Game Analysis

Toronto Raptors: Escape From New York

Hot Garbage.

There is no better way to describe the Toronto Raptors’ performance last night in New York.  Disgusting…filthy…unpleasant…hot garbage.

The Raptors played their worst game of the season, which is saying something after their performance to open the month of December against the Lakers.  From top to bottom, the Raptors simply failed at almost everything.  It was even common to see a Raptor slip and fall with no one around them, hitting the ground completely independent of anything other than themselves.

Despite their general awfulness, Toronto still managed to walk away with a 95-90 overtime victory.  The win pushed the Raptors to an Eastern Conference best 18-6 and, perhaps even equally satisfying, sent the New York Knicks to 5-21 on the season (just 1.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers).

The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair that ended with a 27-27 tie.  Toronto shot the lights out in the opening frame, hitting 58.9 percent of their shots and also managed to hold the Knicks to just 37.9 percent shooting.  The problem was that despite their hot shooting, Toronto did everything in their power to gift New York as many free points as possible.

Toronto didn’t shoot their first free throws until there were just 41 seconds left in the first quarter, when Lou Williams baited Larkin into a foul behind the three point line.  These were the only free throws the Raptors would get in a quarter that saw the Knicks shoot 12-of-15 from the charity stripe.  Many of these free throws for New York were caused by sheer laziness on the part of the Raptors.  For example, while already in the bonus, Vasquez fouled Carmelo Anthony away from the ball before Larkin (the ball handler) even had a chance to initiate the offense.

More than anything, the Raptors were almost done in by their own effort level.  They played much of the night as if the game was already in hand.  Lazy play, after lazy play.  Overall, the Raptors committed a season high 24 turnovers, gifted New York with far too many free throws (many of which were in bonus situations), and shot early and often in the shot clock.

The worst offender was Greivis Vasquez.  I’ve never doubted Vasquez’ skill, but far too often I am left dumbfounded by his decision making.  There are players that can overcome their shortcomings with high basketball IQ…Vasquez is the opposite of these players.  I audibly yelled at him through my TV on more than one occasion.

Vasquez has great ability…but his judgement, like it often is, was beyond terrible last night.  He rushed shots, made poor passes, lost his man on defense (lost isn’t strong enough of a word for what he did), and generally hurt the team every minute he spent on the court.

But after Vasquez, it was Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams that did their best to snatch defeat from the clutches of victory.  Lowry displayed the worst tunnel vision of his season, often playing as if he had no teammates on the court; while Lou decided that his evening was best spent taking a series of increasingly difficult/unnecessary shots.  With three minutes remaining in overtime, Lou attempted a fading three point shot with 21 second remaining on the shot clock…21 seconds!?!?

Lowry finished with a misleading 21 points and 11 assists, while also committing 9 turnovers; and Lou finished with just 15 points on 15 shots.

There were only three reasons that Toronto escaped with the victory last night: Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Terrence Ross.

Patterson was magnificent, shooting an unbelievable 83.3 percent from the field (5-of-6) and 75 percent from three (3-of-4), while also playing solid defense against Carmelo late in the game.  He also added 2 steals, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds.  His performance wasn’t flashy, but it was needed on a night where Toronto’s stars failed to deliver.

After early foul trouble that saw Valanciunas leave the game just seven minutes in, Jonas responded with 8 points and a game high 13 rebounds.  This was Valanciunas’ fourth straight game with over 10 rebounds, which is a first for his career.

Despite strong performances from Jonas and Pat-Pat, the real star last night was Ross.  In 33 minutes of action, Ross lit up New York with 22 points and 5 rebounds, while hitting 8-of-14 shots and 3-of-5 from three point range.  Ross took control of the third quarter, which saw him score 13 points, hit 4-of-6 shots, 2-of-2 from three, and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe.

Positives from last night:

    • Overcame a season high 24 turnovers
    • Big games from Patterson, Valanciunas and Ross
    • Game reminded us that Sam Dalembert is still alive and somehow in the NBA
    • Didn’t have to watch Bargnani
    • Got the ‘W’ to move to 18-6 on the season

Negatives from last night:

    • Everything else

All of this is based on expectations.  In years past, a victory like this one would have been celebrated despite the poor performance.  After all, a win is a win.  But New York had no business being in this game with the Raptors, and expectations in Toronto have changed.

It’s not enough to simply escape with a win against an inferior team, but at least they all count in the standings, and with the victory the Raptors hold on to first in the Eastern Conference.

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