Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Lowry

Raptors-Sixers PPG: Valanciunas shakes off distractions and has huge night; Lowry back with a bang; Magic number is one

- April 10th, 2014

We weren’t sure exactly how the night would go for Jonas Valanciunas after a couple of us informally shot the breeze with him before he got some shots up pre-game. His recent brush with the law obviously was on his mind. Would he be able to deal with the distractions? Would a young man who very much cares about being a good person and being liked by all let the situation get to him?

Apparently not. Valanciunas was on a mission from the get-go against the undersized Sixers, scoring three buckets in the paint in each of the first two quarters. He scored four more baskets in close in the third and shot 10-for-14 overall, adding a game-high 12 rebounds and a pair of blocks. It looked like he was taking some of the frustration built over the past few days out on the hapless Sixers. Valanciunas has shot 60% in the paint this season, but was particularly emphatic with his finishing on Wednesday.

- Valanciunas has shot a sizzling 69% from the field over his past 5 games, averaging 18.8 points per game and 61% over his past 20. It was a good sign that his offence didn’t slip even with the return of Kyle Lowry. He’d been getting more touches with Lowry sidelined. After the game he thanked the fans for their support as well as his teammates. On the court, he says his increased productivity stems from feeling more trust from the coaches, his teammates and “Getting the ball, doing what I’m supposed to do. Playing with energy, concentration.”

- Lowry on Valanciunas: “Yeah, I mean he’s a young kid. he’s 21. Everything’s a learning process for him, every single day, every single game, every single part of life. He’s going to grow up and like all of us in here we all grow up and make mistakes. He’s going to make mistakes but the thing about it is we’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves.”

- Lowry on why things are clicking for his big centre: “Much more aggressive, much more hungry. He wants the ball. Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball and I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball because he’s our big fella.”

- DeMar DeRozan added the game seems to be slowing down a bit for Valanciunas and he’s not rushing as much when he gets the ball.

- Lowry also said he was pleased to be back because, “when you miss games, you feel like you’re letting your team down.”

 -A terrible night for Knicks fans would mean a great night for their Raptor counterparts Friday. With New York still mathematically alive, Atlanta will surely be playing inspired basketball against Brooklyn on Friday. That’s good for the Raptors, because a Hawks win clinches the Atlantic Division for Toronto. Or, the Raptors could win in front of the home crowd to also clinch the division. A winning night for both New York City squads would pull the Knicks within a game of eighth place with only three to play and give Brooklyn faint hope of still winning the division.

- The defensive slippage is Toronto’s primary concern at the moment. Part of it is being in the “dog days” as Dwane Casey put it. Players are tired, some teams have nothing to lose and are unpredictable, Amir Johnson, the defensive anchor, has been injured … but part of it is a lack of concentration and desire. At this time of year, meaningless games can be a major challenge to get up for. Toronto has to find a way around it and get back on track. While still eighth in the league in defensive rating, Toronto’s slipped to 17th in the past 10 and past 5 games.

- Casey said the problems have been mostly on the perimeter. Without Johnson to clean up the mess after the initial breakdowns, the team has struggled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vs. Pacers PPG: Short-handed Raptors make a statement; Valanciunas stands tall; Playoff preview; East races tight

- April 5th, 2014

Add another highlight to a season filled with them for the Raptors. Beating the Pacers, the No. 1 team in the East for the vast majority of this season is impressive. Even if Indiana seems to be coming apart at the seams, completely discombobulated, a shadow of its former self, that’s still a statement win. Dwane Casey said as much afterward. It would have been less impressive had Kyle Lowry or Amir Johnson been in the lineup, but without them it was a massive jolt of confidence.
Lowry is the initial point of defence, the quarterback at the top, while Johnson is the anchor at the back, the guy that makes it all work. At the other end, Lowry and DeRozan are the offence, period and Johnson is the most efficient finisher the team has. Those are two huge players to be without.

- How did the win happen then? Well, Jonas Valanciunas was fantastic again, continuing a monster 15-game stretch that has to be quite heartening to team brass. He’s really starting to come into his own at both ends of the floor. Roy Hibbert used to give Valanciunas all kinds of trouble, but Valanciunas whupped him on Friday. Meanwhile, fellow sophomore Terrence Ross did his best to replace Lowry’s offence and even a bit of his defence. Ross has grabbed 20 rebounds and scored 40 points over his past three games.

- The Raptors played tough, refusing to back down. Chuck Hayes and John Salmons were at the forefront of that, but Valanciunas wasn’t backing down either.

- Nando de Colo looks like a bit of a find. The passing was there from the beginning, but now he appears to be gaining some confidence with his jump shot. The Raptors will bring him back for cheap next season and will have an interesting decision to make if Lowry gets the money he deserves (it will be a lot) – let Greivis Vasquez go and save about $1.4 million at the backup PG spot (or bring them both back, Vasquez is due only a small qualifying offer, just over $3M, unless he gets a contract extension or another team signs him to an offer sheet).

- Interesting comments from Dwane Casey related to Tim Leiweke saying he wants to bring Lowry back on a long-term contract.

“That’s out of my department,” Casey said. “That’s the front office. That’s their paycheck. I would if I was general manager of a team. But that’s their decision.

“Kyle has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s helped put us in this position with this team. He’s grown, he’s matured, and that’s huge as far as we’re concerned.”

- The East race is getting mighty tight. Brooklyn and Chicago kept pace with the Raptors with blowout wins.

Toronto now has home games against Philadelphia, New York and Milwaukee and road tilts with Milwaukee, Detroit and New York. The Knicks are highly motivated, but the rest of the games could be cakewalks, with, or without Lowry and Johnson.

Chicago has home games against Detroit and Orlando and road meetings with Atlanta, Washington, Minnesota, New York and Charlotte. That’s far more challenging, so the math says the Raptors will finish ahead of Chicago, but once again, that’s why they play the games.

Brooklyn has a game in hand on both teams and will play Atlanta, Orlando and New York at home and Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando and Cleveland on the road, but sits three games back in the win column. Toronto holds tie-breakers over both Chicago and Brooklyn in the event they finish tied.

- Washington survived against the Knicks by a point, so held serve with Charlotte. The Bobcats and Wizards will meet in a huge contest in Washington next Wednesday. If Charlotte wins, it owns the tie-breaker if they end up even.

 

 

Bloodied DeRozan carries the Raptors; Injuries ‘good’ for Raptors; Vasquez back in pass mode;

- April 3rd, 2014

DeMar DeRozan had an impressive night Wednesday. After struggling in the first quarter, DeRozan was excellent, putting the team on his back. He even wrapped up big Omer Asik, splitting his hand open, but kept on going, taking a big charge.

“I haven’t really played without Kyle. He played every game. It was an adjustment for me tonight. I figured it out there after the first quarter,” DeRozan said after the game.

“I kind of split the middle of my hand, the webbing of my hand. I didn’t even notice. I looked down and my whole hand was soaked.
“It wouldn’t stop bleeding. But it’s cool.”

Now the Raptors will have to try to stop the bleeding on the injury front. That said, Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry should be back as soon as Friday, and some Raptors believe a brief absence by those two crucial players could actually help the team if one is thinking long-term.

“I thought this was good for us as a team because it gives guys confidence and gives guys more minutes going into the playoffs.” said Tyler Hansbrough, who has more post-season experience than most of his teammates combined.

“When you go deep in your bench and build, that it helps you for later on down the road.”

Added Patrick Patterson: “They’re all-stars, they’re leaders, the backbone of this team. Whenever Kyle’s not playing, that allows DeMar to get more shots, more opportunities and he capitalized on that tonight. Whenever DeMar’s not playing, Kyle does the same thing. When they’re both out there, it makes it a lot easier for all of us. When they’re out, it causes everybody to raise their game to another level.”

- Greivis Vasquez had been asked to score the ball for the past two months, playing a lot beside Lowry, but with Lowry out, he was asked to be a facilitator again. Vasquez responded, picking up eight assists and no turnovers.

Casey on the injuries: “We’ve been very lucky. Our training staff has done a great job of keeping guys prepared. We’ve been very lucky not to have had some major injuries, knock on wood, throughout the year. The little injury bug has hit us a little bit. The schedule’s not going to stop. We’ve got to keep going. Next man up.”

 A few stats:

Terrence Ross tied his career high with nine rebounds

Toronto is 31-2 when leading after three quarters. Houston shot .294 in the fourth quarter.The Rockets sat fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage and third in points per game coming in. No Dwight Howard obviously changes things for the Rockets considerably.

The Raptors sit at 19-8 when hitting 10+ threes. DeRozan has now scored 28+ points in three of the last four games.Houston went 23-7 against the East. Toronto is 15-8 since the all-star break.

 

 

 

 

 

At Heat PPG: Lowry injury a reminder how fragile this whole thing is; LeBron James is an MVP too and like Durant, destroyed the Raptors; Toronto still winless in Big 3 era against Heat

- April 1st, 2014

Once again the Raptors hung around with the mighty Heat for much of a ballgame, but once again, Miami showed why it’s the class of the East down the stretch.

That LeBron guy had a lot to do with it. Despite a sore back, LeBron James reminded everyone why Kevin Durant won’t be the unanimous MVP, despite his absolutely insane, record-setting season. Other than forcing LeBron into six turnovers, Toronto had no answers. From Joey Graham and Jamario Moon, to a mild version of Shawn Marion, to Landry Fields and Terrence Ross, like the rest of the league, the Raptors have never had a player capable of slowing down the four-time MVP.

- Of course Kyle Lowry’s injury was the main story from Monday night. Don’t expect much of an update from the tight-lipped Toronto medical staff for a while. Going by past history, nothing will be revealed until just before tip-off against Houston on Wednesday. The early aftermath didn’t look good, with Lowry riding on a cart from the team’s locker room in Miami to the bus. He had to get up to go through TSA pre-screening and my colleague Mike Ganter said he did so while limping noticeably. Running into the freight train that is James knee-first rarely will leave somebody unscathed. But X-rays were negative and as long as their isn’t any significant damage, Lowry should be back before too long.

- But wouldn’t it be so Raptors if a season that has been such a surprising success took an awful turn? Let’s all hope this isn’t another Jorge Garbajosa season-destroying situation.

- Toronto’s still without a win against the Heat since the Big Three was formed. Even though Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen didn’t play in this one.

- The game was lost in the third quarter, when the Raptors kept launching long jumpers (even though Miami didn’t have an inside defensive presence besides Chris Andersen and even though Jonas Valanciunas had been going off in the first half – he took one shot in the third, two in the fourth, a continuing problem). Most of those shots went clankety-clank and, because Miami wasn’t playing too well at the other end, a huge opportunity was wasted. Toronto went nearly four minutes without a basket to start the quarter, failing to get one until Lowry went inside. Two minutes later, the Raptors finally scored again (a Valanciunas dunk). Throughout the quarter, Toronto consistently went a minute or two between scores.

- Would have liked to see Toronto exploit its size advantage more with Valanciunas, or even some Tyler Hansbrough, who could have gotten Miami into some foul trouble because of his activity rate and ability to draw fouls. Dwane Casey opted to go smaller. With Patrick Patterson back, the big man rotation will get even more interesting. Due to foul trouble and because it was a back-to-back, Amir Johnson played only 24 minutes.

- Not getting into the foul disparity other than to say it was a bit ironic LeBron shot more free throws than the entire Raptors team a day after DeRozan shot more than the Magic did.

At Magic PPG: A win, but nothing to be proud of; No excuse for that defence; DeRozan/Lowry again wouldn’t let loss happen; Valanciunas’ growth heartening but where’s Ross?

- March 31st, 2014

Perhaps it can be considered progress that a Raptors win is no longer a cause for celebration the way it was when victories were harder to come by. Now, a win in a game played so wretchedly by the Raptors can only be slagged. Orlando’s horrible, worse than the Boston team that gave Toronto some trouble. There’s no excuse for letting that group shoot 55% from the field, collecting 24 assists (to Toronto’s 13, a low number not seen since the Rudy Gay trade). Only a huge edge at the line (27 attempts to 14) and an 18-9 edge on second chance points allowed the Raptors to escape after blowing a 21-point lead.

- The positives first: DeMar DeRozan wasn’t going to let the Raptors completely blow this one. He was in attack mode again, just as he had been against the Celtics, drawing more trips to the line than the entire Orlando team (Orlando head coach Jacque Vaughn, who is crusty on a good day, wasn’t too pleased about that fact). He also hit a clutch three. Backcourt partner Kyle Lowry did his usual thing as well, upping his workload considerably in the fourth, mostly driving the ball into the heart of the Orlando defence.

- Jonas Valanciunas continues to be a first half all-star. More often than not, he’s excellent early in games, than doesn’t see much of the ball when DeRozan and Lowry take over (Valanciunas has averaged 7.1 points in the first two quarters of games since the all-star break, half of that in the final two). Ideally, there would be a better balance, but you can’t argue much with the results. Valanciunas is really coming along lately, averaging 13.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 55.7% shooting from the field and 90.2% shooting from the line over his past 10 games. Going beyond those stats, he’s also been noticeably better rotating on defence.

- The bench stepped up, Landry Fields and Nando de Colo particularly. Fields has been a true vet, ready to produce when called upon. He’s earned some of the minutes given to John Salmons. Fields played twice as many minutes as Salmons on Sunday. We’ll see if that continues. With the starters struggling to defend, the bench did a good job of providing more resistance.

- The bad: The defending. The lack of ball movement. Letting a bad team keep its confidence and claw back. No Terrence Ross for the final 15 minutes of the game (even though Orlando was shooting the lights out. Ross is Toronto’s best perimeter defender …)

 

Raptors PPG: Playoffs, we’re talking playoffs? Raptors go from tank to bank; What’s happened since the Raptors last made the post-season

- March 29th, 2014

So, the Raptors are in. Fittingly, Amir Johnson, exemplifying everything he brings to the table, was the one to supply the last push Friday against Boston. Amir and DeMar DeRozan have been suffering through down seasons together here longer than anyone else, the last remaining players from the end of the Chris Bosh era.

It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. A lot of bad basketball has been played since Bosh broke his face. It’s a new day. While nobody knows what the off-season will bring (a lot of change, or stability?) the tank is long-dead and thoughts about potential playoff opponents can now be voiced.

- Johnson’s been Toronto’s best overall player in the three seasons previous to this one and works harder and plays through more injuries than anybody on the team (though DeRozan is about his equal in both of those regards). That’s why it was nice to see him get the Raptors through.

- No question Kyle Lowry’s been the top Raptor this season (again, with apologies to DeRozan) and he showed what he’s all about as well in fighting off an ankle injury to make some decisive drives to the bucket that helped seal the win.

- DeRozan wasn’t about to let the pesky Celtics, who he’d already seen five times this season, including the two exhibition games, come back again. With his jumper shaky, DeRozan looked to repeatedly attack, getting five shots in the paint in both the third and fourth quarters. Now that he’s an all-star, DeRozan  is getting calls from the officials, which helps quite a bit, but it’s his mindset that is the key.

- Nice to see John Salmons find his game. To say he’s been struggling is a massive understatement. His game had completely vanished, but Dwane Casey kept the faith, even though using Landry Fields instead would have made a lot of sense, and Salmons responded by nailing his first two shots, picking up two assists, a couple of steals and no turnovers. He was also +15, tied for the team lead.

- A bonus thought: +/- is way down on the list of useful stats, but it’s a lot more relevant in basketball than it is in hockey, where power plays mess with the numbers. While it’s not a be all, end all, the eye test shows that Chuck Hayes has been excellent for the team lately. The +/- check shows Hayes has been +15 (tied for team lead), +3 (best of the reserves), +17 (2nd on team) and +16 (best on team) in his past four games. He’s supplied strong defence and helps move the ball around thanks to his surprisingly strong passing skills.

- Since Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu took out the Raptors in five games in the playoffs, Toronto witnessed (a lot more than this, but a few highlights/lowlights):

The ill-fated Jermaine O’Neal deal; The end of the Sam Mitchell era and the elevation of Jay Triano to head coach; Bryan Colangelo gifting  the Heat with the cap space to form the Big Three by dumping O’Neal for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks; The drafting of DeMar DeRozan; The Raptors “winning” the Turkoglu sweepstakes, only to almost immediately regret it once Turkoglu showed up to camp fat and unwilling to justify his payday; DeRozan starting 65 games as a rookie; the Jarrett Jack\Jose Calderon controversy at the point; A career year from Bosh, that ended prematurely when he got hurt and shut himself down in advance of his free agent flight to Miami; Bosh leaving, Bryan Colangelo ripping him, then saving some face by somehow dumping Turkoglu on the Suns (his former agent was in charge there); A disastrous season that ended with Triano out, Dwane Casey in and Jonas Valanciunas drafted in Colangelo’s ballsiest move, since he wouldn’t come over for a year and because Bargnani had soured nearly everyone in the city on European players; A lockout, followed by a shortened season where the Raptors were horrible to watch because the talent simply wasn’t there, but where Casey turned around the defensive culture and started turning around Toronto’s reputation as a soft team; The development of the youngsters and the drafting of Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy; Last season’s brutal start; The Kyle Lowry/Calderon and Lowry/Casey situations; Ross wins the slam dunk contest; The trade for Rudy Gay which sent Calderon elsewhere; The regression and booing of Bargnani; The arrival of Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri; The miraculous Bargnani trade that actually brought back draft picks; The tank talk; This season’s bad start and the Lowry trade rumours and questions about Casey’s future; The trade of Gay to Sacramento; The stunning turnaround of the team into a squad that wins two thirds of the time; Lowry’s all-NBA caliber campaign; DeRozan’s all-star nod; The return to the playoffs.

 

 

 

Celtics PPG: Raptors not scaring anybody at the moment; Patrick Patterson return will be huge because the bench has been woeful; Lowry won’t be denied; Playoff race tightening up in East

- March 27th, 2014

Wednesday was an important bounce-back win for the Raptors, but this is a team right now that isn’t scaring anybody. The group just isn’t playing the way it did for the first couple of months following the Rudy Gay trade. Kyle Lowry and at times, DeMar DeRozan, are making sure the Raptors still pull out more wins than losses, but every game has been a battle. Even without the desperately missed Patrick Patterson, Toronto shouldn’t be losing to Cleveland and nearly blowing games to lowly Boston.

- Luckily, Lowry remains a late-game destroyer. The guy just won’t let his team lose. Lowry shot 2-for-6 in the first half, went 2-for-4 in the third (both threes), then went 4-for-7 in the fourth. Since his minutes restriction of about 35 minutes a night went into effect, Lowry has averaged 23.3 points on 48% shooting (45.4% from three), six assists and more than five rebounds and two steals per the three contests. Playing fewer minutes appears to be agreeing with Lowry’s shooting percentage.

- Less Lowry means more Greivis Vasquez and Vasquez had responded with his best stretch of games as a Raptor, before struggling a bit in Boston. Perhaps he was still thinking about his decisive miscue in Cleveland? That said, he’s still giving far more than anybody else on Toronto’s bench (Chuck Hayes aside, and we’ll get to him). John Salmons has been an outright disaster for well over a month now. He was part of the reason the bench again gave back the good work of the starters. Toronto was up by 11 in the second quarter and the bench blew that edge in less than two minutes. We’ll say it again, Patrick Patterson can’t come back soon enough. The good news is, Patterson’s been cleared for contact and though the team won’t have a practice on Thursday, there’s a good chance he returns on Friday in the rematch with Boston.

- We argued here last week that Salmons could use some rest and his minutes should be limited, particularly on back-to-backs. The numbers back that up. Salmons has shot 23.4% on the tail ends of back-to-backs, 34.8% on one day of rest, 42.6% with two days of rest, 45.5% with three days and 50% the rare times he has had four days of rest. Salmons has a lot of miles on his body, he should be used sparingly so he has something left to give in the playoffs. Salmons has shot just 13% over his past five games (two made field goals) and 25.7% over his past 10. While his defence remains OK, it has slipped and his great play with the ball when he first arrived is a memory. He’s now turning it over about as often as he manages an assist.

-  Hayes, on the other hand, has upped his play. That’s three good games in a row now. He can’t jump but still blocked three Boston shots. His positioning was terrific, he grabbed big rebounds and spaced the floor well, a feat, considering he’s not an offensive force (his passing ability and screen setting are both solid). While it would be nice to see more minutes for Tyler Hansbrough to help out the struggling bench (he can score and get to the line and provides energy), it’s tough to find him time if Jonas Valanciunas is playing fantastic basketball (which earned him 35 minutes on Wednesday) and if Hayes is making that kind of impact (Amir Johnson’s always going to get his 30 minutes).

- Valanciunas was terrific against a smaller team scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Dwane Casey likes to talk about the advantages Valanciunas’ length gives the team when he’s going well and Valanciunas illustrated that in this one. Loved the ice fishing with Jonas Valanciunas half-time piece. He told me when he got back from the trip it was fun, but disappointing because he didn’t catch anything. I told him Lake Simcoe’s way better in the summer. His response: “I hope so.”

- Call off the APB on Terrence Ross. He scored 20 or more for just the third time since his 51-point stunner and more importantly, put together two straight decent games for the first time since the start of this month.

- Another game with under 20 assists (17, against 16 turnovers). Rajon Rondo’s defence on DeRozan had a lot to do with that, but Patterson’s absence, to me, is the biggest reason why the assist numbers have slipped.

- A Toronto win on Friday or a Knicks loss in Phoenix will end the five year playoff drought. Brooklyn’s loss to Charlotte gave the Raptors some breathing room, but tightened the East’s playoff race. The Raptors squeezed back into third by virtue of leading a division.

Washington is slipping and Charlotte is now just 1.5 games back of sixth. Of course, Toronto’s had issues with the Bobcats and big man Al Jefferson, so that would be no playoff walk in the park. The Raptors crushed Washington a couple of times, but didn’t look good against them the last time they met. New York’s just two games out of 8th and could slip in, since Atlanta has been struggling. But there’s still a bunch of games to go, so, let’s revisit the race in a week.

 

 

Hawks PPG – 4th Quarter Kingz; Lowry wills another win; DeRozan big too; Ross solves Teague problem with his D; Hayes provides a lift; Vasquez balling

- March 24th, 2014

The media has been referring to the 2013-14, post-trade Toronto basketball team as the “Bizarro Raptors” for some time now. They showed why once again on Sunday. For a good decade now, Raptors teams made a habit of either fighting back from a big deficit only to lose in demoralizing fashion right at the end or of blowing leads in the clutch. Not anymore.

Trailing 74-60 early in the fourth quarter, things looked bleak for the home side and the – ‘The Raptor is a jinx’ – angles were already being written up with the mascot returning Sunday. Then Nando de Colo decided to hit his first shot as a Raptor and it was a huge one. It restored some life to what had been a quiet building and sparked the Raptors. It came off of a great pass from Chuck Hayes, who had a quietly excellent game in true Chuck Hayes, understated fashion. Hayes played some superb defence in the fourth when a battered Amir Johnson was getting some rest. The length of Jonas Valanciunas – missed the other night when he was injured – also was quite useful. Atlanta’s bigs are talented and have long arms and wide posteriors, but they are shorter than Toronto’s bigs (Hayes aside).

- Valanciunas has his faults as a help defender, but he really played well on Sunday. When the quick Atlanta players got by their initial defender in the fourth, Valanciunas was a wall, making them adjust their shots.

- Without Kyle Korver, the three-point happy Hawks just weren’t the same. They didn’t attempt as many as usual and they weren’t nearly as effective from outside. No surprise there considering Korver’s one of the three best outside shooters in the league.

- Jeff Teague dominated the Raptors in the previous meeting, but this time, Terrence Ross did a solid job keeping the speedy Teague in front of him. Ross didn’t do a perfect job, Teague’s a hard player to prevent from driving, but he did far better than any Toronto player managed previously. Teague had to work a lot harder.

- At the other end, Kyle Lowry simply lit Teague up. Once again, Lowry would not be denied in the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozan also stepped up again. A weird note:: Lowry attempted three long twos, quite odd for the analytics crowd’s poster child (he almost always only takes threes and inside shots).

- Amir Johnson’s pain threshold is ridiculous. Has to be one of the toughest players in the entire NBA.

- Like in the New Orleans game, Toronto appeared poised to give up a very winnable game in disappointing fashion. Luckily, the team can do little wrong in the fourth quarter. With Brooklyn charging and Chicago not going away, grinding out both of those wins could end up being huge.

- Greivis Vasquez continues to be Toronto’s top reserve in the absence of Patrick Patterson, who thankfully should return soon. Vasquez has put together several strong games in a row and has found his missing jump shot.

- Since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto is +252, behind only title contenders Los Angeles (Clippers), Oklahoma City and San Antonio. In fourth quarters, Toronto is a completely absurd +203. Miami’s next in final quarters at just +100. Again, the number is ridiculous.

 

 

Thunder-Raptors PPG: Where Kevin Durant happens; A night to remember – and to forget; Rough stretch for Salmons hits its bottom; Amir remains Toronto’s unsung hero

- March 22nd, 2014

Well, that happened. What a memorable night at the ACC. One of the most improbable, entertaining and potentially season-defining game for two franchises you’ll ever see.

Watching Kevin Durant at Texas, I knew he’d be good. Seeing him in the NBA it was obvious he was special. Seeing him live five games in a row two years ago at the Finals it was clear he’d be an all-time great. The scary thing? He’s clearly hit another level compared to where he was when the Thunder lost to the Heat. The man is flat out ridiculous. Near seven-footers shouldn’t be able to shoot the ball like Kyle Korver, handle it like teammate Reggie Jackson, all the while, being as cool as a cucumber. It’s not really fair.

More thoughts:

- Questions: Why don’t you foul Durant before he can even attempt his game-winning three from the parking lot? “We tried,” said Dwane Casey. If a player is going to raise up and shoot from that far back, it’s nearly impossible to get the ball out of his hands. The double team was coming, it just couldn’t get there quickly enough. That said, Toronto’s defending of three-point attempts hasn’t just slipped recently, it’s vanished. A strength has become a weakness. Come back soon Patrick Patterson.

Why was John Salmons playing instead of Terrence Ross? Ross suffered a minor injury and was unavailable.

- It’s a shame the referees were so awful. They hurt the Raptors more than the Thunder, but also made some truly horrific calls in Toronto’s favour, particularly that clear foul on Durant after  Salmons bungled the inbounds.

- You have to feel for Salmons. He was crushed afterward after missing two free throws and failing to execute the inbounds. He was so good for the Raptors early on, that steadying veteran influence who took care of the ball, never panicked and hit some clutch shots. For five weeks, Salmons was great. Then, it all started going awry. There’s no sugar-coating it, while his defence has only slipped a bit, Salmons has cratered offensively. He’s shooting 28.6% in March (20% from three), even worse than how he was performing to end February. It’s time for Casey to see if rest will get Salmons back on track. It will be humbling, but Salmons needs to sit out a few games. Then see if rest was the cure for what ailed him. Because, he’s  not getting out of this by playing through it. If he’s not hitting shots and not calmly handling the ball late in games, there has to be another option. Landry Fields perhaps? Salmons was huge for the Raptors early in his Toronto tenure, but, sadly, he needs some rest.

“He’s a veteran,” Casey said of Salmons. “In those situations, you’ve got to believe in him, that he’s going to make those free throws in that situation. Terrence goes down. He hurts his hip. We had to go with John in that situation. He’s been one of our best defenders in that situation. But it’s not just one guy. We’ve got to get one more guy to step in and step up in that situation to give us a boost. Kyle and DeMar and Amir are laying it on the line, and JV did a good job down the stretch, too.”

- Classy move by DeMar DeRozan to check on Russell Westbrook after the game. DeRozan went into the Thunder room with his daughter. Hopefully the MRI checks out. Westbrook looked fine and said he felt good. The game was huge for OKC, since it came in double overtime at the end of a back-to-back and because it showed that Durant is capable of carrying the team through whatever needs to be done, even if Westbrook is out.

- It’s too early for all of this Durant to Toronto chatter. Sure, he grew up with Toronto being his favourite team and Greivis Vasquez and Landry Fields are two of his best friends in the league, but 29 other teams will be trying to sign him and who knows if Vasquez and Fields are even Raptors by the time Durant is a free agent. Vasquez will be a restricted free agent this summer and Fields will be on the final year of his ill-fated deal next season.

- Unfortunately, Durant’s brilliance will completely overshadow one of the best games of Amir Johnson’s career. In his 500th NBA contest, Johnson was quietly spectacular himself. He had 25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and four assists. He was everywhere defensively, serving as both Toronto’s lone rim protector (Jonas Valanciunas needs to get better at this) and best help defender. Offensively, he was a machine. Johnson’s now scored 10+ in eight straight games, averaging about 17 points per game on shooting north of 65% in those contests. He’s no longer criminally underrated, but remains one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets.

- Toronto was oh so close to sweeping one of the league’s true title contenders. This one will hurt.

“We’ve got a lot of basketball left. We’ve got 14 more games to go down the stretch,” Casey said. “We can’t let it be a hangover. We can’t let this game be a hangover in that situation. A big learning experience for our guys. You’re playing with one of the teams in the league, one of the top players, scorers — he’ll probably go down all time as a scorer in the league. And you give yourself a chance to win in [double] overtime.”

- The offensive foul call on Vasquez that fouled him out was brutal, and, in the end, a game-changer. That’s either a no-call (the right call) or a foul on Durant. Durant got him early, then the refs called Vasquez for jumping into Durant. But Durant got him before Vasquez exaggerated it. Without Vasquez, who was playing what might have been his best game as a Raptor (continuing a strong run), Salmons had to come in and that was a massive drop-off.

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Pelicans PPG: Horrible start, but finish counts; Hansbrough, Vasquez provide a lift; A lucky win, but a win’s a win; DeRozan/Lowry dominate; Amir’s second-half surge

- March 19th, 2014

That could have been ugly. The Raptors got lucky, but once again, the team showed why it’s the NBA’s best fourth quarter team in stealing a win in New Orleans.

- There’s really no excuses for the start. No Anthony Davis, no Jrue Holiday, no Ryan Anderson … should mean a gimme of a game. Yet, the Raptors, perhaps stunned from the absence of Davis, or maybe just tired from overtime the night before, came out in a daze.

- One big early problem: Lletting Tyreke Evans get into the paint at will – again. The guy kills the Raptors constantly, even though he can’t shoot, yet instead of backing up, the team gives him all kinds of space to attack. With his combination of ball-handling ability, quick first step and brute strength, Evans is a load. But if you dare him to shoot, you’re giving yourself the best way to stop him.

- Raptors rebounded and only gave up two points in the paint in final 15 minutes of the game after allowing 50 in the previous 33. The points in the paint battle stood at an absurd 20-2 after a quarter.

- Brutal to let in so many points in the paint against a team with no real inside presence. Just a lack of effort and lack of help defence.

- Nando de Colo at least provided a spark and made a case for more time as one of the only positives off of the bench.

- Not to be outdone, former Pelican (well, they were the Hornets then) Greivis Vasquez made his biggest contributions in the fourth, particularly on a huge play where he was fouled and hit a shot not long after Toronto had finally taken the lead. Vasquez loves punishing his former teams.

- In a stunning reversal, the Raptors just wanted it more down the stretch. Out-battled, outworked the Pelicans.

- Amir Johnson exemplified that. On a bad ankle, Johnson fought through and was a difference-maker in the fourth quarter. He went into the half with just two rebounds and had three after three, then started doing it all in the fourth. Locking down the paint, grabbing six boards, three of them offensive, and six total in the fourth quarter.

- A positive on the defensive side of things: Toronto held New Orleans to just 16 assists against 12 turnovers.

- Tyler Hansbrough had a massive effort with 13 boards, including seven offensive rebounds. Have been mentioning for a bit that he’s a better option than Steve Novak and Hansbrough backed that up with a great effort as a fill-in starter for Jonas Valanciunas.

- It was a huge win because with a loss, a visit by Oklahoma City coming up and another game against Atlanta on tap, the team could have been facing a five-game losing streak.