Well, that was terrible.
Let’s start with the positives.
Okay, now that those are out of the way, we can get into the meat of the Toronto Raptors’ 125-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. It was, for my money, the worst effort the team has turned in all season, even ranking below the overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Sloppy offensively, disastrous defensively, stinking of a team who just wanted to get home, this was thoroughly disappointing.
That’s especially so because the Raptors had made the most of a tough stretch to this point. They started a hellacious six-game trip at 2-1, dropped an acceptable narrow defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers, and hung with the world-beating Golden State Warriors for a half. The second half against Golden State was understandably poor, and the hope was for a quick rebound to end the trip on a high note, possibly even with a winning record on the west coast portion.
It was also the team’s final game without DeMar DeRozan, who will return from his 18-game absence on Thursday. While the defense had suffered in his absence, the offense played well enough to carry the team, and a strong showing Sunday could have let DeRozan return knowing he didn’t have to put a major weight on his shoulders or save the team from anything dire.
One game shouldn’t change macro outlook, but Sunday certainly reshapes how the trip and DeRozan’s absence look. The trip was a mild disappointment at 2-4 and included six of the worst quarters the Raptors have played all year (the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls, the second half against the Warriors, and the first three quarters against the Suns). The team now returns home to an easy slate needing to rediscover solid footing rather than trying to build on established momentum. DeRozan also returns to a team on a three-game losing skid, one that went 11-7 without him but saw their defense slip to 28th since he hit the shelf. Despite the 24-10 record, it feels like there’s pressure on the team to really solidify themselves on this home stretch, something that feels odd to think or need or request given what they’ve done so far. The sky is hardly falling, but the ship needs some righting.
All of that can be discussed later, I suppose, since I owe you a post-game. By putting a picture and title on this post, I put in more effort for this article than the Raptors did on Sunday. It really was frustrating, with the team looking completely disinterested in defending and appearing to have no clue how their offense operates.
Some of that may be teams figuring the Raptors’ offense out. Lou Williams doesn’t like to be forced right. Williams and Greivis Vasquez both struggle when guarded by long-armed wings. Most of them team’s plays are designed to get a guard moving with a head of steam, north-south toward the basket, to draw a foul or draw attention for a kick-out. It’s not particularly complicated, tough though it may be to contain.
Those are things the last three opponents have keyed in on, but Sunday’s outcome had much more to do with the team’s 21 turnovers, most of them of the careless variety. The Raptors employ a terrific offense that doesn’t actually produce field goals at a high rate but instead relies on decent offensive rebounding, a great free throw rate and impeccable ball control. None of those elements provided an edge on Sunday, and only Jonas Valanciunas (beasting on Alex Len) and James Johnson (the only Raptor other than Landry Fields who seemed to give a single damn Sunday) playing well on that end of the floor.
Here are some examples of the excellent offensive decisions and outcomes that we were treated to:
Nope, I don’t have any clue, either. And offense wasn’t the team’s biggest issue by a long-shot, even if Phoenix did generate 30 freaking points off of turnovers.
The real issue was defense. Again, we turn to some footage for examples.
I had countless plays circled in my game notes from the second quarter to dissect, but there’s really not a point. Phoenix hanging 125 on 109 possessions is ugly. Their shooting 53.9 percent is ugly. Their having their way, no matter the attacker or shooter, is ugly. All of it was ugly. Tyrone Hill looks like an 8 compared to this defensive showing.
The Raptors just lacked the requisite effort, full stop, which is exceedingly rare for this team. The Raptors are among nine teams who have lost by 15 or more two or fewer times. It just so happens they’ve been the last two games. Even when certain players made decent defensive stands, the help was slow or nonexistent, or the switch a poor matchup. Tyler Hansbrough had no business in a game like this defensively, Vasquez has little business in any game defensively, and short of Fields forcing three turnovers on his own in the first quarter and James Johnson taking every possession personally, I didn’t at all get the feeling the Raptors saw this as a winnable game worth trying in.
Head coach Dwane Casey did, obviously, because that’s the only way to explain why Kyle Lowry played 34 minutes in a game that was decided by half. Actually, that still doesn’t even explain it, because at one point Lowry shared the floor with Bebe Nogueira, which should literally never happen in the 2014-15 season. There is absolutely no explanation for your most important player and your human concession of defeat to be on the court together. It makes no sense.
Hey, at least Bebe had a nice high-low feed, a dunk and got to foul three times. It’s no Bruno Caboclo sighting, but his entire being is a plea for levity at the end of a horrid outing.
It’s tough to say much else here. There are certainly excuses to make. This was the final game of a long road trip, the team had just played their guts out a few times in a row, Phoenix is the perfect opponent to take out a weary team, and so on. None of that really excuses such a thoroughly vacant performance, and I don’t care to make those excuses for them, but it is what it is.
The Raptors have capably battled through some adversity this season, but they’re now faced with rebounding from a losing streak for the first time. Three days off, the return of DeRozan, and the start of a six-game stint at home should be exactly what they need. Personally, I just don’t want to think about this Suns game anymore. Onward and upward, or whatever.