It’s safe to say opinions are like you-know-what when it comes to the Raps’ recent downward spiral. But since failing to form a consensus is an annual tradition among Raptors fans, which one of the following best describes your state of mind coming into Tuesday night? (At least when the events of the past week left you searching for a distraction, that is):
1. Activate panic mode.
2. Panic mode? Activate the damn Trade Machine already.
3. My optimism is fading but I still choose to treat this situation as a blip on the radar.
4. The rub lies somewhere in between.
Personally, I’m a combination of #2 & #4 with
a lot a little bit of #1 mixed in.
And well, before I get into what Tuesday had in store, here’s another opinion to add to the list: Whichever camp you reside in, there is a common ground that fits all of the above:
I’ll admit, with so many random variables involved, it’s a reach to expect a team to fully capitalize on an opportunity when it presents itself. Like anything else, I guess it’s all about timing.
But with Cleveland reeling at the same time, and the need for home court advantage throughout the playoffs to have any chance of beating the Cavs still very much in play, witnessing this team fall asleep at the wheel at such an opportune time was/is rather deflating. Not to mention allowing teams (Boston, Atlanta and Washington) that once lurked in the background to essentially even the playing field. Failing to climb the standings is one thing, but losing your grip on the home court advantage you already had is like finding out a White Men Can’t Jump remake is in the works.
PS: I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that I’ll be remaking Season 3 of The Wire. Blake Griffin has signed on to play the role of Stringer Bell.
However, perhaps I’m not looking at this the right way — cause a silver lining does exist. With Masai’s penchant for keeping the status quo, an excessive amount of losing in a short period of time could turn out to be what finally pushes the trade envelope. A move that’s needed yet ultimately might never be made if this team’s flaws continued to be covered up.
Nevertheless, at least the anticipation level of Wednesday’s matchup with the Celtics is once again through the roof!
As for last night, well, after such a letdown in Orlando, all eyes were on how the Raps would respond to their own shortcomings. An all-too-familiar sight these days:
Like clockwork, issues were raised off the bat. Not only was DeMar DeRozan ruled out (ankle swelling) for Tuesday, but word has it that he’ll also miss tonight’s clash vs. the Celtics. We’ve learned never to take injury timelines as gospel so fingers crossed that that’s just an overly cautious diagnosis.
Immediately, the focus then shifted to the added physical strain about to be placed on Kyle Lowry’s shoulders. On the other hand, it also meant Norman Powell would once again be thrust into the spotlight. He’s been lost in limited minutes yet consistently impressive when given the chance to hold down the fort. More on them in a bit.
First, even though at this point it’s a broken record, the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality of this team can’t go unmentioned:
Quarter by quarter, we really never know what we’re going to get. But the Raps could solve a lot of their problems if they just put a stop to their seemingly disinterested slow starts — playing catch-up on a nightly basis is just playing with fire. Whether it was not getting back in transition, giving too much of a cushion that gave up dribble penetration with ease or losing 3-point shooters in the halfcourt set, points came way too easy for New Orleans early on.
Speaking of behind the arc, of the 11 treys made by the combined forces E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday and Buddy Hield, very few were of the highly contested variety — an overall 65 percent clip throughout the night.
That doesn’t bode well for the killer combo of Boston ranking 3rd in 3-pointers made per game and 7th in percentage.
It’s also quite telling that even though the Raps held the Pelicans scoreless over a 4-minute stretch in the first quarter, New Orleans still entered halftime ahead by a whopping 14. That’s not an insurmountable lead in today’s NBA, but when Anthony Davis is being held in check without constant double-teams or coaxing him into early foul trouble, a team like the Raps should be smelling blood in the water.
The first half wasn’t without its high points, though. In particular, I’m referring to Norman Powell. Norm! was everywhere. Attacking the rim, creating for others, helping out on the glass and closing out on the perimeter.
Honorable mention goes out to Valanciunas and Bebe. There’s only so much he could accomplish in a mismatch on paper, but Jonas didn’t back down from the Unibrow. He competed all night long despite acquiring fouls in bunches and Casey rewarded him with important minutes down the stretch.
As for Bebe, he continued to make noise despite fluctuating playing time. His touch on put-backs and in one-on-one situations has come a long way in a short amount of time. His two timely blocks and eight helpful rebounds tonight shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The heart of the story, though, is just how much better the Raps performed in the second half. Whether it was Casey making an inspiring halftime speech, the effort level of a select few rubbing off, or, simply the Raps putting a stop to their madness by getting out of their own way, the difference was staggering.
All of a sudden defensive assignments were taken seriously, double-teams served their purpose, passing lanes were being disrupted and shots were falling. I can do without the usual “this is a make or miss league” reasoning, as there’s so much more to it than that, at least I still have faith there is. But hey, that offensive philosophy rang out loud last night.
But here’s a few other highlights that deserve to stand out. And Norm pops up yet again. Oh, he wasn’t done:
1. The cross-body, and THUNDEROUS DUNK over AD after a one-on-one hesitation move sent Davis into survival mode.
2. Shortly after that slam, Powell had the ball at the top of the arc. He then proceeded to give it up to Lowry. Lowry quickly gave it right back. Powell then showed he’s still tentative to take charge by once again giving it up, but quicker than the first time, Lowry (and I’ll paraphrase his body language) seemingly said: “This is your show kid, take him” and sent it right back again with some added zip. The him in this instance was once again Anthony Davis, and Powell once again broke him down all the way to rim with a slick finish.
3. Powell is a tough and crafty defender, and when he picked Holiday’s pocket at halfcourt on his way to saying hello to a fast break jam, I’m sure I wasn’t the only who experienced the added chills of those Game 7-vs-Indiana flashbacks.
4. As long as we’re discussing defense, this game might not have even seen overtime if Powell wasn’t so committed to checking Holiday as regulation winded down.
Powell (who even threw in a few jumpers) notched 12 points in the 3rd quarter. But more importantly, the Raps turned a 14-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead entering the 4th.
Enter Kyle Lowry. If you missed it, I’ll save you the suspense so you can celebrate KLOE draining the game-winning step back jumper in OT — from his trusty left side of the court, of course. One would have thought that with the Raps failing to set a proper pick to begin with, and the fact that Lowry’s move has been seen numerous times before (not to mention with DeRozan out of the equation), New Orleans would have been better prepared. But, let’s not try to break down a defensive fail and bask in thought that Lowry would have made that shot regardless. And why not, he’s been doing it all year. Ok, minus a few no-shows during the losing streak. Hey, we’re supposed to be mad still, right?
Overall, Lowry hit 6 triples. The most notable of which were the two that came in overtime where the moment absolutely called for him to make something happen. But in a testament to just how far he’s come (especially after appearing sluggish early on coupled with getting the worst of a few physical run-ins and Cory Joseph reverting back to his inconsistent self), Lowry managed to get everyone involved (10 dimes) while still letting his offense dictate the action when needed.
Wait, almost forgot, a second round of honorable mentions needs to go out to Patman. His across the board contributions of 10 points, two threes, seven boards, one block, a +21 rating and 50 percent shooting deserves a salute. But even more so, as per usual, what needs to recognized is just how much stability he offers the Raps’ defensive sets. If you think the overall defense has been abysmal of late (and you’d be right), just think how much more at risk this squad would be without Patterson’s versatility.
So, with all of that said, which of the following best describes your mindset as tonight approaches:
1. One half of the Raps resembling their true selves isn’t enough to erase the frustration of recent weeks. With Boston on deck, I choose to prepare for the worst.
2. Lowry played 45 minutes yesterday, his PT seriously needs to be monitored tonight. But if Cojo doesn’t show up again, we’ll have no choice: It’s the Celtics, a message needs to be sent.
3. I mean, six NBA Finals in six years: I don’t think LeBron’s desire to compete can be questioned. However, this is different than Barkley’s analytics rant, his comments on James did have plenty truth attached.
4. I’ll cheer for the underdog over a city that’s been been spoiled with championships in recent years any day. So, the Falcons to beat the spread, the over, Tevin Coleman to score the first touchdown and the national anthem to go longer that 2:09. Who ya got?