For the first time ever, the Utah Jazz came into Toronto without Jerry Sloan, but they still carried an 11-game winning streak over the Raptors into Wednesday night’s ball game.
With Andrea Bargnani missing the game due to the flu, the Raptors sent out a much more defensive-minded and athletic lineup, and it paid off early on. The Raps got off to a good start (13-6) thanks to some solid defence and attacking the basket on offence. It was nice to see multiple players crashing the boards and following up on Raptors drives.
With the crowd getting ready to welcome Reggie Evans back to the floor, another Raptors big man went down. Amir Johnson appeared to hurt his ankle and stayed on the floor for a minute or two before leaving the game on his own legs. Amir did not return with what the team was calling a left ankle sprain.
From that disappointment, Raptors fans were then forced to watch a brutal end to the first quarter, as Toronto’s defence evaporated and Utah torched them for 31 points in the opening frame.
The Raptors recovered in the second quarter, as Ed Davis, believe it or not, led the charge offensively to spurt the Raps back into the game, even taking the lead for the majority of the quarter. But just as they had in the first quarter, the Jazz closed the second on a bit of a run, and held a 52-50 lead heading into the half.
If there were any questions regarding Reggie Evans’ health or rust factor coming into this game, they were quickly put to rest, as Reggie had eight rebounds in the first half (his first 15 minutes of action in three-and-a-half months).
The Raptors cranked up the defence again to start the second half and started to put together an impressive run of their own. DeMar DeRozan carried the scoring load despite poor shooting because he continued to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. Jose Calderon kept the Jazz defence honest by knocking down his jumpers and as mentioned, Reggie Evans picked up right where he had left off in November.
By the end of the third quarter, the Raptors had held the Jazz to just 18 points and found themselves up eight heading into the fourth quarter.
The Raptors stretched that lead out to 12 on a couple of occasions in the fourth and eventually to 14, but the Jazz made their inevitable run as the game’s conclusion drew closer. A barrage of buckets from C.J. Miles, including a couple of threes, had the 14 425 fans in the ACC groaning and getting restless.
The Utah rally was completed by big shots from Devin Harris and Al Jefferson on one end, while on the other end, Calderon proved for the millionth time that no matter how hot his shot is, it will always fail in the most clutch situations.
The Jazz had the ball for the last shot with the game tied at 94, and after Devin Harris’ shot clanked iron, Al Jefferson tapped up a Hail Mary at the buzzer that shot straight up in the air and then fell perfectly through the hoop.
In a 17-47 season, the Raptors have lost many games in many different ways, but few compare to squandering a 14-point lead at home with eight minutes remaining and then losing on a fluke tip-in at the buzzer.
Despite another disgusting collapse and heart-breaking loss at home, and despite the fact that Amir Johnson sprained his ankle, there were a few positives for the Raptors on this night. First and foremost, the Raptors’ bench was simply incredible. After dominating the Nets’ bench in London, the Raptors reserves came out and dismantled a much more formidable opponent in the Jazz, 42-9.
The other positives included Ed Davis’ 12 first half points, DeRozan’s eight rebounds and 11 free throw attempts, Sonny Weems’ 16 points in just 20 minutes and of course, the solid return of Reggie Evans. In his first taste of game action since November 26, Evans grabbed 11 rebounds in 33 hard-fought minutes.
At the end of the day, the Raptors fall 30 games below .500 and lose to Utah for the 12th straight time. Though it doesn’t take a basketball genius to see that without Jerry Sloan or a superstar point guard (sorry, Devin), these aren’t your daddy’s Utah Jazz.
Raptors Player of the Game: Sonny Weems -20 Min, 16 Pts, 6-10 FG, 2-2 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Stl
Jazz Player of the Game: Al Jefferson -42 Min, 34 Pts, 17-24 FG, 8 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk