My Biased Perspective Coming in
Even though it hits home, as the Raptors have been in the same predicament many times before, I can only assume we’ve all experienced a bit of satisfaction watching the Nets essentially hit rock bottom as a franchise. Personally, that gut-wrenching heartbreak of the now infamous playoff series still lingers two years later.
To twist the knife even deeper, Brooklyn’s situation is only getting worse. An organization who owns the league’s third-worst record yet at the same time employs the sixth highest payroll. Not to mention being on the verge of having to trade to their biggest asset in Brook Lopez alongside not having a first-round draft pick.
The days of Deron Williams’ egregious flops, Kevin Garnett’s “intimidation” and Paul Pierce’s veteran clutch are about to become a much more distant memory.
My Unbiased, Big Picture Point of View
It really is a damn shame. One of Toronto’s best new sports rivalries, which had the makings of something special, ended up being short-lived. Come to think of it, have the Raps had any other?
Being that a lack of true rivalries is the nature of professional sports today, a competitive Nets squad would have made for some unique entertainment for years to come.
But I digress. Though here’s a tidy visual from the RR Twitter account to elaborate further:
This is pretty incredible. pic.twitter.com/r1ssLD5z7J
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 7, 2016
Now, I was fully prepared to keep my guard up beforehand, as I’ve been tasked with more than a few post-game recaps this season that ultimately resulted in a letdown performance. It definitely wouldn’t have been the first time Toronto came up lame against an inferior opponent, either.
But as it turns out, I wasn’t bad luck after all. So let’s break down the victory. Ugliness and all.
Quarters of Chaos
This game was surely overshadowed by the DeMarre Carroll news released earlier in the day that announced he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. With everyone in a fury to come to grips with the fallout, the focus eventually shifted to the opportunities presented to the ones charged with picking up most of DMC’s slack. Specifically speaking of James Johnson and Terrence Ross.
With the way Wednesday night unfolded, however, definitive answers were nowhere to be found. It reminded me of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens: A blowout on the surface with lazy plot development throughout.
If any of the two came close to rising to the occasion, JJ gets the nod. He showed his versatility, as he stifled Joe Johnson on the defensive end while attacking the rim and finishing a few impressive drives the other way. An area Carroll doesn’t exactly excel in. His offensive chances were slim the rest of the way, but his across the board contributions were backed up by five boards, two blocks and a crisp +19 in 26 minutes.
With Carroll on the shelf, odds are a different candidate to become the unsung hero will emerge out of the two depending on the matchup. And with Patterson beginning to regain some of his lost form, you can throw him into the mix as well. Whoever shows up on defense will dictate the outcome.
Though on this night, that award sits squarely on Jonas Valanciunas’ shoulders.
How Lopez bit on his pump fake so far from the basket will forever remain a mystery, but the moral of the story is JV finished with authority. The very theme of his evening. His efficiency was outstanding: 62 percent from the field, 6-for-6 from the line, along with a +20 rating.
Valanciunas’ footwork also looked as fluid as it ever has. Whether it was on put-backs, rebound positioning or even his touch from outside, he was passing the majority of eye tests. He may never resolve his awkward phase, but it was a promising display nonetheless. And despite Lopez lighting up the boxscore, JV did a serviceable job on defense.
For this level of play to progress it largely depends on the trust issue Casey has when playing him in lineups that don’t fit him on paper. A dangerous proposition for the here and now but, why not experiment when you have the chance.
I can’t, however, let this team’s faults go unnoticed. The dark side consisted of:
- 9 turnovers with 8 minutes still to go in the 2nd quarter (17 total).
- A 3-for-18 first-half stretch filled with an out of control fast break and no regard for potential rebounders being in place.
- Forcing the issue from downtown, finishing up 4-for-22, at an 18% clip (I realize you have to keep trying but not at the expense of continuously allowing the other team to get back in the game).
- With the Raps up 14 entering the 4th quarter, how many of you were screaming at your television demanding Lowry and DeRozan take a seat? Well, K-Low stayed on the floor with DeMar joining him soon after. Then they both proceeded to remain in the game while up 16 with 10 minutes to go AND while up 14 with four minutes to go. I can understand Casey having minimal faith in his secondary options but the margin was wide enough and perfectly set up to get your leaders some much-needed rest. He needs to explain himself.
But of course, a 17-point win doesn’t happen without a team saving face at some point. And like clockwork, Lowry and DeRozan are right in the middle of it. How encouraging is it to see DeRozan continue his stretch of setting up teammates amidst this game’s chaos. The DeMar of old would have quickly turned this game into an episode of selfish possessions. The DeMar of today is drawing defenses and distributing the ball if there’s a better opportunity.
Lowry deserves kudos as well. While he continues to be hit-and-miss shooting wise, the beauty of K-Low’s game is he can contribute in so many other areas. And a bit of old-school Lowry came out last night. Mixing it up underneath the rim resulted in not only a few of his five steals (ones that negated a few easy buckets as well) but when your Point Guard rivals your starting Center on the boards (8-11), you know he’s making a difference.
As for Cojo, he might be ready to officially creep out of his funk. One that has seen his minutes decrease substantially on more than a few occasions. With a run of slight improvement over each of his last few games mixed with his best defense and drives to rim since, it’s time. I hope.
The countdown to London begins…