It was a strange seven days for the Toronto Raptors—the early-week lows of losing to the Bucks (ending their six-game winning streak) and the Nets were supplanted by two thrilling victories over the Western Conference-contending Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. The Raptors were offensively brilliant on Friday against Chris Paul and company, but showed some real defensive grit, determination and no small amount of skill in defeating the Spurs on Sunday. A signature victory.
It’s been a busy last couple of weeks for the Raptors—eight games in 14 days, to be exact —but this week the schedule really eases up as the league transitions into the All-Star break. The Raptors play just one game this week against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, and then the team gets a well-deserved nine-day break.
Milwaukee Bucks 82 Raptors 75
The Raptors fell to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night in a game that you’d probably want to avoid forever if you’re a fan of free-flowing, offensive basketball. The Raptors shot a putrid 31 per cent from the floor and turned the ball over 15 times in the loss. The Bucks, to their credit, have made a name for themselves this season on defence—their size and length unhinged the Raptors all night long—but for Dwane Casey’s team, a grueling stretch with five games in seven nights appeared to have finally caught up with them. Casey didn’t make excuses post-game, however. “That was a stinker. We didn’t have any energy for whatever reason,” he said.
Khris Middleton did most of the damage for the short-handed Bucks, pouring in 25 points (they were depleted even further when O.J. Mayo was ejected for an impolite exchange with the refs), while no single player could get anything going for the Raptors. After being held at arm’s length for most of the night, the Raptors, driven by their bench unit, did manage to cut the deficit to a single point with two minutes left in the fourth (the Bucks’ offence completely dried up late on). Jared Dudley sealed the game with a dagger three-pointer.
Brooklyn Nets 109 Raptors 93
On Wednesday night the Raptors dropped their first game of the season to an Atlantic Division foe, and it was two former Raptors that did most of the damage. The backcourt of Jarrett Jack (the same Jarrett Jack who burned the Raptors the previous week) and Alan Anderson combined to score 46 points against their former team, as the Nets shot close to 50 per cent from the floor in a blowout at the ACC. Terrence Ross had his best offensive game in quite some time, scoring 23 points and going 5-of-11 from three-point range, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for his team’s leaky defence.
The Nets are a much-improved team in recent weeks, but at home, against a team well under .500, this was a game that the Raptors really should have won. Kyle Lowry said as much, telling ESPN after the game that “there’s a sense of frustration because we’re losing games that we know we’re capable of winning.” To Lowry’s credit, the Raptors were right in the game until the final quarter (a quarter in which the Raptors usually excel), and trailing by only four points. But the Nets went on a 25-10 run to blow the game open and send the Raptors tumbling to defeat.
Los Angeles Clippers 107 Raptors 123
The Raptors bounced back from disappointing defeats against the Bucks and Nets to crush the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers (sweeping the season series) on an incredible Friday night at the ACC. DeMar DeRozan (who had a near triple-double) and Kyle Lowry combined to score 45 points, while the Raptors’ bench (more on them in a bit) absolutely obliterated the Clippers’ second unit, giving the team a desperately needed shot in the arm after a disastrous opening.
On that disastrous Raptors start: The game was nationally televised by ESPN in the States, so it was bumped up from its original 7:30pm start time to 7:00. The Raptors began proceedings like they hadn’t been informed of the time change. The Clippers, fresh off a humiliating defeat to the Cavaliers the previous night, scored at will in the opening quarter and led 30-10 at one point. The Raptors looked stunned. That was, until the introduction of the bench unit.
Patrick Patterson got things going with some key rebounds and hustle plays, but James Johnson, who has been the odd-man-out in recent weeks (out of the rotation for injury and minutes allocation reasons) was incredible. Johnson, playing as a small-ball 4, brought instant energy at both ends—he went 7-of-7 from the field and did a fantastic job defending Blake Griffin. Regarding his ability to slot so seamlessly back into the rotation, Johnson told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat that “you work on your game, you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” His play was the catalyst for everything that followed. Once the Raptors’ second unit turned things around, the starters got back into their groove. The Raptors scored 38 points in the second and third quarters and the Clippers had no answer.
San Antonio Spurs 82 Raptors 87
The Raptors finished out the week on a major high, putting in one of their best performances of the season—and certainly their best defensive performance—to overcome the defending NBA champions at a raucous Air Canada Centre. It was their first win over the Spurs in five years. “Our guys came in and made tough plays, physical plays with force on both ends of the floor,” Dwane Casey said in his post-game press conference. “That’s the way you have to play to beat a championship team like that.”
James Johnson, inserted into the starting lineup in place of Greivis Vasquez, was huge again (how did he ever fall out of the rotation?), leading the team with 20 points, including the biggest shot of the game. It was defensively, however, where the Raptors really excelled. They held the offensive savants of San Antonio to just 33 per cent from the floor and practically suffocated them in the third quarter, holding Gregg Popovich’s team to 12 points on 5-of-23 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas was a beast defending the post, giving Tim Duncan problems all night. The Lithuanian big man had a season-high 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Despite the Raptors’ playoff-like intensity, the Spurs, being as good as they are, still managed to stay in the game down the stretch. Twenty offensive rebounds and, untimely, turnovers from the Raptors prevented Dwane Casey’s team from pulling away. In fact, with just over two minutes remaining a Marco Belinelli three put the Spurs up, 80-77. James Johnson and Amir Johnson made crucial buckets alongside a Tony Parker layup to cut the deficit to a single point before a James Johnson three-pointer (he doesn’t make many of those) off a Kyle Lowry pass put the Raptors up by two. After another Spurs miss, Johnson grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, extending his team’s lead to three points from the line. On the next play Tim Duncan inexplicably threw the ball away on an inbounds pass and DeMar DeRozan iced the game from the line. Gregg Popovich’s 1,000th career win will have to wait.
Around the League
The Sacramento Kings in talks with George Karl
The Sacramento Kings and their impatient new owner, Vivek Ranadive, are reportedly looking to hire veteran coach George Karl. The news comes just a couple months after the organization had said that Ty Corbin, the team’s current head coach, was going to get the chance to finish the season as the man in charge.
Of course, former Jazz head coach Corbin currently owes his position to that fact that the Kings bizarrely fired Mike Malone just one month into the season. The Kings, under Malone, were just three games under .500, but they’ve been in free-fall since. Karl is undoubtedly a big name (he’s won over 1,000 NBA games) and would bring some leadership to the locker room. Hoever, the fact that Sacramento is seeking to make another change at this stage of the season underscores the serious dysfunction that exists in the team’s front office.
Hawks top the Warriors on Friday night
The NBA’s top two teams faced off on Friday night, with the Atlanta Hawks overcoming the Golden State Warriors 124-116. Both teams have been the pick of their respective conferences this season and their first matchup of the year (a possible NBA Finals preview, perhaps?) did not disappoint. Both teams shot the ball well and the 85 made field goals of the night came off of 59 assists—a testament to the unselfish, ball-moving philosophy that both teams have exhibited all year. The big difference between the teams in this game, however, was Atlanta’s red-hot shooting from beyond the arc. The Hawks went a blistering 15-of-27 from three-point range in the victory.
Three-Point Contest participants announced
The Dunk Contest may generate all the headlines from Saturday night’s All-Star festivities, but the Three-Point Contest is considered by many to be the most consistently entertaining event. And this year, the lineup is absolutely loaded.
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