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Raptors lose on a buzzer-beater by Marcus Smart in OT

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The loss feels like a punch to the dick.

There’s no getting around it: this one stung.

The Raptors lost in overtime to the Boston Celtics 117-116 thanks to a buzzer-beater by Marcus Smart. It was a hard-fought game and it turned out to be a thrilling finish, but the shorthanded Raptors (without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson) almost escaped with a win.

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“He had a full head of steam. It’s 2.6 seconds left. We had the ball at the end of regulation with like seven seconds. It was a little too much to do that. I’ve never seen him do that before. That was a play we put in for other guys that aren’t here. We’ve never run it since this new group has been together so they just went right off the board and did it.”

– Stevens, on his brilliant play call and Thomas’s superhuman speed (with h/t to the score keep!)

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This one stung as a fan of the Raptors. Sure, the defense wasn’t great, but the Raptors strung together enough to push a desperate Celtics team to the hilt and nearly won had it not been for an unfortunate error by the timekeeper and a ridiculous play by Isaiah Thomas. The play before that, Marcus Smart drilled a corner three with Terrence Ross right in his face. Mix all that in with Patrick Patterson missing on five wide-open threes, Evan Turner catching fire from mid-range and eight missed free throws, and yeah, it feels terrible. I feel terrible.

It also has to sting for Dwane Casey. He gets ripped on this forum all the time and deservedly so, but this was one of his best performances as a head coach. He had to manage an extremely short roster on the second night of a back-to-back and for the most part, he made a lot of smart calls. Casey is nobody’s idea of an X’s and O’s coach, but he drew up two beautiful after timeout plays in the final six minutes. On the first, he called for three curls by DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Lou Williams in quick succession, but it was a decoy for DeRozan to catch and finish along the baseline.

On the second, he had Williams curl around a down screen by Tyler Hansbrough which freed him up Williams for a corner 3. That’s something we rarely see out of Casey.

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It also stings for Hansbrough, who submitted his finest performance as a Raptor in vain. He gave his best Amir Johnson impersonation, playing strong interior defense while presenting himself as a viable pick-and-roll target. He got a little too overaggressive, especially on the glass, in overtime and picked up three fouls and fouled out. But before that, he had 18 points on 5-of-5 shooting and 8-of-8 from the line, while playing spectacular scramble defense.

It stings for Williams. He had his hands full with a fellow Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Isaiah Thomas and they played each other to a virtual standstill. Thomas made the incredible play at the end and will get all the accolades for the win, but Williams was just as clutch, nailing two key threes in overtime. He finished with 27 points in 34 minutes.

“I’ve been around so long that you know not to get too excited. It was cool to make a shot, but you realize you still have to guard. I didn’t really get too high on that (made three). I’ve been around this game so long and I’ve had many situations like tonight. There’s some that have gone my way and some that haven’t. Unfortunately tonight it went the other way.”

– Williams, being a level-headed veteran

It stings for DeRozan, who single-handedly willed the Raptors to overtime. Again and again, DeRozan attacked the Celtics’ defense and it worked. This man had 18 points in the fourth and overtime, and he also found Williams for one of his threes in overtime. The Celtics honestly had no answer for him, which is pretty impressive, considering that they have three excellent perimeter defenders in Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. None of them mattered as DeRozan finished with 38 points.

“That’s what you dream of when you’re a kid. You want to be in those situations. You just need to be calm. I know the ball will come to me in a lot of important situations and my whole thing this year is to be ready. Don’t ever play rushed. Just take whatever the defence gives me.”

– DeRozan, on his clutch performance.

Anyway, it sucks. But it’s just another reminder to never, ever have expectations of this franchise.

Game Observations

Greivis Vasquez’s defense is unspeakably bad

Look, it’s one thing if it’s Vasquez’s total lack of footspeed. The man plays with sandbags in his sneakers and he gets exposed on almost every single possession. But Vasquez’s struggles don’t end there. He also lacks awareness. On the play below, he got caught ball watching, because Brandon Bass at the high elbow commands every winking ounce of attention and gets back picked, leading to Smart’s wide-open layup.

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Not surprisingly, Vasquez finished as a -10, the worst out of any Raptor aside from Chuck Hayes. He was also outplayed on the other end by Smart, who is a rookie. I’m still shaking my head at Vasquez’s no-show. He’s somehow regressed on defense and he was never good to begin with.

Vasquez’s offense wasn’t much better

He wasn’t exactly given a lot to work with, but this was how the typical pick-and-roll went with Vasquez.

  1. Vasquez and Valanciunas pick-and-roll. Defenders ICE and Vasquez can’t drive.
  2. Vasquez resets to James Johnson on the wing. Obviously, he’s not a threat to shoot.
  3. Swing back to Vasquez. This time, he tries making a go of it with Hansbrough.
  4. Celtics ICE. Vasquez picks up his dribble and is trapped. He has to pitch it back to Hansbrough with 20 seconds of the shot clock gone.

Sigh.

Jonas Valanciunas’s robotic decision making

Watch how the Warriors, Hawks and Spurs play. First off, most of their players are threats to drive, pass and shoot. Jonas has none of those three. But even those with limitations (Tiago Splitter, Mike Muscala, Elton Brand) make quick decisions. They either make a move to score, or pass then screen. Time is precious and the more actions that can be run, the better.

But not Valanciunas. He’s slow and he takes forever. As Frank Sobatka would say, “Shit or get off the pot.”

On numerous occasions, the Raptors swung the ball to Valanciunas at the elbow after he set a screen and the play would just be stuck. Jonas would look around confused, before pump faking to no avail and waiting three or four seconds to make a move. That simply can’t happen. Valanciunas has to make quicker decisions with the ball.

But put one in the positive column for passing out of the post for once. He repeatedly overpowered Tyler Zeller in the post, before the Celtics started sending double teams his way late in the game. On one of those occasions, Valanciunas dutifully kicked it out to Vasquez spotting up for three. Baby steps for the giant.

Temporary spells of laziness are not acceptable

There was a stretch in the fourth where the Raptors literally couldn’t stop anyone, and they didn’t even seem interested in such endeavours. We’re talking a Jonas Jerebko blow-by because Patterson played him the wrong way. We’re talking Thomas just walking by Williams and no one coming to help. We’re talking poor transition defense where the Celtics feasted. That just can’t happen. The team is tired and they’re scrapping the bottom of the barrel in terms of depth, but they need to stay focused for 48 straight minutes.

Every little break hurts.

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