something. But here’s the thing: the big free agents (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony had the first move, really) still wouldn’t have gone to the Lakers knowing what we know now. It still looked like a dire situation and stars would have to take less money to go to the Lakers. They probably would’ve gotten some of the better role players, though. Maybe Trevor Ariza would’ve returned to the Lakers? Maybe even Paul Pierce would’ve went there? It would maybe have some sort of domino effect where older player would’ve gone to get one last run with Kobe. But they were better off rebuilding, regardless. Lakers losing Julius Randle for the year was something we definitely didn’t see coming.
Sam: Would Ariza and Pierce been enough to keep Gasol? Would those three plus Kobe and Lin been enough to win a round in the West? The contract was shocking at the time, but given what we know, it doesn’t seem like him taking 10m per would have done much to improve things over the next couple years. In fact, feels like this is the rebuild (watching Kobe put up 24 a night because he HAS to is rough) and the discount will come when you can’t score 26 a night on 24 shots.
Rey-Rey: Probably not. Gasol has been mistreated by management/coaching staff (fans, too!) that he needed to go. Lakers are also in their third coach in four years so some players might have been turned off by that instability. Would someone like Pierce or Ariza move the needle? Maybe just a bit but title contention is too far away. I’m thinking that you and the Lakers are on the same page that it didn’t matter what money Kobe got. I think it did but ultimately, no one bit for the max spot, anyway.
So rebuilding is what the Lakers should do (are doing?). But Kobe’s situation isn’t making it easier for the team. He wants a crack at a 6th title.
Sam: Is high usage, low efficiency Kobe a realistic 2nd fiddle on a championship team? I mean, it’s understandable why he’s doing what he’s doing this season, but does he have anything left to make # 6 a reality?
Rey-Rey: As a second fiddle, sure… if HE accepted that role. Kobe is always going to think of himself as the #1 guy (one of the reasons why Dwight bolted the Lakers). If you put Kobe in, say, Chicago as a #2 guy, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be the favorites. He’s almost like the perfect final piece for a contending team SHOULD he accept that. But we’re not in a perfect world plus Kobe is very, very loyal to the Lakers (at least, the last seven years).
However, as far as 2006 Kobe goes? That’s long gone. He can pad the stats but he can no longer singlehandedly carry a team to 45 wins.
Sam: How is Nick Young still alive?
Rey-Rey: The funny thing is that while people think that Kobe would kill guys that are shoot-first like him, he actually LOVES those type of players. It’s because he likes it when guys have enough courage to go against him if it makes sense. In the last few years, Kobe’s had aggressive teammates like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Derek Fisher. Yeah, Kobe might look mad on the court when it happens but he actually really appreciates those guys that have the balls to shoot those shots. That’s why he keeps telling Jeremy Lin to be aggressive. So he has no problem with Nick Young.
Sam: Kobe still doesn’t know who he is does he?
Rey-Rey: For a while, he thought he was Michael Jordan. Then he said he emulated his game after Dr. J, which is a pile. Now he’s talking like Phil Jackson. You figure it out.
Sam: With respect to rebuilding: Randle IS the youth movement…poor bastard; lots of cheap short term deals; uhmmm….top-5 protected pick…is the plan really to somehow get Love this offseason, then try and entice Westbrook? What other stars, true-Laker-level-stars, are left to be had? I’m sure it will get figured out, cause it always does, but I just don’t see it right now.
Rey-Rey: Well, we’ll have the Love rumors for a while but I’m not confident the Lakers will get him; the Cavs will figure out in due time. But if it does happen, I will see that domino effect of excellent role players going to L.A. We’ll figure it out as the days go by. Who knew LeBron was returning to Cleveland? Maybe Durant decides (I doubt it) he wants to try the Lakers in 2016.
Sam: That’s quite the luxury of knowing everything will just work out…this is why people hate the Lakers… How has Byron Scott been working out so far?
Rey-Rey: Horrible unless they’re tanking secretly. And I don’t think they’re doing that; I know Kobe definitely doesn’t want to. But Byron’s playing him too many minutes and his rotations are as bad (or even worse) than Mike D’Antoni. Most of all, I don’t even know what their identity is.
It’s not just Byron’s fault, really, but the roster is so mismatched. A lot of castoffs, a lot of veterans that are better served in better teams, and some young guys, too. And Byron’s not making the most of it. It’s been like this with Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. This season is definitely a watch but if you’re asking about performance, they can stand to do a little better. Play Ed Davis more. Maybe Wesley Johnson is better off the bench. Use Jordan Clarkson more. But what do I know?
Sam: That was my next question; lots of people around here love Ed Davis and still think he would be solid on this team. what has been your assessment of him?
Rey-Rey: I think Ed Davis really needs more playing time but he’s been pretty much the same guy his entire career. That’s what happens when you don’t get on the court much. I thought he was a low-risk, high-reward guy to begin with and he’s paying dividends so far. He really should be starting over Carlos Boozer, who is just all midrange and yells at this point in his career.
Sam: Finish this sentence: “The Lakers lose by ___ points, but ___.”
Rey: The Lakers lose by 12 points but… who am I kidding? This team is terrible. 12 might be generous.
Once you get past Kobe’s ability to drop anywhere from 20-50 points on you, you realize that you can get that back, in spades, PLUS you really want that to happen since it implies bad mid-range jumper after bad mid-range jumper going up at an epic rate, meaning no ball movement, meaning no need to play helter-skelter help defense, meaning good things for the Raptors. Lin has played well, but I mean, so have most of the players in the league. He deserves to be here, but he’s not special; at least we’ll always have Linsanity (worth the read). DeRozan’s injury really hurts this team, especially his new found low-post game, but the depth is there to fill-in by committee. Lowry is shortlisted in MVP conversations (not going to happen, but the respect is the key aspect of this), and Lin doesn’t do enough to counter him. I don’t even know who else they have, so lets move on. Raptors with the edge.
Nick Young is the one-dimensional-poor-mans-Kobe. He can only score, but the cost is in efficiency. Yea, he’s not good, and even if he came free, I would prefer Landry Fields at $6.25m…probably…maybe.. Between Ross’ offense (he’s usually on for two than off for one…tonight it should be on) and JJ’s defense, they should be able to cover Young and Wesley Johnson (who I’m shocked is still in the league). Raptors with the edge.
Is Amir back? One game is no sample size, but he showed us a lot of heart against a better front court than the Lakers in the Mavs. Regardless, while the Lakers have a bit more depth up front with Boozer and Hill…depth is not the right word…they have a decent starting front court with no help on the bench. Hill could provide some challenges in the paint, he’s having a career season, but relative to Jonas, hes having an ok season. This is a perfect game for Jonas to drop a double-double WITHOUT a pump fake or hesitations of any sort. It’s there for him if he wants it. Raptors with the edge.
Raptors are 6.5 point favourites. This has all the potential of Bruno getting some run in the 4th quarter. The Lakers are just really bad, and even without DeMar, this should be a gimme for the road team. Raptors by 11.
This emerging narrative of how it’ll be “interesting” to see if the Raptors fare better without DeMar DeRozan needs to be put to rest. The curious amongst will be forgiven if they wonder if the Raptors offense will become more decentralized now that the player with the highest usage rate (28.6%) is on the sidelines. The blunt answer to that query is that it’ll have to be.
DeRozan is the initiator of enough possessions that his absence will force Dwane Casey into a more egalitarian offense predicated on motion rather than individual capability. Having DeRozan coming off double-screens for catch-and-shoots, setting up entire plays just so he can get a proper hand-off, and isolating him on the block has become an intrinsic part of the Raptors offense. Taking a player of his magnitude out will result in structural changes because this team, despite boasting an impressive record, isn’t yet as fluid offensively as last year’s, where parts were almost interchangeable.
The Raptors, right off the bat, will miss his free-throw shooting because he’s the only wing that can drive and draw fouls at the rim consistently. Lou Williams tends to draw his using trickery in mid-range areas, and Lowry prefers to goad his opponents into pump-fakes that draw body contact. It remains to be seen whether the post-up game Lowry’s shown of late is an interlude or something more permanent. It’s unrealistic for these two to fill in and sustain the Raptors’ second ranked FT rate (FT/FGA – .284) with DeRozan’s 8.3 FTs out of the lineup. These will have to come from elsewhere.
DeRozan’s shooting only 39% (25% from three) and has an absolute garbage TS of 49%. Yet, he’ll be missed in the offense because it’s the amount of attention he gets from the defense that the Raptors rely on. He is, to a large degree, responsible for the clean looks Terrence Ross gets, the lack of double teams Lowry faces, and the spacing on the floor which allows Amir Johnson to operate in pick ‘n roll play. The casualties of his absence go beyond individual point production and affect the greater Raptors offense.
The natural replacement for DeRozan in the starting lineup would be Lou Williams, who had just started to find a rhythm being very productive off the bench. Losing DeRozan becomes a double-whammy because not only do the Raptors lose a productive starter that was only beginning to get the calls from the officials, but it also impacts a bench unit that was quickly becoming an advantage against almost any opponent.
Williams is a good ball-handler that has used his strong handles to become a very effective face-up player, and someone you can bank on to pull the offense in short stretches. He may put pressure on whoever’s guarding him, but he does not put pressure on the overall defense because his scope is limited. He is a perfect bench player and, I reckon, should stay that way. If the Raptors still had a shooting guard available, even Jordan Hamilton, he would’ve been a more suitable replacement because it would minimize bench impact.
In regards to the starting lineup, an experiment of having James Johnson start the game would cause less overall disruption. It would improve the defense in the starting lineup, and allow Ross to guard shooting guards which he should have less trouble with. Johnson has shown enough maturity that he could be trusted in this role, one where he would be asked to replicate DeRozan’s focus on driving the ball, which Johnson has shown to do this year. Of course, it wouldn’t be at the same level as DeRozan but that’s just the price you pay.
Without DeRozan the Raptors also don’t have a steady pivot from which their offense can operate from, forcing them into a style of play that stretches the defense instead of overpowering it. Lacking great drivers of the ball who can finish at the rim or get fouled, this puts an even greater emphasis on shooting. The Raptors offense may be ranked second in the league, but they’re 16th in three-point shooting, and 19th in two-point shots greater than 16 feet. Essentially, the two types of shots that they’re likely to get more of in DeRozan’s absence is something they’ve been mediocre at.
One solution is that players like Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, and Greivis Vasquez start producing more consistently, and more specifically, start hitting the shots they are more likely to get: mid-range to long-distance jumpers. Patterson has struggled all season with that, Johnson’s injury set him back after he was coming on strong, and Vasquez is just regaining his offense after bouts of inconsistency.
Patterson and Vasquez need to get to where they were last year. Leave aside the hate that PER gets because it remains a pretty good indicator of offensive production, and it tells us that Patterson is down 2.4 points (16.2 to 13.8), and Vasquez is down 1.3 points (14.2 to 12.9) from last season. If these two players can form that oh-so-talked-about chemistry and start having good interplay again, it’ll prevent the Raptors offense from sputtering and go some ways in compensating for DeRozan’s points.
If you think spreading DeRozan’s offense across the subs sounds a stretch, I don’t blame you. The real elephant in the room is Jonas Valanciunas. His per-game scoring and PER36 numbers are up, yet he hasn’t influenced the game enough. He’s still plagued by that pump-fake which can only fool a defender who was too lazy to read the one-page scouting report, and the yield from his post-up opportunities is not high.
On one hand, he hasn’t been given enough of a consistent focus in the offense, on the other he hasn’t exactly appeared to deserve it either. Tim Chisholm spoke about the Raptors becoming too good, too soon for Valanciunas, and DeRozan’s injury puts an even greater spotlight on him, because he’s the starter that is most capable of going some ways in replacing DeRozan’s points and impact.
A usage rate of 19% is a career-high and adequate for him, so it’s more to do with how he’s used than how much he’s used. The narrative that he’s not a good finisher near the rim is unfounded. Approximately 51% of his shots are within 0-3 feet, which is up from 42% last season. He’s shooting 68% from that range which is up from 66% last season. Comparatively, Joakim Noah is at 48% and Roy Hibbert is at 64%. Valanciunas is also significantly better than both of them in the 3-10 feet range as well. I find that the bad games he has (like against Dallas) stick out more in memory than the solid performances he has, and it’s a question of tasking him with greater responsibility rather than waiting him to arrive at some undefined level before we call him ‘ready’.
The lack of pick ‘n roll plays where Valanciunas is involved is a little appalling, because that is his strength. Perhaps the Raptors haven’t excelled with him there because it’s never been drilled enough. After all, with players like Lowry and DeRozan in the form they’ve been, I’d almost forgive Casey for ignoring it. Instead, we’ve seen a lot of face-up play and the occasional post-up opportunity, which is all well and good, but it fails to leverage a key strength of Valanciunas, something he’s displayed since his very early days in Europe.
Maybe with more ball-handling in the lineup in the form of Lou Williams (assuming they go with him), will mean that Valanciunas will get more opportunities to roll rather than just run with his head down into rebounding position, knowing the ball’s going to be swung around.
Surprisingly enough to some, DeRozan’s defense has been above average. His play has been much more context aware in a help-conscious defense, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find instances where he’s lapsing in team coverages or in one-on-one situations, both of which were easy to spot last year. I don’t find this to be a terrible miss if James Johnson steps in, but in the case of Lou Williams, the Raptors will feel an impact because the latter’s defensive play (especially when paired with Vasquez) has been a little alarming.
In short, it requires under-performing players to step up, and I glossed over Patterson, Vasquez, Williams, Johnson, and Valanciunas, but perhaps the biggest culprit here is Terrence Ross. He’s making a stronger case for himself as a designated three-point shooter rather than a multi-faceted player, and the reason I didn’t dwell on him too much is that I find it unreasonable and not within Ross’s current skill set, confidence level, or approach to the game, that he come even close to filling in DeRozan’s production.
I realize that this post is posing more questions than providing answers, but that’s what Casey’s mind-set is right now. He’s asking himself how it’s possible to maintain starter-level production without sacrificing second-unit continuity,and just how he can compensate for DeRozan in clutch situations, which you could argue, is his strongest attribute.
It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned. The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night. Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14. Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.
Still, this will be a test of the chemistry and cohesion that general manager Masai Ujiri bet on this summer. Last season, the Raptors’ five starters missed just 13 games in total. Now, Casey will have to find multiple contingency plans to replace their all-star, while the Raptors will have to adapt to a new style of offence. This could mean additional offensive responsibilities for centre Jonas Valanciunas, both in the post and in the pick-and-roll, which might help the team in the long run. Also, we will get to check in on the progress of Ross, whose decision-making skills when he finds himself with the ball are inconsistent. At 13-3, the Raptors have fashioned themselves a cushion in the Eastern Conference standings. As the Raptors navigate the best way in which to deal with DeRozan’s injury, they will be thankful that they have it.
“James is going to have a tough task because he is learning the three (small forward) and the four (power forward) offensively,” Casey said. “He’s in a tough position, now we’re going to need that extra body with DeMar being out at the three.” Casey said he and his coaching staff would decide on a new stating lineup and rotation, “in the next day or so. We don’t know now, we’ll talk about that later.” Asked whether Williams, who recently won Eastern Conference player of the week honours, despite coming off of the bench, would step in as a starter or remain the sixth man, Casey’s wasn’t sure. “Lou’s done both and he’s very comfortable doing both (Williams has started 54 of his 570 career appearances). I’m, very comfortable with him at the one or the two. He’s a very versatile player, a very smart player, he could be a prime candidate for that (starting job).”
n Saturday, the Raptors officially designated DeRozan as out indefinitely, but Sam Amick of USA Today and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports are reporting that DeRozan will be sidelined for about four weeks.
For now it appears a collection of Greivis Vasquez, Terrence Ross, Lou Williams and James Johnson will attempt to make up the minutes now vacated by DeRozan’s absence. Hopefully he’s not out too long and can return to the court completely healthy sometime over the next few weeks.
The Toronto Raptors were one of the early surprises in the NBA, successfully building on the momentum generated during last year’s playoff run. The success of the team’s medical staff is a major reason for the team’s ascension up the Eastern Conference standings. Now the value of Scott McCullough and company will be put to the test with guard DeMar DeRozan suffering a significant lower leg injury. DeRozan was injured during Friday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He slipped while attempting to cut and was helped off the court. The injury was initially ruled a groin strain though additional tests performed Saturday revealed the All-Star guard tore the tendon of the adductor longus muscle in his left leg.
Having to replace his production, for however long he is out will be a challenge, though it’s not necessarily a fatal blow given their depth and balance on both ends of the floor. More than anything else, it will be an adjustment. The sixth-year guard was logging roughly 34 minutes a night to lead the team after ranking third in the NBA in playing time last year. He has missed just 11 games to this point in his career (the Raptors are 8-3 in those contests). “We’ve got to [continue to] play,” said Kyle Lowry, who will be relied upon even more without his backcourt running mate. “Next man up. It’s a team, not about one guy. If anybody goes down, the next man has to step up.”
The revelation that Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan is out with a torn tendon in his left leg won’t bring the Raptors to their knees, but they’ll be hard-pressed to maintain momentum without their most dangerous perimeter threat. DeRozan, fresh off his first All-Star campaign and his gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA Championships during the summer, was averaging 19.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. While the Raptors indicated that DeRozan is out indefinitely, a person with knowledge of his situation said DeRozan is hopeful that he can return in four weeks or less. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the team had not announced a timeline. DeRozan went down late in the third quarter of a Friday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks, when he slipped while making a drive toward the basket. When DeRozan was upright and unleashed by coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors had become one of the league’s best offensive teams by any measure. Their scoring rate (110.7 points per 100 possessions) is the second-best in the NBA behind only the Mavericks, having improved significantly from last season (105.8 points per 100 possessions, ninth in the NBA) in large part because of the addition of Lou Williams during the summer that was such a masterstroke by Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri.
Toronto’s depth has been a great mark of strength so far this season, and it will now be put to the test – something the team doesn’t seem to have an issue with. “We gotta play, it’s next man up,” Lowry told reporters after Friday’s tilt. “It’s a team. It’s not about one guy, it’s about every individual. So if anybody goes down, the next guy has gotta step up.” “It’s some big shoes to fill,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “But the next guy has got to be ready to step up and take up the slack.” “I think we’ve got one of the best – I say this in a humble way – benches in the league, so somebody else has to step up,” Vasquez said. “I don’t see why Lou can’t step in, or myself, or James [Johnson]. … I think we are guys that can step up and do the job.” Vasquez is right when he says he, Williams or James Johnson could all fill in as starters, but that brings up another interesting dilemma that Casey might have to wrestle with.
Obviously someone’s going to be tapped on the shoulder to fill in as the starter. The only other name on the depth chart at SG is Louis Williams, and while Sweet Lou is certainly capable, I’m not convinced I like the idea. Having two tiny guards starting is asking for trouble defensively, and Lou off the bench offers scoring and energy most of our opponents have had great difficulty coping with. James Johnson scares me as a starter. He still has delusions of grandeur; I shudder every time he puts the ball on the floor. Bruno Caboclo, starting? Not yet, though I can see him getting off the bench. Landry Fields? He’s probably capable of handling the role defensively, but I’m doubtful he can contribute much to our offense. It’s pick your poison time, Rapture Nation.
The Toronto Raptors have defied expectations and early-season predictions to be the best team in the Eastern Conference. Very few analysts picked them to have a 13-2 record after the first 15 games, and it’s fair to say that they’ve played some impressive basketball on their way to their 13 wins. A large part of their sudden rise has been Kyle Lowry. He signed an extension with the team during the offseason, after he was given the chance to survey and contemplate offers from other teams. Over the years, Lowry has developed a bit of a reputation as a renegade and a hot head, one who clashes strongly with authority figures.
“The way (Carter) was overcome by emotion and the way he shed a couple of tears, that’s how I felt when we traded him for Aaron (Williams), Eric (Williams) and Alonzo Mourning who never was deciding to make the trip … drafting Rafael Araujo didn’t help. We needed a couple a players that could contribute … it starts with the moves the teams make. We weren’t really adding to that team like I felt like we could. What did we trade Vince for? When that ends up happening, it’s hard to truly have success.”
Rose made it clear to the Toronto media that he felt former management was to blame for the uncomfortable break-up with Vince Carter: “As a player who has been traded before I know that when things get out to the public like where you mom is parking, that means somebody in the front office is clearly leaking information to try to make you look bad and make the transition easier when you move a great player like him.”
Future Hall-of-Fame guard Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game, but he’s taking 23.1 field goal attempts which is twice as many as any of his teammates and he’s shooting 38.8 percent from the field. However, the Lakers truly are a collection of parts thrown together at the last minute and they are just as likely to defer to Bryant as he is to try and dominant the offense. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers haven’t shown a lot of team chemistry, but if they find any, this squad would quickly become that much more dangerous.
Scott doesn’t see the Raptors as being too weakened. DeRozan is one of five players averaging at least 10 points for a club scoring an East-leading 107.6 points. “They’re still very athletic, very young,” Scott said. “They get after you pretty good. Terrence Ross is a good player, so it’ll probably put a little bit more on his plate and the same thing with Kyle Lowry and those guys.”
Scott doesn’t see the Raptors as being too weakened. DeRozan is one of five players averaging at least 10 points for a club scoring an East-leading 107.6 points. “They’re still very athletic, very young,” Scott said. “They get after you pretty good. Terrence Ross is a good player, so it’ll probably put a little bit more on his plate and the same thing with Kyle Lowry and those guys.” The coach was angry after Friday’s 120-119 home defeat to Minnesota. Los Angeles (3-13) yielded 39 third-quarter points, and is allowing league worsts of 29.8 points in that period and 111.4 overall. “It’s really been our third quarters that’s been killing us,” Scott said. “So obviously we’re not coming out of the locker room ready to play to start the third quarter and we gotta change that.” The offense continues to revolve around Kobe Bryant, who easily leads the league by averaging 23.1 shots for the NBA’s highest scoring average – 26.4.
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After missing just 11 games over his last 5+ seasons, the Raptors will have to play without their All-Star.
As many feared following the Raptors’ Friday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan will be out indefinitely after tearing his abductor tendon, reports Raptors Media Relations.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) November 29, 2014
The injury came during the third quarter of Friday’s contest against Dallas. DeRozan lost his footing on a drive to the basket, and looked to be in immediate pain. A timeout was called thereafter, and DeRozan was helped off the court by teammates and trainers. He did not return to the game.
Losing DeRozan puts the Raptors in uncharted waters, as DeRozan has been a steadying ironman for the Raptors over the past half-decade. Although he has gotten off to a rocky start this season, DeRozan, is still tops in scoring (19.4) and minutes (33.6 per game).
In his stead, the Raptors will likely look to one of Greivis Vasquez or Lou Williams to fill DeRozan’s void in the starting lineup. Inevitably, with one of the key pillars of the team out, his absence will have to be made up by the remainder of the squad. James Johnson could also be a candidate to see increased minutes, although his lack of shooting ability would seriously hamper the Raptors’ spacing in their starting lineup.
Given his strong play as of late, Williams seems like the likely favorite to snag DeRozan’s spot in the interim. He provides an extended measure of floor spacing and ball handling, but his lack of physical strength could pose defensive woes against larger wing players. The move, then, could be to mix and match depending on lineups, but it’s still too early to speculate.
DeRozan will be travelling with the team as they embark on a brief three-game Western Conference road trip. The Raptors are slated to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
On a final note, from all of us here at Raptors Republic, and every NBA fan out there, get well soon, DeMar. We’re looking forward to seeing you back on the court healthy, and better than ever. #ProveEm.
I’m no doctor, and according to this report, it took about 3 months to recover from a similar injury:
Avulsion injuries of the adductor longus muscle tendon are rare and a challenge to manage especially in athletes. There has been little published literature on the outcome of conservative and operative treatment for these injuries. We report the first case of an acute adductor longus avulsion injury which was surgically repaired in a professional equestrian rider. Return to full preinjury function was achieved at 3 months with surgical repair using 3 suture anchors.
Danny Amendola of the Patriots had the same injury and was out for six weeks:
Normal recovery time, even without surgery, is anywhere from two to six weeks
As per USA Today, he could be out for less than a month:
At USAT: Source says Raptors' DeMar DeRozan hopeful he'll return in four weeks or less – http://t.co/XEVc8P5x8z
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) November 29, 2014
The location of DeRozan’s tendon tear remains a key factor in determining his length of absence and any potential treatment options. In the best case scenario, the tear is situated near the musculotendinous junction, the area where the tendon and muscle tissue connect. Generally players with these types of injuries do not require surgery and can return somewhere between four to six weeks. The InStreetClothes.com database puts the average missed time for a groin strain reported as Grade 2 or higher at 19 games (roughly six weeks). USA Today’s Sam Amick reports there is optimism that DeRozan could return in four weeks, suggesting this is the type of injury the Raptors guard has suffered.
However things would get more complicated if the tear is located at the point where the adductor longus tendon connects to the pubic bone. This injury is classified as an avulsion injury and generally warrants surgery. If DeRozan ultimately needs a trip to the operating room, his estimated time of recovery could stretch to eight weeks or more, although the case of Kendrick Perkins does provide some reason for optimism. Last season, the Oklahoma City center returned to action 17 games (37 days) after undergoing groin surgery.
The Raptors came in looking to win seven consecutive games for the first time since 2002. It looked good early for Toronto but after jumping out to a 10-0 start things just never quite fell back into rhythm.
Following a Dallas timeout at the 9:08 mark, the Mavs responded by ending the quarter on a 26-11 run of their own. The big story from the first quarter was that Kyle Lowry was sent to the bench with 2:56 seconds to go after picking up three early fouls, including two in a three second span. For the quarter Toronto committed seven fouls to Dallas’s three. Amir Johnson was excellent, finishing as the team’s leading scorer for the quarter with 7 points, despite missing a couple of easy shots at the rim.
The second quarter was basically a series of runs, which characterized the game at large. Dallas started by continuing to move the ball well and forcing Toronto to miss shots that they’d normally make. At one point Dallas was up 45-32 before Toronto, as they tend to do, fought back and evened the quarter out at 22 points apiece. Neither team shot the ball well in the quarter, as Dallas finished shooting 37.5 on 9-of-24 shooting and Toronto finished shooting 32%, making only 8-of-25 shots. Lou Williams led the team with seven points in the quarter and Amir Johnson continued to play well, pulling down four offensive rebounds.
The Raptors had to have felt good going into the half only down five. Not only were they down by 13 at one point, but also Demar and Jonas were held scoreless in the half. Although Dallas generally looked to be in control for much of the half, it was a pretty even matchup statistically. Neither team shot well from two point range or the free throw line but both teams saved themselves by shooting really well from beyond the arc. For the half, Dallas connected on 7-of-11 three-point attempts and Toronto responded by hitting 7-of-13 on their end.
Toronto again found themselves down big in the third before ending the period on an 8-0 run of their own. Jonas Valanciunas came out determined and finished with seven rebounds in the quarter. Of course the huge story from the third period was that the Raps lost Demar to a groin injury as he slipped awkwardly on a drive to the basket. Demar, who did not return from the injury, was out of sorts all game and finished with zero points on 8 attempts.
The fourth quarter was more of the same. Toronto was down 97-85 with 1:47 to play before, predictably again making a run of their own and pulling the game to within 2 points on a flurry of treys by Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry. Lowry, who was not his usual kick ass self for most of the game, stepped up big in the fourth, scoring 13 of his team high 25.
Despite never quite getting over the hump the Raptors showed a lot of moxie in this game. There were several moments when they could have thrown in the towel and they instead kept on fighting. Dallas is a really good team and this was a solid litmus test for the Raptors. Even without playing especially well they managed to give themselves a chance to win down the stretch.
- It’s so important to have Lou Williams off the bench, especially on nights like tonight when the starters were struggling to put the ball in the basket.
- Dallas is better defensively than advertised. While they lack a lot of great individual defenders, their team defense gave Toronto problems all night. Tyson Chandler’s length especially was a huge problem for the Raptors.
- You can’t lose the turnover battle against a team like Dallas. The Mavericks scored 22 points off 17 Toronto turnovers while Toronto only scored four points off of Dallas’s eight. The disparity was especially pronounced in the second half, where Toronto lost the turnover battle 10-2.
- Both teams showed why they’re so damn good in their own ways. Dallas’s wonderful ball movement and patience and Toronto’s tenacity and resilience were both on full display.
Against Dallas, things went very wrong. After a 10-0 start, the Toronto offence became discombobulated, almost too focused on identifying mismatches while losing the normal structure of their offence. Kyle Lowry picked up his third foul in the first quarter, losing his rhythm in the process. DeMar DeRozan missed all eight of his field-goal attempts, and left the game with a groin strain in the third quarter that did not look good. Lowry missed 12 of his first 16 field-goal attempts, before hitting five of his last six as Dallas more or less surrendered the paint to him in the game’s final minutes, not wanting to give up a three-pointer or foul. Still, the Raptors, like their fans, would not go away. “I really loved our fight in the fourth quarter, the way we ended the game and kept scrapping,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “I told the guys this a few minutes ago: If we continue to compete like that at a high level, we’re going to win a lot of games. That’s a good team. They’re not chopped liver at all. They’re going to be in the deep money in the West when it’s all over with.”
Don’t tell Carlisle that Casey is just a defensive coach either. The Raptors entered the game second in the NBA in points scored per 100 possessions — behind only Dallas. “One of the things about guys with a background as great defensive coaches is that they study so many offences that they are trying to stop that they have a mind flooded with great offensive ideas,” Carlisle said. “The other thing that Dwane has done is he has really helped developed these younger guys. (DeMar) DeRozan, (Kyle) Lowry, and (Terrance) Ross, who is turning the corner this year and is a really good defensive player. The key thing is they have all two-way players. They have guys that can play offence and defence. That’s how you build a team that is built to win in the playoffs.” Cuban is pleased to see Casey and the Raptors doing well — but only to a point. “I’m happy for him, except for two times a year,” Cuban said with a smile.
“When he came out it hurt our rotation,” Casey admitted. “I thought the second unit played well — Davis, Lou and Pat came in and really did a good job defensively. It slowed us down a little bit and it took Kyle a little bit in the second half to get going, but that happens in a game. You have to be able to make that adjustment. We cut it to three or four late and had a couple of big turnovers, so taking care of the ball is huge in a pressurized game like that.” DeRozan continued to struggle then, turning the corner on a drive at the 3:37 mark of the third quarter, slipped and went down, clutching at his leg. He limped off the court after a couple of minutes prone on the court and was confirmed with a strained left groin. The personal shutout marked the first time he had played more than 16 minutes and failed to score in five years. “I mean, it is what it is,” Lowry said. “We know he’s going to be fine. We know he’s going to take care of his body. We know he’s not here right now so we’ll see what happens in the next day or two. We’ve got to play . . . next man up. It’s a team, not about one guy. If anybody goes down the next man has to step up.”
Game Rap: Raptors 102 Mavericks 106 | Toronto Raptors
Down 97-83 with 2:21 to go, the Raptors rattled off a 13-2 run that cut the Dallas lead to just three with 33 seconds remaining. The Raptors then fouled Monta Ellis (instead of trying to make a defensive stand and playing for a final shot), who drilled two free throws to restore a five-point cushion with 25 seconds to play. A Kyle Lowry layup would get the deficit down to two with 9.9 seconds to go, but Devin Harris sealed the deal for Dallas with two more free throws the other way.
For the most part, Toronto’s defense has taken care of business against Eastern Conference foes. But Friday’s matchup is more indicative of the type of opponents they’ll face late in the playoffs. The Mavericks were able to get 14-plus points from four different players, as they forced the Raptors to constantly move laterally and rotate. Toronto couldn’t corral Ellis on the perimeter, and Valanciunas showed that he’s still struggling to make all the right plays defensively from start to finish. The concern here is that we don’t know whether the Raptors can get stops against good opponents when they really need them. As the offense launched an exciting near-comeback during crunch time, the defense couldn’t slow down Ellis enough to get over the hump.
“I really loved our fight in the fourth quarter, the way we ended the game and kept scrapping,” Dwane Casey said. “I told the guys this a few minutes ago: If we continue to compete like that at a high level, we’re going to win a lot of games. That’s a good team. They’re not chopped liver at all. They’re going to be in the deep money in the West when it’s all over with.” “We ended up losing,” said Greivis Vasquez, who scored nine of his 14 in the final frame. “I think you have got to give them credit. They played a great game. They shot the lights out. Our best player went down, but we still kept the game close. It was one of those games where you just have to move on and understand what we’re getting into, a west coast trip.” “We have just got to continue to grind. It’s not the end of the world. We lost a game. So what? On to the next one. We get better. We have to defend better. We have to rebound better. We have to play transition defence better. We have to do a lot of different things better. But we’re still, what, 13-3? That’s a pretty good record to me.”
Officially the injury is a strained groin. Whether it’s long-term or short-term or something in between will be determined over the next few days. In his career of five-plus seasons, DeRozan has missed a grand total of 11 games. DeRozan was kicking the floor in pain as the Raptors’ training staff made their way to the all-star. He stayed down for a few minutes and, when he got up, it was slowly and with some help. He went directly to the locker room and was gone by the time the game ended. Initially, it looked like the injury would be to his left wrist, as replays clearly showed him coming down on that wrist. Obviously the injury occurred before he hit the deck.
“I don’t understand this Twitter,” 18-year-old Bruno Caboclo said in his native Portuguese from the back seat. “I have, what, 10 followers.” The small talk continued nervously, excitedly, as the cab inched along. Caboclo’s agent, Eduardo Resende, checking his smartphone, announced the returns of the Draft as he sat next to Caboclo. Fernando Rossi, the general manager of Caboclo’s team in Brazil, was in the front seat.
The central heartbreaker was Monta Ellis; he went off for 30 points on 12-of-25 shooting with six assists for good measure. When the Mavericks needed a bucket, it always seemed to come back to Monta. It was his dagger three that bounced high off the rim and taunted the ACC before dropping through to crush the Raps. The other unlikely backbreaker was Al-Farouq Aminu who chipped in with 14 points and a couple of timely 3s. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki was actually shaken out of his game tonight, tossing in 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Still, every time the Raptors seemed to be making their run, one of these Mavs made a play. For Toronto, the loss comes with a high cost. After playing 20 hugely ineffective minutes, DeMar DeRozan slipped on the floor and left the game with a left groin strain. He was 0-for-8 on the night, a particularly cruel outcome in advance of the upcoming game in DeRozan’s hometown of Los Angeles.
It’s never quite that easy with Dallas, though. Give credit to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors’ crowd at the Air Canada Centre, who refused to let up. The Mavericks’ always horrendous 3-point defense gave up back-to-back 3-pointers to Greivis Vasquez, and after a couple of Dirk free throws, Lowry hit a gorgeous step-back over Tyson Chandler to make it a six-point game with 49 seconds to play. Although breaking a full-court press is supposed to be one of the most fundamental abilities in basketball, the Mavericks looked a bit like the uncle who insists he knows how to cut the turkey but ends up butchering it against the grain. First, there was a seemingly hour-long replay review after Amir Johnson tipped out a wild pass intended for Dirk (seriously, let’s get those refs shot clocks). On the next play, Monta Ellis got it with a full head of steam at the basket. For a moment, it looked like he could beat the only Raptor defender to the glass, but it turned into a contested shot that he missed — up six with less than a minute to play. That’s like failing to put whipped cream on your pumpkin pie.
The Mavericks just beat the team with the best record in the NBA and did so in shockingly convincing fashion. The final score isn’t really indicative of how well the Mavericks played, holding multiple double digit leads and fending off the Raptors time and again. This all occurred with the two most efficient Mavericks having off shooting nights (Dirk Nowitzki finished 6 of 19, Brandan Wright finished 2 of 7). The Mavericks were aided by the strong play of Chandler Parsons, who managed perhaps his most impressive outing offensively, with multiple confident drives and a few fantastic floaters. While he had a relatively low key stat line (16 points, seven rebounds), his fingerprints were all over the game.
“That was big,” Dallas forward Al-Farouq Aminu said of Ellis’ clutch performance. “He stepped up and took those shots. It takes a lot of courage to take those kind of shots. That’s what we trust him to do, that’s why the ball is in his hands.” Ellis connected on 12 of his 25 shots, including three of five 3-pointers. He scored 24 of his 30 in the second half. “He really hurt us today,” Toronto’s Greivis Vasquez said. “He had a great game.”
“We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win,” Carlisle said. “We earned it.”
The late fourth quarter run almost earned the team a higher grade in this area, but when looking at this entirety of this game, anything higher than a “C” would have been a tad bit generous. Jack Armstrong was spot on when he compared the Raptors early play to that of the Cleveland Cavaliers in their matchup with Toronto this past weekend. Like Cleveland on Saturday night against the Raptors, Toronto started hot from the floor in this affair with Dallas, rushing out of the gates with a 10-0 run to begin the game. Then the road team settled down and locked in on defense. After digging themselves into a 10 point hole, the Mavs outscored the Raptors 48-33 for the remainder of the first half. Though they’re known as an offensive team (number one in the league), the Dallas defense was absolutely staggering. Outside of Amir Johnson (who finished with 20 points), none of the Raptors starters were able to find a groove. While the play of Lou Williams (16 points, 5/11 FGA) and some of the other rotation players was enough to keep the game in striking distance, Toronto was unable to establish any sort of flow on the offensive side of things. Kyle Lowry was in foul trouble, Terrence Ross wasn’t making the shots he usually drops, and Jonas Valanciunas was clearly bothered by the inside defensive presence of Tyson Chandler.
Greivis Vasquez after the loss: “We just need to continue to grind. It’s not the end of the world. We lost a game. So what? On to the next one and we will just continue to get better. We have to defend better. We have to rebound better. We have to improve our transition defence. We need to do a lot of different things better. But we are still, what? 13-3? That’s a pretty good record to me.”
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Rick Carlisle after Toronto’s 106-102 loss to Dallas.
|Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 9-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +2The best player on the floor tonight for the good guys. Hit two open threes, banged hard on defence, and was the only Raptor big who played even reasonable help defence against Dallas’ pass-heavy offence. It’s been said a lot in this space, but Amir, my friend, you da real MVP.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -7Defensively, he was decent, and he moved well without the ball and found a lot of open looks in the first half. Like most of the team for the better part of the night, though, he wasn’t able to hit with any consistency. I would have liked to have seen him in the game late rather than Vasquez, but I don’t feel like it would have made a difference in the outcome.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 2-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -16Tyson Chandler ate him alive in the first half, but he recovered nicely in the second, asserting himself with solid positioning on the glass and getting his stroke going a bit. His difficulty closing out on Dallas shooters meant that he was benched for large stretches, but he played his best basketball in the fourth quarter and was rewarded with crunch time minutes. He needs to find a way to flip that switch early and consistently, because Chandler’s first half dominance was a huge reason why the Mavs got out in front and didn’t look back.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 32 MIN | 9-22 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | +4Saddled with 3 quick fouls in the first quarter, he was never able to get into a groove, finishing with one of his poorest shooting nights in quite some time. With all the length on Dallas, it’s a tough matchup for an undersized point guard. Still found a way to contribute, as always, finishing with 7 boards and some big plays to spark a couple Raptors mini-runs. Late in the fourth, he was huge, bringing the game back from the brink seemingly by himself.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 20 MIN | 0-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -5Was having a really off night until he went down in the third with what’s being reported as a groin strain. Was grabbing his hand before he went down, as well – just a tough night all around. An off night is OK, but it was seriously overshadowed by the injury. The incomplete grade is out of respect – he deserves the benefit of the doubt that things could have improved in the second half. Get better soon.|
|James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +3The extended minutes is promising, but it’s clear that he’s still trying to find his footing out there. Uncharacteristically bullied by Chandler Parsons on the defensive side of the ball, and made some poor decisions offensively that led to unforced turnovers.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-2 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +1One of his most impressive individual games from a defensive standpoint – he’s a beast one-on-one, and he did an excellent job guarding Dirk when given the task. Missed his fair share of open looks, but overall a solid performance in extended minutes.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -5Got a bit of run in the first half, but was rightfully benched once it became clear that the Mavs were going to take advantage of any speed disadvantage the Raps gave them. Tough stylistic matchup.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 25 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | -7He’s still having difficult figuring out how to operate in this reconfigured Raptor backcourt, but he was dynamite in the fourth quarter, hitting three 3s to keep the game within reach. His decisionmaking is still a bit suspect, to be kind, but it was a promising sign as he’ll be seeing extended minutes until DeRozan returns.|
|Louis Williams, SG 30 MIN | 5-11 FG | 4-5 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +10It’s a bit wild that a game like tonight is one of his least impressive in the last couple weeks. Managed to get his points through the creative open-shot-or-draw-a-foul game he does so well. I’m actually quite impressed with his defence – his ability to play man to man against bigger checks is impressive, and he’s very good at poking for steals in the other team’s halfcourt. Don’t let the slightly unimpressive percentage from behind the arc fool you – he went 0 for 2 on contested buzzer beaters.|
Had a hard time adjusting early to Tyson Chandler’s dominance, but finally found the right look by removing Jonas and going with an Amir and wings look that slowed the Mavs somewhat. Docked a few points tonight for leaving Lowry in after his second quick foul – you’re taking a gamble no matter what, and part of that falls on the player, but when a decision like that comes back to bite you in the ass, you have to take the fall for it.
Five Things We Saw
- Tyson Chandler only finished with 11 points and 10 boards, but it felt like his hands were all over this game. His presence in the lane led to a number of turnovers, either from sloppy kick outs or hesitation before taking the ball to the rim.
- With THAT being said, it was the Raptors’ work on the glass that kept them in the game. They absolutely dominated the Mavs on that end, finishing with 55 to Dallas’ 37.
- The refs were really, really spotty tonight. It affected both teams, but there were numerous plays that weren’t even considered for review when replay showed that the call should have been overturned. Amir, in particular, seemed to be unfairly picked on. The Raps as a team were doing a lot of barking at the officials, which didn’t help matters, I’m sure.
- Even though the Mavs won tonight, the fact that the game ended up as close as it did is a positive sign. Winding up with 17 turnovers and keeping the final score within 4 against a team like Dallas is pretty impressive stuff and speaks to this team’s attitude. That said, they’re going to need to find a way to adjust to the West’s best if they want to be considered true title contenders.
- One of the NBA’s sleeper ironmen, DeMar DeRozan has only missed 11 games in his career to this point. From all of us at RR, get better soon, DeMar.
The Raptors fell short in the end, but this sequence got them within a shout. Oh well.
HUGE blow for the Raptors as DeMar DeRozan leaves the game with what looks to be a groin/leg injury. He left the court on his own feet.
Injury update – will not return:
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) November 29, 2014
Thank God the Raptors made a bit of a run to come back, because if they ‘celebrated’ Jalen Rose at this moment, it would be real awkward since the crowd is shut down right now.
This might come back to haunt us later.Direct Link
Since it is another purple night at the ACC tonight, I thought I’d recall some ‘historic’ games we’ve played against Dallas, and as much as last year’s win in their building meant for the revival of these Raptors, something else sticks out.
There are some things that I can never forget:
- My first child being born
- That time I stole a Hot Wheels car from Walmart and got caught
- Darrick Martin keeping the streak alive
Keep in mind that this was a blowout where the Raptors, up to this point, were 0-5 from three-point line and their streak of 628 straight three-pointers was on the line.
The gloom of losing was compounded by the fact that the only thing the Raptors were known for in the NBA at that time was about to go down the drain. Not so fast, said Darrick Martin.
In case you’re wondering, the streak did come to an end many years later at 986 when they lost at the buzzer to the Grizzlies.
Get the libations, gravy and tryptophan out of your system, because it’s time to ball. The league’s two best offenses are going head-to-head tonight in Toronto. Zach Lowe has already done a much better job of describing the brilliance of the Maverick’s pick-and-roll heavy offense than I ever could so I encourage you to check out this Grantland piece before the game.
Fortunately, however, the Mavs are in a funk. Over their last three games they lost to a Dwight Howard-less Rockets team, the Pacers at home and survived a Carmelo-less Knicks team in overtime. During that stretch they’re shooting 43% from the field and an abysmal 20% on 90 three-point attempts.
Keys to the Game:
- Keep the Friday night magic alive: Toronto fans are even more electric than usual on Friday nights and the Raps have responded with two resounding victories. The first win was a 19-point trouncing of the Wizards and the second was a 42-point bludgeoning of Milwaukee.
- Attack the offensive glass: The Mavericks are the second worst team in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. The opportunity for second chance points is there and should be exploited.
- Watch out for the Hammer Brothers: Pick-and-roll defense is going to decide this game. The Mavs are first in the league in two-point field goal percentage. A lot of this comes from easy baskets at the rim by way of Brandan Wright and Tyson Chandler, who are shooting a downright filthy 125-for-157 in the restricted area this season. Opponents are shooting 59.7% in the restricted area against the Raptors so far this season – this puts them at 14th in the league.
- Be Ready to Play: The Mavericks are embarrassed after losing to the hapless Pacers and struggling past the Knicks in overtime. They’re going to want to use this game against the best team in the league to prove a point.
- Corner Snipers, it’s your time: The Mavericks are the 2nd worst team in the league at defending the right corner three and the 3rd worst at defending the left side. Lou Williams has been the league leader in left corner threes so far, where he’s shooting an amazing 10-13 from the field. Terrance Ross and 2Pat are the team’s best shooters from the right corner – combining to shoot 9-of-18 on the season.
- The Mavs could be thin at point guard: Raymond Felton will not play and Jameer Nelson (back spasms) is listed as questionable.
— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) November 27, 2014
- Dirk’s Mid-Range Game: The big German is on the back end of his career but he’s still a lethal mid-range shooter. On the season he’s shooting 54.4% from the mid-range area and leading the league in mid-range field goals made. The Raptors are a bottom-five team in opponent mid-range field goal percentage so this is something to watch out for.
- Wing defense: Chandler Parsons hasn’t exactly gotten off to a roaring start as a Maverick but he’s nevertheless a big, offensively talented wing who could give the Raptors problems. At the very least we know Papa Cuban has his back.
Jalen Rose will be celebrated tonight as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations (where the Raptors will be wearing purple again). He was on TSN 1050 talking about tonight, and reminiscing:
- Not sure if he’s going to get a video tribute or the “politicians handwave” – says he has no idea, nobody told him anything
- Asked about Vince’s crying and whether he’ll cry, said Vince’s situation was a lot different than his, and he’s the “All-Time Greatest Raptor” and those tears will not be replicated tonight
- Says his best friends on the team were Mo Pete, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, and he used to teach Bosh about how to use his left hand.
- Could Vince Carter have been more? “Vince never had the opportunity to play with guys like Shaq or coaches like Phil Jackson”
- What’s your favorite memories from King St. (which they mentioned on the Grantland podcast)? “Lots of speakeasies, bars, restaurants, clubs….shopping at Yorkville”
- Asked about Dirk taking paycut, and Kobe taking the money: Kobe already has five titles and it’s OK to get the “honeymoon package”, but Dirk only has one so he’s still working on more
- He got asked some question about Rick Ross and Black Bottle Boys. I’m too old to comment on this
- Never drank wine before 40, now it’s his favorite. Red wine, that is
- Refers to Toronto as “The 6″
Is it weird that my lasting memory of Jalen Rose is him playing against the Raptors and having some serious duels with Vince Carter? He wasn’t really part of the two playoff runs that we had in the Carter years, and very much came in when things were going south.
When Carter, Doneyll Marshall, and Rose joined forces, I recall the Raptors winning five straight games around Christmas time in 2003-04, but things soon fell apart under Kevin O’Neill. Still, though, he was alright.
As the Raptors prepare for another early season test against the Mavericks a plethora of sub-plots exist in this offensive showdown.
The most obvious is that Dallas (109.3 PPG) and Toronto (108.0 PPG) rank first and second in the Association for their offensive prowess.
There is the fact Dwane Casey came to the Raptors via Dallas where he functioned as the defensive coaching specialist to Head Coach: Rich Carlisle.
Plus there are a number of areas the teams will battle for supremacy:
- better bench
- fourth quarter dominance
- most cohesive unit, 1-15
- lowest turnovers
- masters of the intangibles: blocks, steals, second-chance points etc
Then there is the on-going 3-year battle that has waged between Maverick big man Tyson Chandler and Raptor rising star Jonas Valanciunas. Though most would assume Chandler has owned this match-up, the truth is Valanciunas has had some of his best games versus the Mavericks’ center and will undoubtedly be dialed in tonight.
And finally, looking back at the 2013-14 season, December 20th, marks a pivotal date for the current Raptors as the overtime win in Dallas can be cited as the exact moment our young players began to believe in themselves. The following night in Oklahoma the Raptors won again and their record setting miracle season along with their new identity was cemented. For those of you who love stats consider: Toronto is 55-24 since the Rudy Gay trade for a 69% win share. Taking into account their 7-1 preseason raises that number to 62-25 for a 71% win share!
Comparing the Teams:
Dallas has scoring (+1.3), rebounding (+2.4) and assists (+4.1) advantages. NOTE: in past four games Raptors rank top-10 in assists.
Toronto has advantages in ball protection (+0.2), steals (+1.0), point differential (+2.1) and defensively holding teams to 3.4 less PPG (or 2.3 less per 100 possessions).
One specific area which may provide an advantage for the home side will be how each team shoots and defends behind the arc. As we witnessed in the Hawk game Atlanta came out on fire hitting 8 of 13 for 61% however the Raptor adjustments at the half led to Atlanta only hitting 2 of 11 threes or 18% in the second half. For an offensive powerhouse like Dallas I expected them to be among the top 3-point shooters (33.2%), however Toronto connects at a more consistent rate (36.2%). Dallas make up for this by attempting 4.6 more threes per game resulting in one extra made 3-per game.
Review of the Mavericks 5-losses shows teams that hold Dallas under their 3-point average hold a distinct advantage. On the flip side Dallas is 29th at defending the three which bodes well for Toronto especially if Vasquez can carry over his hot shooting from Atlanta. Not surprisingly defense ruled the day as the 5-teams who beat Dallas all held them to 100 points or under and in the last 3-road games against teams with winning records Dallas averaged 39.2%, scoring just 94.7 points.
NOTE: score and 3-point % Dallas shot in each loss.
- Spurs: 101-100 – 38.1%
- Portland: 108-87 – 21.7%
- Miami: 105-96 – 31%
- Houston (without Howard): 95-92 – 17%
- Indiana: 111-100 – 33.3%
In four of the five losses Nowitzki was held under his season average of 19.7 points.
The other trend that ran through all 5-losses was Dallas’ bench was held under their 37.9 point per game average
Strength of Schedule:
This area continues to dominate discussion surrounding the Raptors win record despite the fact they’ve showcased their ability to win regardless of the situation. And while I’d argue they’ve won despite who their schedule dictated I thought I’d provide a little ammunition for those fans looking to shed some light to the naysayers: John Hollinger has consistently ranked Toronto first in his daily ranking. He bases the SOS on the record of the teams played to date ranking Toronto 16th, but more importantly in the last 10 he ranks them as having faced the 8th most difficult opponents.
Guards: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, vs Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis
Whether you put Lowry and DeRozan in the conversation for best back court in the league or not you better not take them for granted. Few back courts can bring the versatility, scoring, intangibles and leadership displayed by Lowry and DeRozan. For my money Lowry has been by far the best guard in the East and continues to prove each outing how much he’s grown as a leader. DeRozan is learning to deal with the opposition’s additional game focus and continues to demonstrate growth via his ability to do other things when a team successfully limits his tools.
Ellis is one of the most creative guards in the Association fitting Carlisle’s style of play like a glove. It’s hard to imagine he ever played in Golden State watching how well he meshes with Dirk.
Edge: Raptors- I’ll re-iterate, Kyle Lowry is on a mission and does whatever it takes to be successful. He continues to operate as if knowing 5-seconds sooner than everyone else when the bomb will explode and acts accordingly.
Front Court: Jonas Valanciunas Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross vs. Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons
This is where the key match-up lies, specifically between youngster Valanciunas and wily vet Chandler. As I noted above Valanciunas gets up for this type of challenge, especially when it features a more prototypical big. Last season Valanciunas faced Chandler three times and had two of his best outings of the season:
With added strength, knowledge and a new found confidence look for him to want to show Chandler how much he’s grown.
Dirk is potentially the best 7′ shooter the game has ever seen (apologies to Durant who’ll likely surpass his totals during his career), so Amir Johnson will have his hands full. Helping the cause will be Nowitzki’s disparity of shooting percentage facing winning teams 40.4% versus 59.8% against sub-500 teams.
Chandler Parsons has fit in well with his new team and Carlisle’s system, but I don’t see him doing much more than being a good addition so far. The second most intriguing battle is the one between Parsons and Ross. Will we get a 2-way performance from TRoss who has been scoring at a better clip since his hero Vince Carter graced the ACC and woke him up?
Edge: Dallas – I mean can you seriously bet against a guy like Nowitzki
Bench: Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Chuck Hayes (possibly Tyler Hansbrough) vs. Devin Harris, JJ Barea, Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Al Farouq Aminu
Phoenix is the top ranked bench, so the Raptors have already proven they can compete at that level. Dallas is no pushover at depth though, so expect our guards to continue to aggressively apply the pressure and whoever is rolling will get the extra minutes from Casey. Of greater concern will be whether our starting front court can keep Dallas’ bigs in check so we might see another masterful veteran positioning clinic from the Chuckster or if Hansbrough returns his energy could reap rewards for the home side. There is very little to differentiate between these two teams and their benches are no different, however I suspect the youth, variety and ability of the best 4-guard unit (that’s my opinion) in the league will cause headache and heartache for the Mavericks.
Edge: Raptors – with Johnson back healthy, Williams current shooting barrage, Patterson doing all the little things and Vasquez suddenly out of a scoring slump our bench is just beginning to realize how dominant they can be.
Toronto is on a 6-game win streak so the odds of winning aren’t necessarily in their favor and Dallas has those 2-losses from last season to atone for, but at the end of the day it all comes down to defense. I’ll give 7th ranked Toronto the edge over Dallas who is tied for 13th on the defensive end (as per NBA.com). More importantly we’ve started seeing this team gel into a semblance closer to what we came to expect from them last season with new additions Johnson and Williams fitting into Casey’s schemes perfectly. Keep an eye on who controls pace as limiting Dallas’ possessions will also be critical to capture the win.
I often get asked why many believe DeRozan, Valanciunas and Ross have improved defensively. To that end, I found a great video example courtesy of Tim Legler which breaks down one defensive set.
Observing how much each individual moves in a single possession perhaps explains why the Raptors save this defensive intensity for fourth quarters and why it would be difficult to sustain over 48-minutes and still score over 100 points.
Vegas favors Raptors by 3.5 with O/U of 210. I say NEVER bet against a streak or a Raptor team who have something to prove.
Bits and Pieces:
- The cumulative wins for Toronto’s Atlantic Division rivals is 14
- Toronto has a 36-game win streak when entering fourth-quarter ahead
- Carlisle next win will be number 300 as Maverick coach
- Raptors have won the last 3-games vs. Dallas
- Both wins against Dallas last season the Raptors overcame 19 point deficits
- Tonight is another purple throw-back jersey game
- Jameer Nelson missed last game due to back spasms
Enjoy the game and come visit us after for our Quick React and join in the conversation.
Momentum Kills Dennis Schröder
The side pick ‘n roll action with Lou Williams and Chuck Hayes serves as an nice distraction to the eventuality of Vasquez scoring. The main effect of Williams going left on the Hayes screen, which he never had any intention of using, is that Schröder has left Vasquez to come towards Williams. Schröder’s close-out is poor because his momentum takes him a foot too far, thus conceding the angle to Vasquez. The latter recognizes this and immediately drives. Shelvin Mack has to respect Williams’ three-point shot and can’t leave him, which puts the 6’5″ Vasquez on the 6’1″ Schröder, allowing for an easy shot.Direct Link
When You’re Covering Kyle Korver, That’s The Only Thing You’re Doing
There are some three-point shooters that you can cover while showing help on other players. Kyle Korver is not one of them. In this sequence, James Johnson does the tough work of negotiating the screen set for Korver, forcing a pass back out to Al Horford who has Chuck Hayes on him quite some distance away. Hayes is a smart and strong enough defender to handle it from there, and at this point doesn’t require any further help. Johnson, out of habit perhaps, shows just the slightest of attention to Horford by taking half a step towards him, which takes him half a step away from Korver. That is enough for the bang-bang play of Horford passing to Korver for, what is for him, a wide open three.Direct Link
Get the Passing Big Man in the Paint
This is a sequence that I hoped the Raptors would run a lot more of. They have good, mobile passing big men in Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson that should be able to slip screens the way Patterson does here, forcing the defense to collapse. In a well-spaced floor with shooters, you should then be able to get a good look from three as Johnson does here. The missed three is irrelevant, it’s the process that got the clean look which is important, and something we should be seeing on a much more consistent basis.Direct Link
“We don’t care about nothing ESPN says, honestly,” DeRozan said. “We don’t care. I don’t have a problem with Hollinger, but nobody here cares what anybody else is saying. We care about anybody who has this Raptors jersey on. Everything else don’t even matter.” In order to provide some context to this, DeRozan was not angry when he said this. He, like his head coach, just doesn’t want to hear it. DeRozan has been in the Raptors uniform when it drew little more than a cursory look from any media south of the border. Now that the attention has come, he and his teammate Vasquez and the other 13 members on the roster want nothing to do with it. “We don’t want to be talked about,” Vasquez said. “We are fine like this. We got our confidence. We don’t need nobody to talk about us, good or bad. We know what we have to do.” It’s like nobody wants to acknowledge the position a 13-2 start to a season brings a team.
“I’m not a betting man, how many more games have we got to go? A lot of games to go. I’m not putting any credence in that,” Casey said. When someone asked if the predictions had at least put a smile on his face, he answered: “No. Not at all. None whatsoever. I live in reality. All I know is we have a tough game (Friday) night.”
“We don’t care about nothing ESPN is saying, honestly,” DeRozan said. “Nobody cares what anybody says. We care about everybody that’s got this Raptors jersey on. Everything else don’t matter to us, man.”
Production numbers aside, Lowry has also improved his game from last year when it comes to doing the little things that often go unnoticed. For example, he has averaged just 1.6 turnovers per game compared to 2.5 turnovers from last season. Taking a page out of teammate DeMar DeRozan’s book, Lowry has also drawn more fouls and attempted 5.9 free throws per game compared to 4.9 attempts per game last year. The one major change in Lowry’s game from last season to this season has been his reliance on the three-point shot. Last season, Lowry averaged 6.3 three-point field-goal attempts per game and hit 38 percent of his shots from downtown. This season, the Villanova product has attempted just 4.6 three-point field goals per game and is shooting just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc. On the other hand, Lowry’s overall field-goal percentage this season is up to 45.5 percent compared to 42.3 percent from last year. This shows that he’s still finding ways to be an effective scorer despite not having as many of his three-pointers falling.
The Raptors’ bench remains excellent, one of the best second units in the league. Without getting too deep into the math, they are obliterating their opposition, a big part of the Raptors’ wonderful point differential. They have dominated despite lacking offensive production from their most explosive reserve from a year ago. Greivis Vasquez is shooting just 37% from the field, and only 28% from three-point range. In his 61 games with the Raptors last year, those numbers were at 42% and 39%, respectively. Vasquez had his best offensive game of the year against the Hawks on Wednesday, hitting eight of his 12 shots and three of his six three-pointers for 21 points. “I’ve been in this situation before,” Vasquez said of his struggles. “We’re 13-2. You always come here and try to come and get better. It happened to me [Wednesday]. I could be on a hot streak now, or not. Who knows? It’s more important that we won. “You don’t get into a bad mood at all,” Vasquez added of slumping while the team wins. “You just get back in the gym and keep working.”
Just as important for a team without a lot of starpower is their bench, which is one of the deepest in the NBA. Holdovers Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, all acquired in the Rudy Gay trade, give them some stability on their second unit, which has been taken to the next level by the additions of Lou Williams and James Johnson. Johnson is their defensive stopper, similar to Al-Farouq Aminu, while Williams has put his name in the ring for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging almost 14 points a game on 44 percent shooting. The game against Dallas is a big one for Toronto, as they start their first road trip out West on Sunday, a three-game swing through LA, Sacramento and Utah. Even the best team in the East is likely to struggle when they cross the Mississippi, which makes protecting their home court when someone from the West makes a visit all the more important. You may not have heard much about the Raptors coming into the season, but this is a team with all the pieces that is ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Rick Carlisle will be trying to earn his 300th win as Mavericks coach, which would put him in good company. Don Nelson (339) and Dick Motta (329) are the only other coaches in franchise history with more than 300 victories. … They have lost the last three meetings against the Raptors. … They lead the league at 109.3 points per game and are 11-0 when scoring 105 points or more. The Raptors allow 96.4 per game.
Another purple throwback jersey night for the Raptors, who will also invited Jalen Rose back to be feted from what’s expected to be a sellout crowd . . . Dallas, 11-5, has one of the most efficient offences in the league and comes in off an overtime home win against New York on Wednesday. The Mavs, however, are just 4-3 on the road . . . Nelson expected back after missing Wednesday’s game with back spasms . . . Nowitzki (30) and Chandler (17) had season-high scoring nights vs. New York and Chandler chipped in with 25 rebounds in 43 minutes . . . Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was the top assistant with Dallas’s Rick Carlisle when the Mavericks won the NBA championship in 2011.
The league’s two highest-scoring teams meet north of the border Friday night with the Raptors seeking their first seven-game winning streak since Vince Carter’s heyday. Dallas (11-5) was eighth in points per game and fourth in field-goal percentage last season, and after adding Parsons, Jameer Nelson and reacquiring Tyson Chandler, it’s no surprise to see Rick Carlisle’s club leading the league with 109.3 points per game. The Raptors’ emergence as one of the NBA’s best offenses is turning a few more heads. Lou Williams was the only prominent addition to the top eight of Toronto’s rotation, but the reserve guard has been a big reason the Raptors (13-2) have jumped from 13th in points per game (101.3) to second (108.0).
Although it was a struggle against an inferior opponent, Dallas snapped a two-game losing streak with Wednesday’s 109-102 overtime victory against the New York Knicks. … The 25 rebounds Tyson Chandler had against the Knicks were the most in the NBA this season and tied for the fifth-most in Mavs history. … Coach Rick Carlisle has a 299-193 record with the Mavs. With one more win he’ll join Don Nelson (339-251) and Dick Motta (329-409) as the only Mavs coaches with at least 300 career victories. … The Mavs are 22-13 all-time vs. Toronto, including 8-9 on the road.
Toronto fashion is quite diverse. I have noticed there to be a kind of uniform, depending on the area you are in in the city. There is also clearly a lot of emerging talent in the Toronto fashion industry.
Head coach Dwane Casey surely will be on us for harping on this — like when announcers mention no-hitters that are in-progress — but based on how poor the local teams usually are coming out of the gate, it is a worthwhile distraction one month into the NBA season. Other than a 4-1 mirage back in 2004-05, the Raptors mostly have struggled in the autumn/early winter. You have to go back to 1999-2000, when the team began 12-6 and 2001-02 (11-6) for other strong starts. Those teams ended up with 45 and 42 wins, respectively. Last year’s surprising Atlantic Division winners and the 2006-07 edition, which also took the division crown, both did so on the strength of monster mid-late season surges.
Head coach Dwane Casey, who can’t say enough these days about how much work needs to be done and how the Raptors are still a growing team, said after the Phoenix win that balance and unpredictably have to be one of the team’s strengths. “Each night is going to be a different story,” he said. “Each night is going to be a different hero.” Some games they have won on the strength of hot shooting, some they have won thanks to ball movement and assists. Occasionally they have won with stern defence at the end of games. “One night it’s going to be rebounds,” Casey said, wistfully. Toronto will host a good Dallas team on Friday — the Mavericks are the only team outscoring the Raptors — before heading on a three-game Western swing, but again the schedule favours them: Sacramento is decent, but Utah is bad and the L.A. Lakers are terrible. Toronto doesn’t really face a tough stretch of games until just after Christmas, when a Western trip will include visits to Golden State, Phoenix, Portland and the L.A. Clippers. They could quite easily be 27-7 by that point, and 24-5 is not out of the question.
The Raptors are 13-2, have won six games in a row, and show no signs of slowing down. This season, the word to describe the Raps is clutch, since it seems like no matter what happens during the game, they find a way to pull it out. The key to the team’s success thus far has been how deep the roster is. Practically each guy has a had a huge performance in a game when the Raps needed it. The Raptors have no shortage of heroes ready to fly in and save the day, and coach Casey knows it. Casey has been great so far this season at figuring out which guys are hot, and getting them possessions. This is an unselfish team, and by extension, a winning one.
The Raptors as you know are good, and the back-court has a huge hand in that. What’s interesting though, is that they become even better if you throw Lou Williams into the mix. The depth and team-oriented offense that the Raptors have allow DeMar and Kyle both to have off-nights and still come away with a win. Nevertheless, Lowry and DeMar are still putting up big numbers, but if there is one thing that has to improve it’s DeMar’s shot selection. DeMar is putting up all kinds of wild shots go get his 20 points – although there are certain times he decides to take good shots, like the second half in Cleveland. His shot-chart tells a good story.
In his six NBA seasons, Hansbrough has earned a reputation as one of the league’s premier agitators, a brutish menace whose relentlessness brings out the worst in others. You may know him from such YouTube videos as: “Tyler Hansbrough tackles Mike Dunleavy,” “Sebastian Telfair slaps Tyler Hansbrough in the face,” “Will Bynum gets ejected for punching Tyler Hansbrough,” “Tyler Hansbrough stands up for brother Ben,” and, simply, “Bloody Hansbrough.” You may also know Hansbrough as the former face of college basketball, the 2008 National Player of the Year and Sports Illustrated cover boy (twice) who led the North Carolina Tar Heels to a championship in 2009. Or, more recently, as the Toronto Raptors’ de facto enforcer, a player GM Masai Ujiri brought in to add an element of toughness that had been missing since Charles Oakley rocked the purple and black.
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He had the Raptors first 12 points in the quarter and single-handedly (well, with the help of Chuck Hayes’ rebounding) got the Raptors a 10-point lead in the fourth.
The audio-sync is a little off on the video, but you get the point. Check the Quick Reaction where you’ll learn that his line read:
17 MIN | 8-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | -3
As a bonus, that line also shows you just how ridiculous +/- can be at times.
Well, the Raptors certainly didn’t fix the defensive vulnerabilities and bad habits they showed in the Suns game on Monday night, but man, these guys can put the ball in the hoop.
The Raps were one made 3-pointer away from shooting above 50% from both the field, and beyond 3 last night, good enough for a 60% effective field goal percentage and 65% true shooting percentage. Those are Spursian numbers. This is a Raptors team who made their bones on an elite defense and improving and enigmatic offence a year ago. Their defense is capable of being elite when they put it all together still, but last night they validated their rank as the 2nd best offence in the league.
Look, they were downright poor on defense at times, and looked downright brilliant on offence at other times, but it’s worth noting that neither the Raptors nor the Hawks are going to have offensive games like this on the regular. These teams shot the absolute hell out of the ball last night, nearly going 50-40-90 from the field as two combined teams! That’s something that the best individual shooters of all time struggle to do on their own. For two teams to sniff those numbers combined is insane. The Raptors went 51-48-85, sniffing unsustainably close to 50-50-90 shooting, and the Hawks shot 51-42-88, which is almost impossible to do while losing. Those are both record-breaking paces, indicative of a game with very good offense, ridiculously good shooting, and often very poor defense.
Having been at the Suns game on Monday night and watched this Hawks game on TV, there is one defensive breakdown that has resulted in at least a half-dozen wide open 3 point looks against the Raptors. It takes place with the first unit, when teams are trying to drive in from the top around a big at the elbow or using a high pick and roll. Lowry is diving on off of the strongside wing in an effort to either double team or gamble for the steal, and it has resulted in wide-open kick-outs to his man outside the break. I don’t know if this a schematic decision to take away the pick and roll, or if Lowry is freelancing for turnovers or covering for a breakdown in pick and roll coverage, but whatever the reason, it’s resulting in open shots. I’m a steadfast believer in the church of Lowry, but he seems to be opening up a lot of open shots for the opposition in this instance.
It’s not difficult to see how this Hawks team gave such fits to last year’s Pacers team that made it to the conference finals. They counter defense and size by spreading the floor with 3-point shooting at every position. Kent Bazemore, a point guard who played all of 4 minutes in this game, was the only Hawk not to attempt at least one 3-pointer last night. If you try and play a traditional big men against Al Horford, Pero Antic or Mike Scott, they will pull him 23 feet away from the basket, setting screens for Kyle Korver hand-off pull-up 3s or drive and kick opportunities out of high pick and rolls.
Valanciunas continued to score almost at will last night, continuing to improve his position and set-up his shot with his body and strength. But his indecision in whether to close out hard on shooters like Korver off of screens and find a defensive footing against the Hawks small ball lineup had him back on Casey’s bench for much of the second half. It’s difficult to argue otherwise in a victory that resulted from the 4th quarter unit that did play stepping up their game. Moving forward though, the staff needs to work with Valanciunas to figure out how to use him defensively against small ball lineups, as there is a world of potential to punish them for it on the other end. Not every team who plays small will have an otherworldly shooter like Korver for whom those high screen hand-off pull-ups are so dangerous.
Allowing a quick pull-up 3 with the defender fighting over the screen to challenge the shot is a safer option that having someone like Valanciunas blitz the ball handler on pick and rolls beyond the 3 point line. But it is tough to get much defensive productivity out of your big if he even has to respect the gravity of the shooter he’s guarding, spaced out at the 3-point line.
So who plays the nominal big spots for the Raptors when they try and guard small ball? This week that has proven to be a problem. Chuck Hayes has played well enough in stretches and possesses an elite NBA skill in his ability to guard post scorers. But against small ball lineups he loses that defensive advantage, is an offensive liability and his poor rebounding and close-out/recovery speed are a huge boost for opposing teams used to punting on rebounding with small ball groups.
Injuries and inexperience on the bench is dictating his role right now. With James Johnson’s ankle improving, it would be interesting to see him play much more power forward, with either the first or second unit, in the event that opposing teams go small. While Valanciunas is figuring out his defensive role against shooting bigs (and make no mistake, until Valanciunas is not a negative defender in a given scenario, Casey will not play him against those lineups) Amir Johnson is the ideal candidate for playing centre. The problem is his health. Playing through injuries takes a major toll on a player whose game relies so heavily on timing, energy and effort. Still, he is able to guard the perimeter, return to the paint and close back out to the corner or wing if necessary much smoother and effective than anyone else his size on the team.
There could be value in staggering his and Valanciunas’ minutes a little more, pulling out Johnson from the starting unit a little earlier to make him available to play centre with either the second unit, or for longer stretches of play in closing out the 2nd and 4th quarters.
Despite less than ideal play out of the 4 and 5 position at times, the bench unit was much more of a help than a hindrance again last night. Vasquez scored 12 consecutive points for the Raptors to start off the 4th quarter, looking much more like the savvy offensive player of last season than the shot-happy player we’ve seen at times to start the season. Lou Williams continued to score at a 6th man of the year-like pace, putting up another 22 points against the team that gave up on him for cap space and savings.
Lou Williams end of quarter possessions continue to be the most reliably satisfying moment of life for Raptors fans. James Johnson, who was the Raps most reliable defender on the floor last night, aside, the bench unit looks vulnerable defensively. But they’re sneaky not only because of how many points they’ve been putting up with what could certainly be difficult to sustain shooting percentages from guys like Williams. It’s also the points off of turnovers. The bench got a notable number of their 52 points out of transition as a result of their 5 steals and 5 blocks. Turning turnovers into points can be a great equalizer on defense, and the bench unit, along with Lowry who has logged minutes in the last two games with them, have seemed to get points in just that fashion whenever the team really needs it.
This team continues to be super satisfying to watch. They don’t look as dominant as the Heat or Spurs teams of years past by any means. They’re plucky, they’re tough, they’re deep and they’re smart, but let’s not get carried away. But they are a team who is capable of winning against any opponent on any given night and, as they continue to prove in games that could otherwise get away from them, they are a team that is determined and invested in getting that win every time they take the floor.
DeRozan looked great at times, and cold at others, but he gave the team exactly what they needed with 27 points, going 9 for 9 from the free throw line on 50% shooting. Lou Williams and General Greivis put up 22 and 21 points apiece, earning deep fourth quarter minutes. And Kyle Lowry continues to impose his will whenever the team needs it most. Lowry simply will not allow bad stretches of play to take over the game or the teams attitude. It’s crazy how badly this dude wants to win every night, and how much he is able to make that happen. Lowry and Lou Williams are threatening to become semi-religious figures in Raptors fandom. Let’s all try and keep our heads about us, improve the defense, sustain the shooting and keep the momentum going into Friday night.
Player of the week. 6th Man of the Year
favourite candidate favourite. # 23
The Raptors complete two tough tests against Phoenix and Atlanta, before they face the daunting task of stopping the Mavericks. Oh, there’s also Kobe.
- Glen Grunwald’s comments on hiring Kevin O’Neill over Dwane Casey
- DeMar DeRozan’s aggressiveness
- Defending Kyle Korver – Ross and Johnson
- Ross shouldn’t take defensive blame
- Lowry – dominating without scoring
- DeRozan’s Quick Reaction grade
- Rebounding versus Hawks
- Patrick Patterson not looking for his shot
- JV versus Suns
- Casey going big, Suns going small
- The Amir Johnson vs Isaiah Thomas jumpball that never was
- Refs talking to media
- Nowitzki v Bargnani
- Charlie V returns to town
- Reminiscing Charlie V’s draft night
- T.J Ford and Kyle Lowry
- Mavericks pose biggest defensive test
- Keys against Dallas
- Assist totals increasing
- Lakers are horrible
- What drives Kobe?
- Byron Scott’s stuck in the 90s
Toronto hit 14-of-29 threes in hitting a season-high for points, while 7-6 Atlanta hit 10-of-24 from outside. Toronto’s win was another true team effort, with the starters going to work early, the bench dominating late, and Lou Williams putting points on the board throughout. DeMar DeRozan had 27 points, Williams 22 and Vasquez, shaking off a season-long shooting slump, chipped in with 21. Vasquez scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, a frame the Raptors entered leading only by three points. “That’s what it’s all about, that’s what it’s going to take to win. Not just me. Not just Kyle (Lowry, who 13 assists and 14 points). It’s going to take a collective effort, honestly,” DeRozan said afterward.
But as the first month of the season comes to a close, the Raptors have elevated pragmatism to an art form. They’ve taken several imperfect offensive pieces, identified what each one does best, and tripled-down on that skill. “Everyone stays in their lane,” as Casey likes to say. That might lack the flair of his innovative defenses, but discipline is its own kind of creativity. And right now, the Raptors have created something beautiful in its simplicity.
Atlanta’s loss was Toronto’s gain. The native of nearby Lithonia, Ga., made his return to the state Wednesday, against the team that dealt him to the Raptors last summer in exchange for some financial flexibility. So far, Masai Ujiri’s pilfering of Williams and centre prospect Lucas Nogueira has been one of the NBA’s top off-season deals. Williams has averaged 13.6 points in 19.8 minutes per game, but has also impressed head coach Dwane Casey with his defence. “He’s been one of our solid defenders on our second unit,” Casey said pre-game Wednesday. “Being in the right position in the schemes. A great teammate. He’s been more than we expected. I knew that he was an excellent player, but you go in with reservations coming off the injury. He’s back 100% now, he’s stronger from it, so he’s been a pleasant plus for us so far.”
But go back just a couple of weeks ago to the loss against the Chicago Bulls, when the Raptors coughed up a comfortable lead. Despite a valiant Lowry-led comeback effort of their own — nearly erasing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit — there was a familiar, sinking feeling in the wake of that game, like the bubble was about to be burst on the Raptors’ scorching start to the 2014-15 campaign. Turns out it was the heart shown in those final minutes against Chicago — and not the blown lead — that spoke bigger volumes about this Raptors team. They don’t get down, know their strengths and each other, and are playing together and with more confidence than ever. It’s a big reason why they’re able to close games out like we saw on Wednesday. And so, after Teague’s layup brought the Hawks within striking distance, Lowry coolly collected the ball and brought it up the court. He drew the defence toward him en route to the hoop and found Amir Johnson for an open dunk, giving the Raptors star point guard (and latest Sportsnet Magazine cover boy) his 13th assist of the night. The dunk more or less sealed the game, and gave Johnson his 10th point, bringing all starters into double figures.
“When you get 22 and 21 points out of your second-unit guards, as we say in Kentucky — you’re cooking with gas,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey after the win, the team’s sixth in a row. “I thought our bench came in and changed the game. They gave us great energy.” With the win, the Raptors’ record moved to 13-2 on the season, extending their lead atop the NBA Eastern Conference. It also put them at least temporarily into first place in the league, with the West-leading Memphis Grizzlies taking on the L.A. Lakers. Much of Toronto’s early-season success has come thanks to one of the deepest benches in the league, including Williams, whom the Raptors picked up this summer in a deal which sent John Salmons to the Hawks (the rights to Lucas Nogueira also came the Raptors’ way in the deal).
Despite the record, their effort out of the gate – over the first five games or so – was suspect and raised at least some cause for concern, but this recent stretch has been encouraging. They have defeated quality teams – Memphis, Cleveland, Phoenix and now Atlanta. They’ve won their last nine games by a combined 151 points (16.8 per victory) and they’re doing it in a multitude of ways, with a number of players stepping to the plate. The Raptors are now 13-2 to begin the campaign, showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Only four Eastern Conference teams have started a season with a record as good or better in the last 10 years. One made it to the Conference Semi’s, two advanced to the East Finals, the 2007-08 Celtics won the championship. “It’s definitley nice,” admitted DeRozan. “But we’re not looking at it at all. We’re moving on to the next one.”
The Hawks weren’t pushovers by any stretch. In the first half, they kept it close with the three-ball, dropping 8-of-13 in the opening 24. Jeff Teague led the team with 24 points and 12 assists, but Toronto bottled him up with double-teams from James Johnson and Patrick Patterson late. Al Horford had a nice night as well, dominating Toronto’s small ball lineups on his way to 23 points and nine rebounds. When it came to key stops, though – the Hawks had nothing. The Raptors did whatever they wanted to do on the offensive end, whether it was Lowry post-ups, transition 3’s or pick and roll jumpers. It just looked easy on that end of the floor tonight. Not only does the win give the Raptors a franchise-best 4-1 start on the road, it also means we’ve heard the last of the Phillips Arena organist, who played a contemporary classics medley nonstop for the entirety of the game. It even bled into timeouts.
The duo of Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams combined for 43 points in 43 minutes of combined playing time. The pair also made 7 of 12 three-point shots on a variety of contested and open looks. It was a game of complete frustration for the Hawks. Williams hit a contested jumper at the end of the first quarter to give the Raptors a ten-point lead, and from there, the Hawks spent the rest of the night alternating between closing the gap and letting Toronto pull away.
Sadly, the defense let the Atlanta Hawks down in this spot. For the game, the visiting Raptors shot 51% from the field and 48% from 3-point distance, and aside from some fluky performances (i.e. from Vasquez and Williams), there were plenty of defensive issues to go around. Mike Budenholzer’s team will not have long to lick their wounds, as the Hawks are at home for another back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against New Orleans and Charlotte. Stay tuned to this space, but Atlanta will need much better work defensively in order to emerge with two victories.
The result was never really in doubt, was it? Despite Atlanta keeping up with Toronto for three quarters, the Raptors looked comfortable, and by the time the final frame had rolled around, #wethefourth had already taken effect. It was a sparse crowd as expected. Seemingly the only people in attendance at one point were Lou Williams’ 40 relatives.
“They deserve credit,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer post-game. “They made a lot of shots, made a lot of plays. Defensively, we’d like to be better. We’ll continue to get better. Tonight is a night that will test your mental toughness and test your physicality. For a lot of the night, we were good but you have to do it for 48 minutes against a good team.”
Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Raptors have a 2-1/2-game lead over the second-place Wizards and a 3-1/2-game lead over the Bulls. The Raptors have played the easiest part of their schedule, while the Bulls have played the toughest part of their schedule, caused by the annual residence of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in the United Center. Slow your roll, Hollinger odds.
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Raptors beat Hawks with fourth-quarter charge.
|Amir Johnson, PF 28 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +6An off night defensively. Millsap had him on his back heel and Amir was often forced to settle. Speaking of settling, he took two threes, and although they were wide open, he should really refrain from doing so. His form looks like he’s loading a heavy boulder onto a catapult.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -1Exploited defensively by Korver, as Ross found himself trailing the sharpshooter more often than not. He at least countered with some offense of his own, putting in five straight points in the second quarter.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 24 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -1Strong two-way play. Continued to stay hot from the field, scoring in pick-and-roll and on the block. He was yanked because the Hawks shifted to playing more small-ball. That’s now the biggest impediment to Jonas not seeing the floor. He can’t play when opponents go five-out with shooters.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 3-12 FG | 6-8 FT | 6 REB | 13 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +14Shot wasn’t falling, except when he was abusing Schroeder on the block, so he shifted to being a playmaker, which resulted in a season-high 13 assists. Did a poor job of containing penetration, but took a key charge and came up with a couple big rebounds and loose balls.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 8-16 FG | 9-9 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 27 PTS | +7Efficient scoring in the first half when his shot was falling. Eventually, his defenders made the correct adjustment, sticking close to DeRozan on his shots, thus limiting his effectiveness. Still managed to sink a few clutch free-throws down the stretch, though. Solid bounceback performance.|
|James Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +9Provided plenty of energy off the bench, especially defensively. Helped close the game out for the Raptors during a key stretch in the fourth. His size, quickness and activity makes him the most versatile defender the Raptors have. Solid work.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | +2Much like James Johnson, Patrick Patterson stepped it up defensively, providing some unexpected rim protection. Didn’t look for his shot whatsoever, but sunk a three in the fourth. Good work.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 17 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +10Did Chuck Hayes things. Too many minutes, but that’s not his fault. He’s not built to play smallball teams.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 17 MIN | 8-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | -3Exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring the Raptors’ first 12 fourth-quarter points. Solid decision making, took what the defense game him, and even took a charge. His best game of the season, for sure.|
|Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 6-11 FG | 6-6 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +12Sweet Lou got his revenge against the Hawks for dumping him in a trade for cap space. Snagged a key steal to spark a Raptors’ run in the fourth. Rocked a shit-eating grin for his former home crowd after the game.|
Not the strongest rotations, but managed the find the winning formula in the fourth with James Johnson playing free safety on defense. His counter to small-ball seemingly changes with every game, but one thing is constant: JV will not play. That’s not necessarily right or wrong, but it does turn the Raptors into a purely perimeter-oriented squad with little interior presence.
Two Things We Saw
- Tony Brothers is unquestionably one of the worst officials in the NBA. It’s not that his calls were biased one way or another. It’s the sheer frustration stemming from his inconsistent whistles. It completely kills the flow of the game because players are unsure as to what plays will, and will not, be called.
- I spent an hour researching stats and video for Vasquez’s struggles this season, and then this game happened. Guess that story won’t be seeing the light of day. Long story short, he was taking a lot of needlessly difficult shots. He didn’t do that today, and mostly feasted on whatever the defense gave him.
- Although the Raptors scored 126 points, it really didn’t feel like the offense was clicking at any point. The Raptors took a tonne of foul shots and shot well from the floor, but Atlanta’s swarming defense gave Toronto problems at times. Credit to the bench gunner duo of Williams and Vasquez, who combined for 43 points on 21 shots (!!!).
- Before everyone jumps on the JV benching, the Hawks did make a point of exploiting Ross and JV with side hand-offs with Korver and Horford. Jonas oftentimes couldn’t choose between stepping up to guard Korver, or dropping back and staying at home on Horford. Ross, meanwhile, always managed to get snagged on screens. The Hawks attacked this until Casey pulled both of them out. It’s a defensible decision.
- The Raptors are 55-24 since the Rudy Gay trade.
Greivis Vasquez may have supplied the punch early in the fourth, but it’s former Hawk Lou Williams that has stuck the dagger in Hawk hearts and he’s twisting it, and twisting it, and twisting it…
Glen Grunwald, who is now McMaster Univesity’s Athletic Director, was on TSN 1050 talking Raptors, here’s a quick summary:
- How much success boils down to luck? Says Masai “has benefiited form his dealings with the Knicks” over the years, and preferes to call it “good fortune”. This is in response to the host suggesting the current success is due to luck (Gay trade, not trading Lowry)
- Do you ever look at another GM and get cold feet since, maybe because he’s fleeced you before (reference to Dolan backing out agains Ujiri in the Lowry trade). Says it may have come down to the Knicks not wanting to give up the extra draft pick, perhaps more than Dolan being afraid of Ujiri
- Was asked about him interviewing before Dwane Casey before he hired Kevin O’Neill. Says “my gut told me that Casey probably the right guy….but sometimes when you’re trying to change a situation, you may go too far in one direction and we probably went too far towards the harder coaching style of Kevin O’Neill than the more balanced coaching style Dwane Casey would bring”
- Says “Toronto Raptors fans are too often underappreciated”, says “we didn’t have Maple Leaf square in 2001 to show off” but 2001 was similar to 2013, maybe even more dramatic than the 2013 turnaround
- Asked about the risk in making trades, says it’s tough to match team needs and does think nobody ever planned for the effect of the Rudy Gay trade because that was impossible to see
- Who does he cheer for? Raptors or Knicks. Says Raptors.
- Grunwald’s really into the Vanier Cup.
Assist to LD10.
The Toronto Raptors aren’t at home. That’s an odd thing to come to terms with Wednesday considering 10 of the team’s first 14 games have been at the ACC, but that’s a reality. They’re in Atlanta, tipping off at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet 360, trying to beat the 7-5 Hawks for the second time.
You’ll recall back on Oct. 29, the Raptors beat the Hawks 109-102 in the season opener for both teams. The game wasn’t quite that close most of the way, with a shaky Raptors defense letting the Hawks climb back into it late. The Raptors relied on a rebounding and turnover edge (surprise on that last one!) to make up a major gap in shooting efficiency, and that will probably be the case again – Atlanta ranks sixth in effective field goal percentage to 13th for the Raptors, but the Raptors turn the ball over far less, get to the line way more, and generally rebound better. That’s going to be the book on the Raptors most nights, anyway, with ball control and free throws carrying them to the league’s No. 2 offense so far.
The Hawks shouldn’t be taken lightly though. This is a team that some picked to fight for the third seed in the East and most assumed were, at worst, a potential first round opponent for the Raptors. There’s a lot of talent here, and a smart, fun system employed by head coach Mike Budenholzer. Kyle Korver is a nightmare to defend, Paul Millsap is exactly the kind of big man who has given the Raptors trouble this year, and it’s unclear through three career meetings if Jonas Valanciunas can handle Al Horford inside. This isn’t going to be easy.
To help set the stage, I reached out to Robby Kalland, formerly of Hawks.com, currently of Hardwood Paorxysm and now killing that college football beat.
Blake: Now that you’re Mr. SEC, has your love for Horford grown even more? How’s he looked so far this season, after missing most of last year with a torn pectoral muscle? The team’s been significantly worse with him on the floor.
Robby: On offense, he looks fine. He’s got his rhythm back with the mid-range shot and he’s added a corner three to his repertoire. He’s starting to get his timing with Jeff Teague back on the pick-and-roll and making better rim runs. However, the team has been horrible on defense with Horford on the floor, which is surprising considering he’s always been excellent on that end. It seems like he’s still not there as far as knowing where he should be positionally against pick-and-rolls — he gets caught hedging too high a lot. I think it will get there with more reps — he didn’t play much of the preseason or camp — and I think the defensive side is where it will take the most time to get right.
Blake: It’s exhausting just to watch Korver move without the ball. Obviously, a key tenet of Budenholzer’s offense is finding creative ways to free Korver, and despite his reputation, 52.1 percent of his field goal attempts are threes without a defender within four feet. Have any opponents been effective keeping him in check, and is there a hope here beyond just fighting through screen after screen after screen?
Robby: There’s no hope. The O-Rtg differential when Korver is on the floor compared to off is +17.4, which is just insane. If you try to guard him with one man, he’s going to run him into the ground and get open looks. If you try what a lot of teams have and commit help to Korver’s man, you leave yourself open to cuts from the screeners to the basket and driving lanes for Teague and Dennis Schröder. You really just hope it’s an off night for Korver and you try to do your best to force him out of the corners and off the three-point line as much as possible, but in the end he’s going to get his.
Robby: I love Adreian, but unfortunately it’s hard to see him getting minutes anytime soon. He dominated in his one game in the D-League, but he’s just not quite there offensively. If Mike Scott continues to struggle offensively, we could see Payne get some minutes, but for now it looks like he’ll be inactive for most nights in the foreseeable future.
Blake: Other than Pero Antic, the bench has largely been atrocious based on on/off court data. Has there been any thought of flipping Horford and Antic to allow Horford to prop up a struggling second unit? Are you concerned the Raptors’ effective bench will be the difference here?
Robby: I think there needs to be some lineup changes made. Staggering Horford and Millsap’s minutes would help, I’m not sure that means starting Antic, but at the least they shouldn’t be off the court for long stretches at the same time. Getting DeMarre Carroll back should help in allowing Bud to shuffle up the lineups a bit because he can balance Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha’s minutes. I think the Raptors’ bench will certainly cause some problems for the Hawks like they did in Toronto in the opener.
Blake: Lou Williams and Bebe Nogueira for The Nonguaranteed Contract Of John Salmons Which Can Be Waived To Clear Room To Sign Sefolosha, who says no?
Robby: It’s funny watching people freak out about Lou Williams’ start for Toronto and reacting to this trade. Lou didn’t work in Atlanta for a variety of reasons. The knee injury was unfortunate and he wasn’t the same player after that here, but even before that it was clear that he didn’t fit with what Coach Bud wanted to do. Lou loves jumpers — particularly fond of step-in twos which drove Bud crazy — and he wants the ball in his hands a lot. I think being here helped Lou learn to play better off the ball, but it’s clear where he’s at his best is when he can handle it and create, which he’s given the opportunity to do in Toronto. I’m very happy for Lou’s success in Toronto because he’s a fun player when he’s cooking like he is. That said, I don’t think anyone in or around the Hawks organization that was here for his three years looks back and is upset with that trade. It just didn’t work.
All of those great answers from Robby, and still, all I can think about is Korver popping open in a corner, over and over again. He went 6-of-7 from long range in the opener and has shot 42.7 percent from long range in 35 career games against the Raptors. The guy is a terror, and I really hope Terrence Ross is well rested and James Johnson’s ankle is feeling better.
Robby’s note about Horford’s defense could prove a key element for the Raptors. While it’s not necessarily safe to assume a good defender will continue to play poorly, getting Horford in the pick-and-roll, especially with how well Valanciunas is playing offensively, should be the team’s first look to open the game. Horford foul trouble creates it’s own problems with Antic checking in and the Hawks playing five shooters together like they did for most of last season, but you take that if it chases Horford off the floor or lets you exploit his discomfort with the current system. As has been the case often of late, Valanciunas is the key piece at both ends Wednesday.
Elsewhere, the Raptors have edges. Teague is a fine player but Kyle Lowry is Kyle Lowry. The Hawks have good defensive wings to slow DeMar DeRozan but nobody who can score with him. Korver is an edge at the other wing spot, as is Millsap at the four. The bench, again, is almost always an edge. A lot comes down to what Valanciunas can provide, and just how thoroughly Lowry can dominate. He had 11-6-10 in the opener and struggled shooting, but he’s been straight fire emojis of for a while before his current two-game mini shooting slump.
The Raptors are 3.5-point favorites, which feels maybe a bit high for a road game against a quality team. Then again, the early Hollinger Rankings suggest the Raptors have been so good they should be 9-point favorites, even at Fortress Phillips. At 12-2, can you really bet against the Raptors until they give you a reason not to? (Not literally “bet”…the Raptors are just 9-5 against the spread. I’m taking them for the win but would avoid that line, it’s too close on the road.)
There’s a lot of focus on breaking down offensive plays, because offense is a very interesting topic to analyze. It’s only after you watch the replay of most sets do you notice the subtleties of the action at play because the game simply moves too fast for someone watching on TV to keep track. Defense is even worse because focus is on the offensive player because they have the ball, meaning that the happenings on defense, unless it’s a late-game play, are a second-thought.
I’ve picked out three defensive plays from the Phoenix game that show you the spectrum of how the Raptors defense can work (or not work).
Double-screen negates Terrence Ross
Two soft double-screens set for Dragic completely take out Ross, who is left trailing the play. There’s no communication between DeRozan and Ross, as Dragic gets into the heart of the lane unimpeded. There he meets Jonas Valanciunas who is forced to come out and contest the shot, which he does as he’s supposed to in that situation. At this point, Valanciunas is completely out of rebounding position, and since Ross doesn’t block-out Plumlee, the Suns get a big-on-small matchup on the glass to score.Direct Link
Failure at multiple points, but the question is what allowed a double-screen set for a player of Dragic’s caliber to go unnoticed? The answer is the early side-action which had everyone paying attention to that side of the court, allowing Dragic to run without even as much as a bump. Take a look at this freeze-frame and look at where everyone is looking.
DeRozan up for rotating
The Suns aren’t all-out breaking here, but they are testing the defense’s ability to setup quickly. The early attack is met well and the Raptors quickly cover all five guys, so no easy baskets for Phoenix off the top. The Suns run two pick ‘n rolls in quick succession, on the first one the Raptors are able to switch and on the second they hedge and allow Plumlee to cut down the middle. The beauty here is that DeRozan drops down to cut off Plumlee’s path to the rim, giving Valanciunas enough time to recover.
Bledsoe now has to look elsewhere and he goes to the corner, but Amir Johnson’s rotation is intact. DeRozan, not content with his first rotation, makes another out to the perimeter, and after the pump-fake and drive, Lowry makes another rotation forcing a bad pass. Excellent communication and recognition in situations that require thinking on your feet. This sort of defense is so difficult to sustain for prolonged periods simply because of the physical exertion it requires, so when you see guys take plays off on D, it’s often times from fatigue more than anything.Direct Link
I like this play because Lowry’s positioning outside the circle is very decisive. He stops on a dime and comes to a complete stand-still so quickly, that by the time Dragic leaves his feet to jump, Lowry’s already set in stone. Lowry understand the charge rule perfectly and doesn’t try to sell the charge by leaning, which is the #1 way to make an official angry since it implies that you’re trying to con him.
The anticipation of the pass to Dragic is also commendable, because instead of meeting Dragic at the rim and trying to block his shot, Lowry takes the shorter distance to the edge of the circle. Ninety percent of guys in this situation would let their physical instincts take over and try to block the shot or contest it. Lowry, though, has become such an astute reader of the game that he recognizes his physical limitations in the situations, the nature of the player with the ball, and the options he has to defend. He gets it right more often than not.Direct Link
This week on Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry discuss what a marvellous time it is to be a Raptors fan. Is this real life? Not entirely sure yet but it’s been a pretty sweet ride and we’re content to sit back and enjoy.
The guys get up to their regular madness and talk about what’s been going down in Raptor Land lately.
-The incredible week we’ve all just experienced.
-Sweet Lou Williams.
-The ever growing maniacal Raptor fan-base.
-What’s going on with Greivis.
They also go around the league and check in on the struggling Cav’s, the super struggling Lakers and other league wide shenanigans. As always, we hope you enjoy the episode and thanks for listening!
Lowry was the team’s emotional and spiritual leader last year when Toronto went from moribund to division champions. As basketball integrates more and more statistical analysis, Lowry’s knack for influencing a game in its crevices can sometimes get lost. Not that Lowry’s contributions go ignored by stats. He is fourth in the Eastern Conference in player efficiency rating, which is a measure of a player’s per-minute statistical production that favours offensive contributions, and first in the Eastern Conference in win shares, an estimate of the number of wins added by a player. He is probably the best candidate to be named the conference’s player of the month next week. Only Chris Bosh, back in January 2007, has done that as a Raptor.
Lowry has shown an uncanny ability to make big plays at big moments in this wondrous start to the season for the Raptors and the interesting thing about it is the variety of ways that he does it. In Boston, he had a shocking strip of an over-matched rookie and a no-look drop pass to DeMar DeRozan that sealed a win. Against Utah, he made a clutch shot in the dying minutes that basically sealed a win. Monday against Phoenix, he had an amazing few seconds that included a blocked shot, a steal, an assist and an offensive foul charged that was a tour de force. And it was eclipsed in the final 30 seconds by another steal off Isaiah Thomas and a jump ball forced that was the defining late-game play in Toronto’s fifth straight win. “He can’t tell you the technique he uses, he just gets it done,” said Casey. “A loose ball on the floor, he’s going to come up with it; a charge to be taken, he’s going to get it. Last night, it was a blocked shot (and) at his size, he got it. He just finds a way in those situations to get it done and it’s just the DNA of Kyle.”
Last year, the Raptors finished the season with a record of 9-17 in games within three points or less over the final minute. They were often unrecognizable in the game’s biggest moments. Overall, they ranked ninth in the league in taking care of the ball, but they totaled 14 turnovers in “crunch time”, most in the NBA, even though there were 15 teams that experienced those situations more often. They shot 68 per cent from the line in crunch time, the league’s third lowest percentage, despite shooting 78 per cent (fifth best) on the season. This season, they’re a perfect 4-0 in those same situations, including their latest win over the Suns. They haven’t committed a single turnover and they’ve made 10 of 11 free throw attempts. “That’s all we did in training camp,” said Lowry, whose steal sealed Monday’s victory in the final 20 seconds. “We did late-game situations and coach really hammered it home and made us understand that these are the type of situations that we’re going to be in. (Monday) night was one of the situations that we worked on, a team coming back on us, making threes, small lineup where we just had to make an adjustment. We made some plays at the end to win the game.” Through 14 contests, they still haven’t been pressed into taking one final, game-deciding shot. Most of their key plays in the win over Phoenix, highlighted by Lowry’s takeaway, came on the defensive end.
“We are not worried about our record,” said Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry. “We are just taking it game by game and trying to get better.” Lowry is certainly living up to the latter item on his list. Coming off a career year last season—and a free-agent payday in July—the Bulldog of Bay Street currently ranks fifth among point guards in both scoring and field-goal percentage, third in rebounding, tenth in assists and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio. Advanced stats support the idea that Lowry is playing better than ever. Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a stat created by ESPN’s John Hollinger, measures a player’s per-minute statistical production. The league average for PER (every season) is 15.00. After finishing last year with an impressive 20.20 PER, Lowry sits near the top of his conference in the stat so far this year—and he has some company in two Toronto teammates as well.
Ross and Jonas Valanciunas still are developing, but now rather than live with the shortcomings of youth that periodically show up, head coach Dwane Casey has enough bullets in his chamber to reload and hit the opposition with a second and different barrage of artillery. That depth has been on full display throughout this sizzling start. Even on the rare occasion where DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the two mainstays of the starting five have faltered, Casey has found an answer on the bench. Early on it was the hard-nosed defence and more offence than one would expect from James Johnson. Johnson was brought back to Toronto after a two-year hiatus first in Sacramento and then Memphis. He returned a more mature player, a player who knows his role and a better overall player because of it. He’s part of the reason this team has more options. Lou Williams is another part.
Man Clean is basically empowering guys to boast about their Man Clean swagger. Let’s be realistic. Guys don’t clean. When we come into the house, we just throw stuff to the side or sweep stuff under the carpet and call it a day. So I’m trying to preach to guys that it is cool to clean, especially using great tools like Swiffer. It’s easy to use. Growing up, for me, my grandmother says cleanliness is close to Godliness, so you always want to stay clean. I’ve just been around the city, going house to house, showing guys how to clean, and starting this movement.
With the Raptors, are they a great regular season team setting themselves up to grow into a postseason contender? Is the team chemistry carrying them? Are they just taking advantage of a home-heavy schedule? How good is this team with Kyle Lowry handling the ball?
Solid road test for the 12-2 Raptors, who play four of their next five away from the Air Canada Centre . . . Toronto might catch a bit of a break, as the Hawks will be finishing up a back-to-back after a trip to Washington on Tuesday night . . . Hawks love to share; in 10 of their first 11 games, they had at least 20 assists as a team and are averaging almost 25 assists per game . . . Kyle Korver began play Tuesday as the only player in the NBA shooting at least 50 per cent from two-point range, 50 per cent from three-point range and 90 per cent from the foul line . . . Atlanta is 5-1 at home and 4-0 against Eastern Conference opponents at Philips Arena . . . A homecoming of sorts for Toronto’s Lou Williams, who spent two seasons with the Hawks before being dealt to the Raptors last summer.
If someone tells you “stop getting all giddy in November, act like you’ve been there before”, it’s factually correct to tell them you’ve actually never been here before, since the earliest you’ve ever seen the Raptors be 10 games over .500 would be March.
If Toronto can control the pace and guard the three-point line effectively enough, the end result in Atlanta shouldn’t be any different than on opening night. The Raptors have an opportunity to match the best stretch of wins in team history with a victory. Toronto has won 10 of their last 11 games and is one win shy of a stretch in 2002 when they won 11 of 12 games at the end of the regular season.
Atlanta (7-5) returns home looking to make it three in a row after pulling out a 106-102 victory at Washington on Tuesday. Jeff Teague scored a season high-tying 28 points for the second time in as many games while reserves Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack combined for 30, including the Hawks’ first 16 points in the fourth quarter. “We have a lot of confidence in those two guys,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They believe in each other and believe in what they’re doing on both ends of the court. At times they can both get going.”
here is a new threat out East, and it is from way up North. The Toronto Raptors have come out the gates running to start the new season, and the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been the chief conspirators of this success. Together, Lowry and DeRozan log in the most minutes of any backcourt, averaging a combined 38.8 points, 8.8 assists, and 9.3 rebounds. The Raptors lead the Eastern Conference with a 9-2 record.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Our hero left the comfort of the hotel room to take in the fresh Atlanta air and stroll his way to the NBA TV studios to have a chat with Ernie Johnson, Greg Anthony, and that guy who called a timeout when his teammates didn’t have any timeouts.
You’re probably expecting a video in this post but are curious just what ‘analysis’ could possibly be accompanied by a harmless appearance on a variety show. Plenty, I say.
I like the chequered look; it’s classy, hip, and just the right amount of informal for a formal occasion. It says, “Hey, I was just walking down the street shopping for some LPs when somebody nudged me on my shoulder and asked if I wanted to be on TV. I had a couple minutes, and figured why not make some people happy”
Hands on his pockets but not in his pockets. Says I got so much game that I need to keep my hands in check lest I dunk on you right on this rim behind us.
Nodding motion is huge. You don’t want to nod like you’re not listening and just waiting to speak, yet at the same time you don’t want to appear like a ‘yes man’. DeRozan’s strategy is to detect inflection in people’s voices and nod at a rate proportional to the rate of inflection increase. He pulls it off and looks interested, engaged, and yet relaxes.
Quality of Answers:
Gave his teammates credit; gave management credit; gave Drake credit. Talked about increasing his strength over the summer and taking everything personally, and dodged a question regarding if he’s the best SG in the league.
Didn’t say anything when the guy who called a timeout when he didn’t have any timeouts grouped Sacramento and Toronto as “small towns”. Clearly the guy who called a timeout when he didn’t have any timeouts hasn’t been to Toronto since 1864.
Talked about a prank where put an egg in Amir Johnson’s shoe. Got a few laughs.
Raptors VP of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, was on TSN 1050 talking about the Raptors hot start with Macko and Cauz. Here’s a quick summary:
- Asked whether he and Masai Ujiri high-five behind the scenes, says no high-fives, too soon to celebrate anything, way too many games to go
- Asked about whether he’s surprised that Lowry panned out, he said nobody in the organization had any doubts about Lowry panning out and that they all believed in his ability
- Stated that the reason Lowry’s name was in trade rumours last year was because the Raptors knew that “if they went the other way” (i.e., tanked) they wouldn’t be as “bad as they needed to be” with Lowry. The questions at the time were all about “Are we good enough to put a team around [Lowry]?”
- Asked about how serious they were about committing to tanking, he said, “hard to say” because they they couldn’t find a “partnership” in trade talks that would facilitate tanking. Says “they were 6-12 and were pretty serious that the team wasn’t good enough to get us where we wanted to get and needed to retool it. So, we had, in our minds, made that decision”. A bit vague, basically I understand this as they wanted to tank but couldn’t find a partner so just stuck with it
- Vasquez, on the trade, said that “we may have not gotten the four best players on the trade, but we got the four best people” and from that point it was all about building chemistry
- Asked about what needs to be improved to make us a dangerous playoff team, say they can already be a “dangerous playoff team” and don’t need to do much; says that they need to stay healthy and focused. Points to the “three unfocused minutes” versus Phoenix where they blew the lead, and how that’s the type of lapses they need to avoid
- Asked further about what it takes to be a good playoff team, comments on how valuable last year’s playoff experience was and how that’s helping them now in terms of their “approach to game, approach to practice, approach to one another”
Thanks to @LD10 for the heads-up.
Plucky Suns test Raptors’ mettle but nifty adjustments lead to fifth-straight win.
The Toronto Raptors narrowly escaped with a 104-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns before a raucous home crowd on Monday night.
Jonas Valanciunas finished as the high scorer on the night with 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 14 and 23 points apiece, while reigning Eastern conference player of the week Lou Williams remained hot, pouring in 17 points of his own.
The game opened with Toronto opting to exploit their size advantage in the post, specifically through Valanciunas. The 7-foot Lithuanian had his way with Phoenix’s small front-court, managing to goad Suns center Miles Plumlee into foul trouble just two minutes into the contest. Plumlee’s backup Alex Len fared no better, as the Raptors chose to repeatedly attack through Valanciunas. He finished the quarter with 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting, while the Raptors held a three-point advantage into the second.
With Valanciunas needing a breather, Williams continued the onslaught for the Raptors. He torched the Suns with a series of shots off pick-and-roll action. He scored nine points in five minutes in the second, helping to offset the Suns’ bench pairing of Gerald Green and Isaiah Thomas, who kept the Suns afloat while their teammates weathered a cold spell. Having won both quarters, the Raptors held a six-point edge going into the half.
The third quarter started much like the first. Valanciunas resumed his dominance in the post, connecting on all three of his shots on the quarter. Defensively, the Raptors were able to hold the Suns to just 1-of-7 shooting from 3-point range thanks to tighter defensive rotations. By shutting down the perimeter, the Suns were forced into settling for their second option, which was to attack the hoop. The trade-off with the Raptors’ aggressive perimeter defense came at the expense of conceding the rim, leading to the Suns sinking 5-of-7 shots in the restricted area. However, the defense in the aggregate was solid, as the Raptors limited Phoenix to just 18 points, helping to balloon their lead to fifteen points heading into the final frame.
Desperate for options, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek opted to field a small-ball lineup in hopes of sparking a run. Led by point guard Eric Bledsoe, the Suns’ five-out attack flummoxed the Raptors’ defenders. The Suns’ surplus of speed and shooting was particularly effective against the Raptors’ slower defenders, namely Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey countered with a small-ball lineup of his own, swapping out various bigs at center, before finally settling on the right one in Patrick Patterson.
Ultimately, the Suns managed to take a one-point lead late thanks to their hot shooting from beyond. The Suns managed to connect on 7-of-10 triples. Phoenix’s attack was spearheaded by Bledsoe’s ability to consistently generate penetration, resulting in either layups or kickouts to open shooters.
However, with the game on the line, Lowry was able to come up with a series of key decisive plays to ensure the victory for Toronto. With the Suns trailing by two, Lowry managed to poke the ball loose from Thomas’s hands, then proceeded to tie up Thomas to generate a jump-ball, which he managed to win. The change of possession forced the Suns into fouling DeRozan, who sunk both free-throws, which effectively sealed the victory for Toronto.
The win snaped the Suns’ four-game winning streak, and pushed the Raptors to a league-best 12-2 record.
Valanciunas’s early dominance was mostly a product of his size advantage, but his quick decision making factored in as well. The Suns are a help-conscious team, readily willing to commit help defenders where needed. However, Valanciunas’s decisiveness allowed him to preserve advantageous 1-on-1 matchups, leading to scores like the following.
In the play below, Valanciunas catches the pass and doesn’t hesitate, putting up his shot before Bledsoe could rotate over.
DeRozan’s improving defense
DeRozan has historically shown to be a poor defender, but he has made strides in each of the last two seasons. Although DeRozan mostly conserves his energy to deliver on offense, he has also shown the ability to be productive defensively when his shot isn’t falling. With Valanciunas handling much of the offense in the first half, DeRozan shifted into gear against Goran Dragic, who ended the game shooting just 3-of-9.
On the play below, DeRozan stays with Dragic all the way on his drive, using his feet to slide into position while keeping his hands up high. He leans on Dragic’s dominant left hand, and takes away the drive, forcing Dragic into making an errant pass to the corner.
Vasquez’s continued struggles
It’s no secret that backup point guard Greivis Vasquez has gotten off to a slow start. Many have pointed to the introduction of Williams into the backcourt as the reason for Vasquez’s struggles, but there are other, more obvious factors at play. Vasquez looks even slower than he was a season ago, and his wild decision making has ventured from creative to crazy.
Vasquez was once a staple of the Raptors’ fourth quarter units, but he was pulled in favor of Williams against Phoenix, perhaps due to questionable decisions like the the one below. For the record, that’s a behind-the-back pass, in traffic, to a poor finisher in Chuck Hayes. Vasquez compounded his struggles by shooting just 1-of-6 on the night.
Quote of the game
Valanciunas says he’s a fighter. “Like Mike Tyson” (his shirt), he’s asked. “Not like that, but pretty much the same.” Wut?
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) November 25, 2014
Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY
Although Valanciunas did not play in the game’s final four minutes and 45 seconds, the Raptors leveraged his skills for the 32 minutes he was on the floor. None of Phoenix’s traditional big men, from starter Miles Plumlee to reserves Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph, had a prayer. Valanciunas had a career-high 27 points, missing just one of his 11 field-goal attempts and one of his eight free throws. A segment of Raptors fans have been desperate for Valanciunas to become a more prominent part of the Raptors’ offence, and he was just that on Monday. Credit goes to both Valanciunas and Lowry, who looked for the centre play after play, whether in the post or in the pick-and-roll. “He was dominant tonight. He was really aggressive. He asserted himself,” Lowry said. “He really attacked the basket. He really went out there and played like a true, dominant 7-foot centre.” “When teams want to speed it up like that,” said Raptors reserve Chuck Hayes, “we’ve got to slow it down and feed the big fella.”
The Raptors forced 20 Suns turnovers, leading to 24 points. The biggest ones were courtesy of Lowry. “He had a sequence where he got the block, loose ball, got the steal, got the assist and then the charge. Unbelievable. That shows our leader, man,” said Hayes. Casey said Lowry “kind of always finds a way to find those big plays down the stretch, that’s just his nature … He’ll coast a little bit, but when it’s really that time of day, he steps up.” Lowry shifted the credit toward Valanciunas. “He was dominant tonight. He was really aggressive. He asserted himself,” Lowry said. “He really attacked the basket (and) went out there and played like a true, dominant 7-foot centre.”
Toronto withstood a barrage of seven Phoenix three-pointers in the fourth quarter — wiping out a Raptors lead that had stretched to 15 points – and simply won by playing better than the other guys when the game was on the line. “One night it’s free throws, one night it’s jump balls, one night it’s steals, one night it’s rebounds — or one night it’s going to be rebounds,” coach Dwane Casey joked. “It’s . . . finding different ways to win.” Before yet another boisterous sellout crowd of 19,800, it was enough small plays down the stretch that made the biggest difference. Lowry had a huge steal off Isaiah Thomas with Toronto up two and about 23 seconds left, a deft move that led to a jump ball between the two diminutive guards. The Raptors got control after the jump only because Terrence Ross made a wonderful save of a ball headed out of bounds, and they iced the game at the free-throw line.
As long as Casey is in charge, the Raptors will continue to hang their hats on defence. That’s what wins in this league, as he’ll tell you. It’s what won on this night. However, it’s their suddenly red-hot offence that has helped propel them to their best start in team history. Monday’s game featured two of the league’s highest scoring teams. The Raptors entered their meeting with Phoenix ranked second in points per game (first in the East), just ahead of the fourth-ranked Suns. It’s hardly unusual to see the Suns at the top of the NBA’s offensive hierarchy. With Steve Nash at the helm of a prolific and revolutionary offence, the Suns paced the NBA in scoring for six straight seasons earlier in the decade. Last year, their first under head coach Jeff Hornacek, they tailored their attack around a pair of dynamic point guards, reestablishing themselves as a nightly threat to run you out of the gym. But it’s a relatively new look for the defensive-minded Raptors. Their rise to the top of the scoring ladder has been gradual. It’s been more subtle.
Geography remains the prime tormenter for the Suns. A year after winning 63% of interconference games, teams from the Western Conference had a 45-19 record (.703 winning percentage) against teams from the East heading into Monday’s games. Since 2002, the East won at least 50% of its games against the West just once. As noted by SB Nation’s Tom Ziller in an article advocating the end of conferences, only one team from the West — Oklahoma City, currently missing two superstars — has a losing record against the East this year. In the East, only three teams, Toronto, Washington and Chicago, have an average point differential better than plus-1.0 per game; in the West, there are 10 such teams. Or, just look at the Suns. They started their season 5-5, with eight of those games against Western Conference teams. On Nov. 17, they started a five-game Eastern Conference road trip that ends on Monday in Toronto. They are now 9-5, having beaten Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Indiana by a combined 53 points. The West has one truly depressing team, and that team has Kobe Bryant. Even the young teams that are destined to miss the playoffs are loaded with exceptional athletes and potential.
The win improved the Raptors record to 12-2, tying them for the best record in the NBA with Memphis — who the Raptors bested when they visited Toronto last week — and extended their lead over Washington for the best record in the Eastern Conference. As a result Dwane Casey’s biggest job these days is trying to make it sound like the team that went 41-21 to end last season has only picked up the pace this year and is still a work in progress. “We’re still a growing team, it’s too early to look at records and who won what,” said Casey. “My job is to continue to push, continue to improve and not get caught up in records or anything like that.” Caution is a hard note to sound around a team and a fan base where everything seems to be so upside down. After years of everything that could go wrong, the Raptors are like a rich divorcee in Vegas: Nothing is wrong.
Jonas Valanciunas would not be the first Raptor you’d predict to shine against the run-and-gun Suns. Still, for most of the first half, against an overmatched Alex Len and Miles Plumlee, Valanciunas had his way. He finished the game with a career-high 27 points (on 10-of-11 shooting) and 11 rebounds. “I was just doing my job,” Jonas said after the game. “I was rebounding the ball, trying to get open, setting good screens and that’s my game.” Valanciunas’ game proved to be so effective that the Suns’ only answer was to go small. They’re fourth quarter rally – they outscored the Raps 34-23 in the fourth – was fueled by the dynamite Isaiah Thomas, the smallest player on both teams. He went for a quick 16 points (12 in the fourth quarter) on 6-of-10 shooting, and four 3s. The Raptors 15-point third quarter lead evaporated and the statement changed. The Raps needed to rally. While it was the biggest player on the Raptors who helped build their lead, it was the smallest, Kyle Lowry, who helped keep it. “It was huge,” Coach Casey said of Lowry’s late-game heroics. “That last play when he dove on the ball and just poked it away and caught them sleeping was huge in that situation.”
The Suns managed just 36 points in the paint to Toronto’s 52 yet somehow got hot enough in the fourth quarter to outscore Toronto 34-23 thanks to seven made three-point buckets. The defense finally found its way during the fourth as well, and it made up for a game where Phoenix just couldn’t knock down open jumpers. Goran Dragic went 3-for-9 and had four turnovers to his four assists, while the Morris twins didn’t have enough to stretch the court. Don’t blame Phoenix’s ball movement. It was good, and almost too unselfish. When the Suns weren’t missing open shots, they were forcing passes and giving up open looks. That was part of the turnover problem. Eric Bledsoe played a complete game for the Suns, dropping 25 points to go with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. Thomas and Green torched Toronto in the fourth, but their turnovers ultimately caused the rally to fall short.
The Suns were down 100-98 when the ball was poked lose from Thomas ending in a jump ball between Kyle Lowry and Thomas. Lowry won the tip ending in two made free throws by DeMar DeRozan. Eric Bledsoe hit two free throws to close the gap back within two but DeRozan again hit two more free throws to seal the game for the Raptors. The Suns won the quarter 34-23 but couldn’t get the win. Jonas Valanciunas ended with a career high 27 points on 10-11 shooting for the Raptors. Lowry had 14 points, DeRozan had 23 points, and Lou Williams ended with 17 points. The Suns shot 46.4% while the Raptors shot 45.1%. The final score was 104-100 Raptors.
Suns forward Markieff Morris finished with 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting in 37 minutes. It was the fifth game in a row that he has shot 50 percent or better from the field. The fourth-year forward is hitting 51.1 percent of his shots so far this season. He also grabbed eight boards Monday, which is the most he’s pulled down in the last 11 games.
The Suns almost swiped a fifth consecutive victory anyway, employing a small-ball lineup to take a lead a six minutes later and have possessions in the last two minutes to take a lead and then to tie. Instead, they committed two more turnovers for their fourth 20-turnover game in the first 15 games. With Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker as big men, the Suns stormed back off 14 fourth-quarter points by Eric Bledsoe and 12 fourth-quarter points by Isaiah Thomas. Gerald Green committed an offensive foul trying to drive the baseline with the game tied and 1:16 to play. After Toronto took a 100-98 lead off a possession with two offensive rebounds, the Suns had what would prove to be their final chance. Markieff Morris set a high screen for Thomas as the Suns had riddled Toronto with pick-and-rolls all quarter. This time, Kyle Lowry went over the screen easily. When Thomas tried to cross his dribble, Lowry poked it loose and wound up tying up Thomas at midcourt as several Suns tried to get a timeout.
Weird vibe in Toronto’s locker room tonight. On the one hand, the team escaped with a win to push their record to 12-2. However, it was clear talking with the players they were grumpy with choking up a big lead in the fourth quarter. None of the usual joking around between teammates that normally happens after wins. More of a somber, business approach tonight once the media got into the locker room.
The game was decided in the final couple of minutes as the heart and hustle of Kyle Lowry was on full display. Lowry shot 1-5 in the quarter, but he made the layup that put the Raptors up 98-95 with 2:09 left in the game. Then with 23 seconds left, it was Lowry who tackled Isaiah Thomas, tied up the ball and won the jump-ball that put this game out of reach. The final score was 104-100 Toronto. Lowry finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a block. DeRozan scored 23 points and got to the free throw line 13 times. Player-of-the-Week Lou Williams scored 17 points. Valanciunas’ 27 points was the game-high as he shot 10-11 from the field and 7-8 from the charity stripe.
The Raptors’ interior defense was solid in this contest. The Suns shot 46.4% from the field and trailed through three quarters. Unfortunately for the Dinos, their opponent laid out a blistering performance from three-point territory in the fourth quarter and made the final minutes a bit more interesting. Phoenix mounted an incredible run in the late comeback, shooting 7-10 from three and 11-16 from the field. The Raps’ perimeter defense failed to adjust, and as a result, the visitors closed the double-digit gap in short time. The defensive MVP of the night is Lowry, who instigated a crucial jump ball at the expense of offensive coordinator Isaiah Thomas which ultimately secured the W.
here were a few ties, and DeRozan and Patrick Patterson came up clutch, draining all of their free throws in the final minutes. DeMar iced his last two with 5.2 seconds left, making the game 104-100, and the Suns finally succumbed. Whew. This is the first time in franchise history that the Raptors have started 4-0 against the Western Conference. They are now on a five-game winning streak. They are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best record in the NBA at 12-2. Things are good in T-dot.
Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto sports the East’s best record at 52-24, which is 4½ games better than Chicago’s 48-29. The committee (of one) is starting to get its hopes up, in other words, that our long-awaited return to T-Dot for the first time since 2007 won’t have to wait until All-Star Weekend in 2016.
Is he on his decline? or is he just injured. I know he bring its on defence but what happened to his scoring and rebounding??
Lou Williams is normally a shy, reserved player, so it was great to hear him open up about being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the doubt that crept into his mind while he was rehabbing from knee surgery, his ability to draw fouls and the winning atmosphere in Toronto’s locker room that was apparent early in the season.
Watching Toronto go on a 24-2 second-half run in its win at Cleveland on Saturday was pretty convincing. The addition of explosive bench scorer Lou Williams has shored up a key roster shortcoming and helped give the Raptors a top-10 bench. On the downside, every rotation player on the roster has a winning percentage significantly exceeding his preseason projection, with two exceptions: Greivis Vasquez and Tyler Hansbrough. Some of the overachievers — such as Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross — are young players who might simply be getting better faster than we thought. But as a roster, Toronto is due to regress as the schedule toughens. And then there’s this cautionary tale: Last season’s Indiana Pacers. The moral of that story is that championships are not won in November. Nevertheless, the chasm between Toronto and everyone else in the Eastern Conference can’t be ignored. As for the kittens, the differentials, adjusted and otherwise, tell a yawn-inducing story of utter mediocrity. Washington’s plus-3.4 margin of victory translates to about 48 wins over a full season. After accounting for the Wizards’ 25th-ranked schedule, that MOV gets knocked down to plus-1.4. And that’s the second-best mark in the East. The Cavaliers have faced the league’s sixth-toughest schedule, and the fifth-most difficult set of opposing offenses. So Cleveland owns the third-ranked adjusted MOV (plus-0.6). I imagine that’s small consolation to a team that is reeling at the moment.
Is it even fair to refer to the Toronto Raptors as dark-horse title contenders anymore? They own the best record in the Eastern Conference (11-2) and the biggest positive point differential (plus-12.2) in the entire league. To be sure, the fact that the Raptors are good isn’t at all astonishing. Last season, the core of this squad went 42-22 and nearly nipped the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs after trading away Rudy Gay in the wake of a 6-12 start. It only figures that this club’s continuity, with Kyle Lowry returning to Toronto via free agency to maintain arguably the East’s best backcourt alongside All-Star DeMar DeRozan, would yield yet another momentous step forward.
No team typifies that sort of zeal than the Toronto Raptors — two decades into the franchise’s history, the only remaining Canadian NBA team is finally having their chance in the sun. They lost Vince Carter, they lost Chris Bosh, but they’ve wandered into dominance over not just the Atlantic Division (no big feat, to be honest, the rest of the teams there are in a bad way right now) but also the entire Eastern Conference. It’s a long time coming for a team that’s been consistently underachieving to this point in their NBA tenure. No one can say if their success is sustainable, but for now the Raptors are on a long, wild ride of winning games, and they’re doing it in style. Plus, they have Lou Williams, one of the most entertaining shooting guards in the game.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams after Toronto hung on to beat Phoenix 104-100.
Kyle Lowry has a weird way of padding his stats. He commits the turnover on purpose only so he could get a block, steal, and an assist. If he was a chess player, this is what would have been known a Grandmaster’s Trap where you sacrifice a pawn for a rook, knight, and horse. It was first used by Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov in 1868, in a tournament in St. Petersburgh, a tense match where if he had lost, the Czar would’ve taken both his hands*.
This is how that appeared in the ESPN box:
* I made all that up.
Kyle Lowry saves Raptors from fourth quarter collapse.
|Amir Johnson, PF 25 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -1Good passes, fits into the offence, knows his role defensively. Look, he’s not going to lead your fantasy team to victory but he’s a great piece.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 4-11 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -3Some bad shots, a forgettable first quarter but his shooting distracted Suns defenders. Ross made questionable decisions when collapsing on defence, but was passable.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 32 MIN | 10-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 27 PTS | +10Phoenix doesn’t have a daunting frontcourt, but it is important to see JV dominate a game he should. Casey gave him the hook at the end for reasons that escape me, but just a solid performance from the kid.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +1Lowry, as it turns out, is very good. The shooting percentage isn’t great, but some of those were forced chucks near the end of shot clocks. His defence left something to be desired, given the ease in which Bledsoe got to the rim. It would take much more than a quick reaction to dig into, but I think a large reason the Raptors have a 27-0 record at home when holding a lead going into the fourth quarter is Lowry. He just doesn’t allow the Raptors to lose.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 37 MIN | 7-20 FG | 9-13 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 23 PTS | +9Not a great line, but he did what he needed to. His ability to get to the line can’t be overlooked; the Suns are and were lethal in transition. DeMar stopped the clock and allowed the D to get set. His defence was good and Goran couldn’t get away with his typical shenanigans. Add a couple more made field goals and no one is complaining.|
|James Johnson, PF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Limited minutes because he’s still nursing that ankle sprain. Don’t sleep on how annoying an injury like that can be, either. It’s a positive to see him playing at all.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +14The scoring wasn’t there, but it didn’t need to be. His passing and rebounding are solid compliments off the bench, and just the threat of his shooting opens things up.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 9 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -10Hayes is still riding high off of that Grizzlies performance but got a bit too much run tonight. Suns aren’t a good match-up for him and he played too much in the fourth.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -5Vasquez wasn’t out there in the closing line up and the regression is real. If we’re willing to put a lot of stock into a 12-2 record, we also need to concede that Vasquez is out of sorts.|
|Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +5Lou usurped Vasquez in the crunch-time rotation tonight and he deserved it. Williams had it going in the first half, including a great hesitation dribble (or “hezzy,” as some would call it) that shook the help defender. I could do without the pump-fake, step-back threes with upwards of 15 seconds on the shot clock but that’s just Lou.|
Not sure why he allowed Vasquez and Hayes to linger on the court for so long in the fourth. This isn’t news: the Suns guard rotation is excellent and fast. Vasquez and Hayes are neither of those and should the Raptors have dropped this one, it would fall on Casey’s shoulders. I’m also not a fan of benching Jonas when he’s been a major factor on either end.
Three Things We Saw
- Respect for Milos Raonic coming out to the game despite getting off a flight three hours prior. (And a much better interview than Eugenie Bouchard’s.)
- A Lou Williams behind-the-back pass for a Chuck Hayes floater got Bruno fired up. Bruno knows. (I previously said Vasquez, but it was Williams. Vasquez tried a similar play right after.)
- Not a unique thought, but the Suns letting Channing Frye go was a mistake. Anthony Tolliver ain’t no Frye.
With the Raptors up two with seconds left, the Suns got the ball and the silly mistake of going right at Kyle Lowry through Isaiah Thomas. Clearly, Jeff Hornacek doesn’t have cable because going at Lowry in that pressure situation is tantamount to starving a lion for days, smearing deer meat all over yourself, and then prodding the lion with a wooden stick. What I’m getting at is that it’s asking for trouble. So here’s the full video of what happened.
Jeff Hornacek is moaning about a foul on this play, which is something I expect of Jeff Hornacek. He always seemed the weird, slimy type, what with him rubbing his face after every FT he made. Sure, he was saying hi to his kids using that gesture, but still.
Clearly, Lowry didn’t foul Thomas as you can see on this top-angle GIF. As for Johnson coming over the top, it’s a loose-ball, everything goes.Direct Link
As you can see, Amir Johnson won the ball in the end, but the refs somehow managed to have Kyle Lowry jump against Isaiah Thomas. No biggie.Direct Link
We’re 12-2, which is surreal.
You can play it safe by running a double-screen to get a guy open in the backcourt. Or you could do this.Direct Link
Lou Williams is the Eastern Conference Player of the week.
The press release states:
The National Basketball Association announced Monday guard Lou Williams has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played November 17-23. Williams earned the honours for the first time in his career and joined Chris Bosh (7X), Vince Carter (7X), Mike James, Jalen Rose and Kyle Lowry as the only players in team history to win the award.
Williams helped the Raptors to a 3-0 record last week, averaging 23.7 points off the bench while shooting .526 (10-for-19) from three-point range and a perfect 21-for-21 at the free throw line.
He was the only player in the NBA last week to average 23.0+ points and play less than 25.0 minutes. During Saturday’s 110-93 win at Cleveland, Williams sparked an 18-point comeback with a career-high 36 points. He became the first non-starter in team history to shoot a perfect 15-for-15 at the free throw line.
Interesting statistical Tweet as well:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) November 24, 2014
The highlight of the week was his game in Cleveland where he lit everything up, including LeBron James:Direct Link
We may have reached a point where the needs of the Toronto Raptors and the needs of Jonas Valanciunas have made a decisive split. His minutes are down, he rarely plays in fourth quarters and there just doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to work through his mistakes on the court with wins now representing the team’s yardstick for success.
The primary cause for this dilemma remains the issues that Valanciunas displays on defence. He is still too often found out of position, or only half-committing to defensive rotations, he is still easy to bait into leaving his feet and he frequently neglects box-out assignments at the end of a defensive stand. The team lets up 11.7 points per 100 possessions more when Valanciunas is on the floor (per 82games.com) and that has left Dwane Casey unable to play Valanciunas down the stretch in tight contests, the most recent example being the nail-biter against Memphis last week.
Now, it needs to be said early and often that Valanciunas is not playing poorly. He is a tremendously efficient offensive player and his post moves are varied and well-executed. He’s in the top-ten in PER amongst centres at 20.53 and he’s increased his shooting percentages in each of his first three seasons.
However, those defensive issues are a problem, and the team cannot afford to just leave him on the court to work them out. This is his third NBA season and he is still making a lot of the same defensive mistakes that he made last year and the year before. It’s a combination of timidity and uncertainty. Part of that is not his fault. He has been burned several times this season and last when he has made his defensive rotation and no one has covered him by rotating to his man. That has made him tentative about fully committing to leaving his assignment, which pulls him into a half-committed No Man’s Land where he’s not decisively covering anyone. This leaves the team open to easy passing sequences that leaves the Raptors scrambling to keep up.
The Raptors are 16th in the NBA is opponent’s field goal percentage five feet and in (58.4%), and that’s on a schedule that’s seen them play Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Washington — all teams in the bottom half of the league in shooting at the rim. This situation doesn’t fall entirely at the feet of Valanciunas, but he does represent the team’s last line of defence when he is out on the court, and right now that represents a dicey proposition for a club looking to stake its claim on the defensive end.
Now, this might not have been enough to cut into Valanciunas’ minutes on its own. He has seen a 4.4 reduction in minutes from last season, though, because this issue combines with a lack of toughness on the glass. The boxing-out issue has already been mentioned, but if you looked at his per-minute rebounding numbers you’d see that they are mostly holding steady from a season ago. The problem arises when you dig into those numbers to see where those rebounds are coming from. 61.7% of Valanciunas’ rebounds are categorized as uncontested (a stat which tracks rebounds that are snatched when there was no defender within 3.5 feet — thanks nba.com), meaning that he is mostly padding his rebounding numbers by chasing down those rebounds that other players have more or less conceded. For comparison, 64% of Amir Johnson’s rebounds are contested, as are 62.8% of Tyler Hansbrough’s. Given Valanciunas’ size advantage over both of those players you’d have hoped for better, but the numbers say what the numbers say.
The surprising part about all of this is how differently things are working out for Valanciunas than they were supposed to. He was brought in to be the team’s new Marcus Camby, a hyper-aggressive defensive and rebounding force that would see his offence evolve over time. Instead the reverse has been true, as his offensive game has significantly eclipsed the growth in his defensive and rebounding technique. Dwane Casey once said that a worst-case scenario for Valanciunas was Joakim Noah (oops), and to a certain degree the roster has been built with that comparable in mind. As Valanciunas rounds into the kind of player that he is going to be those expectations are going to need a bit of course-correcting.
Sadly, the person most likely to be impacted by all of this is Amir Johnson, the most tireless worker on the Raptors roster. If this is who Valanciunas is as a player (and it must be said again, it’s not a bad player, just a different one than expected), is Johnson the right counterpart for him in the post? While he’s still a tremendously effective player, he’s no longer the staggering plus-minus beast that he was in years past, and his nagging ankle injuries make him hard to rely on in the way that the Raptors need. With free agency coming up fast for Johnson, that Raptors will have a difficult time pricing him out as a running mate to Valanciunas going forward.
Still, it’s early. Very early. Now that Valanciunas is losing minutes as a result of his defensive struggles it might be enough to activate him at that end in the hopes of earning back his lost playing time. As a result of the team’s early success he’s been thrust into a situation that has the team needing more from him than it might even be fair to ask for considering how early we are in his career. Learning NBA defence is hard, and it takes time. The Raptors are simply at a point where they need a bit more consistency on defence because they are in winning mode now. That has pushed the development of Valanciunas into a weird corner that he’s going to have to work himself out of. Things rarely going according the schedule in professional sports, so Valanciunas and the Raptors are just going to have to find a way to keep developing their youngster while they attempt to stay at or near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Based on make up of current Raps team, the window is open for at least another 3-4 seasons (essentially basing this estimation on Lowry/Amir and typical career trajectories). Outside of Lowry/Amir, the window is open for much longer. Based on this vague assumption, this season what would you rather: a) Stay the course (i.e. lets see what we have this season with roster as is and wait for offseason) or b) Make a change (i.e. hit the trade market with expirings, Ross, and possible draft picks at disposal before deadline)?
One of the coolest things about moving to a new area of the city is exploring the new restaurants at your disposal. That means experimenting with several different offerings for the same type of food, looking to find “your place” for pizza, sushi, a sandwich, and so on. Unfortunately, it turns out that trying a bunch of nondescript sushi joints in search of “your new sushi place” is really risky. On Sunday, I got dealt a bad hand, and as a result I spent most of the night drenched in sweat and generally feeling as if I were on mescaline. The fever is real.
As feverish dreams are wont to do, this one shed some additional light on Monday’s game. The 11-2 Raptors will be hosting the 9-4 Suns at 7:30 p.m. on TSN 2, and my altered dream state revealed that an idea from earlier Sunday could very much be a reality.
Crossing my fingers for a couple minutes of Lowry-Vasquez-Williams vs. Thomas-Dragic-Bledsoe on Monday.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 23, 2014
Here I was, drenched in sweat with a pounding headache and no orientation whatsoever, and the Suns and Raptors began battling in my mind. Three point guards each way, with a single wing and a single big. It was fast-paced, it was high-scoring, and it was glorious. I can only assume that my dreaming about Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and Greivis Vasquez taking on Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe was a revelation that yes, it is coming.
The Raptors used that look to impressive results on Saturday against the Cleveland, the sixth game in which they’ve tried it for a couple of minutes. It’s been an incredible offensive unit in a small sample, as expected, and they’ve been careful to only use it in matchups where it couldn’t be exploited too easily. They’ve been quick with the hook for that reason, as multi-guard lineups like that are historically vulnerable defensively. Ask the Suns, who have tried using their trio together for small stretches and haven’t had the success Toronto has (sorry for the table pngs instead of tables, WordPress was being weird).
They’re tiny samples, but because both teams can match up like that, here’s hoping both Dwane Casey and Jeff Hornacek are willing to let the horses run for at least one stretch of two or three minutes. The game is about fun, not wins, after all.
To help set the stage for the game, I reached out to
redacted, who was unable to respond in time. Instead, because I was out of it anyway, I asked myself the pre-game questions about the Suns.
Blake: Funny how a quick stretch of Eastern Conference schedule can turn things around for a team. The Suns just jumped from 5-5 to 9-5, improving their record against the East to 5-1. The Suns also went 20-10 against the East last year. Obviously, the West is much tougher, but is this indicative of the Suns being very much that “fence” team that isn’t good enough out West but could kill it out East? Or is it just noise and the reality of poorly balanced conferences?
Blake: What an awful question. What are you even asking? “Good West team just alright against West, dominates East.” What a headline. No, it doesn’t really indicate anything about where they are as a team beyond that they’re in a difficult situation, and they’re good but not great. That’s a tough lot in life, since the Suns are unquestionably a top-16 team in the league but may only be a 50/50 proposition for the playoffs. The bigger issue for me is that this team seems to have a high floor and a low ceiling – that’s something that plays in the East, but in the West, your team has to be constructed such that it has an appreciable upside. I don’t think the Suns have that relative to the other top-10 West teams, and being a sure bet for 41 wins and a poor bet for more than 50 is a precarious spot out West.
Blake: The Suns are all about the pace, with head coach Jeff Hornacek running his charges at the league’s fourth-fastest tempo. They also fire a ton of threes. Do they just shoot a lot of threes in transition, or are there other things at play with the frantic pace that opens up the long ball?
Blake: From just watching them, it seems like yes, they shoot a ton of transition threes. They shoot a lot of threes in general, and thanks to the wonder that is the new NBA.com stats database, we can get a more clear picture of exactly how the Suns get their 3-point looks, at least compared to the Raptors (I’m not pulling all 30 teams [today] for comparison purposes):
At least relative to the Raptors, the Suns seem to be focused more on quick 3-point shots. A greater percentage of their long-range looks come early in the shot clock, without a dribble, without the player holding the ball long, and are classified as wide open. That owes both a quick trigger around the floor – take the first good look you get – a plethora of options – they have nine players you’d be fine with shooting a three – and a set offense predicated on heavy ball movement.
The Raptors are a strong, smart, disciplined defense, but the Suns should prove a really good test. Toronto bases their defense on quick help and aggressive rotations, something the Suns will look to take advantage of with early shots and swings of the ball around the perimeter.
Blake: Top 100 Gerald Green alley-oops of all-time, go. (Seriously, I don’t have a question here, just wanted an excuse to add Green highlights. Comment as appropriate.)
Blake: Part of the Suns’ up-tempo attack is rolling multiple point guards at once. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas are all great individually, and Dragic and Thomas have shown they can play together, but early returns are that the point guards are struggling relative to one-point lineups. Is this still an adjustment period 14 games in, or is there an underlying problem with the pairings, Dragic-Thomas in particular?
Suns have been better w/ one PG (mostly Thomas) on the floor than with two (mostly Bledsoe/Dragic). pic.twitter.com/DahIESHU18
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 23, 2014
Blake: It’s still early. The sample is somewhat small, the system worked out well last season, and this was their plan. Most of me thinks it’s just an early-season adjustment, specifically for Dragic. Dragic was a borderline All-Star last year, and when Bledsoe played, Dragic had kind of established himself as the lead dog. That hasn’t necessarily been challenged, but he’s also set to be a free agent this summer, while Bledsoe and Thomas have long-term deals. You’d forgive him for struggling with balancing all of his incentives early on. I’m fairly confident they’ll figure things out offensively, though.
The Raptors are five-point favorites at home, which seems about right. The Raptors grade out better on offense (2nd, 11th), defense (5th, 11th), and schedule-adjusted overall performance (4th, 11th), and they’re at home and relatively healthy. James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough remain banged up, and the Suns have a clean injury sheet, but this is a very winnable game at home.
It should be a fun one.
The power rankings are coming out today, we’ll update this post as soon as they come out. So far, we have just one outlet:
Louis Williams is bent on forcing his way into the starting lineup … or winning sixth man the year.
It’s a silly comment because nobody calls him Louis, and he has no intentions of taking over DeRozan’s job. Sometimes I wonder if the people who make these have any idea of what they’re talking about.
These guys even made a video:
And right now, the East is mostly made of bad teams. The Toronto Raptors are basically the only team in the conference that has played really well, but even Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies comes with the context that Memphis was without three of the top six guys in their rotation.
After Lou Williams Weekend (58 points and three buzzer-beaters in wins over Milwaukee and Cleveland), the Raptors have contender numbers on both ends of the floor. But they’ve played the league’s easiest schedule, which doesn’t really get tough until late December. And they might be fortunate to play the “fragile” Cavs two more times in the next 15 days.
NBA.com takes the most negative view of the situation, surprised they didn’t also blame the inclement weather in Buffalo as the reason for the Raptors 11-2 start.
Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto sports the East’s best record at 52-24, which is 4½ games better than Chicago’s 48-29. The committee (of one) is starting to get its hopes up, in other words, that our long-awaited return to T-Dot for the first time since 2007 won’t have to wait until All-Star Weekend in 2016.
The Raptors need to beat some Western Conference teams to further legitimize themselves. The stomach flu thing with the Grizzlies is hurting them in the rankings a little, but tonight against Phoenix provides a good opportunity to mend that.
Another week of great play from the Raptors. who are now on a four-game winning streak that includes wins over the Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Bucks. The Raptors are behind Memphis for the best winning percentage in the league, but Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies put them over the top.
Unlike most other power rankings, they’re putting some stock in the Toronto-Memphis clash.
There’s more to fear in the north than just the cold. Unlike the Bulls (injuries) or Cavaliers (chemistry issues), the Raptors are a finished product and off to a roaring start. Toronto ranks in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency and trails only Dallas in net rating (11.6). The Raptors are also 3-0 against the West and became the latest team to kick the Cavaliers while they’re down.
Hey, turns out we have beaten Western conference teams (Memphis, Utah, OKC).
There’s no stopping the 11-2 Raptors as they send a signal of intent with a clean sweep of the week, with victims including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tamberlyn, Will and myself enjoy the good times and hope you do too.
- Fortune cookies
- Rebound, assist and turnover trends continue versus Cavs
- Statement game against 5-7 Cavs
- Lou Williams’ scoring rate vs Cavs, buzzer beaters, 6th man talk
- Vasquez coming on strong
- Change in context for Lou Williams compared to previous roles
- Vasquez and Williams blending better
- Guard depth paying off vs Cleveland; team not giving up after first quarter
- Even keel at 11-2
- Raptors fans in Cleveland
- National anthem and playing the Drake song to drown them out
- LeBron angry at everyone but himself – trying to get Platt fired?
- Vince tribute – reason it wasn’t shown live on TV
- Ross going at his idol
- Memphis provides playoff-type test
- Fourth quarter dominance shines through again
- Chuck Hayes – The Funnel Man – being ‘saved’ by Casey
- Setting up for the fourth quarter – key adjustments
- DeMar DeRozan minutes down
- Favorite all-time nicknames
- Jorge Garbajosa’s nickname
- Jonas Valanciunas vs the Bucks
- Bruno Caboclo talk
- Parallels with Tracy McGrady
- Dropping knowledge regarding Bucks recent scores
- Dropping more knowledge regarding a unique lineup
- Matt Moore / @HPBasketball trolling
- Phoenix preview
- Chuck/JV role versus Phoenix – will Casey go big?
- Atlanta preview
- We meet our match for fourth quarter performance
Photo Credit: Jason Miller/NBAE/Getty Images
The Raptors have been successful in three areas this season. They have the league’s second-most efficient offense (110.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-fewest turnovers per game (11.2) and have forced the third-most turnovers per game (17.5). Their +6.3 turnover differential per game is second-best in the NBA, trailing only the Mavericks (+6.4).
The scoring correction means the Raptors tied their record for largest margin of victory — 42 points in a 96-54 win over Miami on March 19, 2008.
That was the optimistic guess at the start of the year – third or fourth, with a decent shot at winning a playoff round. But this run to the top suddenly looks sustainable. They are beating teams every which way, at both ends of the floor. Every night, there’s a new hero, and usually off the bench. This team is talented, but just as importantly, it’s deep. It’s built to travel the distance of a season. No other Eastern squad has quite the same advantage. The Cavaliers are edging toward a Lakers-level meltdown. It doesn’t look as if Derrick Rose will ever get back to fully fit, which pushes Chicago’s dial toward mediocrity. Washington’s been great, except for that time two weeks ago they got annihilated at the Air Canada Centre. Where Dwyane Wade goes, Miami will follow – so far, so good, but history suggests there’s at least one major breakdown coming.
I was on The Fan 590 to chat about the strong start the Toronto Raptors have had to their season. We talked about Lou Williams giving the team a scoring spark, if Toronto can be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, why Kyle Lowry is the heart and soul of this team and why the road trip at the end of December could be trouble.
A semifinals or conference finals appearance isn’t out of the question, but don’t expect a Cinderella season just yet. Yes, Toronto pulled off a 110-93 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night and currently ranks first in the East with an 11-2 record. There’s no denying the early results. Unfortunately, there’s also no doubt a lot will change between now and April.
The Suns are on a bit of an East Coast roll, having won four in a row, although the level of competition has been down with the wins coming over Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Indiana. After a comfortable win over the Pacers on Saturday, head coach Jeff Hornacek talked about the Suns finding a rhythm. They rely on strong guard play with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe both starting and equally capable of handling the point guard duties. The Morris twins provide size in the front court along with Miles Plumlee, who leads the team in blocks and rebounds. Plenty of scoring comes off the bench in Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green.
The Suns can score with the best of them, averaging 105.3 points per game, which is fifth in the NBA. Toronto averages 106.9 points, though, third in the league. . . . The Suns also lead the NBA in brothers with the Morris twins as well as Goran and Zoran Dragic. . . . Phoenix has won four in a row on a five-game road trip that winds up in Toronto on Monday night. . . . Brampton’s Tyler Ennis had a brief stint in the D League, but has been recalled by the Suns. . . . With eight home wins already, Toronto is tied with Portland for the most this season.
Phoenix seeks its first five-game road win streak since Feb. 7-28, 2011. The Suns are 4-1 on this six-game trip after winning 122-96 over Philadelphia on Friday and 106-83 over Indiana the next night. ”We’re getting a little bit of a rhythm,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. ”It’s something about being on the road. These guys have come together and everybody is contributing.” The Raptors are averaging an East-leading 106.9 points and the Suns are not far behind at 105.3. Toronto has five players averaging at least 10 points and Phoenix has six, with its bench averaging a league-best 46.5 points. Both teams got big lifts from a reserve in their Saturday wins. Gerald Green scored a game-high 23, raising his average to 14.2 to rank among the leader leaders among reserves.
In an off-season where the landscape in the Eastern Conference changed drastically, the team with the best record to this point is the one that stayed, for the most part, the same. The biggest move made by Toronto Raptor GM Masai Ujiri this past off-season was bringing back Kyle Lowry to insure the core of last year’s Atlantic Division champion stayed intact. Lowry along with DeMar DeRozan, who made his first appearance in the All-Star Game last season and helped Team USA win gold in the FIBA World Cup this summer, make up one of the NBA’s best backcourts. The tandem have led the Raptors to their best start in franchise history, 11-2 after their blowout road win over LeBron and the struggling Cavs.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
A game in Cleveland that began with the Cavaliers up 24-6 ended with a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant.
That’s more or less the story from Saturday night, which saw the Raptors make a pretty enormous statement to the rest of the league. Yes, the Cavaliers have been struggling a great deal and this will be looked at by some as a “quality win with an asterisk” like the Memphis victory on Wednesday. No, that shouldn’t matter much to the fanbase or the team after the gutsy performance Toronto put forth at The Q, aided by an incredible contingent of Raptors fans doing the rest of us proud on the road.
The Raptors trailed 24-6 a little over seven minutes into the game. They couldn’t find the Cavaliers anywhere on the defensive end, they were taking rushed shots with defenders draped on them, and they were getting pounded on the glass. No matter how early, an 18-point deficit is a daunting one to make up.
But, uhh, and I don’t know if you know this, the Raptors don’t really have any quit in them. Not only were they fourth-quarter beasts a season ago, and not only are they blowout proof (only the Clippers have lost fewer games by more than eight points between this year and last), but they’ve already tallied four double-digit comebacks on the season.
Sorry, make that five. Five double-digit comebacks on the season. Because from the point of 24-6 onward, the Raptors went on a 104-69 “run” that had the Cavs looking every bit as bad as they’ve been made out to have looked, and the Raptors looking every bit as good as their 11-2 record. 11-2!
It’s cliché to focus on intangible things like effort and commitment and drive and fortitude, but consistently coming back from deficits shows a great deal of each of those things. Stress for the long-run that the Raptors are finding themselves in such holes, especially those that have come against bad teams, but respect that this team is basically a living, breathing, cheesy John Cena promo.
It’s not hard to find examples of the Raptors fighting through their tough start, whereas the Cavaliers couldn’t muster a defense or a counterpunch when they got put against the ropes.
Problem: Down 11-2 on the glass, 2-0 on own window.
Resolution: Jonas Valanciunas woke up, and the team employed gang rebounding on the defensive end the rest of the way. The Raptors still lost the rebounding battle overall, but they neutralized what was a major early edge, and they did it by committee, with multiple bodies crashing from the wing on every miss. It can be a risky strategy, but it paid off for the most part.
Problem: DeMar DeRozan’s shot wasn’t falling, and he opened the game 0-of-4 and looking timid.
Resolution: DeRozan opted to take on more of a facilitator role, and while his three assists undersell his performance, passing off the bounce and attacking the rim helped him find a bit of a groove. He also picked it up on the defensive end, and though he’s simply not talented enough to contain LeBron James, he did an admirable job when tasked with trying to slow him down.
Problem: The offense couldn’t get anything going, shooting 2-of-13 to start.
Resolution: Ask Lou Williams to be absolutely everything and more. Seriously, check out some of these highlights (actually, check out Garrett’s quick reaction, too), and look at the final line.
A career-high 36 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 3-of-8 from long range and an obscene 15-of-15 from the free throw line. That’s the 10th-highest point total of the NBA season so far and the 12th-most free throw attempts, and he did it in 29 minutes of action. The Raptors were a plus-37 when he was on the floor. PLUS THIRTY SEVEN. He’s now averaging 25 points per-36 minutes off the bench and the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 21 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor. That is insane.
More insane? They got him – and Bebe Nogueira – as a salary dump for John Salmons. He’s a perfect example of why salary cap flexibility is about more than just signing a max contract player. John Salmons, ladies and gentlemen.
Scale drawing of Lou Williams pic.twitter.com/sO7OdTaiz7
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 23, 2014
Part of getting the offense going was head coach Dwane Casey’s decision to try a relatively new look, playing Williams with Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, giving the Raptors shooting and multiple ball-handlers, spreading out an undisciplined Cavaliers’ unit horizontally and vertically. This lineup had played seven minutes so far to a plus-7 result, and they went plus-12 in their five minutes together on Saturday. It’s hardly an option against every team, but it’s definitely a nice weapon to have when the offense is sputtering.
They also have the benefit of being able to get to the line at will, which can help keep an otherwise moribund offense afloat. The Raptors shot just 40 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent on threes, but they got to the line 42 times (and hit 38 freebies), with just eight turnovers. Ideally, the Raptors offense would be creating good looks at a higher volume, and the attack would be more balanced. Not every team is going to willingly foul, and the team is only average from the field and from long rang on the year, but the ability of Williams, DeRozan, and Lowry to get to the line – with sheer trickery, sheer force, and a mix of both, respectively – sets the floor fairly high.
Really, though, this game wasn’t all that much about tactics. I hate being this guy – I write a lot of analytics/advanced stats stuff, after all, and none of this is readily measurable or necessarily repeatable – but this game had a lot to do with mentality. LeBron has talked openly about the Cavaliers’ lack of effort, and head coach David Blatt has voiced concern over the team’s communication. This isn’t the first time they’ve wilted in a fight, nor is it the first time the Raptors have stepped up to the challenge, taken an opponent’s best punch, and kept on coming. The Raptors are just pesky like that, and after a full calendar year of showing as much, maybe that personality trait is significant.
A day from now, it will be worth going back and looking at how the Raptors got down so badly, and what teams can do to exploit those holes in the future. My first quarter notes are riddled with all-caps writing and angry shorthand (and Bruno doodles). The Raptors’ offense isn’t as good as second overall – though their defense may actually be top-six – and nobody is as good as 11-2. The schedule’s been friendly and home-heavy, and so on. Coming off a win like this – an 18-point comeback on the road against the Vegas favorites to win the NBA championship – that stuff can wait.
These Raptors are a damn treat to watch. It’s hard to imagine a team doing more to reward their growing fanbase’s passion and the number of people who have gotten on board over the past 12 months. There’s rarely a bad game, there’s never any quit, and the team may have just completed the most fun three-game stretch I can remember.
It’s good to be a Raptor fan right now. Let’s go Raptors, even in Cleveland.
Kyle Lowry is a solid starting point guard, while shooting guard DeMar DeRozan made the All-Star team last year. Williams coming off the bench gives the Raptors three guards capable of carrying the load and that is exactly what they did against Cleveland. Lowry, DeRozan and Williams combined to score 79 of Toronto’s 110 points. They were efficient in doing so, too, combining to shoot 21-of-51 from the floor and 32-of-34 from the line. The Cavs are sorely missing a player like Williams to ignite the offense off the bench. Cleveland’s bench combined for just 19 points, barely more than half of Williams’ total.
King without a crown – One week after being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, LeBron James has played the biggest role in his team losing four straight. He’s the best player in the NBA and he hasn’t played like it. If James plays like he is capable of the Cavs don’t have as many questions. He’s the leader of the team and his actions and discouraging body language are not setting a good example. He has said the right things before and after games, but the words are hollow when James doesn’t follow through when the game starts.
“We’re a very fragile team right now,” James said, following a 110-93 drubbing by the Toronto Raptors at home for the Cavaliers’ fourth consecutive loss. “We were a fragile team from the beginning. Any little adversity that hits us, we just shell up.” The “adversity” that slapped the Cavaliers Saturday night was Raptors back-up guard Lou Williams. Cleveland, following James’ lead, came out with off-the-charts energy, body language, and ball movement (three things James said were lacking in Friday night’s loss to Washington) and jumped on the Raptors with the game’s first 12 points. At one point, it was 24-6 Cleveland.
The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers both entered tonight on the second night of a back to back. The Cavs entered the game with a lot of energy and built an 18 point lead. It was made on quicksand. Reserve guard Lou Williams checked in for the Raptors about halfway through the first quarter and tallied 24 first half points on just nine shots. He picked on Will Cherry, he picked on Dion Waiters. By the time he was done, the Raptors had managed a halftime lead. Cleveland had moved the ball, pushed it in transition, and contested shots in the first quarter. That trend did not continue. The Raptors kept playing, finished with 42 free throw attempts, made 90% of them, and wound up with a 110-93 win.
With the Cavs at 5-7, this is now LeBron’s worst start since 2003, his rookie season. James finished the game with 15 points and 10 assists. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had a combined 44 points but it wasn’t enough. Shawn Marion and Dion Waiters also couldn’t contribute much as they went a combined 4-of-15 from the field. As for Toronto, the team has now won four in a row and are off to their best start in franchise history. The good news also keeps rolling in. According to ESPN.com, Tyler Hansborough (sprained right shoulder) and James Johnson (sprained right ankle) will be re-evaluated Sunday in Toronto. Hansborough sat out his second straight game while Johnson missed his third straight game. The Raptors will now return home as they prepare to take on the Phoenix Suns at the Air Canada Centre.
The sizzling Toronto Raptors are ecstatic over their rising television ratings in Canada. Their early season numbers are up well over 100% from a year ago. That’s reason to celebrate, sort of. To understand where they are and how difficult their fight for widespread acceptance is, consider this: Most Raptors games this season have drawn audiences of somewhere around 250,000.
“I can’t even explain it, man, honestly,” said DeMar DeRozan. “It felt like a playoff game, honestly, with our fans being in there, cheering and singing the national anthem. “It was just an amazing thing, especially for me. It’s really something for me because I’ve been here through the tough times and to see everything now — going on the road, seeing fans, seeing Raptor jerseys in the crowd — it definitely means something.” “Unbelievable” was how coach Dwane Casey put it. “It was like old-school soccer, travelling with the flag and all that. That was big. “I thought they were being sarcastic and I looked up in the first quarter and it was our fans. It was great to see, great to have. When you put your hearts on the line and lay it on the line every night, fans will follow. Win, lose or draw, you play hard and represent the city and the country, good things will happen.”
Still, the Raptors were getting carved up while missing easy baskets on the offensive end. Seemingly for the first time this season, Kevin Love decided to start playing in the post, and was scoring buckets down-low which the Raptors had no answer for. Enter Lou Williams – the captain. You can thank sweet Lou for tonight’s victory more than anyone else. The Raptors trailed 34-21 after one, but if it wasn’t for Lou’s 10 points in the first quarter, the Raptors would’ve been lost, and in a huge hole. It was a career night for Lou. 36 points in 29 minutes and a +/- of +37 (game-high). He went 15-15 from the free-throw line, and his ability to get there was just as impressive. In the second quarter, Lou continued to do what he does, and the Raptors used that momentum to fuel a 14-4 run to start the second frame and cut the lead to just three. The Raptors also got some quality minutes from Chuck Hayes in the second on both ends of the floor.
Defense: B+ Like the offense, the defense wasn’t very good in the early stages of the game. But like this Raptors team has taught us time and time again, this is a game of four quarters. After shooting more than 70% from the field for the vast majority of the opening frame, Cleveland cooled down for the remainder of the game. The “big 3″ got off to a solid start in this one, but had a quiet finish. Kyrie Irving had 18 points in the first half, and finished with only 21. Kevin Love looked like a focal point in the Cavs offense in the beginning, and finished with just 23, although he appeared to be on pace for 30+. King James seemed somewhat passive in this one, dropping impressive dimes throughout, but never really leaving an emphatic imprint on this game— he finished with 15 points and 10 assists. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson pitched in too, combining for 24, but it wasn’t enough. As a team, the Cavaliers shot only 43% from the field, and went 3/16 from long range.
The Cavaliers, considered the league’s best team when the season began, have been hit with plenty of adversity. Cleveland is 5-7 and there is already talk of the team playing in the dark and the players having bad body language. The Cavaliers have a day off to think about their issues before hosting Orlando on Monday. Despite the problems, James is convinced better days are ahead. “I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m very positive, more positive than I thought I’d be right now. We’ll look at what we did wrong, the things we did right and be ready (for Monday). It’s still too early for me. … I can’t be negative at all. Once I crack, it trickles down to everybody else, I would never do that to these guys.”
“It’s dope man,” Williams said of the vocal support the team got Saturday night. “This has been an incredible experience as far as the fans go. We have a very, very excited fan base. They are excited about the progress that this team has made and they show their appreciation and as a player you always appreciate that.” DeMar DeRozan, who has been through some low times in terms of fan support for this team, took things a step further. “I can’t even explain it, man,” he said. “It felt like a playoff game, honestly, with our fans being in there, cheering and singing the national anthem. It was just an amazing thing, especially for me. It’s really something for me because I’ve been here through the tough times and to see everything now, going on the road, seeing fans, seeing Raptor jerseys in the crowd, it definitely means something. I think we’re just taking over the midwest.”
As for the anger, Williams said that’s always there. “We are pretty angry as it is,” Williams said. “We pay attention to what people are saying and we want to be a group that is being taken very seriously. We have worked hard to gain that respect and its going to take more time so we go into every game with a chip on our shoulder.” The comeback from 18 down marked the fifth time this year that the Raptors have rallied from being down 10 or more to win. They share the league-leading mark with Milwaukee for double-digit comebacks. Casey just liked the composure his team played with, not getting rattled when they got down early. “We started getting stops, we slowed them down,” he said. “We knew that train was going to come out of the (station) really roaring and they did. And we didn’t give in, we sustained our focus and our defensive disposition and just kept on playing. That’s what you have to do against a good team like that, you know their backs are against the wall, they’ve lost three straight, you know they’re going to come in upset and our guys were smart enough to withstand their onslaught at the beginning.” And as much as Williams scoring was the talk of the post-game, his defence did not go unnoticed either. “Most of all, I’m impressed with Lou’s defence, too,” Casey said. “He had a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.” Williams acknowledged his defensive responsibilities here are a little more than what has been asked of him in the past. “It’s getting better by the day and understanding our schemes and what this coaching staff expects of us all,” Williams said. “This is a defensive-minded coaching staff and in order for me to stay on the floor, they expect me to guard.” Normally when DeMar DeRozan gets mentioned in a game story, it’s because he is scoring in bunches and a solid second half had him finish the night with 20. But like Hayes, it was DeRozan’s defence tha
“We knew that team was going to come out of the gate roaring and they did,” said Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “We didn’t give in. We sustained our focus and our defensive disposition and just kept playing and that is what you have to do against a good team.” It could easily be argued that after the first 7.5 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers no longer looked like a good team as Toronto outscored them 104-69 the rest of the way. This became as epic a beat down as the Raptors 124-82 demolition of the Bucks in Toronto the night before.
They tried to drown out the crowd noise by playing music, didn’t work. Raptors win big in Cleveland with our fans coming out real strong. They actually played “6 God” (the 6 representing Toronto) to drown them out. Check the Quick Reaction and a whole bunch of GIFs from the game.
|Amir Johnson, PF 28 MIN | 2-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +1I feel bad for the guy; nobody should have to chase Kevin Love around for a full game. He provided his usual gritty defence and was a big part of why the Cavs offence slowed to a halt after the first quarter. I know he’s hit one in the last two games, but three summer 3s in a game is three too many.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -17Like DeMar, he started slow from the field. Unlike DeMar, he wasn’t able to get himself going in the second half. Shawn Marion ate his lunch on the defensive end. It’s a tough matchup, and the lack of production is likely tied to the Raptor game plan: their ball-dominant offence doesn’t necessarily call for a lot of threes off screens. That said, take a page out of DeMar’s book and start crashing the hoop to get yourself going, son.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 26 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | 0Flashed a few impressive post moves in the third quarter, when he took Kevin Love to school and helped the Raptors pull away. That said, he was extremely passive on the glass tonight, and Anderson Varejao had his number for long stretches. It seems like he can have some mental lapses occasionally, particularly when it comes to defensive rebounding. I can forgive that from a player at the start of his 3rd year, but he needs to be more consistent to earn the big minutes he probably should be playing.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 5-14 FG | 11-12 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 23 PTS | +10Took two early fouls, which limited his effectiveness guarding Kyrie Irving somewhat, but still played the type of gritty basketball we’re used to from him, drawing a charge on LeBron in the 3rd quarter. He was the sparkplug that keyed the Raptor run in the third. No reason to be surprised anymore: the guy is a star, if not a superstar.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 42 MIN | 7-18 FG | 6-7 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +5A tale of two halves for DeMar: early on, he was frustrated by LeBron James and threw up multiple airballs within a 1 of 8 half. In the second half, he was excellent: realizing he wasn’t hitting from outside, he started driving the lane with authority, got himself going, and then began shooting again. It’s a sign of maturity: rather than force it, he found another way to score. Did as good a job guarding LeBron as you could possibly hope for him and was a big reason why he had such a rough night.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +20I was really impressed with his work defensively tonight, where he played excellent help D in particular, which is not his calling card. Didn’t factor into the second unit offence with Williams going Super Saiyan, but contributed across the box score with 6 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 15 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +13No, he can’t guard Kevin Love, but he can do pretty much whatever else you need. Came up with 3 steals tonight, hit another runner, pulled down a few tough boards in traffic, and fouled his check rather than let them get past him. Keep doing your thing, Chuckster.|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0Got a cup of coffee with the game out of reach, did nothing of note. #wewantBruno|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 18 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +16Foul trouble limited him early, and he was largely relegated to taking a backseat for the Lou Williams show. He got it back a little bit in the second half, but he wasn’t really needed in this game and didn’t see much run late.|
|Louis Williams, SG 29 MIN | 9-19 FG | 15-15 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 36 PTS | +37I don’t know how this guy can move so fast with those 200-pound cajones he’s carrying around. He WAS the Raptor offence in the first half – he had 24, including another buzzer beater 3, and kept things rolling in the second, most memorably when he crossed up LeBron and cashed a long two over his head. When he’s got it going, that Lowry/DD/Williams threesome is an absolute nightmare for other teams to guard, and he took advantage tonight en route to a career high in points.|
Did an excellent job tonight of finding a lineup that worked after an abysmal start. I give him a ton of credit for sticking with a Lowry/DeMar/Williams lineup that was extremely undersized compared to the Irving/Marion/James trio that Cleveland ran with. He’s excellent at calling timeouts when the team really needs a breather; one that I found particularly impressive was in the third quarter after a Lowry dive for a loose ball with the play slowly getting out of control. This team is firing on all cylinders right now – how can you not give him a big share of the credit?
Three Things We Saw
- Cleveland started this game on a 24-6 run: Toronto looked listless, and LeBron was having his way with Terrence Ross as his primary defender. Casey switched DeRozan onto LeBron, Lou Williams absolutely exploded, and the rest was history. Think about this: take away that run, and the Raptors outscored the Cavs 104-69 the rest of the way.
- Speaking of Lou Williams’ incredible night, his 36 points were just two shy of the Raptors’ team record for bench scoring, which was set by Donyell Marshall during his NBA-record three point performance in 2005 (shout out to @Scott1Hastie for the info).
- How great was it having “let’s go Raptors” chants drowning out the crowd in Cleveland in the fourth quarter? This has been an awesome ride so far – here’s hoping it continues Monday night against a tough Suns team.
Things are getting a little ridiculous in Cleveland as the Raptors are now up 18 in the fourth quarter. Chuck Hayes just did this and DeRozan then did that.
Lou Williams has now matched his career-high of 31 points by destroying LeBron James in a one-on-one situation. The Raptors have ended the third on a 22-6 run to assume a 14 point lead.
A 13-0 run has been capped off by this JV put-back, as the Raptors have gone up by 11 in later stages of the third.
He’s got 24 points off the bench (in 13 minutes), and has given the Raptors their first lead with a buzzer beater at the half.
Ross has to stay on his feet on the kick-out up top, or else this fails.Direct Link
Of all the possible scenarios to be playing the second game of a back-to-back on, this has to be close to the most ideal. Toronto beat the Milwaukee Bucks by all of the points last night, gave every player some run and rested their starters. Pair that with the emotional excitement of the crowd for Bruno throughout the 4th, and it’s hard to imagine the Raptors waking up tired today.
The best sign from last night’s blowout over the Bucks is the method through which it happened. Sure, the Bucks are not a great time, and they didn’t play anything close to good, but last night’s victory was not a case of lucking into a win. The Raptors played some of their best basketball of the season last night, opening up shots on offence through ball movement, cleaning up their misses with put backs and offensive rebounds and shooting with confidence from every position. This team is starting to find a flow on offence that goes beyond Lowry and DeRozan piggy-back rides. Ross is hitting his jumper, believing in it and playing with much more fluidity. Amir’s ankle appears to be allowing more dynamic movement and Jonas’ per 36 minutes stats over the last week are bonkers. Vasquez and Lou Williams are getting consistent buckets for the ‘Purps off the bench, making this top defensive team very hard to contain offensively.
The Cavaliers are also playing part two of a back-to-back, getting soundly beat last in Washington. It’s a good thing that the game was in Washington instead of Cleveland, as it might have been quiet enough in the 4th quarter had the game been in Ohio for the home fans to faintly hear the chants of “BRU-NO” making their way across Lake Erie.
So what’s wrong with the Cavaliers? Cleveland is giving up the fewest free throws per field goal attempt in the league right now. That’s a crucial defensive category to lead in, or, at least it normally would be if the lack of free throw attempts were coming from disciplined defense instead of laziness and a matador attitude near the hoop. Cleveland is 24th in the league in defensive rating, giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s good for one spot worse than the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that is the basketball embodiment of sarcasm.
Lebron and the Heat repeatedly torched Toronto. Guarding Lebron isn’t something that any human being does with excellence, but Toronto in particular has lacked someone with the size and speed combination to do so. While we can hope that James Johnson will play that role much better than the Fields-Ross-DeRozan trio who Lebron bullies into the post or seals behind him in a screen, or the Amir Johnson-Patrick Patterson duo, who Lebron is too quick off the dribble for, we are unlikely to find out tonight with James Johnson likely not dressing. It might not be as much of an issue as in the past, though. Unlike the Miami teams who forced Toronto into either going small, which they were poorly equipped to do, or stay big and suffer the consequences, Cleveland has shied away from going small ball for the majority of minutes. This is part of the reason that Cleveland is taking around the league average number of 3-point shots, compared to the Miami teams that laid siege from behind the arc. They’re hitting a respectable 37% of those threes, but they’re hovering around the league average on the boards at both ends, despite playing big and doing so with arguably the best rebounder in the league in Kevin Love, and they rank 27th in assists. They have the talent to score, but their offense doesn’t even come close to dictating terms. Despite all of their weapons, the Cleveland offence doesn’t force you to adapt to it, alter your lineups or change the way you guard pick-and-rolls. Their putrid defense is what’s letting every team stay in games against them, but that reality of their offence is what’s letting good teams force Cleveland to adapt to them that’s dropped them below .500.
Cleveland is still capable of suddenly becoming an offensive monster and rampaging the scoreboard at any moment. But right now they have a clear problem in figuring out how to use Kevin Love offensively and how to protect him defensively. Dion Waiters is challenging Nick Young’s title for least self-aware player on a nightly basis, and has seen his minutes cut lately in an attempt to make him realize that he is, in fact, NOT the focal point of this team. Kyrie has looked great as a scorer but questionable as a point guard so far this season, and pairing a between Kyrie and Kevin Love on defense has been a Hardenesque treat for opposing teams. Read what you will into internet headlines about any of their big names being unhappy, but the body language on the court is awful. On the teams struggle to come together on either end of the floor, Lebron told ESPN before last night’s loss that , “I have a low tolerance for things of this nature. So it’s something I’m working on, as well, which I knew from the beginning that that was going to be my biggest test to see how much patience I got with the process.” It didn’t look like Lebron had much patience last night, instead looking like he wanted off the court and out of the building for all of the last five minutes of the game.
This has been the best week of the season for the Raptors tonight. If they play to the peak that they’ve demonstrated in recent games, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland suddenly putting things together to the degree where they can keep up. However, if the Raptors take quarters off or let the ball stick in their hands offensively, this game could get away from them quickly. The problems in Cleveland are very real, and they are vulnerable. But make no mistake; if you give this Cavaliers team an opening or allow them to play loose offensively without punishing them for it, they will chew you up in a hurry. Make them shoot jumpers, keep them off the glass, punish their bench units and encourage their guards to be shot-makers instead of playmakers, and you’re likely to see that impatient and displeased look on Lebron’s face come the games end.
I want the Raptors to win this game. Not because I want them to win this one for Toronto. No, I want them to win this one so I can smile smugly at that annoying ‘This one is for Cleveland’ Lebron Nike commercial. It’s on all the time, it’s incredibly self-righteous and it panders to a national audience that it completely misunderstands. Just because the majority of people hated when Lebron went to Miami does NOT mean that a majority of people cheer for or suddenly hail from Cleveland. I mean, it’s neat and all that Lebron went home, sure, but I’m confident in asserting that everyone whose into the NBA is cheering for their home team to win the title, not Cleveland just because Lebron is back. Plus, those guys burnt his jersey, cursed his name and booed him. Now suddenly they’re all on beautifully together? I’m nauseous from the bullshit. Stylistically, it’s impossible to make a black and white commercial that doesn’t come across as pretentious. That’s a terrible aesthetic choice that was doubled down on by ending with the Cleveland skyline, which sounds nice as an idea, until you see it an realize that the Cleveland skyline is ONE BUILDING surrounded by generic, packed in low rises. I hate that commercial. I hate it, and it won’t go away. Please, Toronto Raptors, I implore you; beat this commercial.
It’s around midnight and I have three options right now: go to bed, play FIFA, or write this piece. I chose this because I know as soon as I go to bed my 8-month old will wake up, and I’m a bit scarred by FIFA since I got relegated down to Division 9. I won’t be able to handle it if I go down to Division 10 because that would be like me being the Sixers of FIFA.
I’m going to talk about rebounding, which is really bugging me, and I realize it’s an odd time to talk about it since the euphoria surrounding Bruno is still in the air. Right now we’re fourth worst in the league at collecting defensive rebounds, where we gather only 72% of them. Normally, this would be an indicator of a poor record except that this year, the Raptors have been phenomenal at taking care of the ball, and have had insanely optimal fourth quarters to make up for whatever was going wrong prior to that. They remain the second-best team in the league in terms of turnover efficiency and offense, while coming in seventh in defense.
The question is whether they can sustain this sort of play. They have played the second-easiest schedule in the league, with most of their games at home where you’re more likely to make late comebacks, and also get the whistle (5th highest opponent fouls). The schedule will worsen and as the games get more tense. Turnovers will increase on account of being on the road and averages playing out, meaning that the value of possessions will rise, making defensive rebounding a critical factor.
There’s a few things that the Raptors are doing wrong right now, which they need to fix.
They’re not protecting the weak side after missed shots. Hansbrough and Patterson, who are getting a lot of run, are not boxing out consistently or playing intelligent positional basketball. For Patterson, he has an issue where he mistimes his jump on rebounds at least twice a game, and if he’s defending a perimeter-oriented player, his “switch time” between defending and boxing out is too slow, thus he tends to concede position and you find him flailing at a rebound more than fundamentally securing it.
Hansbrough is an interesting case because he’s a very hard worker who makes rebounding a priority, but I find that he’s being put into help situations too frequently, where he has to leave his comfort zone and come out a step or two to defend, which takes him away from rebounding areas. This is new for him this year because he’s always had a very limited role where he’s been asked to bang in there for a few minutes and come out. With Casey playing him in more creative lineups, he’s finding himself defending guys he hasn’t had to defend before, and he’s still making the adjustment.
These are also two guys who haven’t played much together before, and are still getting used to feeling each other out.
Jonas Valanciunas, for my money, has been just fine. He does, at times, try to use his length and reach to get rebounds more than position, and when he loses those battles he comes out looking bad. If the Raptors want to improve his rebounding, they need to increase his offensive engagement. He’s too talented of a guy to throw out there as a pure rebounder alone, and limit his offense to put-backs and the occasional pick ‘n roll. Some guys have their offense fuelled by their defense, Jonas is the other way around.
Then we have Amir Johnson, who is clearly not at 100%, yet continues to chug along. Notice just how often Johnson is flat on his heels when he’s fighting for rebounds, and he also doesn’t have that second or third lift when fighting for a board in traffic this year, and it’s entirely down to health. It’s impressive that he continues to provide defensive cover in so many situations despite his physical struggles.
Chuck Hayes is a solid one-on-one situational defender, but he’s more of a guy that prevents his man from getting the rebound than actually getting the rebound, he needs to be playing with another big who actually does the cleanup while Hayes boxes the opposition’s best rebounder. The Raptors should look to use him in combination with Valanciunas to see how that lineup fares, especially if they go a little big with Patterson at the three. That might be a combination which could work, at least defensively.
As we discussed on the podcast all summer, the backup center was and remains an issue. Greg Steimsma may as well just change his number to 6 and his last name to fouls, which would make his jersey more appropriate. I’m not sure what his value is and that’s not a slight at him, I’m actually not sure what lineup or combination he can be effective in, but given that Casey hasn’t given him the light of day, I imagine he’s not showing much in practice.
The Raptors are riding high at 10-2, and the record masks a critical area of basketball where they’ve struggled. Dallas and Chicago, two other good teams struggling in that category, have been able to overcome this as well. Dallas, through their high octane offense, and Chicago due to very consistent play in every other relevant category. Those two teams have had much more difficult schedules, and have been able to test their approach against some quality opposition. The Raptors are about to do the same. Let’s hope they pass.
Statistical information provided by Basketball Reference
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?
It’s a bit difficult to do any kind of a critical recap of last night’s 41-point thrashing of the Milwaukee Bucks – the box score, in this case, tells the story. The Raptors had a huge lead from the get-go and never let up until things got ugly. Click here for the Quick Reaction, and here’s a laundry list of GIFs and videos that will give you a good idea of what kind of game this was, if you missed it (and if you did, I implore you to find a way to watch it):
- Lou Williams with yet another buzzer beater
- Vasquez 3 pointer – all five Raptors touch the ball
- Greivis Vasquez shocks the world, dunks the ball
- Lou Williams, I kid you not, with another buzzer beater
- Bruno Caboclo’s first NBA points – an alley-oop dunk
- ACC crowd chants Bruno’s name, he hits the 3
With that said, I still have a couple thoughts, and I’ll do my best to put them down here coherently (I have to admit, I’m still a bit discombobulated from that Bruno dunk). First, some quick thoughts on the two rookies:
Quick thoughts on the rooks
The most intriguing part of last night’s big win was that both Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira got their first taste of NBA action – and their first NBA points, both on alley-oop connections from Greivis Vasquez. Bruno hit a couple threes to go along with his, and had the entire ACC chanting his name (I particularly loved subbing “DE-FENSE” for “BRU-NO”). Did the guys look NBA ready? No, not exactly – both struggled with simple basketball decisions, such as how to pass the ball out of traffic – but both, particularly Bruno, showed NBA-ready skills, which is exceedingly promising going forward.
I’m a little worried that the Bruno hype that permeated the fanbase last night may lead to increased pressure on the youngin’, and that’s not entirely fair – this is a good team, and had James Johnson been in the lineup, he may not have even dressed – but last night, it just served to contribute to the feel-good atmosphere. In the short-to-medium term, he seems like the kind of guy who can get spot minutes, if needed, and that’s exactly what the team needs for him, and what’s going to be best for his development. He’s still months away from cracking the rotation, but that’s fine. This is the kind of roster that can afford to be patient, and if he keeps showing glimmers of something special, like he did last night, that should be enough for now.
Nogeuira, surprisingly, looked a bit more out of sorts than Bruno did on both ends of the ball, but it’s going to be tough to tell his overall effectiveness until he plays with a bit more conventional lineup than the one he did last night (Stiemsma/Fields/Caboclo/Nogueira/Vasquez). He’s clearly still learning how to get his feet set defensively, but, again, the Raptors can afford to be patient, and his raw athleticism was on full display. It’ll be harder for him to crack the roster with the Raptors’ deep bench depth at the 5, but the sooner he earns it, the better off the team will be (despite the fact that Chuck Hayes is a boss/badass/da real MVP).
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it
After tonight’s win, the Toronto Raptors stand at 10-2, alone in first place in the Eastern Conference, after their largest win in franchise history. Think about that for a second. Twelve months ago, this squad sat at 6-7, almost a full month away from the Rudy Gay trade that unexpectedly brought this franchise back into NBA relevancy, and with two decades of mostly unseemly history the only thing that stood as a Raptor “legacy.”
Yes, the hyperbole is going to be flying fast and furious after a game like tonight – and no, I’m not a blind homer. This win was against what is likely a non-playoff team, the Eastern conference is weak again this year, the Raptors’ early season schedule has been reasonably easy at times and fortuitous with injuries/illnesses in others. This team might not be fools gold, but nobody who seriously follows the Raps sees this as a championship contender just yet.
With THAT being said, though: think about where we are right now. Take a deep breath, sit down, and bask it in. Last night was the kind of night Raptor fans have been dreaming about for years: blowing the doors off an overmatched team at home, getting their prized rookies in in garbage time, and every player contributing to a team-first victory. Times are good right now in Raptorland, and our fans’ wary nature (deserved, after years of disappointment) may force some people to immediately start picking apart the team’s situation right away.
So here’s my plea: don’t miss this tree for the forest. This is a landmark game in a landmark time for the franchise, and if there are any fans who deserve a reprieve, a night off, a “holy shit, were our guys ever good tonight,” it’s Raptor fans.
Don’t forget where we come from, or where we’re going – and there’ll be plenty of talk about that tonight after the Cleveland game – but for now, don’t forget where we are, either. This game should stand a celebration of all things Raptors basketball. You, of all fans in the entire association, deserve it.
The crowd started chanting “We want Bruno” in the third quarter, and the calls got louder and louder as the fourth approached. When Caboclo checked in, it was practically a fever dream. Caboclo finished an alley-oop off of a pass from Lou Williams for his first NBA basket, hit an open three-pointer, hit a contested three-pointer over Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova and had a chase-down block of guard Nate Wolters. Even his bad moments were awesome: a missed turn-around jumper had elements of Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake and Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged shot (pardon the extreme hyperbole — it was that kind of night). He finished with eight points, a rebound and a block. All throughout, the fans found different ways to say “Bruno” — his name replaced both “defence” and “Raptors” in chants. “Bruno is like Justin Bieber,” said Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira, the Raptors’ other Brazilian rookie. He also made his debut on Friday.
Milwaukee, coming off of a triple overtime game and playing for the third time in four nights, could not keep up with the energetic Raptors, who did just as Casey had asked for – pushed the pace against a group that likes to slow it down. Jonas Valanciunas also used his height advantage to dominate inside and the Raptors did a great job of passing into the interior for easy baskets. They did a great job of passing — period, moving the ball around well to set up dozens of open looks. Milwaukee had been one of the NBA’s early surprises, but fell back to earth in a major way in this one against a team that was firing on nearly all cylinders. Just how dominant were the Raptors — midway through the third quarter, DeMar DeRozan had made one field goal and Amir Johnson did not have a single rebound, yet the Raptors led by 30 points.
If nothing else, Bruno got to show off some of his sly on-court confidence, which juxtaposes his bashful off-court demeanor. He tried a spinning turnaround on the baseline, made cross court passes, and dropped 3-bombs. He appears to be fulfilling the promise GM Masai Ujiri saw when he picked the young Brazilian 21st overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. When asked if he had fun, Bruno could only smile. Not to be outdone, tonight’s game was also fellow young Brazilian Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira’s NBA debut. While not as highly touted, Bebe sounds more assured, more vocal. He managed to run around a lot, grab five boards and hit a pretty alley-op dunk. “I’m not shooting yet,” he said afterwards.
The biggest and most promising takeaway from his 12 minutes of action, like his performance in the pre-season and Summer League: he showed no fear. He was confident in his jump shoot – hitting a pair of three-balls, one from the corner and a step-back jumper over Ersan Ilyasova – and he showed off his wingspan on defence, swatting Nate Wolters’ shot from behind. “I thought it was special,” Casey said. “The kid’s a beautiful kid. Like any other kid he’s learning and growing in the NBA. As a coach, I see him growing everyday and know what he needs to work on, but it was great to get an opportunity to get him in the game.” Led by starters Kyle Lowry (20 points, nine rebounds on the night) and Jonas Valanciunas (18 points, 12 rebounds), the Raptors dropped 37 first-quarter points on Milwaukee, the NBA’s fourth ranked defensive team entering the game. But it was Toronto’s bench that really put the game out of reach. Chuck Hayes pushed around the Bucks’ bigs, Greivis Vasquez had 11 points in his best outing of the season and Williams led all scorers with 22, beating the buzzer with three-pointers at the end of both the first and second quarters.
The fact is, the game had deteriorated into a pick-up game by the time the benches cleared, but every one of the Raptors’ 13 dressed players scored points; from the two young Brazilians to Williams, Chuck Hayes, Landry Fields and Greg Stiemsma. The bench contributed 57 points in all. “Our bench guys, they work as hard as anyone,” Casey said. “They get their work in and come back at night and get extra work in. To be ready, to be prepared when your number’s called because you never know. You’ve got to be ready to go.” The game was total domination by the Raptors, who at the end of a record 6-1 homestand, are now headed to face LeBron James on the second of back-to-back nights. Friday’s game was gearing up to be a trap . . . but fear the dinosaur.
Honestly, I don’t know what this game means. Does it bring down expectations, which, to be fair, were probably getting a little out of control after Wednesday’s game? Absolutely. But, at the same time, I don’t know that a 41-point loss necessarily means this team’s 7-5 start is meaningless. The Raptors made 15 three-pointers and seemed to hit everything around the basket. Much of the onus falls on the Bucks’ defense, but good teams like Toronto, which sits atop the East, by the way, have nights like that. I don’t know what the next month or so will hold, but Saturday’s matchup with Washington will reveal a lot about this team’s ability to bounce back.
The Cavaliers were widely considered a pre-season contender for the NBA title after James rejoined them following a four-year stint with the Miami Heat, with whom he won two championships. The Ohio native opted out of the final two seasons of his contract with the Het to sign a two-year, $42.1 million deal with the Cavs, where he has teamed with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The four-time NBA MVP is averaging 25.5 points per game – good for second in the league. But his Cleveland squad is off to a shaky 5-6 start. This week, the NBA’s biggest star admitted to local media that as he is teaching this Cavs squad to win, his patience is being put to the test.
The passing was magnificent, the team shot over 50% and made 15 out of 25 threes. Everybody was clicking, and everybody who played scored. This was the first time the Raptors led by 50 in a game in their franchise history. Lou Williams led the team with 22 points and two ridiculous buzzer beating three-pointers. Kyle Lowry also chipped in with 20. If the Raptors keep swinging the ball like they have the past two games, their offence can beat any team. The Bucks came into the game as the fourth best defence in the league but looked overmatched from the word go.
From the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, the Toronto Raptors handed the Milwaukee Bucks an old fashion whoopin’ cruising to a 124-83 victory in their final game of a seven game home stand. Lou Williams has really found his game in Toronto. He led all scorers with 22 points. Coboclo played the entire fourth quarter and received a warm welcome from the Raptor fans. You knew it was one of those nights for the Raptors when 7:35 in the second quarter and the Raptors up 16, the Raptors took a play right out of the San Antonio Spurs playbook as Vasquez hit a cutting Chuck Hayes who then kicked it out to Pat Patterson in the corner and instead of shooting the rock, Patterson made the extra pass to Vasquez who drilled a three.
The blowout started in the first quarter as the Raptors scored 37 points and only a pair of late three-pointers from Ersan Ilyasova kept Milwaukee within 10 points, but it was only going to get worse for the Bucks from there. Toronto scored 34 more points in the second quarter to take a 71-45 lead into the half and if the Raptors could keep up the pressure, Caboclo and Nogueira’s NBA debuts were assured. The rookies had nothing to worry about as the Raptors were not about to let up in the third quarter, expanding their lead to an all-time franchise high of 45 points by the time the period ended. Caboclo started the fourth quarter and helped the Raptors set a new high water mark of 52 points as he hit his second three-pointer to make the score 116-64. Caboclo finished with 8 points on 3-6 from the field including 2-3 from three-point range, a block and a rebound in 12 minutes. Who says this kid is two years away from being two years away? The final score of 124-83 was 1 point shy of the franchise’s biggest winning margin set in 2008 against the HEAT.
Dwane Casey: “If we are going to be an elite team – or grow to be an elite team – we need to make sure we take care of business. Whether it’s a quarter, a possession, or whatever it is, we need to keep that business like mindset and not get caught up in all the craziness around us.”
While it’s still relatively early in the season, the Toronto Raptors have been nothing short of spectacular. They have a chance to be strong contenders in the Eastern Conference if they continue their outstanding play, however in the meantime, they have to stay hungry and look for areas to improve. As Dwane Casey said, consistency will be vital for this team’s long term outlook, so it’s crucial they don’t let this hot streak get to their heads. If they can do that, there’s no question that the Toronto Raptors destined for greatness, and could very well make a strong playoff push once April rolls around.
Both teams coming off a back-to-backs; Raptors routed Milwaukee at ACC while Cleveland lost in Washington . . . Toronto hasn’t won a road game against a team that boasts LeBron James in five years . . . Brampton’s Tristan Thompson is the most-used backup on the Cavaliers roster . . . Kevin Love is shooting lower than 40 per cent from the field heading into Friday night’s game . . . First of three meetings in the next three weeks for the teams . . . Dion Waiters started three games before being sent to the Cleveland bench in favour of ex-Raptor Marion.
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Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Bruno Caboclo, DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas after Toronto’s 124-83 win over Milwaukee.
Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (12:12, 11 MB). Or just listen below:
|Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +30His contributions don’t show on the box score as well as Jonas’, but he was impressive in his own right tonight, making smart decisions on the pick and roll and blocking Milwaukee’s athletic lineup when they did manage to get by their initial defender (he had 3). In an night of scoring, he didn’t stand out, but was a big part of the Raps breaking out to an insurmountable lead. Shocker.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 24 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +34Like most of his teammates, his shot was automatic tonight, but I’m particularly impressed with how he handled the length of Giannis Antetokounmpo on both ends of the floor, using some crafty dribbling to create separation on offence and working hard for positioning on defence pre-pass.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 6-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +20You could tell he was relieved to have to battle with the Bucks’ skinny (albeit athletic) front line after having to handle Z-Bo and Marc Gasol on Wednesday, and he responded by dominating the glass. He had 12 boards in 21 minutes and played the kind of tough-nosed game we need to see from him against the association’s top teams. That said, a great game to get his mojo back.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 26 MIN | 6-10 FG | 5-7 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +32Absolutely dominated the game for stretches in the first half, and didn’t play late as the game was already decided before the 3rd quarter even began. Took a charge with the team up 30, which is basically him personified.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 29 MIN | 1-8 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | +36Had a tough time getting going tonight against the Bucks’ length. His game is a lot more predicated on one-on-one situations than the rest of the Raps, so it may have been a bit of a case of this not being a favourable matchup, or it may have simply been a bad game. That said, if you’re going to have an off night, tonight was the night. Did a good job contributing in other ways, which has been a promising sign from him so far this season.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +25Didn’t hit early, so the team stopped looking for him. Why wouldn’t you, with everyone else scoring at will?|
|Bruno Caboclo, SF 12 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -3I admit the A+ is a homer grade, but I’m pretty sure I blacked out when he threw down that alley-oop. Proved that he can shoot at the NBA level if nothing else, hitting a couple threes, and added a huge block for good measure. The fan base is absolutely enthralled with this guy, and it was great to see him have a solid debut.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 13 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15He came, he saw, he played good defence and hit a runner. That’s a runner more than anyone expects from him. Keep doing your thing, Chuckster.|
|Lucas Nogueira, C 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -7Played in a weird garbage time lineup (Fields/Bruno/Vasquez/Stiemsma/Bebe) in the fourth with the game out of reach, and got his feet wet by grabbing some boards and scoring his first NBA points on an alley-oop from Vasquez. Looked uncomfortable with the ball, but it was his first game. Welcome to the NBA, big man.|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -1Got in in garbage time, hit a shot, grabbed some boards, and fouled some guys, as advertised.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +13He, more than anyone else, needed a game like tonight to get back on track, and he made some excellent decisions with the ball all night, finding open looks for himself and creating easy ones for his teammates with some great passing – getting the two Brazilians their first NBA points in garbage time on some gorgeous alley-oops. Here’s hoping this is the start of a turnaround for him.|
|Louis Williams, SG 19 MIN | 7-14 FG | 3-3 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +18In a night filled with impressive performances, his was probably the most impressive. Absolutely dominated the game offensively, hit not one, but two buzzer beating 3s (at the end of the first two quarters) and managed the offence extremely well, getting the bench unit out in transition and putting away the game early. Well done, Lou. Well done.|
|Landry Fields, SG 9 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -7What can I say? Apparently his time to shine is when you’re up 50 against the Bucks. That dunk off a missed Nogueira free throw was pretty.|
Not much to critique here seeing as the game was out of reach halfway through the second, but he got Bruno in there for 12 minutes. On a night where nobody deserves a bad grade, how can you give the coach one?
Three Things We Saw
- This was absolute, total domination by the Raptors. The 41-point margin of victory is the largest in team history, and they supplemented that with a plus-20 rebound differential, which is far more important moving forward.
- The Bucks took a beating tonight, so it’s hard to get a feel for them as a team from this game’s performance, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from them soon. They’re young, clearly athletic, and got some good stuff done in transition, particularly in the first half when the game was still somewhat up for grabs.
- Yes, this is just an early-season blowout against an expected non-playoff team, but enjoy this one, Raptor fans. A huge win, a 6-1 homestand, the best record in the conference, 8 points from Bruno, and Cleveland coming up tomorrow night. This, friends, is as close to basketball nirvana as it’s gotten here in a long, long time.
Bucks at Raptors, Bruno Caboclo’s first NBA game and the crowd’s chanting his name. Pretty unreal.
Although this team certainly has chemistry, sometimes there can be opportunities that are just too good to pass up. That doesn’t mean that the chemistry is suddenly lost, but it can certainly inhibit the team’s functionality. By wondering what targets should the Raptors consider, I’m wondering either underrated players or players who are good but in a bad situation.
James: If I was the president of the Milwaukee Bucks Nutjobbery Society, I would have pointed to (a) the development of second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has as much potential as anyone in the NBA and showcased significant signs of offensive improvement at summer league, (b) the possibility of bounceback seasons for Larry Sanders O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley, (c) the Jason Kidd new coach bump and (d) the addition of passing supergenius Kendall Marshall.In retrospect, had I nutted that job or jobbed that nut, I’d be in a position to be gloat about some of this. Now, excuse me while I step into the garden, drink iced tea and eat some peanuts.
James: Yay! I prefer it very much to the other options: Buckyouths, Mini-Bucks and the Bucks of Little Experience.
James: I’ll buy top-10, at least. Milwaukee hasn’t played many good offensive teams, but Kidd has these guys playing hard and the length is real. That’s enough to win 35 if we’re assuming the offense will improve throughout the season and the East remains mostly terrible.
James: He’s awesome. The Bucks are really having him attack the basket lately. They’re going to him late in games. The numbers are cool, but the real difference is in how confident and comfortable he is. Antetokounmpo grew — literally and figuratively, ha! — from the beginning to the end of his rookie season, and he’s made an even larger leap now. The assists declining is actually a good thing; naturally a distributor, he has to be reprogrammed a bit to take advantage of the matchup nightmare he presents as a scorer.
James: Parker is fine. He was always only “NBA ready” as a scorer, and there was no reason to expect anything different. Kidd’s done a good job in alternating him between forward spots depending on the matchup, and he’s capable of doing good things with the ball. There are some questionable habits in terms of defense and shot selection, but he’ll put up numbers as long as he keeps getting these minutes.
“It’s very difficult to do, to play at home this many games in a row,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters on Thursday. “Psychologically, it’s tough to go through the grind, the monotony of every other day or whatever the schedule was. I think our guys mentally fought through that. That’s something that’s a credit to them. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them, fight through things mentally, be focused, don’t let outside distractions get you out of what you want to do. I’ve been relatively pleased.” Due to the nature of the league, the Raptors’ schedule is set to turn dramatically. Following the Milwaukee game, the Raptors play the Cavaliers, Suns, Hawks and Mavericks, four teams that range from playoff threats to championship contenders. They will then go on a three-game western road trip, albeit against three of the Western Conference’s weaker teams, depending on your opinion of the upstart Sacramento Kings. The schedule does not get truly gruesome until Christmastime, when the Raptors will go on a six-game road trip that includes games in Chicago, Portland and Golden State. The Raptors are yet to play a Western Conference road game, and a record approaching .500 in those 15 contests would be a massive accomplishment.
“Even though the playing time hasn’t been there, I’m just as involved as DeMar (DeRozan) in the (team scouting meetings.) I’m just as involved as Kyle (Lowry) in the pre-game planning. They ask me for my opinion, I give it, if I see something, I’ll make a recommendation.” Hayes knows what he is talking about. Giving up half a foot every game, for nine years, is something very few NBA players have ever been able to carve out a long career doing. But Hayes has a sky-high basketball IQ and is a master of positioning. Superstar Memphis centre Marc Gasol, a 7-foot-1 bruiser, raved about Hayes’ defence after the Raptors stunned Memphis with a lock-down performance in the fourth quarter. “There are certain games that matchup to my skill-set, there’s some that may not. Regardless, I’ve still got to be ready,” Hayes said, admitting that he had a feeling he’d see some time against Gasol or Zach Randolph. “I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season (and) I’ll be read
A match-up with the Grizzlies’ intimidating frontcourt is one Hayes generally has circled. In today’s changing NBA, forcing most interior players to adapt their game and step out to the three-point line, there aren’t many teams that feature a physical, throw-back style big man who makes hay in the post. Memphis has two of them in Gasol and Randolph. In his 10th NBA season, Hayes says he doesn’t have to watch much tape or do much research to prepare for an opponent like this. “It’s all up here,” he said pointing to his head. “They don’t do nothing different than they did the last four, five years. I learn from experience. I knew there was a high possibility that I would go in last night, so I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season and I’ll be ready tomorrow.” “He knows who he is and what match-ups that he’s needed [in],” Casey said. “There’s certain match-ups that he’s good [in] and he knows that before we know it because he’s been in the league so long. That’s why you have veterans. That’s why veterans are so important in this league, in those positions. He has a good idea of what he’s supposed to do.”
“We have a deep team,” Greivis Vasquez explained. “We have guys that can do it on any given night. It’s a team effort. We are doing a good job at being focused and just waiting for an opportunity and we are taking advantage of that as a unit, as a team. T Ross came through tonight. He was struggling at first and then in the last quarter basically he took over. Lou (Williams), he scored for us too. Chuck (Hayes) came out – he hasn’t played in like 5 games – and did his job. So, it’s totally a team effort.” The Raptors have been led in fourth quarter scoring by Jonas Valanciunas, Ross (3x), Kyle Lowry (2x), DeMar DeRozan (2x), Lou Williams (1.5x) and Patrick Patterson (1.5x). It quite literally feels like a different player has been stepping up in crunch time each and every night. The voices from the Raptors locker room last season still ring true. There are no egos on this team. The players are here to win games and are ready when Casey calls their number, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to sit, watch and cheer when someone else’s number is called. They are playing for something bigger than themselves and it shows.
The Bucks needed triple overtime to beat the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, but at 7-5 Milwaukee has to be considered one of the early-season surprises around the league. . . . Prized rookie Parker averages 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 46 per cent from the field. . . . Antetokounmpo and Parker form one of two sets of teenagers to start for NBA teams this season. Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the others. . . . Milwaukee’s Wednesday win in Brooklyn came a day after a victory over New York. In 21 back-to-backs last season, the Bucks failed to win both games even once. . . . Toronto will once again be without backup forward James Johnson, sidelined with a severely sprained right ankle although he was out of a walking boot on Thursday.
The Bucks (7-5) have won three in a row after not winning consecutive games last season. They can earn their eighth victory 29 games earlier than in 2013-14 after not reaching that mark until Jan. 22. Milwaukee had dropped five straight overtime games going back to last season prior to Wednesday’s 122-118 triple-overtime win at Brooklyn. Brandon Knight made a tying 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the second overtime and free throws with 5.6 left in the third overtime. Knight was 5 of 20 from the field and missed what would have been the winning layup with two seconds left in the first extra period. “My teammates trusted me to make the next shot to force a third overtime, so that’s really what it’s all about,” Knight said. “And we stuck through it as a team.” Rookie Jabari Parker scored a season-high 23 on 8-of-13 shooting and is shooting 55.1 percent over his last seven games after hitting 36.1 percent in his first five. At 3-4, Milwaukee is already two road wins shy of its total from last season. The Bucks haven’t won three in a row away from home since their first three road contests in 2012-13.
Having depth is something that teams must have down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, and it has made the difference for quite a few championship winners over the years. Toronto has built their team very well around having a deep roster, and there aren’t too many teams better than them in that category. The scoring off of the bench could use some better play, but they have the potential to make that improvement. It’s going to be very intriguing to see whether or not the Raptors’ bench can begin playing up to their potential. They have the ability to take control of games against opposing second units, but they have’t been doing that as much as they could be. Expect to see their bench continue to improve this season as the year moves along.
Despite all the breaks that have gone the Raptors’ way, their record still sits at 9-2.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t championship contenders. No, the Raptors don’t have a superstar. No, there isn’t an all-consuming rim protector anchoring the defense. No, their young players haven’t blossomed into stars quite yet.
But their record is 9-2.
Yes, some things have broken right for the Raptors this season. Yes, they’ve played an easy schedule so far, ranking 26th in Basketball-Reference’s strength of schedule metric. Yes, they pulled a few wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies out of the fire. Yes, the Grizzlies were stricken by a team-wide flu that KO’ed five of their rotation players. Yes, the Raptors have caught a number of teams on the wrong end of a back-to-back.
But their record is 9-2.
No, the Raptors’ success isn’t necessarily indicative of their team’s strength. No, the Raptors won’t continue to shoot an absurd number of free-throws. No, Toronto’s offense won’t continue to produce like the second-best attack in the league. No, the Raptors’ defense isn’t as robust as their sixth-ranked defense suggests. No, Amir Johnson and his papier-mache ankles won’t continue to mask the team’s defensive flaws.
But their record is 9-2.
Yes, Raptors fans are excited about the team. Yes, this team’s success came out of sheer luck. Yes, the Rudy Gay trade galvanized the squad in a way that continues to baffle most fans. Yes, the Raptors have a few players who are overperforming their career norms. Yes, the Raptors’ best back-up center is Chuck Hayes. Yes, Chuck Hayes is a f*cking boss that saved the day last night. Yes, we love everyone in this town, even Vince and Chuck Hayes.
But their record is 9-2.
No, the Raptors didn’t take care of Chicago at home. No, the Raptors didn’t beat Miami on the second night of a back-to-back. No, the Raptors could not sink free throws to save their lives in that game. No, it’s not preferable that the Raptors aren’t 11-0 right now.
But their record is 9-2.
I know I’m being repetitive. I know that. I know that process is more important than results because process determines future results. But it doesn’t mean we should just throw away everything this team has accomplished because things aren’t perfect under the hood.
Regarding the schedule, the Raptors can only play who is on the court. They’ve played some shitty teams, snagging two wins against Orlando, a win against the Celtics, a win against the Sixers and a win against the depleted Oklahoma City Thunder. But they’ve won every single one of those games. They’ve done what is asked on them in those games. It wasn’t always pretty, but they won. They’ve taken care of what they can control. How can you really ask for more? The Bulls (without Derrick Rose; big surprise there) lost against the Pacers and Celtics. Games aren’t played on paper. Good teams do lose to bad teams once in a while.
And yes, there are some big holes on this team. Amir can’t stay healthy, and he’s the anchor of the defense. Greivis is struggling, big time. James Johnson can’t possibly sustain this level of production. The hockey lineup changes by Casey is baffling. DeRozan is struggling to score efficiently besides toeing the line a million times per game. Valanciunas looks winded every time he’s left out on the court for too long and his movement is still incredible robotic. Terrence Ross is wildly inconsistent. And yeah, they’ve been extraordinarily healthy for most of the last two seasons.
Ask any reasonable fan, and they’ll tell you as much. For all the good vibes surrounding #WeTheNorth, Raptors fans are still the same bitter cynics at heart. We know this is a pretty good team that falls two or three steps from being elite. We know that. We understand everything isn’t going as well as their record would belay.
We’re allowed to be excited about the team’s success — they’re 9-2, have you heard? We don’t know how exactly it’s happening. We just want to enjoy it for what it is. We’re not out there telling people we’re threats to dethrone Cleveland and Chicago. Wins are fun. People are excited. That’s it.
What we don’t need, as a fanbase, is to be constantly put into place for being excited. We don’t need condescending reminder of the team’s flaws. Yeah, we know. We watch every friggin’ game. Have you seen the comment boards after games? It’s littered with critiques and nitpicks.
But thanks, anyway, for giving us the perspective we so sorely lacked, Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball and the Hardwood Paroxysm network (who, aside from this recent episode, I thoroughly enjoy and respect as a basketball analyst). What would we do without your sobering takes on the Raptors? I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’d rather be excited about found money than I would be bitterly gripping about how my income can’t reliably come from change off the street.
Three things happened last night that would have seemed all but impossible a mere 18 months ago. First, the Raptors honoured Vince Carter with a video tribute in a moment that brought tears to Vince’s eyes and felt like it genuinely mended the past between the Air Canada Centre fans and the former hero they once called ‘Air Canada.’ Second, the Raptors got an impressive win over arguably the best team in the league thus far this season. Third and finally, the Raptors and their fans became engulfed in a derisive flame war on NBA Twitter that had nothing to do with Vince Carter, and everything to do with NBA fans and writers feeling like Raptors have gotten too big for their britches, sort-of-speak, and feeling compelled in turn to argue how this does not prove that the Raptors are definitely title contenders. Last year’s poo poo platter of an NBA roster in Philadelphia beat the Miami Heat in the early season, before setting the all-time record for consecutive losses, so I would have believed at least the second item of the previous list to be possible if prognosticated a year and a half ago to me. But the first and third would have seemed comically far away. But now here we are, cool with Vince, battling for first place in the NBA and being argued about in the spotlight about whether or not we’re contenders and mocked for believing too much in our team. This is completely new, completely fantastic territory.
Putting that narrative aside, let’s get to what we saw last night.
It turns out that James Johnson has been just as big of a presence on the bench unit as we all thought he was. Landry Fields got four minutes of run in his stead and the audition all but definitely won’t be getting him the part in Casey’s ten man rotation. The 5-man bench unit had some of their least effective run together last night, especially in the first half. Vasquez unleashed a trio of shots at one point that each refused to have contact with the rim: an air-ball attempt from 3, a floater that bonked off the side of the backboard and a banked-in 3 pointer that, as much as we might mock, represents ¾ of the Raptors margin of victory. Tyler Hansbrough fell hard on his shoulder again last night, taking him out of the game. Valanciunas got some 2nd quarter minutes with the bench unit in a game where he struggled to contain Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, who went for 18 and 18, and 22 and 12 respectively. Those two are a nightmare for any big man, which is to say that that’s exactly what they were for Jonas as well. The best way to contextualize the Raptors awful 2nd quarter is to bring up how the basketball artist formerly known as Prince(Tayshaun) drove casually past his man, through the lane and dunked on Valanciunas. There’s never been a reason to be proud of that happening, but if this was 2005, there at least wouldn’t be as much reason for embarrassment. In 2014, when Tayshaun Prince’s offensive game is barely a whisper, that can’t happen. He shot 6 of 8.
It’s not surprising that the Raptors struggled offensively against the grit and grind Grizzlies for much of the game last night. Gasol seemed to scare the Raptors out of the protected area. DeMar didn’t have to face Tony Allen or Courtney Lee, as both were out with a virus, but he struggled instead with himself. DeMar forced his game at times last night, scrambling with the ball, forcing long jumpers before the end of the shot clock and fishing for free throws on pump fake jump shots that just weren’t being called. He battled through, put up 21 points and finally started finding his way to the rim in the 4th quarter. But the Grizzlies were able to take away his efficiency by only sending him to the line twice.
This game, as with any other impressive win the Raptors have had against a top opponent the past two seasons, came down to the 4th quarter. It turns out that the Raptors are kind of great in the 4th. You might have heard a little something about this trend mentioned somewhere between once and a hundred times in between Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins playful flirtations on Raptors broadcasts. It’s a thing. And so is the Raptor’s play in the 4th. The Raptors defense in the 4th quarter locked in, and did so last night with some uncommon lineups. Chuck Hayes, brick wall extraordinaire, had his number called, and he played great. Post defense is tough, especially against freight trains like Z-Bo and skilled 7-footers like Gasol. Hayes gives up at least 4 inches to both players, but did a great job against both. Hayes forced Gasol into taking some very difficult turn around jumpers that, just because he looked like Dirk in hitting, doesn’t mean he wasn’t very well defended. Defense in the post is all about quickly shuffling your feet into position, taking away space and staying on your feet. There are people who can do this well. The reason why Hayes can guard low post big men so much more effectively than others is because while doing those things well, Hayes is also impossible to shoulder out of the way or back down in the process. Gasol threw shoulder after shoulder into Chuck’s chest, turning from side to side in an attempt to widdle his way into the low post. He didn’t budge an inch. Marc Gasol is around 280 lbs.! Hayes kept his ground and maintained his footwork, challenging every shot or fake without jumping. This should be appreciated.
Hayes wasn’t alone with his 4th quarter defense, as Amir Johnson’s hobbled ankles allowed him ten minutes of his best basketball so far. Amir played important minutes on Gasol, cut inside off of a screen for a crucial late basket, blocked Z-Bo at the rim late and was perhaps the only Raptor last night to understand the importance of boxing out and rebounding.
The Raptor’s biggest basket of the 4th quarter, unsurprisingly, was a beautiful layup from Kyle Lowry. Lowry drove hard, twisting his body around the Grizzly defender in place to draw the charge and dropped in the highlight reel layup. What was surprising about the 4th quarter offense was Terrence Ross taking over. I don’t know what got in to the young man, but he had a confidence in his game and a swagger in his step that we haven’t seen this season. Ross drained 3s off the dribble and in the face of defenders. He drove to the basket. He was taking alpha dog ‘I got this’ shots and drilling them, putting up 14 4th quarter points. Maybe he did it for his hero, Vince. Maybe he did it for himself. Maybe he did it for Lisa Ann. I don’t know, and I don’t care, but god damn do I want to see him do it again.
It’s a stretch to say that the Raptors proved their title contention in last night’s win over Memphis. Yes, the Grizzlies were without two key starters in Tony Allen and Courtney Lee and missing multiple bench guys as well. But guess what, injuries and illness happen in the playoffs too. One game of the regular season should never been seen as a macrocosm of who any one team is or what they’re ultimately capable of either way. You’d be a fool to discount this game or argue it as a sign of a forthcoming Larry O’Brien trophy. It was an important, quality win over a very good Grizzlies team. I feel good about this game, I feel good about Vince Carter, and I feel great about this team. Nobody needs to worry about May and June. That’s more than enough for now. Who’s up next?
If the Raptors are to hit their ceiling as a franchise, they need Valanciunas, a potentially excellent two-way big man, to be able to defend the Gasols and Randolphs of the world. There are not many of those players, but good teams — the teams you play in the playoffs — tend to have one. It can be argued, with some merit, that Valanciunas needs those minutes now, even if it costs the Raptors a win. It is impossible to say what the right move, long term, is. But at least Valanciunas is paying attention. “He plays really good defence. He’s an experienced player. He has the timing,” said Valanciunas, who was a team-worst minus-12 in his 22 minutes of play despite some positive moments. “As you have the touch in the shooting, he has the feeling on the defensive end.”
“No matter the start, it’s all about the finish,” Kyle Lowry said of Toronto’s blistering early-season 9-2 record. Lowry added 18 points while Lou Williams finished with 13 and Jonas Valanciunas added 10 points. Marc Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were missing five players. Zach Randolph added 18 points and a game-high 18 boards, who boast the NBA’s best record (10-2). “I am really proud of our guys, they gutted it out, played for each other, and encouraged each other,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. The Grizzlies were missing Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih. The five were treated in hospital for dehydration, and flew back to Memphis on a special charter flight.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Grizzlies’ lead down to four, Dwane Casey countered the return to the floor by Gasol with his move of the night — bringing in Hayes. From that point on the Grizzlies’ twin towers found the going extra tough, scoring just nine points between them. And, truth be told, that was too much as far as Hayes was concerned. He played textbook defence on Gasol on one possession only to see him hit a turnaround fade-away jumper from 11 feet. The next time down, he pushed him out a little farther, this time all the way to 19 feet and Gasol did the same thing. “I was about to kick the scorer’s table when he made that (second) shot,” Hayes said. “I’m happy I kept my cool.” Hayes said it was all a matter of know-how and experience that made this particular night such a successful one for him and the Raptors. “I’ve played against those guys a while,” he said of Gasol and Randolph. “I’m familiar with their tendencies. I do my best and interpret it to my teammates, give them a heads-up. Be ready as if they need me to go.
As the Raptors’ offense cranked up, as Kyle Lowry made big plays (he had 18 points) and DeMar DeRozan kept the team in it (he went for 22 points), as Vince got to tearfully appreciate the Toronto faithful, it was Hayes’ presence that moved the Raptors. He slowed the two-man wrecking crew of Gasol and Randolph. It’s been these kinds of unlikely performances that have been the story for this team so far in this young season; the depth of the roster finding ways to win. “I was bummed because they said they made four field goes in the fourth and two of them came on me,” Hayes said. “I was kind of irritated by that.” At least Chuck is keeping a level head.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger on the snowstorm before the game: “The weather is awesome. I’m from Minnesota, so I get it.” Joerger also had kind words for the Raptors. “They play the way I think good teams play. They take care of the basketball, they’ll guard you, they rebound very physically and they get to the free throw line,” he said. “Everybody knows their role, they’ve got a good starting five. They’re very solid all the way through and what I think that’s going to lead to through their season is they are not going to have that big hit where you lose four games out of five.”
And they did it when Casey dusted off the 31-year-old Hayes and his Old Man Strength. Hayes hadn’t played a second in three of Toronto’s last four games — his role is mainly going to be mop-up all season — but he was out there grinding against Gasol and Randolph down the stretch. His stats were hardly startling — one rebound and no points in 10 minutes — but his contribution was off the charts. “He’s an old vet and you’ve got to have those kind of guys on your roster, on your bench, ready and willing to accept his role,” said Casey. “He knows who he is, he’s one of the better big men defenders in the league, he’s got a low centre of gravity and he does a great job. He was our MVP coming in and slowing down Gasol and putting a stop to him.”
Memphis got out to a six-point halftime lead, riding a physical second quarter from Zach Randolph. Toronto trailed by six heading into the fourth, but that’s when Terrence Ross caught fire. The third-year forward poured in 14 points in the period, and Kyle Lowry drilled a tough step-back to ice the game with eight ticks remaining. Though Memphis was missing several players (including Tony Allen and Courtney Lee) because of a bug making its way through the team, this was a major statement win for the Raps. Marc Gasol piled up 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, and Randolph contributed 18 points and 18 boards. The Grizzlies didn’t give this one away by any stretch. Toronto took it. In big-picture terms, the Raptors’ win should eliminate any lingering concerns about their staying power. There was a sense that Toronto hadn’t done enough over the summer to improve its prospects, and with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers getting stronger, there was reason to believe Toronto would fall short of the franchise-best 48 wins it amassed in 2013-14.
Wing defense. A guy like Terrence Ross is one of those players who, especially when the Grizzlies are so shorthanded, could wind up going career-night against the Beale Street Bullies (TM with apologies to the Flyers). Well, he didn’t, but he and Derozan combined for 16-of-36, and Derozan’s 21 was huge in keeping the Raptors in it when the Grizzlies built leads of 6-8 a time or two. Derozan’s length made it hard for the Grizzlies-an ace like TA can play several inches up to guard a guy with a two-mile wingspan, but for QPon/Carter/even Conley a time or two, it’s tough to contest with any effectiveness. Could Derozan be trying to show John Hollinger the error of his ways ?
I am learning as I do more and more grades that the A+ is reserved for amazing games that should be remembered. I think this is one of the single best coaching performances that the Memphis Grizzlies organization has seen since Hubie Brown roamed the sidelines. Being down five key rotation players against what is possibly the best team in the Eastern Conference and competing is an amazing feat. He blended the starters with the rookies and gave Tayshaun Prince ample opportunities to be successful. It would have been a much deserved Grizz win if not for fatigue and Kyle Lowry’s massive stones.
It can be successfully argued that Memphis has the most dominant frontcourt in the entire NBA. With James Johnson sitting out due to injury, the Raps were left shorthanded in stopping the bigs from scoring. While Mike Conley and vetern Tayshaun Prince had solid offensive performances of their own, it was the Raptors’ signature ability to close which stole the game from the River City. Hayes and Amir Johnson successfully congested the paint and limited their opponent’s opportunities around the rim. The only complaint here is continuity. This team needs to apply their fourth-quarter defensive mentality to all 48 minutes- it’ll save us all the stress of a valiant comeback.
While this game showed how far Jonas Valanciunas still has to learn about playing against the NBA’s best, our team also demonstrated its resilience, and our coach his flexibility. The psychological value of this win can’t be overstated. After the second-half bellyflop against the Bulls, the Raps needed this victory – and got it.
First off, the Grizzlies were undermanned, playing with only 10 players due to five players being out with a stomach virus. The most notable of those players was Courtney Lee, who has been the catalyst to this team’s early success. Had the Grizzlies had his three-point shooting, his defense, and his 15 points, they probably would have won this game really easily. Secondly, the Raptors are a really good team. They improve to 9-2 overall and 7-1 at home. Winning in the Air Canada Centre isn’t easy for any team in the NBA, and so the Grizzlies can take great comfort in knowing that a lot of teams are going to lose in that building this season. What this really means, is that this is a game that they weren’t supposed to win.
DeMar DeRozan was fired up after the win and was yelling while walking up the tunnel and into the locker room. What was he saying? I couldn’t really make out exactly what he was yelling. All I could decipher was a bunch of excited smack talk about beating one of the NBA’s top teams so far this season.
Forget thawing, a near decade of animosity vanished in a flash, as the video of Carter’s high-flying Raptors days was met with a standing ovation from the ACC crowd, along with loud cheers. Carter, looking surprised, mouthed “wow” and had to dab away tears from his eyes with his shirt. Fittingly, once Carter checked into the game, he was booed every time he touched the ball, marking a return to normalcy. “It was an amazing feeling to relive it as it was happening. As each play was happening, I could remember it like yesterday,” Carter said afterward, calling his tears “an honest reaction.” “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful.”
Moments after the montage began, the sellout crowd – still filing in at the time – rose to their feet. If there were boos they were drowned out by an overwhelmingly positive ovation. Carter stood and watched from the visiting bench. He used his warm-up shirt to wipe the tears running down his face as he pointed to his heart and waved to the fans in appreciation. “It was a great feeling,” said the 37-year-old, who played in 403 games over six and a half seasons with the Raptors. “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful for it.” “They asked me earlier how you would feel, how you would react and you can’t prepare for that, whether that was a surprise or you knew it was coming. It’s just an amazing feeling, amazing just to be in the moment and to see it, and to kind of relive it as it was happening. You see all the stuff and you see all the people that you played with and as each play was happening, I can remember all that stuff as if it was yesterday. It was awesome.” Toronto’s current players were among those standing for Carter.
No matter how much revisionism we exercise on this subject, the basic fact is that Carter gave up on this team. He engineered the fallout with management. Three years on, he was still the knucklehead who decided to fly to his college graduation ahead of the biggest game of his career. He was an undeniably great performer, and a so-so teammate. Even in his athletic dotage, he retains that odd combination of genuine charm and spasmodic denialism. He’ll tell you he takes the blame, but nothing’s ever really been his fault. It’s a very human trait, one that’s amplified in professional athletes. What makes it weird is Toronto’s tortured insistence on wrenching some sort of dramatic reconciliation out of this guy. “Tell us you didn’t mean it, Vince.” It smacks of desperation.
Getting into late November the best player on one of the best teams in the league record wise…
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Vince Carter, Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez after Toronto’s 96-92 win over Memphis.
|Amir Johnson, PF 34 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-1 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -2The guy just brings his lunchpail and goes to work, no matter the opponent. His issues – along with Jonas – on keeping the Memphis bigs off the glass can’t be excused, but he provided his usual brand of up-tempo basketball and made his presence felt. He impressed me most on the pick and roll, where he made smart passes when necessary and made the slow-footed Z-Bo pay when he didn’t close out in time.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 34 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -3Was a complete non-factor for the first 3 quarters, but exploded in the fourth, almost single-handedly getting the Raptors back in the game after going on his own 8-0 run. That brings his grade up a couple notches, but I can’t get over the fact that Tayshaun Prince basically “son”-ned him on both ends for most of the game.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -12Interesting game for Jonas in that he seemed absolutely content to bang in the blocks on the offensive end – and did so quite well, besides missing a bunny in traffic – but on the defensive side of the ball, he seemed passive, particularly after the shot goes up. Against a team like Memphis, we need Jonas to really have a nose for the ball in order to keep the rebounding numbers somewhat even. Tonight, that didn’t happen, which is why Chuck Hayes finished the game.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 7-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | -5I’ve run out of superlatives for this guy. No matter which way the game is turning, he plays his signature hard-nosed style of basketball, makes the right plays, gets in the middle of every play (one contest against Z-Bo in the fourth was particularly brazen), and hits a dagger with 8 seconds left, of course. When he’s out there, you never feel like this team is out of it.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 10-22 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +3A quiet, effective game from DeMar, which is not something I thought I’d ever type about him a year ago. He seems to be making better and better decisions with the ball each game, and attacked the rim with aplomb once his shot stopped falling in the second half. The refs did him ZERO favours tonight, either. He must have loved the fact that Tony Allen wasn’t out there, but for my money, this was one of his more impressive performances against a really tough opponent.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Surprisingly effective defensively against Marc Gasol in the minutes he played, but he was – rightfully – replaced by Chuck Hayes on the bench unit in the fourth quarter. On nights like this where the opposing players simply have him outmatched size and skill wise, he’s going to struggle, and he was a non-factor for the most part.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +10Hit his open looks in the first half, where he was the primary offensive weapon against his slower-footed Memphis check. His man defence has always been impressive, and he got a few stops one-on-one against Marc Gasol that he had no business getting.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8Entered the game in the fourth, and the Raptors immediately went on a run that brought them back into the game. Coincidence? I think not. Took a huge charge late in the game with the Raps struggling to hold onto their lead. The guy is who he is, but he always seems to find a way to impact the game in a positive way.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | +6Made some questionable decisions with the basketball at times – you can’t just run under the hoop and expect your pass to make it back out to the 3 point line – and had his issues with Carter defensively. Patterson and Williams picked him up offensively, but this wasn’t his night.|
|Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +11He’s DeMar, with the size dial turned down and the circus shot dial turned up to maximum. VERY impressive tonight offensively – got a chance to handle the ball in the second quarter and did a good job speeding up the Raptor offense, which had been a problem for them all game. Hit some shots he had no business making, and got fouled when he had no business getting fouled. He’s a great weapon to have off the bench, and tonight, he was a difference maker.|
|Landry Fields, SG 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +1Came in in the first half as an ostensible James Johnson replacement. Touched the ball once, promptly lost it, and we didn’t see him again.|
Struggled somewhat in getting the game turned around to the Raptors’ tempo, but he made a key substitution late – getting Hayes into the game – and stuck with it, which is not an easy thing to do. Made his usual smart decisions on timeouts, and managed the rotation reasonably well with Johnson out, minimizing the damage Fields could cause.
Four Things We Saw
- This game felt like a heavyweight fight the Raptors were never really in – until they were. The first 3 quarters were characterized by slow-tempo basketball and a huge rebounding advantage by the Grizz, with only a few shooting runs keeping the Raptors in it. In the fourth, though, the tempo picked up, the crowd got into it, and the game completely turned around.
- The refs really swallowed their whistles tonight, didn’t they? Going into the fourth, the Raptors had just 8 free throws, and ended with 13 total for the game. I don’t think it affected the outcome at all, but it gave the game a really gritty feel, which helped make it seem like it was the Grizzlies’ to lose. When Mark Gasol got hit in the eye and the home crowd thought he flopped, I half expected a riot.
- I’m trying to stay diplomatic in the whole Vince argument, but the tribute the team did to him tonight was really classy and not as over-the-top as I expected. I’d imagine the over-the-top one will come at some other point.
- Yes, Memphis was missing a couple key guys, but this was a statement win – a comeback against the team with the best record in the league – made all the more impressive by the fact that it was Memphis who took the heavy punches for the first few quarters. When you can beat good teams playing THEIR style, you know you’ve got something. A great win that this team should be proud to hang their hat on, and unquestionably their most impressive of the season.
DeRozan was solid, Ross came alive, but here are the two plays that iced the game.
Chuck Hayes’s magnificent, glorious chargeDirect Link
Kyle Lowry’s late bucket to ice it and make it a two-possession gameDirect Link
More TearsDirect Link
Video of tribute as seen on TV:
Memphis arrives in Toronto with an NBA best 10-1 record on the heels of a rout of Houston. Timing is everything in sports and unfortunately the offensive explosion by the Grizzlies over the Rockets came at the worst possible time for the Raptors.
While Toronto has been idle since defeating Utah on Saturday the Memphis game versus Houston seemingly offered Toronto a small advantage. Unfortunately Memphis jumped out to an early lead en route to a Rocket thrashing allowing all their starters rest and simultaneously provided critical minutes for their bench who capitalized by appearing to finally gel. Prior to Monday the Grizzlies bench has been arguably their main weakness having been outscored in all but four of their eleven games.
More worrisome and disappointing for the home team will be the absence of James Johnson thanks to a severely twisted ankle courtesy of a camera woman’s annoyingly close placement to the end line. Any hopes we had of James Johnson being available were obliterated when Johnson was observed wearing an air cast Tuesday. Further compelling this frustration is Johnson historically has his best games facing former teams.
Certainly the Raptors will need to produce a full 48-minute effort on both ends, attack the boards with abandon and learn from the lessons of the Chicago loss to make up for Johnson’s absence. This season’s team has been touted as deeper and this match-up will test that assertion.
It may seem odd to place so much importance on one player’s absence given the new depth of the Raptors, but James Johnson has arguably been the second best player (sometimes best) on court through the Raptors 8-2 start.
With another test waiting in Cleveland this weekend the added pressure to win rests on the East’s top team who has yet to convince some pundits their record is more than favorable scheduling.
To that end, you might find the comparison of these two teams surprising; while I assumed Memphis would have huge advantages, analysis of their stats highlight two teams with virtually not much separating them.
Strength of Schedule:
Toronto has definitely benefitted from the unusually high number of home games to start the year and the caliber of talent they’ve faced. However their strength of schedule listed on ESPN.com as .483% is literally only one percentage point higher than Memphis who is listed at .482%.
Through the first 10-games of each team their opponents’ records are eerily similar:
- Toronto: 47-61
- Memphis: 42-66
Note: for comparison sake I omitted the Houston game which would push Memphis’ numbers to 51-68
Points For/Points Against:
- 1060 total points scored – 106.0 per game
- 964 total points against – 96.4 per game
- Point differential of +9.6
- 1083 total points scored – 98.4 per game
- 1006 total points against – 91.4 per game
- Point differential of +7
Note: Memphis’ numbers prior to the Houston game were: 96.4, 91.3 and + 5.1, so the win vs. Houston saw their numbers jump in offense and point differential by 2 points in their average.
Key Ranking Stats:
Points per game: 5th
Rebounds per game: 25th
Assists per game: 28th
Opposing points per game: 9th
Points per game: 18th
Rebounds per game: 24th
Assists per game: 18th
Opposing points per game: 1st
Traditional Stat Comparison:
- Field goal percent for both teams is 45%
- While Memphis has a better 3-point shooting percentage Toronto has been climbing the ranks after a poor start. In addition, Toronto averages an additional +7.1 attempts and +1.7 makes per game.
- Though Toronto gets to the line close to 4 additional times, don’t expect the whistles to be as friendly facing the Association’s number one team
- The area I was most shocked by was rebounding; I anticipated Memphis to have a huge margin on Toronto however they are fractionally better in every rebounding category.
Advanced Stat Comparison:
- The crux of tonight’s match-up on paper comes down to the slimmest of margins between the Raptors offensive advantage per 100 possessions: +3.7 versus the Grizzlies defensive advantage -3.5 per 100 possessions.
- Toronto plays at a quicker pace (+2.7 possessions per 48-minutes) than Memphis who will try to grind the Raptors into a slower pace.
Miscellaneous Stat Comparison:
- Examining the intangible factors once again Toronto has the edge on the offensive side and Memphis has the edge on the defensive side.
Note: The chart links take you directly to NBA.com, unfortunately the charts appear too small when copied as pictures
Positional Break Down:
Guards: Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan vs. Mike Conley/Tony Allen
Conley is arguably the most under rated point guard in the league and very adept at controlling pace, but this type of game is one Lowry has prepared for all summer. Expect Lowry to come out with that look in his eye with the goal of energizing the defense and getting everyone involved on offense early especially Valanciunas and Ross.
DeRozan faces another defensive specialist in Allen however DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble should tip the scale in his favor especially if his shot is falling early which will open the lanes for everyone. Historically Allen has played DeRozan tough holding him to some of his poorest scoring performances, however last season it appeared DeRozan was beginning to figure out Allen scoring 16 and 18 points respectively in the series.
Edge Raptors: Though Memphis will clog the paint the tenacity of Lowry will be the difference
Front Court: Terrence Ross/Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas vs. Courtney Lee/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol
Lee has been off to a blistering start shooting 56.6% from the field and 62.1% from behind the arc, so Ross will have his hands full. Ross has been steadily improving on the offensive end actually hitting the same number (2) of three’s as Lee per game. The key will be for Ross to keep Lee busy on the offensive end and to take the challenge of limiting him on the defensive end.
Without James Johnson available Amir Johnson will need to forget about his ankles and have one of his prototypical nights we’ve become accustomed to. Cagey vet Randolph defies all logic by his ability to pull in rebounds and score with equal aplomb while defying anti-gravity by barely ever jumping.
Valanciunas will best be served by remembering what the older Gasol brother did less than a week ago at the ACC and channel his effort from Saturday versus another European. Last year Valanciunas had two games at opposite ends of the spectrum vs. Memphis initially scoring 4 points with 7 rebounds and in the second excelling with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Gasol is already being cited as a potential MVP candidate and for good reason. Last season Memphis sputtered when he was injured, but his return ignited them to one of the best second half records. Gasol is arguably the best passing center and he captains the best defense of the Association.
Edge Grizzlies: This has the makings of an all out battle under the rim especially if Valanciunas and Johnson can utilize their younger bodies to protect the rim and take the battle to the grind house front court of the Grizzlies.
Greivis Vasquez/Lou Williams/Patrick Patterson/Tyler Hansbrough (Chuck Hayes/Landry Fields) vs. Beno Udrih/ Vince Carter/Jon Leuer/Quincy Pondexter/Kosta Koufos
Prior to James Johnson’s injury the Raptors had a distinct advantage in this area. While Memphis’ bench has only outscored their opponent four out of eleven games the Raptors in contrast had done so in all but one game. Besides, the thought of seeing a psyched up Johnson was ever so appealing.
Through the first 10-games our hockey line bench has scored an average of 35.9 points per game with a plus 10.1 point differential and our lowest scoring night was 27 points. In contrast Memphis’ bench averages 29.6 points per game with a negative 4.7 point differential and their lowest scoring night was 10 points.
The non-game related question regarding Memphis’ bench will center on how the ACC crowd responds to Vince Carter. A special film tribute scheduled to occur sometime during the first quarter will hopefully quell the boo birds who fairly have that right, but entering our twentieth anniversary this young franchise needs to start embracing and showcasing our history. Regardless of whether you like him or not, Vince Carter is the defining star of this young franchise. Personally, I can’t imagine recalling the franchise early years without referencing his historic slam dunk win or the associated pride many of us felt when it occurred.
Edge Raptors: Even without Johnson available the numbers are just too strong in Toronto’s favor. This would be the ideal night for Vasquez to break out of his slump and replicate his effort vs. Memphis from a season ago: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 of 5 from three.
Memphis will be looking to avenge the 2-losses the Raptors served up last season: 103-87 and 99-86 while the Raptors will look to make their own statement by continuing their current win streak vs. the Grizzlies. For this to occur Toronto should look to take advantage via their bench and potential three-point prowess which were keys to their success last season when the Raptors held Memphis below 28.6% and 25% respectively from three while they shot over 50% on both occasions. The boards will also play a big factor as whoever controls them will have the distinct advantage.
The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 194.
I’m antsy to make a call on this one in lieu of jinxing them but my gut says Memphis is due for a loss and the Raptors want to prove their mettle so I’ll predict a close game with the Raptors taking the win via a typical dominate fourth quarter.
As for Dwane Casey’s statement he won’t be making snow angels whether the Raptors win or lose – not to be contrary, but if Toronto manages to hand the NBA best Memphis squad just their second loss I’ll be the first to don my parka and make an angel, snow or not!
Enjoy the game and be sure to check back here for the post game quick react.
So far, the Raptors have succeeded in easing the burden on Lowry and DeRozan. Through 10 games, Lowry is playing a smidge more than 33 minutes compared to 36 last year, while DeRozan is at 34 instead of 38. The math is simple enough to figure out: Following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors were particularly thin on the wing last year, with the unreliable John Salmons as the primary backup to both DeRozan and Terrence Ross. That led to Casey playing DeRozan more often and also using two-point guard lineups frequently, which led to increased time for Lowry. Lou Williams and James Johnson have effectively replaced the exiled Salmons. Johnson’s versatility has given Casey more options on the wing, while Williams has played next to backup point guard Greivis Vasquez more than Lowry has. Johnson has a severely sprained ankle, and there is no timetable for his return. That will complicate Casey’s task, surely.
While talented, Memphis prides itself on its “grit-n-grind” identity, its throwback style of basketball. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol live in the paint, a pair of old school big men who can shoot the ball, but love backing down overmatched opponents. The Grizzlies also love to get after the opposition, pressing them into turnovers with quick hands and athleticism. Few do that better than Mike Conley or Tony Allen. “They are playing very, very well offensively and they play that grab, hold and hit style of defence that wins in the playoffs,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They’re one of the top teams in the league right now.” For Hansbrough, the biggest challenge will be containing the Grizzlies on the backboards. “It’s going to be a challenge, especially when you’ve got Zach Randolph and Gasol down there,” he admitted. “You’ve got to keep them off the glass, I think that’s going to be the most important part, kind of limit their easy touches down low and try to prevent them from getting the ball for offensive rebounds.
How will it go? No one can possibly know for sure. With Carter and his new team, the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, in town for a match-up of unlikely conference leaders, the Raptors will honour VC in a video tribute sometime during the first quarter as part of their continued 20th anniversary celebrations. It’s a decision that’s sure to spark controversy and awaken an ongoing, decade-long debate in and around Toronto: Does Carter’s Raptor legacy merit any kind of salute? And if so, to what extent and at what time is it appropriate? The breakup was unquestionably ugly, something that neither party is especially proud of, although no one has fully embraced their share of the blame. The franchise mishandled Carter for most of his tenure, especially towards the end. They failed to build a contender around him and alienated him with botched draft picks and the hiring of Rob Babcock.
It’s been buzzing around on Twitter for most of the afternoon: When the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Raptors tomorrow for their game at the ACC, the arena is set to play a video montage to honour Carter.
The team plans one of the many video tributes they are paying to icons of the past to help celebrate its 20th anniversary and no one is iconic as Carter, who will be honoured during a first-quarter timeout. Guessing the reaction is difficult because there are those who will not let go of a decade-long anger at Carter and how vociferous they will be can’t be told. But there is a greater context that should be taken into consideration. “Never mind what happened with him 10 years ago,” was the gist of the point the high-ranking team staff member made. “They should cheer him for what he did for basketball in Canada.” It’s tough to argue with that logic.
But I don’t want to see the Raptors become the Maple Leafs or, in some ways, the Toronto Blue Jays – the latter of whom have, mercifully, realized in recent years that there is a fine line between honouring back-to-back World Series winners and hitting the current group of players over the head with it. It wasn’t just “Flashback Fridays,” which led to underground printing of t-shirts that read “Turn The Page Tuesdays” by players in response. It was the constant reminders on the Rogers Centre video board; the constant feting. It is interesting that it took the return of Paul Beeston as president and chief executive officer for a new balance to be struck. It was Beeston, one of the faces of those back-to-back titles, who decided to low-key the 20th anniversaries of the 1992 World Series and the follow-up 1993 win.
The right ankle sprain suffered by Toronto’s James Johnson has been termed “severe” by the team. He’s out for this game and for the foreseeable future . . . The Grizzlies come in with the best record in the NBA — 10-1 after drubbing Houston in Memphis on Monday night . . . Conley left that game against Houston in the third quarter after getting hit on the shoulder . . . Grizzlies are considered the best defensive team in the NBA and up a league-lowest 91.5 points per game.
Entering his third year in the league, Valanciunas was expected to see an increased role in an offense that’s relied heavily on the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. As Lowry told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat back in September: “We can’t just do all guard-oriented types of things. We have to make sure he’s more involved and have to put a little pressure on him to score the ball.” While his numbers haven’t taken an enormous hit, Valanciunas has yet to establish himself as much of a low-post presence because, frankly, he hasn’t had enough of an opportunity to do so.
Lowry, who was a free agent this past offseason, could have signed elsewhere but elected to stay in Toronto, which finished with the No. 3 seed in the East last year. “I think the situation was perfect for me,” Lowry said. “We had 11 guys coming back. The continuity was there. Overall, I think it was the best situation for me to win and (be) a big part of it.” Lowry, 28, was a star at Villanova in the mid-2000s. He was drafted by Memphis, spent three seasons there, and then spent three seasons in Houston before signing with Toronto in 2012. Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds last season. This year, he is averaging 18.3, 5.8 and 4.8, respectively. Why did it take him so long to find his niche in the NBA? “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s just a thing where I took the right situation. The NBA is all about situation and opportunity. I believe the opportunity came and the situation is the right one. A lot of people go through that same type of situation and try to find themselves. For me, it took a little longer, but I’m happy I found it.”
“Faried was a fan favorite in Denver, but multiple sources with knowledge of the Nuggets’ thinking maintain the team “isn’t crazy about him,” particularly Shaw,” Arnovits reported. “But with Faried’s boffo showing last summer with Team USA and a loyal following in Denver, the media-conscious Nuggets caved, adding yet another imperfect 4-man to their lot.” The Raptors are expected to be one of the leading suitors for Faried because of the player’s association with general manager Masai Ujiri, the guy that drafted him 22nd overall in 2011.
The past few years have been tough on Raptors fans. Underwhelming performances, head-scratching trades and free agent signings, a long playoff drought; it seemed that almost anything that could have gone wrong, did. Things have changed for the better now. The Raptors have become a team that is expected to win their division and one that should be able to move past the first round of the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, fans can actually be optimistic about the season at hand. With the way the roster is structured, this feeling should become the norm for the next couple of seasons. Breathe it in and enjoy, Raptors fans, it’s been a while.
It is impossible not to notice the massive amount of Leafs history hanging from the rafters, but the arena and team have gone out of their way to ensure Raptors fans feel at home. There are large murals at the ends of the 500-level seats and a ring of ‘We the North’ banners top the 100-level section. Before entering the arena, fans will notice the massive black and white ‘We the North’ banner on Bay Street and this theme continues throughout the public-access Galleria as well as in the concourses. The arena’s exterior facade does well to incorporate the building’s history as the postal terminal for the city and ornate carvings of canoes, airplanes, and other historical delivery methods grace the stone walls. At the west end of the arena is Maple Leaf Square, rechristened Jurassic Park during the Raptors’ playoff run where tens of thousands of supporters packed the square and overflowed down Bremner Street to watch the game free on the big screen mounted to the side of the building.
Theyr’e going to play a video of Vince Carter at the ACC in the first quarter to “honour” him for his service to the Raptors. So, basically they’re doing what all Raptors fan do every few weeks or so on YouTube: nostalgically drool over Carter reverse-dunking on Chris Mullin, feeding Theo Ratliff his crotch, and having Dikembe Mutumbo smell his armpits, to name only few of the NSFW acts that Carter performed in his early but oh-so-memorable career.
<insert some generic lines here about the fractious relationship between him and the fans over the years and how Rob Babcock’s the real villain>
The whole saga has been regurgitated so many times that it’s lost any relevance it might’ve had, and this is coming from a guy who burned a jersey in New Jersey. The club, when it was sadly and somewhat reluctantly honouring former players on its fifteenth anniversary during a 40-42 season, chose to quietly ignore and thus deride Carter. It was a cringe-worthy elephant in the room which we all avoided eye contact with. Now, five years later, under a new regime keen on retrospectives and desperate to seek out historical relevance, the franchise is looking to formally mend it’s relationship with Carter, perhaps even paving a way for a retirement party held at Real Sports, which would be hosted by @MatterOfKat dressed in a purple Carter jersey, Oy vey.
I’d like to offer some more suggestions.
It’s fine to honour Vince Carter for the moments of joy he’s provided us, but I’d suggest that equal measures be taken to ridicule Rob Babcock for his contribution to my high blood pressure. Perhaps we can organize an effigy burning at halftime, complete with a rioting mob. We could even have Wayne Embry make a guest appearance to light the ceremonial first match, and have Chuck Swirsky do a live play-by-play as a crude version of Babcock is set to fire. At the end of it, Vince can collect the ashes and do a LeBron powder thing as the crowd goes nuts.
I’d say take it a step further and induce Level 99 nostalgia by having Vince play the first two minutes of the second quarter in a Raptors jersey. That just might bring the ACC crowd to the fetal position whilst sucking on their thumbs. Just as they’re recovering from seeing their long-lost hero throw one down on a confused Tyler Hansbrough, execute the ultimate encore by having Mugsy Bogues parachute down from the rafters to throw a perfect alley-oop to Vince, who, wanting to test the fans’ psychological limits, chooses to not dunk but lay it in, sending the crowd into sheer delirium.
It wouldn’t be a proper ceremony without a classic Vince injury so it’s best that perennial crock, Landry Fields, present Vince with specially made crutches which he can hobble off with as well-orchestrated jeers rain down from the ACC upper deck, with Drake looking on disappointingly. These jeers, of course, would be brought to you by BMO.
With the actual game now a distant memory, a man sitting courtside who everyone had noted as odd but ignored, tears off his suit, throws away the monocle, and tosses his bowler hat into the second row and reveals himself to be Tracy McGrady. A picture of Carter and McGrady is projected on the big screen and on to the court – the two hug and the game is called a draw. What a night!
Who would’ve thought that the health of James Johnson would hold such significance so early?
The former Raptors-reject is quickly becoming a cult hero of sorts, with his brazen approach to defense giving the Toronto faithful the type of hero we so subconsciously crave. Johnson’s defiant personality lends itself well to emboldening the “We The North” company line that the marketing department so wants us to subscribe to. Always inflamed, never feeling respected, and a man unto his own, Johnson is the poster-child for the type of identity the Raptors are trying to manufacture.
The bigger reason we’re talking about him isn’t, of course, his personality or his neck tattoos, it’s that he’s been playing very good two-way basketball. He’s recognized that the Raptors roster, though talented and brimming with potential, lacks a steely presence on the wing and has made the role his own. DeMar DeRozan may bring the scoring, Terrence Ross may occasionally delight with his mid-air theatrics, but neither are players that another wing in the league would fear being defended by. If anything, the opposite might be true: wings would seek out opportunities to play against them.
Not so much with James Johnson, at a mobile 6’9″ and 250 lbs, Johnson is 30 lb and 55 lb heaver than DeRozan and Ross, respectively. The unique bit about his size is that it doesn’t affect his lateral movements on defense because plays the angles and anticipates movement, rather than purely reacting. His lower body strength makes it very difficult for offensive players to back him down, meaning that the only variable that can fluctuate with him is effort and discipline, and he’s been stellar on both fronts.
The risk that accompanied his signing was that he may not accept his role and strive for something more than his talents afford, which is behaviour symptomatic of being on a losing team, something the Raptors were in his first stint. The tide has turned, though, and the Raptors are currently on winning ways, which serves to check Johnson’s innate but so-far controlled desire to ball dominate, in favour of team basketball.
The dearth of options at the wing will also exacerbate the impact of Johnson’s injury. Terrence Ross has shown very little in the way of being a defensive option, and even though he’s only in his third year, his defensive demeanour doesn’t exactly fill you with any hope that he’s going to bring the D in the 3-and-D. If a player like Avery Bradley can build a reputation of being a good defender in year two, there’s no reason that Ross – who has arguably better tools – should be this far behind.
Dwane Casey has completely lost trust in Landry Fields, and I’m sure the latter’s injury history isn’t helping either. On last check his elbow was as fragile as a dry twig. After that it’s Bruno Caboclo, who can’t get ahead of Fields. Even if he somehow managed to find his way into a uniform, Dwane Casey isn’t the type of coach that’s about to trust a 19-year old.
And so we find ourselves lamenting the potential loss of James Johnson, a player that you may have felt could be quite easily found on the periphery of the league, drifting between the D-League, Europe, and the association. Maybe the hurt felt by his potential absence speaks more to what the rest of the roster has to offer, than what Johnson brings, but one thing is definite: despite shooting only 20% from three (which was supposed to be his main offense) the Raptors need him.
Surprisingly, he’s featured mostly at power forward in Dwane Casey’s tempestuous flirtations with smaller lineups, which is different than last season in Memphis where he primarily played the three. It’s this versatility in combination with his defense that has him sitting firmly within Dwane Casey’s circle of trust. The offense he’s provided has been bonus, and has come at times where the team desperately needed a boost, likely due to Casey fielding all-bench lineups that went through scoring droughts.
What’s also attractive about Johnson’s offense thus far is that it’s a product of his defense. You won’t find many instances where he’s taking over a possession, or going rogue midway through the shot-clock. Instead, he’s managed to find his points in transition, usually after helping to create a turnover or low-percentage shot. It’s this pressure that he puts the offense under that is going to be missed, because the Raptors don’t have a like-for-like replacement for it. Kyle Lowry is the only wing player that tends to hound players above the free-throw line, and in combination with Johnson, it presents a formidable challenge for wings when Casey does decide to pressure.
With rebounding an issue, the Raptors have been relying on this pressure to anchor their defense, and it’s worked out to a 7th ranked TOV% of 14.1. With Johnson out, this prospects of the Raptors defense wills suffer, resulting in more possessions that the team will actually need to defend.
There was a pseudo-debate in the summer about what the greater area of concern was: backup center or small forward. As it stands right now, both are issues due to the mixed results put forth by Tyler Hansbrough, Patrick Patterson’s early season inconsistency, and Terrence Ross’s single-dimension play. James Johnson has, until now, done well to mask the deficiencies at small forward and provided a rather unexpected offensive thrust, but going forward who fills that role remains to be seen.
Injuries bring opportunities as well. In the podcast we talked about whether Ross would see more minutes or whether Casey would opt for stretching DeRozan. The latter is a risky ploy, especially with the new trend of reducing minutes in favour of fresher legs in the playoffs. With that in mind, testing Ross in extended minutes (currently playing 26.5, on par with last season) against a toughening schedule isn’t exactly attractive, but if there’s a time where you want to see what the third-year man is made of, this might be it.
“His ankle is tender,” Casey said on Monday. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. It’s a pretty good sprain on his ankle.” Casey would not give a timetable, and the Raptors do not have to say anything definitive regarding his health before Tuesday afternoon, the day before they play host to Memphis. However, nobody with the Raptors sounded particularly optimistic about his status. Johnson was on crutches after the game on Saturday night. It will be interesting, then, to see how Casey responds. The next-man-up philosophy would have Landry Fields in line to absorb most of Johnson’s 19 minutes per game. Casey has used a five-man bench unit a lot, to the frustration of some fans. Nonetheless, the group of five reserves — Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — has outscored opponents by an average of 26 points per 100 possessions in their 49 minutes together.
Johnson had been playing extremely well in his second tenure with the Raptors. He leads the team in blocks per game, ranks fourth in steals and assists and first among regulars in field goal percentage (57%). Casey said replacing Johnson would be “a gang effort” and indicated that DeMar DeRozan might spend more time at small forward, or little-used Landry Fields might see some minutes. “Someone’s got to take up that slot. Next man up: just because a man is down, the next guy behind him has got to be ready to play, to perform. Whoever that is. “Injuries are part of the NBA. That’s why you have 15 men to a roster.”
While the same size is still unquestionably limited, in the 194 minutes that Johnson has played this year, the Raptors are holding opponents to 89.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark of anyone on the team. They’re allowing nearly 19 points more (108.3) per 100 possessions in the 286 minutes he’s spent on the bench. Of course, so much of that is a testament to his versatility – his ability to switch off on almost any player, defending nearly every position on the floor and co-existing in whichever unit he’s out there with. Offensively, he’s been a pleasant surprise. “James has been playing very under control, within himself is what I like to call it,” Casey said ahead of Saturday’s game. “He watches film diligently and studies the film. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s cut down on a lot of those mistakes and playing within himself has really, really given him an opportunity to score more and have the ball in his hands and build the trust with him teammates.”
What makes this group click is they work together to find the best shot. Much of that has to do with the backcourt creating opportunities and then making the right decisions about when to shoot and when to pass.
This is a bit of an adjustment period for Vasquez, as he deals with slightly reduced minutes (21.5 to 18.5) and he’s struggled with his shooting (.340 FG% and .250 3P%) and he’s only averaging 2.5 assists per game. He seems to be pressing a bit when he’s out there, because opportunities are tight with the addition of Lou Williams and James Johnson in the perimeter rotation. I look at it all as a positive problem team-wise, yet something to keep an eye on to see if Vasquez will earn a bigger role (he and Kyle Lowry were quite effective together last season) as the season progresses. I love his energy, guts and swagger, but this means there’s lots of internal competition, which is good. Terrence Ross must be feeling it, too – if he’s inconsistent, I have no doubt that Dwane Casey, with greater options now, won’t hesitate to play a Vasquez, Williams or Johnson in his place, with which I agree. Again, this is a nice issue to have.
While Vásquez’s international connections will be a benefit to MoPals, the young guard indicated that his decision was partially motivated by his newfound Canadian connection. “I am committed to Toronto and to Canada,” he said. “I want to win championships and would love to stay here for as long as possible. I think Toronto is one of the greatest cities and Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. And this is my way of supporting my new home!”
Let’s be honest, outside of that seesaw opener against the Atlanta Hawks and the crushing of the Beal-less Washington Wizards, the Raptors opponents have been, ahem, lacking. Sure, they beat up on Orlando twice (and once, just barely), annihilated Utah in a fourth quarter assault, muscled their way past both Boston and Oklahoma City, and took a break playing that team from Philly (was that a regulation NBA game?) But they lost to Miami – a team they haven’t beaten since pre-Lebron 2010 (a team that “featured” Jermaine O’Neal). And they lost to Chicago – a team that will definitely be standing in their way in the playoffs.
I don’t get why he is riding the pine for the Raptors this season where he could get a lot of playing time and develop in the D-league.
“He’s cool under pressure,” Casey said recently. “He can get his own shot most times without screens, without help. . . He did that in Philly. He really didn’t have a chance to do that in Atlanta because of injuries. We have all of the confidence in the world that at the end of the quarter when the clock is winding down, that he’s going to get a good shot.” Williams — listed generously at 6-1 and 175 pounds — learned how to make up for his slight stature from another undersized player: NBA legend Allen Iverson. Williams played with Iverson in Philadelphia where the Sixers drafted him in the second round, 45th overall, right out of high school.
Entering the fourth week of the 2014-15 season the Toronto Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied with Golden State for the third best record in the Association. Though 10-games is a small sample size, looking at the numbers we can decipher some interesting facts as to why the Raptors have ascended to the upper tier.
Offensive Rating: Toronto ranks fifth in the NBA with 109 points scored per 100 possessions. A closer look has the Raptors in a virtual 3-way tie with New Orleans and Portland while Dallas is first and Cleveland has surged into second. Boston and Chicago are the two other Eastern teams who crack the top ten.
Defensive Rating: Toronto is tied for seventh with 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Eastern Conference has five teams who rank in the top ten defensively of which Milwaukee who ranks second is the only Eastern team in the top five. Washington ranks sixth, Indiana is ninth and Chicago completes the top ten.
Teams Ranked Top Ten in Offense and Defense:
Only four teams rank top ten in both offense and defense with an equal split of East and West representatives and once again Toronto makes the grade:
- Golden State: seventh in offense and third in defense
- Portland: fourth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
- Toronto: fifth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
- Chicago: ninth in offense and tenth in defense
Net Rating: Using the formula of taking a team’s offensive rating and subtracting their defensive rating provides the overall net rating. This principle reveals Toronto (8.4) as the highest ranked Eastern team sitting in fifth overall. Chicago ranks eighth, Washington is ninth and Cleveland tenth.
The net ranking isn’t necessarily the best way to isolate the top ten teams especially with teams who allow their opponent to score above the league average. Conversely a team who ranks in the top ten defensively and can put points on the board has a greater propensity to rise up the chart. For example, Houston was in the top ten offensively last week but following the low scoring game vs. Oklahoma on Sunday (69-65) they fell out of the top ten offense however still find themselves first in defense and third in net ranking.
To be fair this early in the season one game like this can completely skew the numbers and subsequently a team’s placement. Case in point the offensive explosion by Cleveland this week versus New Orleans (118), Boston (122) and Atlanta (127) found them jumping to second in offense (110.7) yet they rank twenty-fifth in defense allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions and of the 3-games above only held Atlanta under 100 points.
Turnovers: Toronto ranks first for fewest turnovers with 11.6 per 100 possessions. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider the amount of individual ball handling the Raptors utilize. Three other East teams rank in the top ten: Cleveland (4), Detroit (7) and Washington (8).
Free Throws: The Raptors rank second for Free Throws Made (24.4) and Attempted (31.4) behind Sacramento who ranks first in both categories. Cleveland (7th in attempts/5th in makes) and Chicago (9th in attempts/makes) join Toronto as the only other Eastern teams in the top ten. The Raptors get to the line because they aggressively take the ball into the paint and have three players in DeRozan, Lowry and Williams who are masters at drawing fouls from outside the paint.
Points: Toronto ranks fifth in scoring with 106 points per game. Two other Eastern teams in the top ten are Cleveland who ranks third with 107.9 ppg and Boston who is fourth with 106.6 ppg.
Plus/Minus: A category every team aims to be in the top tier is plus/minus differential which highlights how much a team is winning or losing by. Toronto rank second with a plus 9.6 per game average and are the only Eastern team in the top five. Chicago (4.3) and Cleveland (3.8) also make the top ten however their point differential is less than half of Toronto.
Opposition Turnover Rate: While Toronto is taking care of the ball with the fewest turnovers in the Association they are also forcing turnovers on the defensive end ranking third by forcing 18.9 per 100 possessions.
Steals: A category the Raptors have shown improvement in over last season is steals. Through the first 3-weeks Toronto is tied with Memphis in sixth with 8.5 steals per game.
Fourth Quarter Dominance: If there was one area Toronto wanted to carry forward this season it would be their league leading fourth quarter dominance. Happily this trend continues with the Raptors ranking first with a plus 4.9 point differential. Though other Eastern teams made the top ten none of them (Atlanta, Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte) factor into the top ten of the other main categories.
Clutch: Looking closer at how the Raptors perform in clutch situations we find the Raptors are by far the best team in the NBA with a 143 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. Looking at the top Eastern teams (Chicago, Cleveland, Washington) their closest competitor is Cleveland almost 30 points lower with 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Putting this into perspective Toronto’s clutch net ranking is plus 38.4 while Cleveland has a plus 9.6 differential.
Intangibles: This is another area the Raptors are showcasing their growth. Specifically, the Raptors rank third for the points they score off turnovers with 20.9 per game, sixth in scoring off second chance points with 14.8 per game and are tied for eleventh in fast break points with 12.9 per game.
Arguably more impressive is Toronto ranks first in not allowing teams to score when they do turn the ball over holding teams to 12.6 points per game and rank sixth for the amount of points their opposition scores on the fast break with 10.3. While there are definitely areas of the defense to clean up these stats highlight teams are not scoring as much this season in transition and Toronto is quick to respond on the defensive end following a turnover.
Miscellaneous: Other areas the Raptors are performing above average are PIE where they rank eighth, Pace where they rank eleventh and while they rank sixteenth in three point percentage this is a huge jump considering they’ve climbed from almost dead last the first week of the season.
Kyle Lowry: I’d love to take credit for my constant tweeting on the subject, but regardless of how it occurred Kyle Lowry climbed into the top ten MVP candidates this week. He makes his inaugural appearance at number 7 on the list. Considering the fact Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are ranked after our team captain it’s actually pretty heady company he joins.
Terrence Ross: Though there has been great debate on the boards regarding Terrence Ross’ growth or lack thereof this season the stats showcase some interesting numbers which point to his improvement:
- First in offensive rate – when Ross is on the court the team scores 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
- Defensive rank: of the starters Ross has the second best defensive rank (teams score 104.2 points per 100 possessions) which ranks him above DeRozan (104.5) Lowry (105.2) and Valanciunas (106.3) respectively
- Second in net rating for the starters with a +9.9
- Second on team for Pace behind only Vasquez meaning the team scores more often when he is on the court
- Ross’ 57% true shooting percentage and 51.8% effective field goal percentage ranks first on the team
- Surprisingly Ross ranks second in rebound percent with 51.3%
*Note: though Greg Steimsma and Landry Fields do register at the top of some categories they were removed from this analysis based on their lack of playing time.
Amir Johnson: Yes we all know he is playing injured, but the fact remains he is still the defensive mainstay on the Raptors even with James Johnson giving him a run for his money in some defensive categories. Amir ranks first in all rebound categories: 28.2% in offensive rebounds, 77.4% in defensive rebounds and 54% overall. His +11.9 net rating ties with James Johnson as team best. And, he ranks second in effective field goal percent (51.6%), third in true shooting percentage (56.1%) and has the highest PIE of the starters with 56%.
Raptors Who Rank in NBA Leaders:
- DeRozan ranks 16 with 21.2 points
- Lowry ranks 32 with 18.3 points
- Valanciunas ranks 28 with 8.0 rebounds
- Lowry ranks 20 with 5.8 assists
- DeRozan ranks 7 with 1.9 steals
Field Goal Percentage:
- James Johnson – 57.4% *10
- Amir Johnson – 55.8% *14
- Valanciunas – 50% *tied 32
- Lowry ranks 44 with 48.5%
Free Throw %:
- Vasquez – 93.3% *6
- Ross – 90.9% *10
- Patterson – 83.3% *42
- DeRozan ranks 46 with 82.8%
Three Point %:
- Amir Johnson- 50% *9
- Patterson ranks 24 with 42.9%
- Ross – ranks 29 with 41.7%
- James Johnson tied at 21 with 1.4
- Amir Johnson tied at 22 with 1.3
- Valanciunas tied at 22 with 1.3
*Note: these players do not appear on NBA.com leader board likely due to the number of attempts however their stats rank them as listed
Moving forward there are clearly areas the Raptors need to clean up, specifically lowering opposing team field goal percent as well as improving their rebound and assist totals. An argument can be made however that Toronto has been successful at driving the ball and getting fouled, affecting those assist totals. Certainly we’ll be watching closely as we move into the next ten games with a close eye to see which of the above categories improve.
For now the fact the Toronto Raptors find themselves once again in the top ten of both offense and defense in the league is definitely a positive to build upon. Today NBA.com and ESPN ranked the Raptors as the eighth best team behind only Chicago in the East.
Perhaps the best pronouncement of the early season came via Mike Fratello dubbed the Tzar and Rick Fox who exclaimed Saturday on NBA’s Game Time:
Fratello: “Excuse me, ah Chicago, Cleveland: Toronto is the number one team in the East!”
Fox: “Say it again – We The North!”
Enjoy the games this week as the Raptors face first place Memphis on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Friday and offensive juggernaut Cleveland on Saturday.
The podders look to make sense of Dwane Casey’s rotations in the aftermath of a week that saw the Raptors punch out the Magic and Jazz, but fail another early Eastern test against the Bulls.
- Bulls game
- Not doubling Gasol
- DeMar DeRozan v Bulls
- Big man lineup v Bulls
- Bench effective – but in a different way, assists down
- Hockey shifts again – does it work – analytics response?
- Magic/Jazz 1-3 quarters vs 4th quarter
- James Johnson injury – what’s the impact? Who steps up?
- Does Terrence Ross have it in him to step up?
- Lisa Ann talk
- Freedom given by Casey to Ross
- Jonas Valanciunas – best rebounder, worst playing time
- Valanciunas playing with fear…of the coach
- Reasons why JV’s playing time is reduced
- Completely uninformed speculation on JV’s personal life
- Is JV’s lack of mobility being addressed the right way?
- Going small – conditions where it works; tradeoffs
- Big man depth coming back to bite
- Rebounding to be tested vs Memphis
- Vince Carter boo birds will be out
- DeMar DeRozan vs Tony Allen – Will DeRozan do anything different?
- James Johnson availability vs LeBron James
- When will Bruno play? The politics of veteran presence
- Under what scenario will Landry Fields play
- Raptors excellent FT shooting – reasons for excellence – not just DeRozan
- TNT’s wrong analysis
- Zarar shows his age again
Two things I’d like to see Valanciunas change in his game: (1) Stop with all of the shot fakes. He can hit a mid-range jumper. If you are open, fire away, without hesitation. Faking, putting it on the floor and attacking isn’t the best option for Valanciunas given he is a 7-footer without ridiculous speed and athleticism and because he also doesn’t protect the ball well enough. Again, he can make those shots and should take them. The exception would be when he is closer to the bucket and can use an up-fake to set up the driving hooks which have turned into a solid part of his game. (2) Valanciunas must take better care of the ball. He brings it down too low too often — something players are usually taught not to do — which leads to strips, steals, caroms off of feet, etc. But he’s getting there and the more confidence Casey and his teammates show in him, the better he will be.
Consider the player efficiency rating that ESPN uses to gauge and compare individual rating based on per-minute productivity. Despite being a defensive specialist, which is one area that outside of blocks and steals doesn’t really get measured by this formula, Johnson is still the second-highest rated Raptor on the list behind only Kyle Lowry. Johnson’s PER is a stunning 20.91 which is 37th best in the NBA. Lowry’s PER of 23.08 puts him 18th overall in the league. It’s not a perfect stat but it is the best one in terms of measuring the impact on a game a player has. Johnson’s per game average of 7.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and almost a steal a game doesn’t sound like a huge deal but when combined speak to the impact he has had on the Raptors’ early-season success.
It remains to be seen how this coupling of a young yet old man and very much the same guider will take the Raptors, but it’s impressive to consider how far they have come. DeRozan is an NBA all-star, Casey is mentioned these days in discussions about the better coaches in the league and it’s large part because of the relationship. Those values, those traits they unequivocally display, have everything to do with where they are and how far they’ve come and will be the thing they most remember. “I think you appreciate a person even more when you go through the tough times with them,” said DeRozan. “When you see success after that, it’s special.” Special, like the two old souls from different eras who are far more similar than they are different.
To date, the Raptors have done just that by accumulating a record of 8-2, and putting themselves alone atop the Eastern Conference at the ten game mark. But where things appear to be going swimmingly for Toronto, a problem exists below the surface … DeMar DeRozan is struggling to match his output from last year. This isn’t to say that DeRozan is playing poorly (his Player Efficiency Rating is higher than last year), but he has yet to show the regular improvement in production that has defined his career to date. A notoriously hard worker, both in and out of season, DeRozan is renowned for his work ethic and ability to add to his game each offseason. So far this year, DeMar has instead displayed a regression in a variety of different areas.Simply put, prior to Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, there has been something wrong with DeMar DeRozan this season.
Most of the Raptors fourth quarter scoring differentials have been 5 points or less, however, what is worth noting is Toronto’s tendency to pour it on when needed at the end. Toronto only led the Thunder by 3 points heading into the final period and used a 27-18 quarter to pull away for the win. At home to Orlando, Toronto trailed by 11 after the third and used a 32-17 outburst to pull out the 4 point win. On Saturday the Raptors used a strong third quarter to get a 4 point lead over the Jazz and then blew the game open with a 35-21 fourth quarter.
Last night’s game was the perfect example of the difference between a winning team and a losing team.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
In the NBA, just about any team can stick with any other team for three quarters. This often gives fans of losing teams a poor indication of just how far they are to being a winning team. We saw it last night, with the Jazz keeping pace with the Raptors for most of three quarters, last night, before succumbing to lack of talent, youth and poor decision-making.
If you just watched the first half of the game, then what you saw was a Utah Jazz team that might have looked on the same level as the Raptors. At halftime, the Jazz were ahead by three points, were shooting about the same from the field and were more than doubling them in assists (more on that later). In fact, the Jazz really looked like they were in control for most of the game, up until that point.
The clue was the fact that despite the Jazz looking like they were doing everything they wanted and appeared as though they were outplaying the Raptors, Toronto was always hanging around. Because that’s what good teams do.
Raptor fans can probably remember being on the other end of that, when the Raptors would look like they were outplaying one of the better teams in the league, except they could never put the game out of reach, and most of the time the better team ended up winning.
Now the Raptors are one of the better teams.
In my pre-game analysis, there were three things I highlighted to watch for, and all three made appearances in the first half. After a couple of poor shooting games, DeMar DeRozan went 5-8 in the first quarter, including making a very nifty pass to Valanciunas on a drive. And Valanciunas went 3-4 and grabbed five rebounds, playing as aggressively as we’ve seen him all season. In fact, he had, by far, his best game of the season, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds while playing a season high 34 minutes.
Casey has apparently attributed Valanciunas’ lack of minutes to matchups and the opposing teams playing small-ball, but my feeling is that Casey too often lets the other team’s coach sets the tone rather than force him to adapt to what Casey wants to do. It obviously helps if Valanciunas is playing well, because when he is there aren’t a whole lot of teams that can match up with him.
While the first quarter did look good for DeRozan and Valanciunas, it was also a continuation of two troubling trends for the Raptors. The first is the team’s penchant for one on one play. We saw that in the just 2 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and the 15 assists on 43 field goals for the entire game, for an assist rate of just 35%.
On the other side, the Jazz had 10 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and 22 assists on 33 field goals for the entire game. That’s 67% of their field goals off of assists.
If the Raptors want to get to that next tier, then that’s going to have to change.
This also brings up the other trend, which is teams driving the ball on the Raptors and getting open shots. At the beginning of the season, one of the things I mentioned I wanted to see on defense is less help and less scrambling, which tends to lead to more open looks, especially from three. And we saw that last night, with the Jazz getting a ton of open looks early before getting cold in the second half.
But the Raptors did end up winning, and let’s look at some of the reasons for that.
As I said, the Raptors’ play for most of three quarters was not all that much to write home about. But like all good teams, when it mattered most, guys like Valanciunas, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez all came up big, hit big shots, grabbed big boards and made big plays. And keep in mind three of those four players are bench players.
With the game on the line, the difference between the Raptors and Jazz was glaring. While the Raptors made plays and did what they needed to do, the Jazz too often resorted to forcing plays and trying to do too much. Suddenly the passing stopped and the one on one play began. In fact, in the second half, the Jazz only had 6 assists to the Raptors’ 8.
This is the difference between the teams that win and the teams that lose.
The Jazz may have some nice, young talent (and I was very impressed with what I saw from Dante Exum, despite his turnovers- I think he may be starting by this time next season), but they are still a ways off from being a winning team.
The Raptors are already there.
Last time I saw a guy get this high, Keon Clark was on the team.
|Amir Johnson, PF 23 MIN | 0-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +9He looks like he’s playing at 60% so the couple of days off will do him some good. I still think the starting unit plays better defense when he’s on the court, especially Valanciunas and Ross. His stats don’t jump out at you, but a key block and assist (when they were in short supply) in first half were pivotal.Came out more aggressiveness defensively in second half. In conjunction with Jonas they manned the paint much better which forced Kanter and Favors into more outside shots. The minute he left the game in the third quarter the Jazz got back to back scores inside the paint.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +9Held Gordon Hayward scoreless in first quarter and to just 12 overall which is big considering Hayward averages 19.9 PPG. Delivered a sweet pass to Jonas in the paint. He tweaked his ankle, had to get it re-taped, but returned late in the second. Obviously the ankle wasn’t that hurt based on that awesome dunk in the third.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 34 MIN | 7-12 FG | 3-6 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +20It’s no secret Jonas gets up for games versus Enes Kanter and tonight was no exception. We’ve been urging him to go up with force at the rim and tonight he delivered in that regard both in scoring and rebounding. Near the end of the second quarter he fought off three Jazz players for the offensive board and got the score (off a goal tending call).His BEST game this season.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 8-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +19Distributed the ball early specifically making sure to get Valanciunas and DeRozan rolling. Attacked the paint but the refs weren’t obliging with the whistle.Came out to start the second half with a purpose after the half making sure to move the ball up court quickly, ignited the team with his energy and spearheaded the scoring which saw the Raptors overtake the Jazz on the score board.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 10-17 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 27 PTS | +17If you think he doesn’t care or isn’t aware he’s had two consecutive tough games his 10 point first quarter tells you otherwise. Three times in the first half when the Jazz collapsed on him he passed out of the double and triple teams quickly.After a first half with zero trips to the line he was determined to get there in the second half (5-6 in 3rd).|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2It’s hard to knock someone who plays with so much intensity. We know every game what we’ll get from him: he’ll fight for every board and attempt to block every shot whether he’s successful or not you can’t deny the effort.|
|James Johnson, PF 14 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +1What superlative can I use that hasn’t been already said. He has become the main defensive presence on the floor and is using solid decisions with the ball in his hand. If he keeps this up he’ll need to be considered for Defensive Player or Sixth Man at year end.Turned his ankle pretty badly which affected his minutes late (or I’d rate him even higher). Hope he’s healthy for Memphis game because he epitomizes a player who gets up to play versus his old teams as witnessed against the Bulls|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +9His shot wasn’t falling from behind the arc in the first half but he was aggressive on the offensive boards and we saw him work inside the paint more. Overall a workman type effort.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +1He was better than his last outing however it still feels like he is looking for his shot more than distributing. Lets hope over time he will develop a chemistry with his court mates which will make the bench even more deadly. Got his shot rolling in the 4th.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +7Was missing in the first half, but as he showed in the fourth quarter he can still get hot at any time. Kind of reminds me of the old adage shooters who miss, just keep shooting until they hit. Giving him an extra mark just for taking a charge with the Raps up 16.|
The win ties Lenny Wilkins for second most in Raptor history (113). Now he’ll set his sights on Sam Michell who ranks first with 156.It’s hard to fault him for the Raptors defensive lapses because as always he is on the sideline screaming at them to pick it up. Gets a higher than average score for playing Valanciunas extended minutes and for tying Wilkins with second most wins in Raptors history.
Five Things We Saw
- Raptors are now 5-1 at home and 4-1 in their current home stand. Of note: last season Toronto got their eighth win on December 13th.
- Raptors still have a tendency to relax against teams they feel they can beat. On more than one occasion tonight they got up by 5 or more points only to relax on the defensive end. This was specifically notable when both Amir and Kyle weren’t in the game which showcases how pivotal they are to the teams’ energy and defense.
- Raptors didn’t get a free throw until 2:54 remaining in second quarter. Got 21 in the second half to make up for it.
- Utah Jazz have a young athletic team who is playing with a great deal of confidence. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would likely be a playoff team.
- Don’t ever underestimate DeMar DeRozan! He is a student of the game and a hard worker so the fact he was looking to pass out of double teams and mix up his offensive variety tells me he’ll do whatever it takes to make the team better.
Let’s face it, the Utah Jazz aren’t generally on most people’s must-watch list, even when they were a good team. Back when Stockton and Malone were pick and rolling their way around the NBA, they were most people’s definition of boring (truth be told, they were actually one of my favourite teams, then). And now that they aren’t winning, no one is lining up to see the team. On Grantland’s annual NBA League Pass rankings, the Jazz came third last (the Raptors came 11th).
That’s not to say there isn’t reason to watch this game. First of all, it’s likely the Raptors will get a win, since they aren’t likely to lose two in a row at home, after losing a tough one against the Bulls Thursday.
The Jazz have some nice, young talent and their future looks fairly bright. Gordon Hayward may not be underpaid, after striking it rich in the offseason, he’s rarely mentioned among the top young players in the league despite his all around talent. This year might change that. Although it’s early, he’s averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding, seems to have regained his shooting touch he had early in his career and is doing his best to earn his paycheque.
Another player who seems to finally be living up to his potential is Derrick Favors (or Favours, when he plays in Canada). The key player coming back to Utah in the Deron Williams trade, Favors improved marginally each year, but never made the leap most expected of him. This year he’s scoring 16.3 ppg on 53% shooting, while still being a force on the defensive end and on the boards.
Enes Kanter has not improved nearly as much as one would have hoped, since the Jazz took him at number three, in 2011 (two spots ahead of Valanciunas), but he’s still a serviceable center who can rebound, defend and score a little bit. And he’s still only 22 years old, so it’s a little early to write him off just yet.
And then there’s the Australian.
When the Jazz chose Dante Exum with the 5th pick, it certainly wasn’t unexpected, but there were many who pegged Exum as a bust. The entire basketball resume consisted of a Nike Hoop Summit and a few international games, which made a lot of people very uncomfortable about making any judgements on him.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose touted him as the next lottery bust.
But then in preseason, he started to turn heads. That’s not to say he’s going to be an All Star anytime soon, and his numbers certainly don’t jump out at you, but he’s definitely got talent. And five years from now, it’s doubtful the Jazz will regret taking him where they did.
The Jazz are sitting at just 4-6, but they are coming off a big win in New York last night. But the Raptors are going to be on a mission after their loss.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Is DeRozan Slumping?
As William Lou already pointed out, we’ve seen a drop in DeRozan’s offensive production, so the question is whether he’s slumping, or team’s are starting to figure him out. In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. DeRozan is a good scorer from inside the arc, but he’s still not a consistent threat from three and his defense still leaves a lot to be desired.
He’ll no doubt figure it out soon and return to his regular production, but until then the Raptors need to make sure they get offensive production from elsewhere.
When Will Casey Unleash Valanciunas?
Jonas hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in a game so far, and is now averaging fewer minutes than in his rookie season. But while his shooting percentage is down, his production is actually career highs in just about every other category. He just can’t stay on the floor.
Valanciunas has struggled defensively, this year, and he’s still got the maddening habit of bringing the offense to a grinding halt when he gets the ball in the post, which makes actually going to him counter productive.
Despite the WInning, Are There Things To Be Concerned About?
The Raptors are in 5th and 6th in Defensive and Offensive Rating, and are tied for first in the East, so does that mean there’s nothing wrong?
Apart from DeRozan’s struggles, the Raptors are right near the bottom of the league in assists, which tends to mean a lot of one on one play. Teams can defend this unless you’ve got a Kobe or LeBron, so improving ball movement should definitely be a priority.
The Jazz actually have a decent starting five but the Raptors could be better at every single position.
The Jazz’s bench is very young and very shallow. No contest.
The Jazz don’t Tyrone Corbin, anymore, so no matter what, this is a plus over last year. Quin Snyder might be a good coach, but it’s too early to tell.
The Jazz may give it a run, but are overmatched.
Score: Raptors 105 – Jazz 98
DeRozan’s 3-for-17 performance last night highlighted many worrying trends.
It’s been a trying season for DeMar DeRozan.
Saddled with the responsibility of carrying a team with playoff hopes, DeRozan is struggling to find the tricky balance between being assertive and being stubborn.
Small sample size caveats apply, but his numbers though nine games bare out his troubles. 20.6 points and 8.8 free-throw attempts per game is nice, but they’re underscored by a nasty mix of a career-high 29.4 usage rate with a career-low 50.1 true-shooting percentage. Even more worrisome, his assist rate has dropped back to near career-norms at 13.3, down from 18.9 last season. He’s shooting worse, shooting more, and passing less.
To be fair, it’s very early in the season, and DeRozan has plenty of time to turn his season around.
But some worrying trends are emerging. His trying performance last night against the Bulls — in which he scored 10 points on 17 shots — highlighted many of his struggles this season.
Settling for jumpshots
He is one of the best midrange shooters in the league. I know, he’s an analytical nightmare.
DeRozan’s heavy reliance on the midrange game is ultimately his most divisive trait as a player. It’s his bread and butter, and when his shot is falling, his game looks utterly unstoppable. And as noted by Casey, DeRozan is a decent midrange shooter. He regularly shoots over 40 percent on shots between 10-16 feet out, putting him in the company of players like Carmelo Anthony in terms of midrange accuracy.
In the abstract, the shot is fine. DeRozan usually gets decent separation from his defender on his attempts, and it’s an easy play for the Raptors to run. However, DeRozan runs into trouble when he becomes over-reliant on his jumper.
Take the play below, for example. DeRozan receives a hand-off from James Johnson, sets his feet, and pulls up over Jimmy Butler.
Again, the shot is fine. But pay close attention to how Butler is playing the shot. He dares DeRozan into the attempt, being perfectly content in sitting back to guard the drive. It’s all about process — 40 percent on a two-point shot is a good outcome for the defense.
Even more important is the context. The Raptors were trailing by 16 midway through the fourth, and DeRozan had only hit one jumpshot on a dozen attempts up until that point. Settling for semi-contested jumpers early in the shot-clock isn’t the ideal way to revive a team.
It’s all about balance. DeRozan isn’t going to stop shooting midrange shots, nor is anyone suggesting that he abandon his favorite weapon. It’s a matter of him picking his spots. Against the right match-ups, pulling up is fine. But settling for jumpers with the team in a hole isn’t smart.
Put it another way: DeRozan is averaging 7.3 pull-up attempts per game, connecting on 34.8 percent of his attempts thus far. Conversely, Rudy Gay is also pulling up 7.3 times per game, but he’s shooting 39.4 percent. When you’re shooting worse than Gay on jumpshots, it’s time to reevaluate the strategy.
Relying on the whistle
DeRozan’s greatest strength on offense is undeniably his ability to toe the stripe. He is averaging 9.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes played, which ranks fourth among all players this season. The only three players ahead of him are two unstoppable centers in DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, and the Eurostepping, head-whiplashing James Harden. This is a really strong trend.
The endeavor for free-throws is good. Aside from open shots around the basket, free-throws are an extremely efficient result, especially for a good shooter like DeRozan. Drawing contact and going to the line is something DeRozan does well, and something he should continue doing.
However, DeRozan has made a habit of sometimes driving wildly in hopes of the bailout. At times, it works, especially against weaker defenders. But when the whistle doesn’t come, like on the play below, DeRozan has no counter.
Therein lays the struggle with hunting for free-throws. The outcome of being awarded with two free-throws is good, but being solely reliant on the whistle isn’t. DeRozan doesn’t have a second option on the play above. It’s either get fouled, or launch a bad shot. It’s made worse by DeRozan’s incessant complaints to the officials.
Posting up bigger players
DeRozan’s hard work over the summer added a new weapon to his arsenal: the post-up game. He flashed signs of a decent post-up game last season, but he abandoned it after the Rudy Gay trade.
This season, DeRozan has made a point to attack in the post, bearing mixed results. Against smaller defenders, DeRozan has looked solid. Here’s a breakdown I wrote about DeRozan punishing Magic guard Evan Fournier. His footwork is solid and his strength allowed him to back Fournier deep into the paint.
However, against bigger players, DeRozan’s post game amounts to little more than fadeaway jumpers.
Using the fadeaway as a counter is fine. DeRozan gets good elevation and the shot is mostly clean. But ultimately, it’s the same dichotomy with all his midrange shots. Jimmy Butler knows exactly what he’s doing on the play above. He takes away DeRozan’s ability to step through by leaning on his left, and giving him the fadeaway, just like two GIFs prior, when he took away the drive leaving DeRozan with only the jumper.
The trouble is, the fadeaway is DeRozan’s only counter in the post against bigger players. DeRozan either shoots a low percentage shot, or kicks it out to reset the offense. It’s a bad outcome either way. He either needs to develop a more effective counter, or scrap the idea of posting up bigger players altogether.
In all fairness, DeRozan has improved significantly on defense through the first six seasons in the NBA. Although he isn’t a lockdown defender by any means, DeRozan has progressed to the point where he isn’t just a defensive sieve.
However, there are occasions where DeRozan takes nights off defensively, mostly in an effort to save energy for offense. That was the case last night.
Here’s DeRozan making a feeble attempt to fight through a screen.
Here’s DeRozan caught slipping while ball watching.
Conserving energy on defense is a fine idea in general, especially because DeRozan is counted upon to shoulder such a heavy burden on offense and in terms of minutes played.
But on nights where the match-up is clearly swung out of favor, DeRozan needs to admit defeat and find ways to contribute otherwise. Getting shut down by Butler is fine — he’s one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. Constantly falling asleep on defense is not.
As a closing note, it’s early in the season, and I’m confident that DeRozan can turn it around. However, there are a few worrisome trends starting to emerge. Hopefully, DeRozan can nip them in the bud, and return to all-star form.
It’s a shame that the Raptors and Bulls had to play the second half last night. Had the game ended at half, this post would have essentially been a James Johnson celebration with .gif after .gif of James Johnson casually eurostepping over and around Doug McDermott to bucket after bucket. Unfortunately for us all, both teams came out for the third quarter, where one team played basketball, and we’re left instead with a second loss in the column and an empty void where that James Johnson love letter would have been.
The Raptors played their first game on national US TV since 2002 last night. Perhaps in an effort to show viewers what they’d been missing in that time, the team seemingly tried to pack in the entire Raptors fan experience over the previous twelve years into that one game. They came out going shot for shot with a championship contending team: the 2014-15 Raptors. In the second quarter, their bench unit went on a surprising and highly entertaining tear by James Johnson and the backup point guard to take them into the half with a 7-point lead: the 2011-12 Toronto Raptors. The team then came out for the third and got slapped in the face in the third quarter, getting trounced at both ends, with DeRozan unable to sink anything and the defense looking as unorganized as it ever has under Dwayne Casey, with strange lineups and substitutions only seeming to make things worse: the 2002-12 Raptors. After curiously keeping most of the starters on the bench until well into the 4th quarter, the Raptors fought back into the game, got hot from 3, locked down on defense and got huge plays from Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson to bring the game to where you started getting excited that they might pull off the comeback, only for them to run out of time and lose a close one: the 2012-14 Raptors. It was an interesting collage of teams on an emotionally draining run down memory lane. Hopefully next time we can just watch the 2014-15 Raptors the entire time; they’re a lot more fun.
Let’s keep our Toronto sports fan DNA in check for another couple of days if we can and try not to overreact to a second straight bad-shooting night for DeMar. They happen, and they especially happen against Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibideau. Jimmy Butler vs. DeMar DeRozan was billed on TV as the key matchup coming in to the game, and Butler came out the decisive victor in that category. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Butler is really, really good defensively. DeRozan struggled against his size backing him down into the post and trying to create space to shoot over him. Butler is too smart and the Bulls too well coached to give up free throws to DeRozan in the mid range, which is something he is often able to do against other opponents. And the Thibideau defense has always given Toronto’s side attacking offense fits in the paint, where it’s weakside rotations are always able to bring in help to bolster an already waiting Noah or Gibson, who are terrors at the rim on their own. DeRozan couldn’t find any space in the paint and only took 4 free throws all game. It happens. Enes Kanter is not Noah, Quin Snyder is not Coach Thibs and the Utah Jazz, while spry, are very much not this Chicago Bulls team. So keep those overreactions in check and look for DeMar to bounce back against the Jazz on Saturday.
The stories of Pau Gasol’s demise have been wildly exaggerated. He destroyed us last night. Anyone who watched Gasol in the 2012 Olympics or 2010 finals shouldn’t be surprised. He is a really, really good scorer. If you know any Lakers fans, you might enjoy showing them Pau’s highlights from last night and asking them how they’re enjoying the Carlos Boozer experience in his stead. Mike D’Antoni is starting to look better and better to Lakers fans everyday right now, but as helpful as a comparison to Coach Byron Scott might be for one’s legacy, let’s not forget how dead wrong D’Antoni was about Pau. D’Antoni essentially put Pau out to pasture the last two seasons. Crazy. That guy can still play. Gasol killed us last night on 12 of 19 shooting for 27 points with 3 blocks and 11 boards.
The Hansborough & Patterson Defensive Experience
Yikes. I hope Hansborough is OK, after falling hard in the 4th quarter trying to bail out a spectacularly bad defensive possession with one of his patented fouls. But he was as bad as he he’s ever been on the defensive end last night, against a Chicago offence that, while improved (they’ve topped 100 points in every game but one this season) has been well outside the league leaders under the current regime. During the Bulls 3rd quarter surge and early in the 4th quarter, the Bulls badly exposed Hansborough and Patterson while Casey steadfastly sat Valanciunas and rested Amir’s ankle. While rim protection is usually the hole in this pairing, the Bulls exposed them individually. Hansborough got completely out of place on defense repeatedly, and was left scrambling after easy layups like an oddly enthusiastic, forever beardless version of James Harden. Credit to the Bulls for briefly looking like the Spurs over this stretch, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Bulls were running simple movements off of one or two actions with their big men and turning it into uncontested layups at the rim for a big. That can’t happen. Hansborough was sprinting out to the 3 point line to challenge a Joakim Noah 3-pointer that is never going to happen. Two possessions later he left Noah wide open to cut to the rim in an attempt to double team an 18-foot Gibson jumper. There is no reason for any of that. Patterson, for his part, was problematic in the other direction. He was borderline laid back about switching and unconcerned with denying space or the ball. It’s as if he feels like he has to be the unproductive chill ying to Hansborough’s less than helpfully frantic yang. Casey’s face vacillated between anguish and rage whenever the camera would show him during this stretch. It wasn’t enough for him to, you know, make a substitution, but I can guarantee it’s going to come up in practice.
Amir Johnson has been the glue guy on this team forever. But the difference defensively when he is on the court, and offensively when his ankle is letting him run as he did in the comeback 4th quarter last night is absolutely huge. I dream of a world where a healthy Amir can play a Thibideau-inspired 40 minutes a game.
Jonas found himself burdened with a spot on the bench through most of the second half, despite being on pace for a comfortable double-double with 8 points and 8 boards in just 23 minutes. Jonas is so close to putting so many different parts of his game together, but admittedly still not quite there on much of it. One thing that stood out last night was his screening. Jonas approaches the perimeter with enthusiasm—he is more than willing to play his role. But just as he handicaps his post game by hesitating upon catching the ball, he’s similarly hesitant to establish his picks. There may be reasons for this, such as to keep the defender guessing as to which side the screen is coming from, but it isn’t working out. More often than not Valanciunas ends up a full half step behind where his screen should be or find that the wing defender is able to jump around it before he’s even set. Valanciunas is enormous, this shouldn’t be happening. Kyle Lowry has adapted to Valanciunas’ style of screen and used it to dance around for open spot-ups. That can get some open looks, but there is a pot of gold waiting to be found if they can figure out the pick and roll. Marc Gasol is no more limber on his feet than Jonas is, and of similar size, and his screens consume defenders whole. Valanciunas needs to focus on setting firmly into place earlier and ensuring his seal. Right now, he’s losing out on pick and roll opportunities and too often relying on the ball handler to carry him through the play. Valanciunas is scoring on floaters and 4-foot push shots instead of dunks when rolling because he’s allowing both defenders to be an active part of the pick-and-roll defense. It looks as if he understands this; but he’s just a little hesitant or unsure of himself. He’ll get there.
James Johnson is our silver lining of the night, going 6 for 6 in the second quarter and completely ruining Doug McDermott’s night. James Johnson has perfectly filled the defense/scoring/aggression void at the forward spot in the roster. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Johnson was an interesting but tempered and inefficient player during his first run with the Raptors, and his subsequent stint in Sacramento, where smart basketball spent the last near decade going to die, didn’t help. Sacramento has, until this season’s start, been a place where interesting and highly redeemable players (see: Patterson, Patrick and Vasquez, Grievis) go to be forgotten in a myriad of chucking, bad defense and worse chemistry. But as anyone slugging out the second half of the season watching the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies on league pass last year can tell you, James Johnson was a wildly underrated part of that team’s dominant post-all star game stretch of play. So far Toronto has gotten the Memphis Johnson and not the Sacramento one. At this rate, if Masai is able to get anyone who’s wasting away on the Sacramento Kings bench, I’m automatically typing him in as a key contributor (I see you Carl Ladry, I see you).
To bring things to an end: yes, the Raptors lost. For the most part, it was not an overly well played game either. They got beat. But let’s walk away from this game with this possibly insane and absolutely biased question. Looking at the whole picture and the season so far, am I crazy, or are you completely OK and maybe possibly even happy to have Kyle Lowry instead of Derrick Rose on your team?
The Chicago game clearly showed that we’re not a top tier team in the East yet (let alone the league as a whole) and are solidly second-tier. So what do we need to reach the next level? What’s your solution?
You prove something every night, but Thursday night was a test. It was the first time the Raptors had a regular season game on national TV in the United States since 2002, in a game where Hakeem Olajuwon was a Raptor, and Patrick Ewing played for Orlando. As someone who was there put it, “oh, it was sad. They were blocking their own shots.” This was a big stage, and the best team Toronto has faced. Before it started, Masai Ujiri looked out at the court and wondered what would happen, what he would learn. Tim Leiweke bounded around like a great puppy, hugging people and laughing. Amir Johnson bounded out of a room saying “Big game, TNT baby, TNT.” It’s a small thing, a Thursday night game, in the grand scheme of the league. For some teams, it’s routine. Not here. And there were no evident nerves, not really. There wasn’t any stage fright. DeMar DeRozan forced some shots, and Greivis Vasquez tried to dunk on the six-foot-10 Nikola Mirotic, but at least those were aspirational mistakes. The officiating let some heavy contact go, but that’s the game. That’s one of the central challenges of Chicago — you have to match their will. “It’s a Chicago team with the toughness and physicality that you’ve got to defeat,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, beforehand. “They added a cerebral winner in Pau Gasol, who’s won championships before. But they’re a team that we compete well against as long as we meet their level of intensity and physicality on both ends of the floor. Everybody talks about defence, but against this team, you’ve got to be physical on offence, and bust through their grabbing and holding and that type of thing.”
Casey spent the better part of the past two days talking about the physical challenge the Bulls presented and how his Raptors would have to match it to have any hope of staying with them. Through the first half, and certainly the fourth quarter, the Raptors did just that but the 35-14 pounding the Bulls put on them in the third settled the matter for all intents and purposes. “You know that is the kind of game you’re going to have against (Chicago) and it’s a hard game to play,” added Casey. “But you have to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps and grinds.” The Raptors actually had a seven-point lead at the half and were feeling pretty good about themselves before the Bulls stole every bit of momentum and then some back in the third. “We let them get in a rhythm,” shooting guard DeMar DeRozan said. “I think we kind of had the game under control until the third. They just came on strong. They got a couple of turnovers and a couple of fouls and that got them going. Before you know it, we are trying to slow them down and play catch-up at the same time.”
So the question – after the Raptors were fairly convincingly dismissed 100-93 despite having a seven-point lead at half time – what does this say about a club that is well on their way to be providing Toronto basketball fans with their best ever November? Are they the guys who failed to meet the dress code? The one’s who got too rowdy and got sent out on their butts? They went down fighting, but you know they would: After trailing by 16 with six minutes left the Raptors cut it to seven with two minutes to play after a stumbling Derrick Rose turnover resulted in a Terrence Ross triple. A Lowry steal and an Amir Johnson dunk cut it to five 20 seconds later and the crowd at the ACC could be heard through the television sets of our great neighbour to the south, but that was a close as they got. But the encouraging ending aside, the truth Friday morning will be that the Raptors couldn’t close the deal on their home floor. Was it because the bright lights crept into their focus as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey feared? Or are the teams inside those ropes simply better, bigger, tougher, more experienced?
By the end, Butler had hit 7-of-10 for 21 points, including a clutch jumper late, while DeRozan had struggled mightily. When playing against stellar defenders, DeRozan has a tendency to try to fade off of them, often fruitlessly, instead of trying to create for his teammates or looking for second-chance buckets. However, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said afterward that DeRozan missed a lot of shots he would normally make and urged him to keep taking those shots. DeRozan was coming off of a 4-for-15 shooting performance against Orlando, though he had shot well in the previous two games. He said he isn’t worried and knows there will be “nights like this” and added: “If this was two years ago, I’d think it was the end of the world, but we’re only nine games in. I’d rather have (these) games now than later on.” Before this one, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had called DeRozan a “legitimate superstar” and he certainly game-planned against him like he was. Butler forced him into mistakes and shots with an extremely high degree of difficulty, instead of DeRozan forcing the action.
In the end, it turned out to be more of a lesson than a test. To compete with the big boys, the elite teams in the NBA – to which Chicago is among – they can’t live like this. You can’t lose focus for even a few minutes, let alone an entire quarter. Leading by seven at intermission, and with the US spotlight focused on them, the Raptors looked like a team out of Chicago’s league in the third quarter. Going into the game they had not scored fewer than 20 points in any single quarter this season. On Thursday, the Bulls bested them 35-14 in the third, effectively ending the game 12 minutes before it became official. “We withstood their punches in the first half but in the third quarter they got us on our heels and we stayed on our heels,” Casey said. “You know that’s the kind of game you’re going to have against them. It’s a hard game to officiate and it’s a hard game to play but you’ve got to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps, the grind. And we didn’t meet that challenge in the third quarter. It’s a four-quarter game and that third quarter did us in.” The Raptors’ offence – crisp in the second frame when they shot 55 per cent – went dormant in the third. Chicago’s trademark physicality forced Toronto out of its comfort zone. They shot just 29 per cent while the Bulls, led by the veteran savvy of Gasol, hit 12 of their 18 attempts from the field.
“For me, if want to be acknowledged, you have to win. It’s very very simple. If you’re not a winning team, I don’t care what city you are in, you’re not going to be noticed. If you want to be good, you take this as a regular game, a normal game. I love that the feeling (of excitement) is out there. But if you want to be good, this is what you aspire to be. You aspire to be noticed, to be great, I don’t want to make this (appearance) a high for us.” The Raptors game was on TNT in the U.S. Thursday night. On the broadcast they mentioned the snow. “I knew they would,” said Ujiri. “My wife was in Washington today. It was snowing. I’m not sure what would be mentioned there.” On TNT, Charles Barkley couldn’t help but mention hockey and Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, just to fit in. We are nothing if not a country of sporting cliches. A country that Ujiri has come to embrace. “We’re one team, one country,” he said, part of the WeTheNorth mantra. “We have to continue to grow and grow our fan base. The other stuff, it’s all excuses. It’s snowing, so what? It’s snowing in other cities. We should be appreciated and stand tall for what we are and what we’re doing.
“That’s a good experience for us, you know, we coming off the win streak,” Jonas Valanciunas said afterwards. “So that’s good like a cold shower for us.” It was Valanciunas with eight rebounds (four offensive) in the first half. He added eight points but watched again and again as Pau Gasol, who finished with 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting, carved the Raptors’s interior D. Jonas watched the rest of the game from the bench. Cold shower, indeed. James Johnson, the hero of the Orlando game on Tuesday, looked to build on his hero status with 16 points in the game (12 in the first half) on 7-for-9 shooting. Despite a defensive fury exhibited in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, Johnson’s effect seemed to shrink as the game went on. His words of wisdom? “Just move on,” said Johnson. “A lot of shots that we take and make didn’t go in.” A simple lesson.
Dwane Casey on Pau Gasol’s big game: “One of the things we wanted to do was take the 3-ball out and to a certain extent we were able to do that as they were 4-15. Coming into the game they were one of the top 3-point (shooting) and transition teams in the NBA. We just felt like we were going to make him score and make it as hard on him as we could, but not go into a double team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all of those guys open on the weak side. We went to more traps there in the fourth quarter, but, again, he’s good at what he does and he made it hard on us.”
The Bulls went into the half down 7, but they used suffocating defense to hold the Raptors to just 14 points in the third quarter, while racking up 35 points. As a team, Chicago shot 66.7% from the field in the third. They just got seemingly whatever they wanted. Pau was cooking, Dunleavy was hitting from outside, Taj was flushing easy finishes off of smart passes by his teammates. It was all working. This continued up until there were about 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, as the lead peaked at 18 points on this Rose fast break finish.
The Bulls managed to slow down Toronto during an all-around team effort and eked out a 100-93 victory without their floor general. It took until over four minutes into the second quarter for Rose to score his first field goal, and he only had seven points at the halfway point with Pau Gasol leading the way by scoring 19. The second half was when Chicago truly turned on the jets, though. They outscored the Raptors in the third quarter 35-14, and Rose hit some vintage floaters and layups in the fourth quarter before his injury sent him to the sideline.
The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third frame, which is too bad, because they out scored the Bulls 79 – 65 in the other three. “I think we just didn’t play our game from start to finish.” Lowry said. “We played our game in spurts tonight.” The ugly third quarter was one problem, but another problem was Pau Gasol who scored 27 points on 12/19 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. The Raptors just had no answer for Pau. “We were going to try to make it hard on him (Gasol), but not go and double-team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all those guys open on the outside. We went to more of a trap in the fourth quarter but, you know, he is good at what he does. He made it hard on us.” Dwane Casey said.
However, the Raptors would have trouble blaming the referees for this loss as too much of the damage was either self-inflicted or handed to them by Gasol in the paint. The veteran big man looked like he had found the fountain of youth in this contest as he posted 27 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The Raptors came out flat offensively in the third quarter, let their 7 point first half lead quickly slip away and then let the Bulls finish the period on a 10-0 run for an 80-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Gasol continued his dominance over Valanciunas and sent him to the bench in less than 5 minutes for all but 11 seconds the rest of the way. For some unknown reason after Johnson carried the offense for the Raptors in the second quarter, Toronto didn’t go back to him in the third and fourth quarters and he only scored 2 more points on 3 attempts. Johnson did add 3 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks for a very solid line of 16 points on 7-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks in 24.3 minutes, but it looked like he could have done more if given the chance.
Last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in shots (both made and attempted) in the restricted area. But they also ranked sixth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), getting to the line 31 times for every 100 shots from the field. That (and shooting those free throws at the league’s fifth highest percentage) helped them rank ninth in offensive efficiency. “There’s a knack by our guys to get in the mid-range area and get fouled,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in the preseason.
The problem with Toronto’s drive-at-all-costs offensive approach is that it doesn’t lend itself to great fluidity. Toronto doesn’t have many players adept at setting others up for shots. Lowry, as brilliant as he is, leans toward the shoot-first spectrum among point guards. DeRozan has improved his reads, but he, like Williams, is a scorer. Vasquez fits the profile, but has become more shot-happy since coming to Toronto. Terrence Ross is a spot-up player without much vision. All this explains why Toronto is in the bottom half of the league in passes per game for the second straight year and trending downward. Toronto was 17th in total passes and 22nd in assist opportunities last year; they’re down to 21st and 29th in those categories, respectively, this season. This is the flip side to being a low-turnover team: fewer passes means fewer chances to throw errant passes, but it also means fewer passes. This isn’t a fatal flaw in the regular season, but it could hurt them come playoff time when teams lock in on top offensive options. The Nets provided a blueprint for opponents in last year’s playoffs, shutting off DeRozan’s easy passing reads on post ups and forcing Lowry to create offense for himself.
“You don’t come back to the injuries that he’s come back from without (caring). I’m just watching the power that you guys have,” Noah said. “You guys (the media) can really just portray somebody as something that he’s not. Because I know how much he cares about this game. I see it every day. We’re all in this together. This is not a one-man team. “I know sometimes it’s frustrating he gets injured. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world. That’s so f—— lame to me. Relax. He’s coming back from two crazy surgeries … everybody needs to chill the f—- out. I’m sorry for cursing, I’m passionate. I don’t like to see him down, he doesn’t say that he’s down. I don’t like people portraying him and judging him because it’s not fair to him.” Rose had declined to apologize at shootaround on Thursday morning when asked if he could understand why some people have questioned his commitment to the Bulls and his teammates. He responded, “no, but I could care less. “Really I was just being myself. As long as I’m being myself, that’s the only person I can be.
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Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan after Toronto lost 100-93 to Chicago.
Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (06:05, 5 MB). Or just listen below:
Paul Gasol dominates the Raptors as the Bulls make a statement at the ACC.
|Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 5-7 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -6Other than a momentary third quarter offensive resurgence, didn’t do much. Forget checking Gasol, he couldn’t even get the weakside rebounds available to him, and appeared to be firmly rooted to the ground in every situation where, perhaps, jumping might help. He was on the floor as a center when the Raptors made a small but ultimately fruitless run, during which he looked far more engaged.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 32 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +1I can’t point to a single positive quality other than making the occasional open jumper, and you have to be disappointed in the overall impact he’s having on the game. 3-and-D? How about just sticking with Mike Dunleavy, and when he did try to close-out, he did it in a way which would make Jose Calderon shake his head. Right now he doesn’t deserve to start, his three-shot foul on Dunleavy with the Raptors down 5 and the clock ticking down sealed our fate.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -11Strong to start the game and got weaker as the game progressed, which coincided with Gasol getting stronger. Got benched in the second half, somewhat unfairly, cementing my feelings that he’s become the coach’s favorite whipping boy. He was one of the few bigs actively fighting for rebounds but defensively, eaten alive by the much more experienced, Gasol, who has a variety of moves to get his shot on the rim in 1v1 situations. But that’s as much on the coach as anyone. I could not understand why he got benched in the second half, given he was the only big man able to rebound in traffic.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 8-19 FG | 1-3 FT | 8 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -3Needed to take the game over in the third when things went south, and instead deferred. Rose got past him a few times in the first half, and Lowry had a few good moments of his own, but overall, as the best player on the Raptors, he was missing in that crucial third. Sensed the Bulls stepping off the pedal in the fourth and propelled the team to a late comeback. I thought he had a chance to attack the wobbly Rose much more often than he did, and force the Chicago defense to come out and not just camp out for easy rebounds.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 3-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -2Shot the Raptors out of the game in the third. On the weekly pod I mentioned that this game was going to come down to how he would handle Jimmy Butler, and that was a big part of the game. He got shut down again by a lengthy wing (remember DeMarre Carroll) who pressures his dribbling with constant reaches, forces him further out than he likes, and is quick enough to stay with him. Didn’t have enough catch-and-shoots or hand-off plays and was reduced to a jump shooter, and a poor one at that. The defense sucked, too. I’m actually quite OK with him trying out his jumper as long as the shots are clean. But when they’re not going in and the opposition is feeding off of your misses, it’s time to drive.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Came in, got injured after falling on his back and left. At least while he was in there he tried to get rebounds, which already gives him an above-average grade.|
|James Johnson, PF 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -1Very energetic first half where he pressure up top causing turnovers and scoring, played excellent one-on-one defense, and played very intelligent offense by schooling rookie, Doug McDermott, and even chewing up Butler in the block (DeRozan, take note, that’s how it’s done). Unfortunately, his coach iced him in the third quarter and he didn’t see the floor until three minutes left in the third, by which time the game was out of hand.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -7Victim of extremely poor court spacing, meaning guys like Dunleavy, Butler, and Hinrich were always available to cover his potential looks, and the guy doesn’t have a back-down game where he can take guys who are checking him outside, inside. He had one meaningful shot, a three in the second quarter when Gasol didn’t come out. Other than that, useless on offense and impotent on defense, the latter of which I forgive since Gasol had already warmed up by the time Patterson had his shot on him. Also, got stripped twice under the rim on plays he should’ve scored on.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 7 PTS | +2Completely irresponsible. Had a brief stretch in the second where the bench shined, mostly thanks to James Johnson. The rest of his night was filled with bad passes, lazy defense, and poor decisions. The no-look pass pass he threw behind his head right under the basket was converted to a three-point play on the break, which might be the silliest play of the night.|
|Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -9Good second quarter stint, but by the time Casey called on him in the second half, the game was out of hand and all he could do at that point was start jacking up shots. He did, and he missed.|
|Lucas Nogueira, C Has not entered game MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Direct Link|
No plan to tackle Gasol, who continued to abuse every Raptors big with nary a help defender in sight. Iced our best player on the night, James Johnson, in the third during which time the Bulls took complete control. Couldn’t figure out what the court balance should be, resulting in the Bulls dominating the boards. It’s almost like he had no plan, or at least a poorly communicated plan, for the Bulls’ interior strength.
Five Things We Saw
- The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third quarter. Some stats from that frame:Points in the Paint: Bulls 16, Raptors 8
Second Chance Points: Bulls 4, Raptors 0
Fastbreak Points: Bulls 6, Raptors 0
Rebounds: Bulls 12, Raptors 8
Assists: Bulls 8, Raptors 3It was the quarter from hell
- The rebounding has been a major issue all season which has been masked by maintaining a positive turnover ratio and shooting a high percentage, but when you come across a team that’s actually rotating out to shooters and pressuring the ball, the number of possessions become a much greater factor.
- This crazy notion of playing small against a big Bulls lineup didn’t compute. I get that you want to play “your” game, but not when it comes to rebounding. The Raptors were doing well with Valanciunas in there fighting for rebounds, all we needed to do was send some help against Gasol to contain him. Instead, we tried to bring Gasol out by playing a lineup featuring Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson, which just meant Noah and Gasol/Gibson would be able to control the paint. Once we started missing jumpers from the outside (the potential advantage of going small), it all back-fired.
- The Raptors did supply some excellent pressure defense in the fourth quarter to get back in the game down 5. I realize you can’t play 48 minutes like that, but we really need to see much more of that, especially since we have the personnel that are suited to that kind of play.
- A loss isn’t the end of the world. The Bulls have what the Raptors don’t: experience. That’ll come with time, and these games, if nothing else, are a learning experience for both the players and the coach. The Raptors didn’t quit in this game which is very important, they fought back and perhaps if the game was 5 minutes longer, would’ve won. What’s important now is the response. After the Miami game, it was great. Let’s do that again.
Halftime Raptors talk on NBA on TNT. Raps were up in the game, down presently.
The Raptors enter tonight’s game versus the Chicago Bulls as top dog in the East, tied for best overall record, unbeaten at home and the longest active win streak in the NBA. Many attribute Toronto’s early season success to their consistency of personnel and ease of schedule. While constancy does lend itself to a short hand on court, perhaps the greater x-factor is the much improved second unit who has coined themselves The White Squad.
Chicago arrives with an extra day of rest and the law of averages would seem to favor the Bulls since the Raptors have won 5-straight. Regardless of the victor, the game will offer an initial idea of how Toronto stacks up against a team favored by many to represent the East in June. As much as I join those excited to see how our starting-5 measures up against the Bulls, it’s actually the benches I’m most eager to compare.
A busy summer of free agent movement included the much touted arrival of center Pau Gasol to Chicago and given their leap in offensive ranking his addition is delivering on its intention. Raptor General Manger: Masai Ujiri, added two key players that didn’t receive nearly the same hype, but are paying dividends similar to the major trade of 2013.
Lou Williams appears to be returning to the form he displayed three years ago when he won the Sixth Man Award and has gelled quickly in his scoring role with the team. Williams never fully recognized his potential in Atlanta owing to an ACL injury. Now, 18 months later Williams more closely resembles the player he was in Philadelphia. Veteran leadership is a commodity every team values, but few teams have 10-year vets who haven’t reached their prime on the payroll. Williams joins Amir Johnson as the second such vet 28-years old and under.
James Johnson is proving to be the key defensive cog the Raptors longed for last May with his ability to guard virtually any opponent or position. The older and wiser Johnson is showcasing a new maturity and acceptance of the role Coach Duane Casey envisioned for him in his first stint in Toronto. On more than one occasion this season Johnson has been the best player on the court and his energy off the bench has sparked the team in a manner only Kyle Lowry consistently demonstrates.
Less than a tenth of the way into the season the Raptors have already established some early trends:
- Scored 100 points in all 8-games ranking first in the NBA with an average of 107.00 PPG.
- Get to the line 33.4 times per game (2nd in NBA)
- Taking care of the ball averaging 11.4 turn over’s per game (3rd in NBA)
- Conversely the Raptors force their opponent into the third most turnovers with 18.6 per game.
While these stats are exciting there are arguably two other factors which highlight why Toronto has gotten off to such a hot start:
- In review of the top ten ranked offenses and defenses only 2-teams appear in the top ten of both: Toronto and Houston. The Rockets rank first in defense and eighth in offense for a net ranking of first overall. The Raptors rank seventh in defense and third in offense for a net ranking of second overall.
- In seven of their eight games the Raptors’ bench has outscored their opponent. The lone game this didn’t occur was versus Washington when Coach Randy Wittman elected to rest his starters and play his bench extended minutes.
We often don’t know the full ceiling of a team until a quarter or half way into the season because new additions need time to adjust to systems and teammates. Since the Raptors new players form almost half the bench it stresses how impressive the above fact is. Certainly there are still kinks to be worked out as Greivis Vasquez is still adjusting to his new line mates and has yet to return to last season’s form.
And, while Coach Casey’s use of the hockey type line-up change came under great scrutiny the fact it’s producing these results while simultaneously offering rest for his starters is encouraging.
Personally I’m reminded of the 2003 Detroit Pistons bench nicknamed the Alternators who famously utilized the hockey line-up change and dominated opposing benches. Of note, that Piston team resembles the current Raptor squad in that they were extremely deep, but featured no typical franchise star. They surprised many by winning the East and were considered heavy underdogs in the finals facing the Lakers. As we know the Pistons became champions and Chauncey Billups became the first non All Star to win MVP. Coincidentally Billups has served as a mentor to Kyle Lowry who has firmly taken the captaincy of the Raptors in hand.
While a deep bench offers security in the case of injury the other aspect it ensures is it creates a more competitive environment. In Wednesday’s media scrum Casey pointed to Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan’s improvements as being aided by the presence of James Johnson in practice. In fact the nickname The White Squad came about because of the white shirts the bench dons in these sessions.
While I await tonight’s heavy weight battle I know a win or a loss won’t signal the inevitable end of season outcome, however it will for the moment offer an initial gauge for the Raptors to build upon.
For those of you wondering how the team is feeling regarding this blistering start perhaps it was best described by another of the key bench contributors: Patrick Patterson. Following Tuesday’s win, Rod Black asked “How does 7-1 sound?” Patterson’s response: “Should be 8-0, but 7-1 sounds good. “
Enjoy the game and check back here for the Quick React immediately following the game.
This is the big one: win or lose, how the Raptors play against the Bulls tonight will either validate their hot-start, or add fuel to the fire of spite from those claiming 7-1 because of poor competition…if only life were that simple, right? The reality is that Raptors handled business against weaker teams in a gifted start to the season. What we also saw in those games was that even though they were playing lesser teams, they were still playing NBA level talent, and displayed a ton of grit when things weren’t going smoothly. You have to appreciate if nothing else.
Regardless of outcome, the expectation is that they don’t rollover and let the Bulls walk over them, that they put a full four-quarters of effort, so that jokes like this aren’t told anymore…funny as they are…
This Bulls team has a lot of its own ifs as well. If Rose and Noah are healthy, if Gasol plays like it was 6 years ago, if Butler can be that second shot maker they so desperately need, if Thibs can draw up an offensive play that is inspired…in spite of all those ifs, this Bulls team has started 6-2 while Rose and Noah missing a handful of the games to injury. Concerned? You should be. Insurmountable? Nope.
Both teams have dominant point guards. Both teams have elite wings. Both teams have a big-mobile front court. Both teams are deep. Both teams are confident heading into this game. The stage is set for a solid game between two well-matched teams. Must watch national TV.
Sam Holako: He’s missed a couple games, but Rose has looked good early; what’s been your assessment of him?
Jason Patt: The fact that there has been Rose drama this early in the season is disappointing, but when he actually has played, he has looked much like his old self. We can throw the Bucks game out because he wasn’t close to 100 percent and probably shouldn’t have played in that game. Otherwise, he has been aggressive and explosive, and his presence is felt on both ends of the court.
Rose is currently on a minutes limit to preserve his body, so his individual numbers don’t look all that impressive. (17.5 and 5.8 on 45.3% shooting) However, he’s putting up 22.9 and 7.5 per 36 and the Bulls have been absolutely dominant when he is on the court. In the 110 minutes he has played, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
Rose’s full arsenal has been on display, including his array of floaters and crazy drives to the rim. The only real complaint about his offense is some questionable shot selection, as he’s taking nearly five threes a game despite making just 31.6 percent of them. Less PUJITS, please.
While most think of Rose has an offensive guy, he has made great strides on the defensive end. Heading into Monday’s game against the Pistons, Rose’s opponent counterpart PER was 6.1, according to 82games.com. Kyle Lowry will provide one hell of a test and that matchup should be fun to watch.
Sam: So as someone who took a risk on Rose in fantasy, is this early drama soreness from lack of playing the last two years, or something to be more concerned about?
Jason: First off, I took Rose in fantasy, too, so I feel your pain. I think what’s going on with Rose is basically just a new mindset he has, as evidenced by his quotes today. He’s not going to gut things out in the regular season if he’s not feeling right because he’s thinking long term. Not great for fantasy peeps for sure, but hoping it’s great for the Bulls’ championship hopes. The fact that he sprained BOTH his ankles at the same time is somewhat odd, but hoping it was more flukey than anything after landing on somebody’s foot.
Sam: So lets assume that he and Noah stay healthy, Gasol continues his beast mode, and Butler continues his early audition for the all-star game; can this team win it all this year?
Jason: If they stay healthy, the Bulls can absolutely win it all this year. They have star power, depth and the ability to be elite on both sides of the ball. Some of the kinks are still being worked out with Rose, Noah and the newcomers, but there’s some serious potential here. If things go right, they’re more balanced than the team that went to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and may be the favorites because of the Cavs’ weak defense.
The growth of Butler is huge. The Bulls have been looking for a legit second shot creator alongside Rose going back to when h