Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Patterson

Signs of progress for Raptors but not there yet; If Valanciunas can’t play in the fourth against Detroit who can he play against? Keep moving the ball

- January 26th, 2015

The Raptors made a lot of mistakes and tried to hand the Pistons a game they should have been in control of throughout on Sunday, but, nonetheless, there were definite signs of progress shown by the home side: DeMar DeRozan rediscovered his jump shot after one of the worst shooting stretches of his career (8-for-14 from the field after going six for his previous 34). DeRozan also got to the free throw line 10 times, a huge part of his game, after going there only three times combined over his previous three. DeRozan’s determination to get a couple of three-point attempts off each game also is an encouraging sign. He has hit three in six games, but has connected on only 25% of his attempts. His second four (or more) assist game with zero turnovers also was encouraging, considering he did it many times last season.

- Toronto moved the ball around far better than we’ve seen in recent games. That was perhaps the best development. Getting 23 assists against eight turnovers will win you most games. The determination to get the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas early and often also was a great sign. Valanciunas thrives against Detroit and he was quite good. He scored from both sides of the block and was aggressive at both ends. He also offered solid resistance defensively, continuing a recent trend of improved play there. Valanciunas is going up straighter and impacting a lot of opposing shots. He blocked three shots after getting four against the Sixers (which caused Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson to rib him a little bit – ‘Oh, you’re a shot-blocker now, huh?”  He ran the floor well, despite a lot of minutes through three quarters and was rewarded for it. In turn, since he was involved more, he seemed to give more of an effort everywhere else.

- Everyone wants to know why Valanciunas took a seat for the fourth after a dominant third quarter where he played the entire frame, missing only one shot on the way to eight points, five rebounds and two of his blocks. Dwane Casey prefers to play Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson down the stretch of games largely because they are far quicker and more technically sound. He also likes having Patterson’s shooting, since the team basically abandons the inside game in fourth quarters. I get that against many opponents, but Valanciunas consistently dominates the Pistons and wasn’t just doing it with his offence in this one. Detroit players scored on just 7-of-17 attempts at the rim on Valanciunas (41%) which is an excellent mark. They went 4-for-10 against Johnson, 3-for-6 against Patterson and 3-for-3 against Tyler Hansbrough, who had been doing a nice job protecting the rim before this one). Valanciunas had been Toronto’s most efficient scorer and one of its best defenders. Since Greg Monroe was on the floor, the excuse of no big being out there which has been a fine justification for Valanciunas sitting in the past does not apply. Johnson easily could have checked Anthony Tolliver. Not playing Valanciunas down the stretch simply didn’t make sense in this case, especially not if Ross is playing the whole quarter, which negates the need for Patterson’s shooting.

A few other points:

- Letting Greivis Vasquez or Lou Williams handle the ball a lot in the first two quarters of games is a good way to make sure Kyle Lowry is fresher later.

- The Raptors played a bit faster and as mentioned earlier, didn’t stop the ball on offence as much as usual.

- Terrence Ross made a smart cut for a dunk. He should do more to get open off of the ball instead of simply hanging out in the corners.

- Great play call at the end of the third quarter. Instead of doing the usual, give Lou Williams the ball and let him shoot thing, the Raptors used him as a decoy and Williams found an open teammate (two of them were open actually). Mixing things up instead of being too predictable will go a long way.

- So glad Stan Van Gundy is back roaming the sidelines, he’s the best. One example of why came later in the game, after the Pistons botched coverage of an in-bounds play (the one where Kyle Lowry charged right to the hoop and got fed a pass for a wide open layup). Van Gundy bolted up from his seat, did a full spin with his hands raised, paced a step or two, sat back down and glanced skyward. It was hilarious.

- Attention to detail still is not great (tons of bad turnovers that kept Detroit in the game and at least two crucial rebounds allowed), but this was still a good win against a team that fights extremely hard and was playing for injured teammate Brandon Jennings.

Raptors should feel better about loss in Memphis than win in Philadelphia; Time to switch up the starting lineup

- January 24th, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — Life, in sports, isn’t always fair. The Raptors worked incredibly hard in a gritty, encouraging effort against Memphis on Wednesday and came away with a loss. Then they basically were awful for large swaths of Friday’s game against Philadelphia, “expecting to simply walk on the floor to get a win,” as Dwane Casey put it afterward, but managed to escape with a win. How is that fair? It isn’t, but the Raptors return home from this trip with two wins in three tries and that will cover up some ugly moments. It shouldn’t. This group is a mess right now. The energy is lacking to start games, the offence has morphed from world-beating into a bit of a tire fire and the swagger and confidence that was so evident for the first two months of the season has completely vanished.

- It’s time to make a change. Two, in fact. Amir Johnson was a -21 against Philly. Patrick Patterson was +26. I’m not a huge fan of +/- (especially of the individual variety, since many players can look great because they mostly face backups instead of starters, with the opposite also being true), but for January, Patterson is +61 and Johnson is -95. The numbers for the entire season are even more striking. More than that, Johnson has been battling a series of nagging injuries and often takes a while to really start making an impact on games. Bringing him off the bench could be a big boost. They’d miss his excellent screens, his defence and his ability to score inside, but he’d still provide a lot of that off of the bench. If Patterson started, the team could also get away with starting the offensively limited James Johnson, who is the second-best defender on the team after Amir. That would be a big upgrade over Greivis Vasquez and would return DeMar DeRozan to shooting guard, where he is more comfortable. The new lineup would have energy, decent size, enough offensive capabilities and would allow pick-and-roll maestros Vasquez and Amir Johnson more of an opportunity to connect with Terrence Ross spotting up for threes. Or, they can keep things status quo and hope things change. Casey mentioned “nagging injuries” as one reason why the starters aren’t getting it done and it didn’t take much sleuthing to deduct he was mainly talking about Amir, who has been dealing with a bit of a shoulder issue (he is wearing more padding for games).

- Toronto had won just three of 16 quarters over the past four games, before winning two against the Sixers.

- The offence has become far too predictable. There is little movement, less pick-and-roll action than we’ve seen in past months and pretty bad shot selection. The team has shot 25% from three for most of January, yet continues to launch threes instead of going inside. Some of them are good looks that normally drop, but many more are just bad decisions. Mixing it up could be beneficial. Giving Jonas Valanciunas the ball more could help. He’s No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage and gets them higher efficiency looks than DeRozan isolations.

- Speaking of which, DeRozan is in one of the worst slumps of his career. He made a surprisingly effective return from his six-week injury layoff, largely because he let the game come to him. In the first three games, DeRozan didn’t force anything, everything came within the flow of the game. Now, he has gone back to forcing shots, most of them being at an extremely high level of difficulty. DeRozan is just six for his past 34 shot attempts and has has only been to the free throw line three times over the past three games.

“I kind of find myself looking for fouls now, instead of it coming naturally to me,” DeRozan said. Not surprisingly, he also said he didn’t think the starting lineup needed to be altered. “No, it’s on us, whoever starts because we’re the ones that come out and depict the start of the game. We don’t need to be fighting back from down 30-7. We don’t need to put ourselves in that type of hole because it can easily turn out bad,” he said.

- Credit Lowry for doing what he can do. He was unreal in the fourth, basically, strapping his teammates on his back and carrying them to a win. That’s what true all-stars do and Lowry has certainly earned his spot.

- Patrick Patterson has basically doubled his usual production on the offensive boards and has come up with some huge rebounds lately. With opponents taking away his three-point shooting lately, he said he has been trying to do other things. He also sees getting better as a rebounder as a natural progression. “I haven’t been known as a great rebounder. That’s a thing I’ve been lacking throughout my NBA career. Shot hasn’t been falling, teams are closing on me,” Patterson said. “Every year in the NBA I’ve added something. Three-point shooting. Perimeter defence. Every year is something different.”

MORE QUOTES:

“They’ve got to decide. They’ve got to make a decision from top to bottom. We can continue to say, ‘We’re going to be okay, we’re going to be okay;’ we’re not going to be okay if we continue to perform like that.” – Casey

“We have an air of complacency and I didn’t like it”.

-  “I always say, things always happen for a reason. Just sitting at his house with his family, with his son, that’s a memorable experience that’s going to go down, not just for the night, not for this year, you look back at it 20, 30 years from now, it’s something he can look back at, not only (just) for him but for his son as well.” – DeRozan to the Sun on Lowry having everyone at his house for the all-star announcement.

STATS:

- Toronto is now 20 games in front of the Sixers.

- Toronto has not scored 100 points in the past five games. The team is 5-7 when scoring below 100 and had given up 100 or more in four of five games before this run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, 48 minutes of effort; Credit Ross for answering the bell; Johnson benching was puzzling

- January 20th, 2015

MILWAUKEE — That was one of the biggest wins of the season for the Raptors. No question about it. With Memphis on deck and what could have been eight losses in 10 games, the game was as close to a must-win in January as you will see in the NBA. The Raptors answered the bell accordingly, they avoided the lulls that have plagued them lately. Sure, there were periods when the shooting went south, but it wasn’t for lack of trying and the defensive intensity was far better than it has been in recent games.

- After Atlanta shot 61% from the field and New Orleans 63% in the fourth quarter, the Raptors were desperate to show some defensive mettle. Against a weak offensive squad they did that, limiting the Bucks to 44.7% shooting and only one excellent shooting quarter (the third, where Milwaukee shot 57%, but on just 14 attempts). When the Raptors needed stops, they got them and the rim protection was far better than we’ve seen for a while. Whether it was Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough, or even Kyle Lowry, the Raptors challenged shots at the rim well. (digging deeper at the stat-sheet, it seems Amir wasn’t as good as I thought at the rim, but Hansbrough and Valanciunas allowed just two field goals on seven attempts at the rim between them).

- Yes, I thought it was a bit strange to bench James Johnson. Johnson had been playing quite well, averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.0 block over the past five games on 66% shooting. He had slipped defensively like everybody else, but he is still one of the two or three best defenders on the team. Dwane Casey said Johnson didn’t do anything to get removed from the lineup, but rather it was a case of someone needing to fall out of the rotation with Greivis Vasquez starting and Terrence Ross coming off of the bench. With the team going smaller, there were fewer minutes available at small forward and with Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson playing well, it was hard to find any time for Johnson. I would have cut Vasquez from 30 minutes to about 26 and cut Hansbrough back by a couple just to not completely take Johnson out of the rotation. You don’t want to risk losing a player, especially one who has been a bit mercurial in the past. Plus, his play has been solid and you are losing something by not having him out there at all.

- You have to give Terrence Ross props for turning in such a nice effort. He didn’t let a couple of early misses from three-point range get him down. He was able to forget about his slump and just get through it. I think being aggressive helped him – he put it on the floor and got into the paint for a floater then later got a big dunk to get him going. He was steady and made some big plays, especially the two late in the fourth. He still looks like he has regressed defensively, but playing more against reserves should help him get his defensive game back.

- The Raptors only shot 40%, but that’s a top four defence they were facing and a bunch of long, athletic players. Turning it over 15 times wasn’t terrible against that group (especially since eight of the mistakes came in one quarter) and a lot of the missed shots were pretty good looks. The team seems to be hitting only about 25-30% of its three-point attempts lately, but most of them are the same shots they were making earlier in the year. Didn’t see as many forces and bad attempts as usual.

- DeMar DeRozan was due for one of these – maybe not a 0 point, 0-for-9 outing, but you try playing three games in four nights after missing a quarter of a season. It’s a lot to ask DeRozan to keep dropping 20 points when he isn’t yet back in rhythm. It’s actually amazing how well he did in the three games he played before this one. Giannis had something to do with his tough game, but it was much more a matter of DeRozan just not having it than what the Greek Freak was doing in particular.

- Weird stats: On contested field goals (ones where a defender is within three feet), Ross shot 83% (4-for-5). When he was wide open, Ross shot just 2-for-6 (33%). Lou Williams shot 4-for-8 contested, 0-for-4 uncontested. Guess they like having a hand in their face. Lowry shot about the same contested vs. uncontested (poorly).

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Atlanta’s good, but credit Raptors for making them look THAT good; How about an APB for Ross; Patterson slumping; Will player’s only meeting help?

- January 17th, 2015

There’s no question the Atlanta Hawks are really good – duh, they’ve won 25 of 27 games and are building a solid lead atop the East – BUT, they aren’t quite as good as Toronto made them look on Friday night at the ACC.

As good as the Hawks have played during this stretch, they had shot better than 60% from the floor only one other time this season. Toronto’s defence was horrible. Players got lost on screens, they constantly got tricked or picked into bad matchups (ie. point guard guarding a centre, centre guarding a small forward, etc.) and they left the Hawks wide open all night, most damningly, during a third quarter that saw Atlanta shoot 7-for-9 from three-point range. The Raptors also scored a season-low 89 points. Again, Atlanta’s excellent, but Toronto did a lot of this to themselves.

- Could the aliens who have beamed up Terrence Ross kindly return him to the Raptors. They could really use the old Ross. This current version is in a wretched slump. He’s in the midst of his first single-digit scoring month in over a year, has hit under 30% of his three-point attempts over his past 10 games and 33% overall from the field, seems reluctant to dribble the ball, isn’t grabbing any rebounds and has lost his effectiveness as a defender. It’s not yet a crisis and you risk ruining his confidence by benching him for James Johnson, but at some point, if nothing changes, Dwane Casey simply needs to make a move. There are other culprits that have contributed to this free-fall (six losses in eight games), but Ross is right at the top of the list.

- Patrick Patterson’s game has also fallen off of a cliff. Patterson had a massive start to the season and still ranks near the top of the NBA’s three-point shooting leaderboard, but he’s really struggled lately. He’s hit only 25% from three over his past eight appearances, and 30% overall. With Ross and Patterson dipping so much, is it any wonder that things haven’t gone well for the Raptors? With the defence regressing so much, they’d need some great offensive efforts to stay afloat and neither Ross or Patterson have been providing that.

- This is a mature, largely veteran group. They will figure things out. Could they use a jolt and an upgrade or two? Absolutely, but if that doesn’t come, expect them to at least get closer to where they were prior. The player’s only meeting after the game called by Kyle Lowry was a start and the comments afterward by James Johnson about overconfidence based on the great start and the recognition that they were lacking in attention to detail were good signs. They’ve also been saying (Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan in particular), that going through this now is a good thing. Now, the trick is to make sure they aren’t just empty words. This is a team that still has a great record, but has not actually fared well against good teams. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to start getting results against the cream of the crop. The next chance comes Wednesday in Memphis. Before that, wins will be difficult to achieve against New Orleans Sunday (assuming Anthony Davis plays) and Milwaukee Monday (the Bucks surely remember getting humiliated by Bruno and the Raptors earlier this season in Toronto).

- Some people are going to ask about why the lack of touches for Valanciunas. Well, it’s pretty easy. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are smaller and far more mobile. They also are far better basketball players than Valanciunas right now and light years better as defenders. They wouldn’t let Valanciunas get the ball even when the Raptors wanted to give it to him (it is still a valid issue that they jack up too many three-pointers, but it’s not like they could have force-fed Valanciunas in this one). He had to work to guard Horford or Millsap or the other stretch bigs the Hawks have and didn’t seem to have the energy, the ability, or the will to establish himself at the other end.

- James Johnson noted that teams seem to have the book on the Raptors right now. They have been scouted well. Couple that with not “cherishing the ball” like they were earlier in the season, and this has become quite problematic.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT FROM DWANE CASEY:

“You should be frustrated. We’re getting our butts kicked, we’re all frustrated and you should be. If you’re a competitor you should be frustrated, but there’s no frustration in pointing fingers, ‘your fault, your fault, your fault.’ It’s everybody. You can go right through the roster, coaches players, say you can do this better, we can do this better. That’s what we’ve got to do, because, we’ve done it. We did it at a high level for a couple of months. We’ve just got to get that mojo back and get that 2X4 off our shoulder, the weight of the world, feels like, on your shoulder. We’re still in a good place, but we’ve got to fight through this and grind through this tough spot right now.”

HARDEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT TO UNDERSTAND (FROM KYLE LOWRY)
“Our meeting was more about what we talked about.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tired Raptors played like they were looking ahead to holidays against Bulls

- December 23rd, 2014

CHICAGO — Late in Monday’s loss to the Bulls, the Raptors really looked like a team that was tired and unwilling to push back against one of the NBA’s most physical outfits. Especially not with a much-needed vacation looming. And you know what? Toronto has played a good enough opening 29 games to deserve not to get killed for that ghastly fourth quarter. The Bulls scored 49 points in that frame, the most any Raptors team has conceded in a quarter and the most Chicago had ever scored. Ever. Even in the Michael Jordan days the Bulls didn’t notch more and even when Toronto was 16-66, there wasn’t as porous a quarter. Chicago shot 22 free throws in the quarter, which was nearly another Raptors record. The most impressive thing about last night was that I hit deadline despite the hour time difference and the 34 combined free throws in the fourth.

- In all seriousness, Though the Raptors managed to build some big leads against the Bulls, it always seemed puzzling how they were in the game at all. Chicago was outshooting them by a ton, getting to the line twice as often and blocking all kinds of shots (seven after a quarter, compared to none by the Raptors). Basically, 3-for-10 second quarter shooting from eventual stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, plus good three-point shooting early and an ability to turn Bulls mistakes into points at the other end allowed the Raptors to take a lead into the break.

- There was a lot of griping from the fan-base about the work of the referees, but the Bulls play a physical style and have been doing that for years. They might get away with some things, but it is a product of playing hard and going at opponents. Dwane Casey would love it if his team would emulate a lot of what Chicago does. On offence, Chicago draws legit foul calls. They attack and go into opponents. They love contact. Don’t forget as well that the Raptors are missing DeMar DeRozan, who draws more fouls than almost any other NBA player. With him in the game, the whistle disparity would have been a lot different.

- An aside, players on both teams were quite unhappy with the work of the officials as early as the first quarter. Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were amongst the many who loudly voiced their displeasure. It was surprising on a few of those occasions that nobody was hit with a technical foul for protesting. Eventually, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau got one. The foul disparity was 20-18 in Chicago’s favour at that point. Post-technical, it went 27-14 for Chicago. Co-incidence …. ?

- The Raptors, like most teams so far, had all kinds of trouble trying to slow down Butler. With Rose in top form, the duo was devastating. When Butler was playing small forward, the Raptors couldn’t stop their attack.  Amir Johnson said the play “killed us.” Valanciunas broke it down further, or at least tried to: “Right now we’ve got to … I don’t really know, its’ really hard,” Valanciunas said of how to defend it better. “Rose and Butler are really high-end players so they know what to do on pick-and-roll, one-on-one stuff it’s really hard to guard those guys and they have really active big guys, Noah is active under the basket, Gasol is posting, Gasol is active down there so it’s really hard to defend.”

- At full strength, the Bulls are a really strong offensive team. Gasol destroyed the Raptors in the first meeting, then was bad offensively in this one (just 2-for-7 shooting with four turnovers) and it didn’t matter at all.

 

 

A better effort makes all the difference for Raptors against lowly Pacers; The bench has been absurdly good and Bruno speaks on Canadian weather

- December 13th, 2014

For the first time in a while, the Raptors played hard, played tough and played smart (at least defensively). Against a good team, it might not have been enough to finally get untracked offensively in the fourth and still come out with a win, but luckily for the Raptors, the punchless Pacers are missing three key pieces from last year’s East-leading group.

- Wrote about how ridiculous the bench – especially Lou Williams and Patrick Patterson have been here. For an update, after Friday night’s games, Lou Williams now leads all NBA reserves at +153 and Patrick Patterson is next at +136. Tyler Hansbrough is up to sixth at +92. James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are also up there, as well as Canadians Tristan Thompson, Robert Sacre and Cory Joseph not too far below them.

- All week long, Dwane Casey has been harping on the team’s awful rebounding and constant defensive mental errors. Strides were made in tidying up those areas against the Pacers, the second-best rebounding team in the NBA. Jonas Valanciunas was a force, completely overwhelming Roy Hibbert and the other Pacers all evening, something he has done consistently against the Pacers the past couple of years now. Patterson stepped up his rebounding effort and Hansbrough gave them good minutes. When the Raptors come out aggressively, they tend to win games.

“That was big for us especially with the talented bigs that Indiana has and just the physical basketball that they play,” Williams said afterward. “It was important for us to hit first and I think it carried over for four quarters.”

- Clearly the bench is a major strength. “It’s good for teams to have a second group, to give the first group relief and then for them to have a group when they go out of the game that isn’t going to allow slippage,” Williams said. “we have a lot of guys that can start on other teams and we’ve accepted the role of being backups and we take that in pride, we take that in pride that we know we’re going into games and going to change the pace of the game. I think that’s a major plus.”

- It was a happy locker room post-game. Vasquez was talking up all of his teammates, Lowry was talking up Williams (well, everyone was actually doing that) and Brazilians Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira weighed in on the weather. Bebe said he has seen worse. Bruno was told last winter was far tougher and responded with a smile: “That’s because I am here now.”

A couple of notes that I had to cut from the paper due to space limitations:

REST FOR AMIR?

Amir Johnson has been playing through some injuries this season and has not looked as mobile as he or the Raptors would like on many nights.

So it was natural that head coach Dwane Casey was asked before the game whether giving Johnson a bit of enforced rest might be an option – eventually.

“(That) hadn’t been talked about. We’re already a man down (DeRozan),” Casey said. “At some point that could be a possibility but it hasn’t been talked about.”

Casey said the team has looked at “all scenarios” including playing Patterson at small forward, sitting Johnson for a bit, or something different.

Casey said Johnson has a collection of “knicks and knacks” little ailments that are adding up.

Even though Johnson’s rebounding numbers are way down this season though, he is still doing a good job at boxing out, which is creating more opportunities for teammates – especially Valanciunas – to go to work on the boards.

Johnson had more lift on Friday, throwing down a couple of dunks off of passes from Kyle Lowry.

ONE GAME AT A TIME

The Raptors are playing some of the league’s dregs for the next little while, but Dwane Casey is not eyeing a big run from his team.

“We’re not in a position to overlook anybody, any stretch of games,” Casey said.

“Tonight, last night, it’s all been about the Pacers. That’s the most important thing. Once, as a player, you start looking down the road, next game, two games, a stretch of games whatever, that’s where you get in trouble.”

Starting with the Pacers, the Raptors next six opponents were a combined 35-101 so far this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominant Valanciunas, clutch plays by a variety of Raptors sunk the Suns

- November 25th, 2014

Remember when the Raptors were known as a franchise that never got it done in the clutch? It seemed to be that way for years. No team seemed to lose as many winnable games by doing one thing or another wrong late in fourth quarters. That simply doesn’t happen anymore. It started last year and has carried over to this season. What was different about the game against the Suns, was the way the fourth played out. Instead of mounting a furious rally, as has become their norm, the Raptors saw a 15-point lead get erased by the ridiculously explosive Suns. That forced the home side to have to make several key decisions in the biggest moments and they came through. DeMar DeRozan called some of those “muscle plays.”

- To that point, there was this crazy Kyle Lowry sequence, there was Lowry swiping the ball away from Isaiah Thomas, similarly to how he had won an earlier game in Boston by pickpocketing rookie Marcus Smart. There was Patrick Patterson hitting two free throws when he hadn’t yet scored. There was Patterson pulling a Kevin Love by launching the ball down the court and Amir Johnson making a significant play to go up and haul in the pass like Calvin Johnson (no easy feat, considering Johnson has not shown his usual life this season. A joke heard afterward was that Amir only jumped three times on Monday, but he sure picked his spots well).

- Told by a reporter that the Lowry steal and his pass to Johnson were “ballsy” Patterson responded, sometimes you have to be.

- Lou Williams winning player of the week, despite being a reserve, was one of the more unexpected storylines we’ve seen in years, though it probably shouldn’t have been all that shocking. Dwane Casey seems like a near lock for East coach of the month and Lowry likely will be an honourable mention (with a shot at winning if Toronto beats Dallas on Friday I’d say).

- Williams talked about fighting to get back from a devastating injury, a process that definitely had some dark moments. Williams admitted he had some doubts after tearing his ACL in January of 2013. When he returned last season, he was not the same player he had been before. Atlanta basically gave him away for nothing rather than paying a guy they worried might never be the same.

Williams can’t blame them. “Absolutely. When you’re sitting there and you have a cast on and wheel chair and crutches and can’t lift your leg up, you can’t ride a bike, you can’t run, you can’t jog, obviously there’s going to be some doubt there,” he said.

“Two years later it’s great to see some fruits of the labour to feel myself back to 100 per cent, being back healthy and having some success.”

Williams said he was buoyed by the knowledge his friend Lowry had battled back from the same injury, suffered while he was in college.

- A lot of anguish out there about Valanciunas not playing for most of the fourth despite his huge game, but the Suns went tiny, who was he going to guard? Yes, he was scoring easily, but Phoenix wasn’t going inside at all, preferring to just bomb away (it was working) and Valanciunas would not have been able to cover enough ground out there defensively. Against most teams, his sitting after a performance like that would be an outrage. Against Phoenix, it made sense.

“They had three point guards out there so that caused us to do some things. JV had to come out and JV had it rolling,” Casey said. “As long as they kept their big in, it really helped us but once they spread those perimeter guys out it put us at a disadvantage. Threes vs. our twos is not a good trade off.”

- Valanciunas, by the way, is fifth in the East in player efficiency rating, is shooting 59% from the field, 80% from the free throw line and putting up career best rebound and block rates, with the lowest turnover rate in his three seasons.

- James Johnson returned far earlier from his ankle injury than expected (he missed three games), but was only able to play four minutes. Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) did not dress.

- Isaiah Thomas on Lowry: ” He’s been given a good opportunity to run a team and he’s taken advantage of it. Everyone knows what Kyle Lowry’s about. He’s like a pit bull, he’s a leader, he’s a guy that never backs down. I think his opportunity just got bigger and he just took advantage of the role that was given to him.”

- Seem to say this daily now, but the Raptors refuse to get caught up in what the standings say: “For me we’re still a growing team. It’s still too early to look at the records,” Casey said.

“My job is to continue to push, continue to improve in a lot of areas and not get caught up in records or anything like that. Once you start doing that, that’s when you get in trouble. I remember in Dallas, we were like 24-5, and you would never know we were 24-5 because everybody had a businesslike attitude. All of the fans were watching Cowboys football. We were 24-5, and you would never know. That’s the way you have to approach it. You can’t look at the record. You’ve got to make sure you do your job, not only game by game, but possession by possession. This is [an unforgiving] league and it will do you in once you start overlooking possessions or skipping letters from where you are or getting caught up in thinking you’re somewhere where you’re not.”

- Casey pointed out rebounding as the area the Raptors need to improve in the most. Williams said if this is Toronto’s “roof, we’re in trouble. I think we have a lot more things that we should accomplish and other teams that we need to beat in order to be taken seriously in this league.” Like beating the Suns.

- Ex-Raptor P.J. Tucker on the ACC crowd: “It is a lot different, it’s unbelievable,” Tucker said. “Definitely moved up to one of the best home courts, hands down in the league. It is unbelievable what they have done here.” I was impressed by the way the fans roared once Phoenix took the lead in the fourth, showing their support, helping the Raptors to get back on top.

 

 

 

 

Raptors continue to tempt fate but Magic don’t have the experience yet to close games; Red hot Ross providing a boost; Bench the difference again

- November 11th, 2014

The Raptors are playing with fire, but until they get burned, things might not change. Until they start losing games that they “half-ass” at the beginning, they probably won’t alter the script. They were the best fourth quarter team a year ago and have picked up where they left off. They have all the confidence in the world that even if they coast early on, they will find a way to win games in the end. It’s a very dangerous game to play. Try it Thursday against Chicago and it is extremely doubtful the record gets to 8-1.

- The first quarter woes extended through the entire opening half against Orlando. The Magic shot 53%, had 16 assists (to seven by Toronto) and just five turnovers. It was basically a walk in the park for Elfrid Payton, Channing Frye, Nikola Vuvevic and the rest of the visitors. The Raptors were a first place team in name only.

- Assistant coach Bill Bayno made a good point at the break: The Raptors are a known team now. They have a large target on their backs. Teams go at them hard from the jump. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. If the Raptors don’t come out aggressively early, you can bet most other teams will, because nobody is looking past the Raptors anymore. Those days are long gone.

- Top to bottom, Toronto just has a deeper, better team than Orlando. That depth carried the day on Tuesday, with Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Lou Williams, Tyler Hansbrough playing the biggest roles, with some help from Greivis Vasquez, who had a poor game, but played well late. The reserves scored 11 straight points to tie the game, setting up the eventual victory. Not a lot of reserve units can match up with Toronto’s group.

“I like the resolve of our team. The second unit came in and did what they were supposed to do and really competed,” head coach Dwane Casey said afterward.

- Terrence Ross continues to sizzle. The third-year swingman has put a tough start behind him, rebounding with three straight strong offensive games. Ross has scored 18, 17 and 17 points in the games, and averaged nearly five rebounds. He has also hit 12-of-18 three-point attempts after hitting just six, total, over the first five games. By hitting 67% of his threes over the past three games, Ross has raised his average from outside to an outstanding 47%.

- Kyle Lowry was excellent and by far the best of the starters. DeMar DeRozan had a rough night. Johnson had a good offensive night and got better defensively as the game went on.

- Early on, Orlando simply outworked and outran the home side. Toronto’s big men were particularly disinterested in competing. Jonas Valanciunas has had some good games against Nikola Vucevic, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. He failed to run the floor and again looked a step slow defensively. Amir Johnson’s typical frenetic energy was absent early.

- Valanciunas has missed a lot of makeable shots so far this season and especially against Orlando. Valanciunas shot 61% on shots within five feet last year, but has been 10% worse so far. It is early, he has time to correct whatever is going on.

- Lowry has not been drawing as many charges as he did last year when he was right near the top of the NBA’s leaderboard, but he took a couple against Orlando at key moments.

- Not sure why exactly, but Toronto really has Orlando’s number. The games are usually pretty tight, but Toronto has won nine straight meetings, the closest being the one DeRozan won at the buzzer in Orlando a couple of years ago. It is the longest streak Toronto has against any team.

- Yes, the Raptors sit alone at the top of the NBA. Yes, it feels a little weird to type that.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bucks at Raptors Points Per Game: The DeRozan surge continues; Taking care of business; The JV up-fake; Bench still balling; Greek Freak impresses

- January 14th, 2014

These Raptors continue to differentiate themselves from editions past. That certainty those who cover the team on a daily basis or those who have watched for years that Toronto would somehow find a way to blow almost any game late is gone. The tendency to look past middling (or worse, as is the case with the Bucks) opponents, also is mostly a relic of the past.

- DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continue to make convincing all-star cases. Both shut the door on Milwaukee in the third quarter (Toronto continues to dominate in third quarters of games, puzzling Dwane Casey who was lamenting the team’s struggles coming out of halftime only about a month ago). Lowry shot 4-for-5 in the third. Everybody knows Lowry’s a great passer, but DeRozan’s become an effective quarterback with the ball as well. His improvement in terms of seeing the floor is as noticeable as his step forward as a scorer.

- Toronto’s now third in the East and since Atlanta’s not getting top player Al Horford back this season, could well stay there. Why? The team has jumped to sixth in the NBA in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and is 2nd in that category since the Rudy Gay trade and is 15th in offensive rating (12th since the deal).

- That defensive success starts with the standout job Lowry is doing at the initial point of attack and filters to Amir Johnson, one of the league’s 10 best help defenders. Jonas Valanciunas has taken major strides forward as a helper and Patrick Patterson has been solid all-around. Add in the jobs Terrence Ross and John Salmons are doing guarding the perimeter and slight improvement defensively from DeRozan and it all adds up to strong defending. The Raptors play hard and tough and are positionally sound, executing what the coaching staff asks of them on that end every night.

- What’s up with teams biting on the Valanciunas up-fake? Does nobody watch video? He can hit short jumpers, but would rather do something else. Yet, half the league seems to bite hard when he pump fakes, leading to dunk after dunk. The Bucks are long and athletic with the potential to have a bunch of all-league defenders, but John Henson and his teammates need to up their basketball IQ. That will come with experience. Again, they’re not the only culprits. Casey won’t like me writing this, but it’s baffling how the league has struggled to counter the Valanciunas pump fake or the Terrence Ross corner three. Both of those things have been huge for the offence.

- Top Raptor reserve units of all time … go – This one’s up there. Patterson’s been fantastic at both ends of the floor and added 18 more points while maintaining his 50% accuracy mark from three-point range as a Raptor. The bench combined for 43 points. John Salmons followed up his best game as a Raptor with an outing that might even have been better. Rudy Gay’s doing great in Sacramento, but this deal was a massive win for Toronto. I’m sure Masai is happy his friend Pete D’Allesandro benefited as well, but what he really cares about is what it did for the Raptors and the answer is – a lot.

(Great (OK, good) Raptor bench units of the past: Of course T-Mac, Dell, Muggsy, Willis; Dee Brown, T-Mac, John Wallace before that; JYD, Childs, Murray; Marshall, Bonner, MoPete; Bargnani, Calderon, MoPete, Graham, Humphries).

- A minor complaint, maybe, is the average play lately from  Johnson. He’s set the bar pretty high over the years and is still doing it all defensively, but his offensive game has been far less noticeable than usual the past few weeks.

- Said this the other day, Giannis Antetokounpo does things every night that make you think he’s going to be special down the line similar to a young Tracy McGrady. You don’t see that very often. Anthony Davis had it at Kentucky but was more of a finished product (even though he still has a massive ceiling). Butch Carter tweeted the McGrady comparison yesterday and he’d know as well as anybody having been there for McGrady’s start. The Greek Freak looks like a multi-dimensional game-changer down the line. It just might take a few years before he gets there.

- Count Bucks coach Larry Drew as sold on the Raptors:

“Right now they’re certainly a different team than they’ve been in the last two or three years,” Drew said. “They’ve added some real solid pieces that give them a lot of stability. They’re very, very deep.”

“They played a much more physical game than we did and we just didn’t respond to it,” Drew said.