Game No. 31: Spurs 113, Raptors 106

One night after falling a shot short against Linsanity and the Knicks, the undermanned Raptors went toe to toe and blow for blow with red hot Spurs, but it was not to be, as a veteran San Antonio team denied Toronto a lead at any point in the game, en route to their ninth straight victory.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- So much for D. Most people, including me, were expecting a grind it out defensive game between the Raptors and Spurs. After all, we’re talking about two teams that rank 11th and 12th respectively in opponents points allowed, both allow teams to shoot below 45 per cent and both are middle of the pack teams in defensive efficiency. Not to mention, as efficient as the Spurs offence is, the teams combine to average 186 points per game. On Wednesday night, the Raptors and Spurs combined for 219 points on a blistering 54.3 per cent shooting (88-of-162). It may have been a major deviation from the norm, but the extra offence and free pizza it delivered was definitely welcomed by the 16,000 in attendance.

2- A good game from DeMar still leaves us frustrated. After starting slowly and still not being able to buy a foul in his favour, DeRozan continued to attack the basket and hit his jumper when the Spurs gave him space, resulting in a 13-point explosion in the third quarter that kept the Raptors in the game heading into the fourth. When Dwane Casey pulled DeRozan late in the third, the 21-year-old already had 25 points. Unfortunately, DeMar didn’t get back into the game until midway through the fourth quarter, and ended up taking just two shots (making them both) in the final frame. Overall, it was a solid performance against a very good team from DeMar (29 points on 21 shots), but Casey keeping him out of the game and DeRozan not being aggressive enough when he did check back in might have been the difference between a 29 point game and a 35 point game.

3- Welcome to the 2011-2012 season, Anthony. It took nearly two months and 31 games, but Anthony Carter finally translated some of that solid veteran presence into an actual presence on the court. 10 points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal in 22 minutes of action, plus an honest effort on the defensive end. While I’m hopeful Carter can give the Raptors more quality minutes and possibly give himself some (minimal) trade value, I feel confident in saying that was the best performance we’ll see from him in a Raptors jersey.

4- Amir Johnson has been inconsistent this season and Ed Davis, who we all expected a lot of this year, has been at least a little disappointing, but I really liked what these two guys gave the Raptors in this game. Neither of them really went off for big personal nights, but both were steady and got the job done. Amir provided good energy with the starting unit while I thought Davis really made an impact on the game in the second half and established an inside presence for the Raptors. When it was all said and done, the two big men had combined for 21 points on an incredibly efficient 10-of-11 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 46 minutes. If they can put together collective efforts like that, the Raptors won’t need one of them to have any kind of monster breakout season. Though I will admit, I do want to see what Davis can do with consistent minutes.

5- A word on the Spurs. A lot of fans will overlook them in the Western Conference, yet again, because they’re older, have been around forever and aren’t nearly as flashy as teams like the Thunder, Clippers and Lakers. But they’re finally getting healthy, have the best coach and minutes manager in the NBA in Gregg Popovich and have won nine in a row to give themselves a 21-9 record, which is good for second best in the West. You won’t find many point guards playing better than Tony Parker right now either. The 29-year-old is averaging nearly 19 points and eight assists to go along with over a steal per game, and in my opinion, should be considered one of the 10 most valuable players in the NBA through the first half of the season.

6- Yes, the lowly Raptors fell to 9-22, giving them a winning percentage of .290 and a 4-10 record at home, but the shorthanded team gave a good ACC crowd yet another solid effort and good basketball game. I just spoke about how good the Spurs are, and yet the Raps, who were missing three of their top six scorers and a ridiculous 45.5 points from their lineup, still found a way to hang around and make a competitive game of it. While some focus on the fact that the Raptors are now 1-4 on this extended homestand, I look at the fact that they have a win over the Celtics and a differential of just -4.5 in the four losses, with three of those losses coming against playoff teams. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this exactly what “Tank Nation” was asking for, entertaining and close ball games that ultimately end up in losses?

***

Speaking of Tank Nation, with a Pistons win on Wednesday, Detroit pulled even with the Raptors in the standings for the fifth and sixth worst records in the league. The despicable Bobcats, who come to Toronto on Friday, and the Hornets, are rightfully untouchable at the bottom of the heap, but only 1.5 games separate the Wizards, who have the third-worst record, from the Raptors.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 29 Pts, 13-21 FG, 1-1 3PT, 2-2 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Spurs Player of the Game: Tony Parker – 39 Min, 34 Pts, 11-23 FG, 0-1 3PT, 12-12 FT, 3 Reb, 14 Ast, 1 Stl, 5 TO