The schedule can sometimes do some funny things. The Raptors currently on one of their worst losing streaks in recent years, a night after playing the San Antonio Spurs at home, flew into Memphis to play a very tough Grizzlies team the very next day for a one game road trip. This tough stretch of the schedule coincided with the Raptors being without their main scorer DeMar DeRozan, who was out for a second game with an ankle injury. Sophomore Norman Powell got the start in place of DeRozan, and Patrick Patterson got the starting power forward spot, which has been a revolving door the past few weeks with Coach Casey choosing the starter based on the matchup.
I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day watching some of these Raptors games recently. The losing streak has become pretty predictable, a slow start, met with an opposing player completely lighting up the Raptors poor defensive efforts. This game had a lot of the similar qualities to some of those other losses, but the Raptors continued to fight hard in this game, even though they eventually fell short again.
The Raptors would again come out gates really slow in the first quarter, going down by ten points early on. Most of the damage came from Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol, who scored sixteen points in the first six minutes of the first quarter. The Raptors wouldn’t wait long to get back into this game, a strong defensive effort, mixed in with some very encouraging ball movement gave the Raptors a slim lead heading into halftime.
The Raptors showed glimpses of some solid defensive play, but that would fade away at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. In that time they would also struggle to get anything executed offensively. The crunch time unit truly missed DeRozan during this period, just finding someone to create some semblance of an offensive possession in the dying seconds of the shot clock was apparent. These late in the shot clock moments is where DeRozan thrives, often drawing fouls on his stealthy pump fakes. Shooting 57.9% from the free throw line as a team is rare territory for the Raptors, and having DeRozan getting to the line shooting close to nine attempts per game allows for the Raptors to slow the game down a bit offensively.
Lowry was excellent again tonight, scoring 29 points, on 11 of 21 shooting from the field, and 4 of 10 from three. In the final minutes of the game, Lowry tried putting the team on his back but unfortunately they came up short. The Raptors would lose this one on the final possession of the game on a heavily contested Lowry three point attempt. I can read all of your On/Off numbers Tweets showing that the Raptors are a better team when DeRozan is off the floor, but in these tough close games the Raptors need another reliable scorer that they can turn to other than Lowry. The Grizzlies expected Lowry getting the ball on every possession down the stretch, even putting defensive stopper Tony Allen on him to slow him down just a bit.
It would be a shock if Gasol wasn’t named an All-Star later today, he continues to be one of my favorite player to watch in the entire league. His basketball IQ is off the charts (especially on the defensive end), he has every tool in his arsenal when working down low in the post, he is one of the greatest passing centers I have ever seen, and a new addition of a three point shot to his game this season has added yet another dimension to his already jaw dropping offensive game. Before this season, Gasol had attempted 66 three pointers, up from 2008 to last season. This season through 45 games, he has attempted 162 threes, and shooting them at an efficient 38%.
Gasol couldn’t be contained by anyone on the Raptors. Scoring a career high 42 points, on 14 of 25 shooting from the field, an astonishing 5 of 10 from three, and he only missed one free throw in 10 attempts. There have been a few games on this losing streak where an opposing player just can’t be stopped. Both Eric Bledsoe and Gasol are good players, both of them having career scoring nights against the Raptors is both unfortunate, and a testament to how much the Raptors defense has been struggling recently.
Although this is another loss in the record books, this loss wasn’t as ugly as some previous games. Patrick Patterson is still coming back from injury playing himself into form, the coaching staff is still figuring out where Jared Sullinger fits into the rotation, and while you’d hope Terrence Ross would step up offensively with DeRozan out, he continues to be in a scoring slump. Norman Powell has been impressive stepping up into a new role, but his game isn’t quite there yet to move into a primary scoring/ball handling role. The Raptors are a much weaker team without DeRozan, the schedule is tough, and Gasol was unstoppable, all these may seem like excuses, but with a short rotation, injuries, and general fatigue, can you expect 48 minutes of great basketball?
The All-Star break could not come any sooner, and it’s unfortunate this five game losing streak has come at a time where the Cavs have lost six of their last eight games. With DeRozan most likely coming back for Friday’s game against the Bucks, hopefully the small strides we saw in this game can take yet another step forward to getting this team back on track.
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