MIAMI — In a game that was mostly dreadful to watch thanks to some whistle-happy referees and the ensuing, rather unpleasant free throw shooting, the Raptors showed some encouraging signs.
- DeMar DeRozan continues to play like a top 10 player in the NBA, a streak that has been going on now since March 1st. He has been fantastic and has been carrying the team, particularly in the clutch when he keeps making the right decisions. Lou Williams has gone red-hot again, poor Tyler Johnson had no answers for him and Kyle Lowry did the little things (seven rebounds – five of them in the crucial fourth quarter, three steals, a huge stop on Dwyane Wade late) to make up for his AWOL jump shot and his handing out just one assist. Tyler Hansbrough continues to play tremendous basketball, Greivis Vasquez might be getting his shot back and even Terrence Ross showed some fire that we’ve rarely seen.
- Ross took it to the basket more than we’ve seen for most of the season. He got five rebounds, which is rare for him, and just seemed far more willing to battle and go into tough spots than he usually does. Patrick Patterson also took it inside for two straight scores, including a monster dunk . If Patterson and Ross suddenly start venturing inside more often, the Raptors become less predictable and even harder to stop.
- It wasn’t all good, the defence still sprang a lot of leaks – especially in a first half that Dwane Casey called “one of our worst halves of basketball.” “We could have folded the tent in after the first half, even though we were getting drilled every which way possible,” Casey said.
- Jonas Valanciunas turned in possibly his worst ever performance. He was dominated by Hassan Whiteside and did not respond well to all of the fouls called against him, which barely allowed him to stay on the court. “He had some silly fouls, grabbing fouls, getting into a ‘rassling match. You can’t do that. And when you get upset with the officials, they’re human and he’s got to learn to keep his emotions under check,” Casey said. “I love his passion, I love his give-a-you-know-what level but he’s got to keep his emotions under control and not let it get him tangled up because a lot of times, he’s getting the short end of the stick.”
- The “give-a-(bleep)” reference wasn’t the only tie to the Maple Leafs minutes after the hockey team’s season mercifully ended. Lowry was sporting a Leafs hat and was told he was brave for doing that, given what a joke they have become. “I’ve just got to represent a little bit, Lowry said. “That’s the home team so I’m still representing them.”
- Lowry shook off Casey’s play-call, but there was no issue, he saw something he thought would work and it did. “That’s one thing about coach and our relationship, he trusts me,” Lowry said. “He wanted to call something, I felt very strongly about it, I was on the floor and he said go ahead with it. It worked and it’s not an I told you so thing, it’s a trust level thing.”
- Lowry on the brief time he played wearing a headband: ” I don’t know, just trying something new. It was too hot. Honestly, I would’ve kept wearing it but it was soaking wet,” he said. “I might wear one Tuesday, I might wear it Wednesday, I might wear it in the playoffs. Who knows?”
- Chicago was losing to Philadelphia for much of Saturday night, but came back in the end to keep pace with the Raptors. It appears the battle for third place will come right down to the wire. Chicago has a tough game against Brooklyn on Monday and finishes against an Atlanta team that likely will be resting players. Toronto has a back-to-back with Boston (battling for a playoff spot) and Charlotte (eliminated). Chicago would need to win an extra game to claim third, since Toronto has the tie-breaker, so, right now, the odds say Toronto will get third spot and meet the Milwaukee Bucks.