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Disappointment in the Desert: Raptors Come Up Lame vs. Phoenix


A letdown was highly avoidable, but the Raptors let their past (and present) haunt them in Phoenix.

Raptors 91, Suns 99 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Following Wednesday’s late-night loss to Golden State, Raptors fans (as always) gave the term “season splits” a whole new meaning:

Camp A was busy lamenting over the fact that the Raps now sit a combined 0-5 against Golden State and Cleveland (AKA: The best the league has to offer). Which then led to pushing this season’s accomplishments to the side in favour of a mindset that this year will ultimately become a bust because of those struggles.

Camp B was encouraged that the Raps’ resiliency once again made an appearance. Especially after such an egregious beginning as the Raps dug themselves a 42-17 hole. I get that this franchise now exists above the moral-victory level, but there’s plenty to be said about arguably outplaying the Warriors the rest of the way. Not to mention it taking place on Oracle soil.

*Camp B+: If you were more inclined to partake in the reaction of Camp B, odds are you took the time to appreciate DeMar DeRozan surpassing Chris Bosh to become this organization’s all-time leading scorer that much more:

  • By the way: How fitting was it that the bucket putting him ahead was a midrange jumper? How fitting was it that it came in the midst of a Raps’ comeback attempt? How fitting was it that it took place on the road in a matchup where the Raps were looking to silence their critics?
  • On the other hand: Was it fitting that shortly after his historical jumper (and the Raps cutting the lead to five) the Warriors proceeded to reel off a 14-2 run to end the half? Were the Basketball Gods working in not-so mysterious ways?
  • Nah…We’ve all been at this way too long to place any negative karma on such a positive achievement. Besides, even with his lingering (but improving) defensive issues, DeRozan’s annual progress deserves a salute even without an official accolade to put on his resume.

As for Thursday night:

Well, nowadays, a matchup with Phoenix usually doesn’t scream “ratings.” And when you mix the fatigue factor (both squads were coming off taxing efforts the previous night) with the enormous contrast between the Suns and Golden State, it’s safe to assume George Karl wasn’t frantically speed-dialing his publisher to add an extra chapter to “Furious George.”

But, I get it. This is the time of year where the majority only devotes what little time they have to a handful of select and “noteworthy” games. Perhaps you got caught up brainstorming where to go on Saturday night instead (Suggestion: Skip the regret of picking an overcrowded bar and go with the House Party option.) Hell, considering the Raps and Suns combined for just 26 points with a minute left in the opening quarter, switching over to AMC’s Breaking Bad marathon may have been your best bet.

However, I will defend how much “noteworthy” potential this matchup had coming in. Netflix had you covered, anyways.

Even though the fear/expectation of a letdown against an inferior opponent has become (for the most part) a thing of the past, old habits aren’t completely out of the picture just yet. Although, they can come in multiple forms:

  • A) Overlooking the opposition.
  • B) Simply from a physical capability standpoint.
  • C) In certain instances, there can be a difference between in-game resiliency and what goes on after the fact. Meaning: the mental hurdle of continuously coming up short against the league’s top tier could very well throw everything out of whack in the short-term, especially on the very next night.

What did we end up getting? … D) All of the above.

I usually don’t give too much credit to the fatigue factor. Extended road trips are part of the gig. But when disinterested body language transforms into an obvious lack of stamina, there’s no choice but to hold that caveat over the team’s entire overall performance. Three games in four nights would have an effect on any squad.

Still, does that mean a free pass should be given out? Absolutely not.

Starting out flat is understandable. We’re used to that by now. But there really is no excuse for it to last for the duration. And what differed from Wednesday night (you’re forced to break out your Wild West arsenal against Golden State) is that Jonas Valanciunas didn’t exactly deserve the silent treatment after a bit of early success. Overall, he finished with a near double-double (2-4 FG, 4-4 FT, 10 Reb) in just 19 minutes of action. Yes, his recent lack of touch around the rim continued, and although he can set a mean screen, his ability to roll off and become a visible/viable target — one that can be hit with a clean pass in stride — left plenty to be desired. Still, with that saidthe game flow supported a much longer leash.

Hasn’t the “this is a make or miss league” cliche run its course? Collectively, the Raps’ shot 7 for 27 from deep (26%). And when you takeaway Jonas’ limited chances, along with the combined efforts of Lowry, DeRozan and Joseph shooting 49 percent from the field, the rest of the troops only managed to register a 25% clip (7 for 28 with only 4 FT attempts between six players).

I get the mobility argument, and Bebe did provide a few shot-changing possessions. But the Raps are much more than a cliche — electing to stay with their “shoot ourselves back in the game” philosophy when it eventually kept making things worse is largely on Casey. With Patterson leaving the game just before halftime due to a sprained knee (FINGERS CROSSED), an offensive threat down low could have stabilized the start of their downfall. Not to mention an option to match the Suns’ physicality on screens and critical rebounding situations that could have trumped Bebe’s usual reach while out of position.

And, when you combine Carroll being on an unofficial minutes restriction in his first back-to-back of the season (FINGERS CROSSED) with Pascal Siakam being treated as an afterthought by the Suns defense (minus Alex Len’s poster-worthy rejection), completely ignoring what an offense-defense back and forth between JV and Bebe could have provided, especially when the Raps started to close the gap in the 4th, should be viewed as an oversight. JV did seem to get a bit banged up himself, so this complaint does comes with an asterisk until more info is available, but to the public eye test it didn’t seem like a major issue.

Would one of the most pivotal moments in the game, where Bebe was caught on a switch and left to fend for himself while trying to check Devin Booker 1-on-1, played out any different with JV in his place? You know, the one with 2:40 left in the 4th quarter and Booker’s original three attempt missed but Tyson Chandler only had to contend with Ross and Lowry to tap out the rebound for a second chance opportunity. Which, of course, after a failed switch back ensued, Booker proceeded to beat Bebe off the dribble on his way to a three-point play.

Well, let’s just say the defensive alignment likely wouldn’t have put JV in that situation. That’s nitpicking, sure, but nitpicking doesn’t mean it’s not true.

On the flip side, if I’m willing to sing the Raps’ 3-quarter praises vs. the Warriors, I should be willing to forgive their lack of getting back in transition, sagging off shooters and…wait, this could take a while:

  1. Their lack of getting back in transition.
  2. Sagging off shooters (and that’s playing nice).
  3. The fact that the players didn’t help Casey out by changing the tempo of the game.
  4. For not registering their third assist until just over 8 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.
  5. You can only attempt to contain Golden State’s warp-speed attack, but allowing such easy access to the Suns? Bledsoe and Booker never seen so much daylight. It’s pushing it, but sure, I’ll live and let live considering the factors involved.

If you’re looking for a few more pivotal turning points, here’s a few scenes:

  • 4th quarter, 3:10 left on the clock, and the Raps have clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit. Which then sat at just 5 points. Lowry, who looked to be stretching his second-wind since the first half, intelligently draws an Eric Bledsoe offensive charge driving to the rim.
  • As the Raps proceeded the other way, Lowry gets whistled for a “moving screen” on P.J. Tucker. It was a highly questionable call but since the Raps got away with a few earlier on, I won’t harp on it. Though I will say that critical moments down the stretch need to be treated as such.
  • At this point (2:00 left), with the help of T.O. continuing to be content with their shooter’s mentality (DeRozan’s awareness has seen much better days), the Suns had extended their lead to eight. Lowry has Booker checked in the corner but slowly starts to sag off and allow Booker to jump to the wing with minimal communication to let anyone make a proper switch. Booker then proceeds to drain the dagger three with Ross’ late attempt to contest the shot a shadow of what he might have been able to accomplish.

Moral of the story: Even Lowry and DeRozan aren’t immune from this game’s call out.

Closing thoughts:

Despite their fall plummet from grace as a franchise, Phoenix is an interesting squad. Quality young pieces with plenty of trade chips to further a future movement. Problem is (currently): their a discombobulated unit with an every-man-for-themselves mentality. Sound familiar? On this night, the Raps went back in time and stooped to their former level, but as the new year approaches, let’s all make sure we raise a glass to just how far they have come since.

Happy New Year…Cheers!

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