It wasn’t a stylish victory by any means, but the Raptors finally won a close game down the stretch with solid defence, and that’s a start in a game they absolutely HAD to get.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

Raptors 101, Suns 97

- I mentioned the solid defence down the stretch. The Raptors’ D overall wasn’t great tonight (the Suns shot 48%) and was especially weak to start the game, but sometimes it’s more about when your defence steps up and getting timely stops. The Raps got those timely stops in the fourth quarter tonight, specifically in the final couple of minutes, and that was the difference.

- It’s only one game and no one is going to confuse the Mickael Pietrus signing as a massive game changer, but I liked what I saw tonight. Pietrus seems to have a savvy veteran presence about him, and whether it was calmly executing inbounds plays under Suns pressure or just being in the right spot on defence or for a timely rebound, he brought something to this game that the Raptors are usually lacking. I also liked the fact that the Suns were respecting his corner three-point threat, which spaced out the offence nicely in the second half.

I don’t know if Pietrus will be starting or not, but I think it’s safe to assume he’ll be on the floor to finish a lot of close games.

- DeMar DeRozan was the Raptors’ best player on Friday, and you can easily make the argument that he was the best player on the floor period. His shot wasn’t falling early, but instead of trying to force things offensively or throwing up bad shots, he attacked the basket all night, made nine trips to the free throw line, chipped in on the boards with eight rebounds, made some nice reads with the ball in his hands to grab four assists and even contributed some solid defence when the Raptors needed it. The evolution of DeMar continues.

- There were some glimpses of the early season Kyle Lowry in this game, but he also committed a couple of potentially back-breaking turnovers down the stretch and still didn’t have his usual burst. It’s hard to hate on him when he’s grabbing huge rebounds on the other end in a crowd of big men, though.

I thought Jose Calderon was great in relief of Lowry, posting 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he was 3/3 from deep) while dishing out nine assists in just 24 minutes. Calderon and the Raptors bench changed the game in Toronto’s favour in the second quarter and early in the fourth quarter.

- Speaking of the bench, Toronto’s reserves outscored Phoenix’s second unit 46-36, with Amir Johnson leading the way with 16 points and six rebounds and forming one half of a formidable bench-bigs combination with Ed Davis. It was nice to see a clean 10-man rotation that pretty much featured two players per position and never featured any random experimental lineups or two-point guard lineups. If Landry Fields can bounce back from injury and get back to being a competent NBA wing player, I’ll be fine with the 10-man rotation we saw tonight, except with Fields taking Linas Kleiza’s spot.

- Speaking of Kleiza, there are stretches of each game he plays in where he seems to figure out that he can be a pretty effective offensive player operating out of the post, and then he quickly forgets about it and goes back to being “Long-two Linas.”

- Andrea Bargnani was actually good defensively tonight, especially on that last defensive stand, and though he was virtually invisible on the offensive end, he grabbed one of the most important rebounds of the game and then calmly converted the subsequent free throws to seal the deal. I still don’t think he’s a fit with this team or the team’s desired direction, but I’ll admit that I might not trust anybody at the line in that situation more than Bargnani. If there’s one thing you can say for Andrea, it’s that the same care free attitude that seems to limit his overall game also gives him ice water veins in high pressure situations.

- One observation that’s really encouraged me recently is how NBA-ready Terrence Ross‘ defence has looked. He actually did a decent job guarding James Harden in Tuesday’s blowout loss in the few instances he was assigned to guarding him one-on-one, and he showed some more of that defensive awareness tonight against the Suns. What I’ve noticed is that Ross seems to have a really good grasp on how and when to leave his man to help a teammate double-team another player, and that he always makes sure he can make it back to his own man in time. That’s a defensive principle thing that you either have or don’t have as a basketball player, and Ross has it.

His ball handling and ability to create for himself in small samples has also been surprising lately considering those are two of his weakest areas, and I continue to believe that most fans are underrating how high the 21-year-old’s ceiling is as a complete player.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 23 Pts, 8/18 FG, 7/9 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO in 35:05

Suns Player of the Game: Marcin Gortat – 14 Pts, 6/10 FG, 2/2 FT, 6 Reb, 5 Ast, 3 Blk, 2 TO in 30:32

While a victory of any kind feels nice when your team has lost six straight and only had three wins from their first 16 games, it’s important to remember that this win won’t mean much if the Raptors can’t actually build off of it, and they’ll have their work cut out for them on a five-game Western Conference road trip through Denver, Utah, Sacramento, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Portland.

I don’t think it’s likely (heck, I don’t even know if they can grab one of those games), but I maintain that if the Raptors can steal two of those five games to come back home 6-16, they’ll be in a manageable situation in terms of being able to start digging themselves out of this massive hole. It certainly isn’t an ideal situation or the mark of a playoff caliber team, but I really do see a difference between 6-16 and anything worse than that.

Comments (21)

  1. DeRozan was 7-9 from the charity strike, not 7-19.

    • Hah, just changed it. That’s what I meant…I would not have been praising him if I actually thought he missed 12 of 19 free throws.

  2. Something is definitely wrong with Lowry, he has no first step.

  3. I’m really enjoying the Bargnani spin, making free throws, grabbing one rebound over one of the smallest front courts in the league and not getting beat on the baseline by a 6’3 point guard are now causes for celebration.

    Franchise player, baby.

    I really don’t get the “Hey, they won, so everything that happened in this game must have contributed to the end result in some way, shape or form” mindset of sports fans sometimes. He was shit, just because they won doesn’t mean so you to find something positive to write about every Raptor that stepped on the court.

    • You’ve been reading this blog and my post-game thoughts long enough to know that I frequently rip Bargnani and often post negative observations, regardless of the result. These were my observations tonight. Bargnani was invisible offensively, as I mentioned, and he didn’t do much on the boards, but it’s not “spin” to state a fact that he grabbed one of the most important rebiunds of the night, was excellent defensively down the stretch when the Raptors needed him to be, and hit two clutch free throws. Those are facts/observations from tonight’s game, it doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly going to start praising Andrea when he doesn’t deserve it.

  4. I almost guarantee Lowry is playing injured!

  5. To me the greatest issue for Bargs is who is feeding him. Lowry doesn’t have that figured out. I would play Bargs with Calderon and Johnson off the bench. Hopefully Lowry can draw some attention to free up DeRozen. It was no coincidence that the Raps “bench” was the better unit. Lowry is a good player but I don’t think he is a better PG than Calderon. He makes bad decisions with the ball and really he is an upgrade on defence? He’s got to be getting windburn from the blow-bys.

  6. “Andrea Bargnani was actually good defensively tonight, especially on that last defensive stand”

    Bargnani had one very good defensive plays down the stretch on Dragic. The rest was just doing what he should be, and while I understand thats an upgrade from his usual doing nothing, thats not something I’d classify as good. Would Ed or Amir have gotten that praise? Ofcourse not, because we see them put in the effort and make shots tougher for people every night (I haven’t heard or read anyone mention Amir coming over to help challenge the final shot and prevent what would have been lay up by Brown).

    And Bargnani’s D for the rest of night had been absolutely terrible, not closing out in time, no rebounding, no help d, missing rotations, standing in no mans land in the pick and roll, but we don’t see any mention of that either. The way the Raptors analysts went off on Andrea after the game you’d get the impression he single handidly won the game.

    This is what happens when the bar for a players expectations is set this low. Making a single play on a single possession at the 2 minute mark was a herculean effort that changed everything.

    This game was decided because of the Raptors superior bench play. They came back from a double digit deficit and then gave the team a cushion to finish the game. This game is lost in the first half if not for the play of Jose, Amir, Ed, Ross and Pietrus.

    • one slight comment praising bargnani (he was the guy guarding the player with the ball on about 5 of the last 6 plays down the strech, all stops) = paragraph of rebuttal

      people need to calm down. He’s been trashed all season from all angles, and the moment he’s slightly complimented it’s the result of media bias.

      This is some fox news level paranoia.

      • Tell me all you want about this being fox news paranoid opinion. At best thats the equivalent of CNN only asking for both sides opinion and not bother to ask for or find the truth. At worst its MSNBC accusing fox news of bias.

      • Yeah calm down people….Bargnani showed up on the last three plays and we only have to pay him 10 million towards the cap -relax!
        Bargnani is not even a starter let alone an all-star. He is a streaky shooter, with no passion and (when he feels like it) defense. You want him, he’s yours -let him play on your team and kill the PF spot over there….He sucks! and if his play isn’t clear enough for you – than how is anyone supposed to take your evaluations on NBA talent serious!
        Listen here, Ed Davis goes out and collects 8 rebs, 4 points (2-4), 3 dimes and a block all in 21 minutes – more assists than Lowry. He grabbed an important rebound by boxing out Gortat at the end of the 3rd quarter to keep the play alive and DeRozan eventually scores on it. With that the attitude (after the game) is that he just had an average game, needs to do more to get more playing time. Yet, Stiffnani puts in that effort (tie in the game before he got hurt) and gets the starting job, the green light to shoot when he wants, chance after chance to finish the game in defensive/rebounding responsibility time, an this article on here to articulate his one- three good plays. TEN MILLION, folks….for what!???

  7. I wanted to comment about your article after the Memphis game – where you wreck Davis but never got a chance; I’m glad I waited after I read this morning article. If your gonna blow sunshine up Bragnani’s ass for three good plays at the end of last nights, you seriously gotta take back what you aid about Davis in that game against Memphis. The guy is going up against one the tallest and arguably best front courts in the NBA on the best team in the NBA. Not only does he have to fight with the 7’0 Gasol, but the relentless beast they have with Zach. PLUS, a dominate rebounding SF. Who does Davis get to play with to counter, a Rookie – who has never played these two big men before and Dominick McGuire. Davis finished that game with 10 points (shot over 50%), missed only 2 shots from the free line and 6 rebounds (out rebounded Gasol) and played less minutes then Gasol and Randolph. He changed alot of shoots, redirected a lot of shoots that didn’t get on the score card. He has never played with Val in a starting you gig before, so sure there were times, they looked out of sync…give them 10 games together and then evaluate….What did you want from him? 18/12 against that duo including Gay while having to play with McGuire and the rookie???? Come on, bros! …you can do better than that!
    Coach Casey and his “accountability” mumbo-jumbo is bull shit! if that were true, Bargs wouldn’t get all this respect from the Coach with the play he has delivered. Casey said last year, that he doesn’t care about the name on the back of the jersey – well you wouldn’t know by the way he favors the under achieving Bargnani.

    • I actually have no clue what you’re talking about. I was advocating for more playing time for Davis for a while, and even though he and Valanciunas weren’t able to do much against the Grizzlies frontcourt, I also mentioned that they couldn’t really be expected to do much in that game against Gasol and Randolph.

      Here’s what I wrote after that game: “I’ve been waiting to see what a frontcourt of Davis and Jonas Valanciunas would look like playing extended minutes together, and they didn’t look good tonight, but I can’t say I really expected much from them against one of the best big man combos in the league.”

      I don’t see where I unjustly ripped the guy or what I “seriously gotta take back.”

    • @Young James
      Why do you keep reading Raptor blogs AND adding ridiculous comments that no one wants to hear? You never have a good thing to say about this team……


  8. I like how this has turned from a game blog to who dislikes Bargs more.

    The blog simply states that Bargs actually did a couple good things that had an impact on the game despite him not showing-up throughout the game. Those couple possessions of better-than-normal defence and key free throws at the end had an impact on the outcome of the game.

    He didn’t play well enough to deserve a ‘good game’ compliment, but he at least showed up for a couple good plays down the stretch.

    The Ed Davis playing time issue is frustrating as Ed is bringing more than Andrea right now. I’m curious to see how Casey and BC handle this moving forward.

    I don’t think Casey is favouring Bargnani as some have stated, I think it can be more about spacing. Davis can’t stretch the defence like Bargnani. Opposing teams have to respect Bargs outside shooting even with the shooting slump, which can create more space for players to penetrate. You can’t get out of a slump without playing time. Who knows, maybe Andrea will get back to the pre-injury state of last season with time (I know he shouldn’t need time to do that, but it would be nice for him to get back to that).

  9. Hey Joseph,

    A quick comment about Lowry’s lateral movement. My wife and I are both trainers, and she noticed tonight that when he slides to the left he tucks his foot to protect it. He also shifts his weight differently. He’s fine going straight ahead, but you and others have posted here that they don’t think he’s 100%. Judging from the way he’s compensating, he’s not close to that. Anyway, my wife has done a lot of rehab work, she knows what she’s talking about. Thought I’d chime in. Enjoy your posts, pal. :)

    • Good observation. Thx you for sharing. It pretty much confirm what we all think since he came back from injury. He obviously lost that quickness he showed at the start of the season that allowed him to slice through defense to get to the rim.

      I personnaly would prefer that he stay out of the floor to recover at 100% and come back in 2 weeks than to see him at 70% for a month or 2..

    • Thanks for the insight Steve. I’ll definitely be looking out for that tucked foot now.

  10. The only persons opinion about Bargnani and his impact on the Raptors that means anything is Dwayne Casey, the rest of the comments, suggestions, etc are like blowing into a 100 mph wind, a big waste of time, and cluttering up comments.

  11. For all the hate that Calderon gets when he’s not doing well, it’s a shame that he doesn’t get the same amount of credit when he has a good game. Not saying he hasn’t deserved the criticism at times, however, last night he had a huge game off the bench (13 points, 9 assists, +11 in just 24 minutes) .. and all he got was a couple of half-hearted lines about his performance.

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