Coming into last night, the Raptors were well…quite desperate for a victory. After encouraging wins over Utah and Portland to start their 6-game road trip, the Raptors went on to lose two straight to the Warriors and Suns. Obviously, the loss to Phoenix was the only “disappointing” one of the two losses, but Dwane Casey and company are still trying to clean up some recurring bad habits, such as weak defensive rebounding, lack of discipline on close-outs, and a myriad of other defensive issues which have significantly held the Raptors back in spite of their early-season offensive prowess.
So the Raptors landed in LA to face a Lakers squad, who coming into the night, had lost 14 of their previous 16 contests. After starting the season with a surprising 10-10 record, the Lakers have made a steep regression toward where most NBA analysts predicted they might be around this time of year – just above the basement in the Western Conference, one year closer to realizing the fruits of their rebuilding labour. And while encouraging play from many of their young pieces have kept many Lakers fans optimistic, the early season thus far has been a rocky road to say the least. So for Toronto, in a way, this was just what the doctor ordered.
The Raptors’ historically supreme offense has been a sub-par phenomenon over the past 3 games, as Toronto has had an offensive rating of just 98.3 (28th in the league), as compared to their season rating of 113.5 (first in the league). So, while the “we can score, it’ll be fine on offense” argument has generally held true, one of the key things I wanted to see coming into tonight, was whether the Raptors could bounce back offensively. Toronto’s defense has also been a question mark for some time now, and without the services of one of their most versatile and capable defenders in Patrick Patterson, the Raptors once again had to battle through.
Early on, the Lakers’ hot shooting, gritty offensive rebounding and active defense wreaked havoc for the Raptors, who showed signs of their recent sluggish ways. Turnovers were once again an issue for Toronto, who had 16 on the night, adding fuel to the Laker fire which capitalized with streaky three-point shooting from Nick Young and DeAngelo Russell who combined for 13/21 from beyond the arc. But with a phenomenal backcourt performance once again for Lowry and DeRozan (who scored 30+ each for the first time this season and a combined 72), and Lowry’s assassin-like mentality in the fourth quarter, the Raptors were simply too much for the young Lakers squad. Toronto also got solid contributions from Jonas Valanciunas, who earned a double-double with 14 and 10, as well as Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross who each added a solid and timely scoring punch off the bench. Toronto’s win sealed a second straight season sweep of the Lakers.
By the numbers
DeMar DeRozan started the game hot going 3/4 with a quick 8 points in the first 5 minutes of the contest. But the Lakers rode Nick Young’s early hot shooting, as he went 3/3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone (4/4 for LA overall). The Raptors did their part in helping the Lakers, coughing up the ball 4 times in just the game’s first 5 minutes, leading to a quick 9 LA points. To close out the quarter, LA’s bench shredded Toronto’s defense in the final 2 minutes with 3 straight offensive rebounds and scores to end the quarter 33-27 over Toronto.
Toronto got even sloppier in the second getting down to LA 42-30 at one point, before Toronto began to claw back mid-quarter fueled by a Lowry foul on a 3 point attempt, and a breakaway layup off of an LA turnover. The Raptors got as close as 2 with just over 5 minutes left in the second quarter at 46-44, and closed out a 31-24 quarter to earn a 1 point lead by halftime. While the offense (50% from the field) wasn’t the problem at all for the Raptors (Lowry and DeRozan combined for 36 at the end of 2), the defense was letting Toronto down big time. The Raptors were outrebounded 27-21 by halftime, and were losing the offensive rebounding battle 9-2. The halftime pep talk from Dwane Casey would be once again put to the test.
The Raptors started the third quarter 3/3, but Nick Young’s flurry of quick baskets once again neutralized the Raptors early on in the second half. Young went on to go 6 of his first 7 from 3-point range, and 7/11 overall to put the Lakers up 69-64 to start the first 5 minutes of the third quarter. Pascal Siakam showed some difficulty in getting out to Nick Young, losing him on a few screens, and loose balls off of offensive rebounds. But with the scoring of DeRozan who dominated LA in the third quarter for 13 points, the Raptors were able to still win the quarter 27-26.
The Raptors began the fourth quarter with a Ross three pointer, and back-to-back scores on a jumper and layup from Cory Joseph, which extended the Raptor lead to 9. The hot shooting of Lowry (3 threes, including a 4-point play) catapulted Toronto to a 16 point lead, but the Lakers made quick work of the deficit going on a crazy run in the game’s final 7 minutes, bringing the game as close as 6 points with just under 3 minutes to go. But the Raptors refused to let this one go, thanks to Lowry and Ross who hit huge shots down the stretch to close it out (Lowry led all scorers in the game with his 41 points, including 20 in the final quarter). K-Low’s fourth quarter performance was simply magical, reminiscent of his performance in Salt Lake City some days ago. To go with his 41, Lowry dished out a game-high 7 assists, and grabbed 9 boards as well. All said and done, in this make-or-miss league that we like to over-analyze at times, the biggest shots and plays made down the stretch from your best players usually make the difference. And for the Raptors, it was simply a matter of “Lowry time” which put Toronto over the edge.
It doesn’t get any easier for Toronto however, as they head to San Antonio to close out what has been an exhausting 6-game road trip on Tuesday night. The Spurs, in many ways like the Raptors, have once again quietly carved up the second seed in their Conference behind strong team play and a top 5 offense AND defense. With Toronto’s defense still struggling to find itself and the offense sputtering of late, the Raptors will need to find their form against the MVP-calibre Kawhi Leonard and company, who are 11-4 at home and will be looking to bounce back from their tough OT loss to Atlanta last night.
Tip time on Tuesday is 8:30 pm EST.