Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

I hate that I love you, Kobe.

The Raptors blew yet another double-digit fourth quarter lead, Kobe Bryant killed the Raptors for the umpteenth time in his career, Dwane Casey mismanaged his rotation and Rudy Gay threw up brick after brick after brick, as Toronto fell to the Lakers in overtime. The Raptors still haven’t beaten the Lakers on the road since 2001, they fall to 2-14 all-time against the Lakers at Staples Center and they have yet to win a season series with the Lakers…like, ever.

Here are some thoughts on a game that exemplified the Raptors’ 2012-13 season in one completely predictable fourth quarter meltdown…

Lakers 118, Raptors 116 (OT)

- DeMar DeRozan may have been 2 for his last 6, but he was also 12-of-18 on the night and was enjoying one of the performances of his young career. Kyle Lowry scored 15 points on only eight field goal attempts. You know how many shots DeRozan took in the final three minutes of overtime? None. Know how many shots Lowry took in all of overtime? None. Instead, the Raptors repeatedly went to Rudy Gay and Alan Anderson when they needed a bucket, and while Anderson actually hit some big shots down the stretch, Gay was absolutely abysmal with the Raps stubbornly settling for hero-ball.

Gay went a combined 0-of-4 in the final minute of overtime and the final minute of the fourth quarter, which inexplicably included a three-point attempt despite the fact that he had only hit two threes in the game and is a sub-30 per cent long range shooter this season. Even worse, Gay didn’t get to the free throw line once in that time and only took two free throw attempts all night, despite the fact that he took 26 shots, seven of which came from behind the arc. He made just seven of those 26 shots and turned the ball over six times.

Look, part of the blame is on DeRozan, who needs to learn how to get feisty with his teammates and demand the ball when he’s having a game like this. Part of the blame falls on Lowry, who probably could have gone into attack mode with a horrible defender in Steve Nash guarding him. Part of the blame goes to Dwane Casey, since a lot of those late fourth quarter and overtime possessions looked like they were drawn up for Gay despite the fact that he was struggling mightily. But the majority of the blame has to fall on Gay himself. How do you get the ball in your hands so many times down the stretch without success before even thinking about moving it or looking for one of your other, hotter teammates? It’s not just that he missed a boat load of shots when it mattered, it’s that he didn’t even look like he was thinking for a second about doing anything else with the ball despite the fact that it clearly wasn’t his night.

- As for a part of the game where Casey has to shoulder a ton of blame, the Raptors’ coach proved once again that he seems incapable of managing a rotation in a tight game, and that continues to be both concerning and insanely frustrating. Nowhere is this lack of rotation management more evident than in Casey’s handling of Jonas Valanciunas. On this night, Valanciunas was giving Dwight freaking Howard all he could handle inside and had posted 12 points, six rebounds and a block in less than 17 minutes of action mostly matched up with the most physically imposing big man in the game today.

How was the rookie rewarded for his monster effort? Well after being pulled from the floor with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter and four personal fouls, he didn’t see the floor again…at all. That’s right, one of the three best Raptors on the floor in this game didn’t play a single second in the final 24:03 of a tight ball game. Instead, coach Casey went with Aaron Gray for parts of the fourth quarter and then used Gray again for the final 2:20 of overtime when Amir Johnson fouled out. This isn’t even about playing Valanciunas because he’s the “future” or because he needs “development time.” He was the vastly superior option to Gray on both ends of the floor and Casey instead decided to roll with a guy who left the team with an offensive handicap in overtime simply because of some preconceived old school notion about needing an “experienced” player over a rookie big man in crunch time.

And for what it’s worth, it was Gray who found himself absolutely lost and caused the initial breakdown on the defensive possession in overtime that resulted in Kobe Bryant’s uncontested dunk, which just about sealed it for the Lakers. How fitting.

- Speaking of Bryant, while I spent a ton of words on the Raptors’ embarrassing mismanagement down the stretch, I can’t write this post without giving a living legend his due. Kobe scored 41 points on 11-of-22 shooting, which included 15 points in the fourth quarter and a couple of late three-pointers with defenders draped all over him and no place to go. Call him Bean, call him the Black Mamba, call him the ultimate Raptor Killer, call him “Vino” if that’s what he really wants. He’s not Michael, he’s not LeBron, but he’s still Kobe damn Bryant, and we’ll likely never see another like him again.

I mean, Jesus Christ, Kobe. This death stare will haunt Raptors fans in their dreams for as long as we all shall live…

GIF courtesy of Mocksession.com

- By the way, after the game, Casey said that the Raptors were instructed to foul Bryant before he could get off the game-tying three-pointer on the Lakers’ last possession of regulation, while Amir Johnson said he tried to, but just missed his chance.

- While you wouldn’t know it based on the boxscore, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields actually played about as good of defence as you can play on Bryant. Fields probably disrupted him more and played a huge part in stopping Kobe in Toronto back in January, so I would have preferred if he had got the defensive assignment late in the game, but I also can’t complain with the way Anderson played Kobe. He made him work for pretty much everything, and with a Hall Of Fame scorer of that caliber, that’s really all you can do.

- Landry Fields‘ contract will always cast a shadow over what he does on the floor and his shot still looks wonky as he works to literally rebuild it, but if you’re a basketball junkie who appreciates solid, smart fundamental basketball and things like perfect off-ball movement, Fields really can be a treat to watch outside of looking for individual offensive production. I maintain that Landry can be an important piece for this team moving forward, despite the price tag.

- The Raptors were able to jump on the Lakers quickly and build an early lead, much like they did in that aforementioned January meeting, because they pushed the tempo and basically went full throttle, daring the older Lakers to try and keep up. Unfortunately in the second half, the game was slowed down to LA’s benefit, and I couldn’t really understand why the Raps didn’t try to push the tempo again. The Lakers may play at a faster pace than the Raptors on average, but it was clear to see that they weren’t comfortable playing as fast as the Raps wanted to in the first half.

By the way, the 37 points scored in the first quarter on Friday night were the most points scored in a quarter all season by the Raptors.

- Sebastian Telfair’s big night on Wednesday came against his former team – and a weak team at that – and John Lucas III scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in this game, but I maintain that Casey should have elected to go back to Telfair as his backup point guard over Lucas. It was painfully obvious yet again that the second unit needed more ball movement, and JL3 sure as hell isn’t bringing that to the table. It was also frustrating to watch Kyle Lowry sit for more than half of the fourth quarter despite having another solid all around night. Casey’s poor rotation management goes far beyond just not playing certain guys that he should play or sitting guys that he should sit, as he also seems to have a problem mastering how long to leave certain guys on the floor in games like this and how long to leave some of his key players on the bench.

- Overshadowed by the frantic finish was the fact that Andrea Bargnani re-injured his right elbow in the first quarter and did not return, although this time it’s being called a strain while the last time Bargnani actually tore a ligament in the elbow. No one should be rooting for anyone to get hurt, but the fact that a Bargnani injury is such an afterthought nowadays tells you just how little importance fans view his presence with.

- After almost an hour of writing and 1400 words later, I still can’t get over the fact that the Raptors were oh-so-close to winning a season series with the Lakers for the first time in franchise history and that damn close to their first win over the Lakers in L.A. in 11 seasons. Once again, this team has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

UGH.

Raptors Player Of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 28 Pts, 12/18 FG, 4/4 FT, 5 Reb, 5 Ast, 1 Stl in 44:00

Lakers Player Of the Game: Kobe Bryant – 41 Pts, 11/22 FG, 5/10 3Pt, 14/16 FT, 6 Reb, 12 Ast, 2 Stl, 9 TO in 43:47 (The nine turnovers obviously jump off the page, as Kobe was sloppy with the ball at times and the Raptors’ defence was as good as I’ve seen against him, but are you really going to hold that against him tonight? Didn’t think so.)