It all looked so promising early on. Responding to a lethargic performance in Houston that disappointed head coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors came out aggressive and intense against New Orleans. The defence was superb particularly from Kyle Lowry, James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and nobody could stop Valanciunas inside. But that all faded and eventually, “they played harder than us,” Lowry said of the Pelicans. That’s two out of the past three games that an opponent “threw a bigger punch” than the Raptors and seemed to want it more. That’s a bit troubling.
- Also troubling: The lack of creativity on offence. The Raptors are a three-point shooting team and that’s not going to change, as Lowry also pointed out, but how can a team that runs such efficient out of timeout plays, be so brutal at the end of quarters and of games? The Lou Williams isolation plays don’t work, because there is no variety and opponents know what to expect. You might get a call on the road with your six foot guard driving into a 7-foot shot-blocker once or twice a season. It’s just a bad decision by Lowry, the success rate is tiny. Even Casey said the team wasn’t running the plays and was just trying to “take an opportunity to do something different.” Again, troubling. DeMar DeRozan’s 22-foot fadeaways? Also troubling. DeRozan has been extremely effective when he moves the ball, doesn’t force his shots and takes what the defence is giving him. That’s the all-star version of DeRozan. We have only seen it sporadically. Perhaps it is patience that Lowry and DeRozan lack? Instead of forcing, if they’d just slow it down and make better decisions (like keeping Valanciunas involved) the Raptors would be a lot more threatening and it would be far easier to see them as a legitimate contender to make the Eastern Conference Finals or at least win a round and nearly take another. Right now, that seems like wishful thinking. Masai Ujiri gets this. It’s why he didn’t make a small move and it is why huge changes are coming the next two summers as he puts his stamp on a team that is still heavily-dominated by Bryan Colangelo acquisitions.
- Lou Williams was badly missed in Houston and Patrick Patterson was badly missed in this one. The team has grown used to closing games with Patterson on the floor and obviously couldn’t, due to his knee injury. Patterson is one of the three best pick-and-roll defenders on the team and also has a habit of hitting big shots for the club. If he had been healthy, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
- The play of Terrence Ross is still a gigantic concern. They let him play the entire second quarter and Ross only scored once on four tries, didn’t grab a rebound and like usual, didn’t get to the line. He did make at least one big shot though. All they can do is be patient in the off-season, as nobody will trade anything of value for him at this point with his value cratered.
- The coaching staff has been great all season and I’ve been the first to point it out and don’t want to seem like I’m piling on today, but why play the starters so much in the third? Three of them played the whole frame, DeRozan only a minute and a half less. Of course they were going to be tired in the fourth with Patterson sidelined. Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough should have battled against the plodding Omer Asik, allowing Amir Johnson or Valanciunas to get some rest to be fresh for the fourth (part of the reason Valanciunas didn’t play during the decisive final minutes was because the team said he didn’t have enough in the tank …). The team was up 11 when DeRozan split a pair of free throws half-way through the third, that was the perfect time to give the bigs and Lowry a break (or even up eight with three minutes left). Give the Pelicans full marks for coming back, but part of it was due to Toronto’s fatigue.
- The Raptors are adamant that James Johnson is not an infallible one-on-one defender – he makes a lot of mistakes, he just covers up for them extremely quickly – and Tyreke Evans still had his way with him, but still believe Johnson on Evans would have made more sense than Greivis Vasquez. Evans likely still blows by Johnson, but Johnson would have made him work harder and perhaps thrown him off a bit. Still, why don’t players back up off of Evans? He is a well below average shooter and a fantastic driver. Give him more room and dare him to shoot over you.
- Amir Johnson got annihilated down low, mainly by Alexis Ajinca. The Pelicans shot 10-for-13 against him at the rim, just 4-for-9 against Valanciunas.