Anyone with a clue about basketball or the human body knew that the Suns would be running in quicksand Wednesday night in Phoenix, less than 24 hours removed from a triple-overtime thriller against the Lakers. Jay Triano and the Raptors obviously knew the same thing, and were still feeling the sting of a disgusting blowout in Denver, because they came out with great jump and energy in the first quarter.
As usual, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani carried the scoring load early on, combining to score 15 of the team’s first 17 points. James Johnson set the tone on the defensive end, and the Raptors quickly built up an eight point lead midway through the first quarter. The Suns responded, but a Leandro Barbosa three-pointer at the buzzer still sent the Raptors into the second quarter with a six-point lead.
It was clear that the game was there for the taking for Toronto.
But the Raptors weren’t as sharp in the second quarter and the Suns hung around with timely threes and their reserves. With Steve Nash sitting for the entire quarter and Grant Hill and Mickael Pietrus leaving the game early, the Suns actually kept pace in the second frame.
Despite shooting 54 per cent in the first half and hanging 61 points on a dead-tired team, the Raptors still only managed a six-point lead at the half.
Toronto got out to a 6-0 run to start the second half, had Bargnani stroking it in the third quarter, rode their starters for the majority of the quarter, and held a 13-point lead at one point. It looked like the Raps were finally going to break the game open. But again, the Suns reeled in the Raptors and actually ended up enjoying their best quarter of the night in that third frame.
Phoenix finished the third on a 17-4 run to even the ball game up after three.
The fourth quarter was a game of runs, as the Raptors once again opened with a 6-0 run and the Suns, once again, responded. A 9-0 run put the Suns in front for the first time since a 6-4 lead in the game’s opening minutes. All of a sudden, a game that the Raptors had controlled from the start was slipping away.
Luckily for them, the Suns began to show their fatigue at the worst possible time, with the game on the line. Phoenix got sloppy on the offensive end, leading to leak outs and fast breaks for the Raptors, and inevitably, an 11-2 run that should have finally put this one away for the Raptors.
Instead, Toronto failed miserably, as their inability to do anything against the Suns’ late zone defence and their inability to guard the three led to one last run; a 15-2 run by the Suns.
And just like that, a game that should have resulted in win no. 21 ended up as loss no. 51 for Toronto. That’s 14 straight losses to the Suns and 18 straight losses to Steve Nash for Canada’s lone NBA franchise, dating back to 2001.
But it wasn’t Steve Nash that decided this ball game. It was the Suns’ bench, who dominated the Raptors reserves, 63-40 , and were the reason the Raps were never able to pull away.
As for the starters, Bargnani was putting together quite the game through three quarters, but dropped off down the stretch. DeRozan had a decent ball game, but also failed to take over when it counted. Jose Calderon had a phenomenal 13 assists without committing a turnover, but never really looked to be aggressive with his own shot. Amir Johnson is clearly not 100 per cent, and in a lost season, shouldn’t be out there risking further injury.
That leaves James Johnson, who I thought was very good on both ends of the floor tonight, but failed to see any action in crunch time and finished with just 23 minutes in what was probably a poor decision on Triano’s part.
In Jay’s defence though, he probably thought Leandro Barbosa was a better option to close things out, and he had fair reason to assume so. Barbosa was 6-of-11 for 14 points in his return to the desert, and received a nice ovation when he first checked in.
Speaking of returns, aside from a flurry of threes in the first quarter, Vince Carter was uncharacteristically quiet against his former team, though I guess it’s different for him without 20 000 people booing and yelling mostly well-deserved obscenities at him. I have to agree with Scott’s assessment of VC earlier today.
Next up for the Raptors is a back-to-back in the Bay Area on Friday night and L.A. (to face the Clippers) on Saturday night. Both teams are better than the Raptors, but Toronto should be able to deliver at least one entertaining game out of the two, and could very well steal one.
Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 34 Min, 19 Pts, 9-20 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 3 Stl (That’s back to back eight-rebound games for DeMar)
Suns Player of the Game: Aaron Brooks – 34 Min, 25 Pts, 9-16 FG, 4-7 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 4 Reb, 8 Ast, 3 Stl
Goat of the Game: Reggie Evans – 15 Min, 0 Pts, 0-2 FG, 6 Reb, 2 TO, -7 (We all have bad days, even Reggie)