While the doom and gloom of an extended losing streak looms over Toronto, it is important to remember that the ACC faithful (a measly 14 127) were actually treated to another great basketball game on Monday night.
The Raptors, who played only eight players due to an assortment of injuries, made it clear early on that they were not the same team that was drilled by a combined 57 points over the weekend, but rather the scrappy young team we came to know over the first month or so of the season.
Led by DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors got off to a fast start, and led by as many as nine in the opening quarter. Predictably, the Grizzlies made a run to close out the first to take a one-point lead into the second quarter. The Raptors continued their hard-working first half, but still trailed by two at the break.
Toronto had actually played tough defence in the first half, but saw that D slip in the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, as the Grizzlies opened up a 12-point advantage with about eight minutes to play.
The Raptors responded with a spirited effort to close out the ball game, going on a 11-0 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes and even taking the lead in the last three minutes of the game.
With the teams exchanging buckets and stops down the stretch, the Grizzlies found themselves with the last possession of the ball game, tied at 98. Rudy Gay then proved his worth by nailing a 15-foot, contested jumper from the right corner with just 0.8 seconds left.
A last-ditch effort to get a shot off failed for the Raptors, who saw their losing streak hit eight games; their longest such streak in five years.
If there is one thing the Raptors have become known for, (besides horrible defence, losing star players and European teams) it is likely losing heart-breakers at home. Seriously, someone should research this stat, because I’d be willing to bet that in the last five years or so, few teams have lost more games within three points on their home floor than the Raptors have.
Two moments in the final couple of minutes stuck out to me. First, with Ed Davis playing great defence on Zach Randolph down the stretch and getting his hands on loose balls, you would think that a defensive substitution to get Amir Johnson into the game would pull Bargnani out, not Davis. But Jay Triano replaced Davis with Amir, who had five fouls, and on the next play, the Grizzlies got an offensive rebound that looked to be tapped by Randolph. Memphis ended up with two points out of the extra possession, and on the next defensive possession, it was Bargnani who came out of the game.
After that play, the Raptors had a chance to tie, but ended up with another broken play out of a late timeout. It’s a shame we have to keep harping on this, but it truly is getting ridiculous that an NBA team can’t seem to run a competent play with the game on the line. As I’ve said before, either Triano can’t draw up a play under pressure, or his players aren’t listening to what he wants done. Either way, that’s an issue with coaching if you ask me.
Though they may be hard to acknowledge in another loss, there were plenty of positives for the Raptors on Monday night. Bargnani seemed to find his touch around the basket again, and started knocking down his jumpers early, to finish with 29 points. DeMar DeRozan continued his improvement with a 25-point, nine rebound, two block performance. Jerryd Bayless came within two rebounds of a triple-double, and registered career highs with 11 assists and eight rebounds in his start in place of the injured Jose Calderon. Ed Davis was solid defensively and finished with five blocks, including a couple of monster denials of Randolph.
And what more can you say about Julian Wright? He was efficient in the few shots he did take, led the charge defensively, rebounded the ball well and even threw in a couple of blocks (the Raptors actually had 11 blocks overall). Most of all, Wright continued to earn the fans’ respect with what are termed “hustle-plays,” which included him ripping the ball out of Grizzlies’ hands on multiple occasions. If this guy hasn’t earned a starting spot on this team, then this coaching staff is either blind, or has serious issues.
On a negative note, Sundiata Gaines was not good at all in relief of Bayless, and looked for his own shot too often. He also chucked two airball threes. Sonny Weems returned from his 17-game absence in ugly fashion. Weems missed the only two shots he took (both jumpers), turned the ball over once and finished minus-10…in just eight minutes played. I understand he was likely trying to play through rust, but let’s not pretend like he was playing well before injury. He had already done enough to play his way out of the rotation.
Two more things before I go. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Raptors’ (meaningless) NBA record 986-game three-point streak came to an end on Monday night. I’ll put this the nicest way I can: there are plenty of smart basketball fans in Toronto and in Canada, and then there are the type that care about things like that streak.
Lastly, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that in the grand scheme of things, that game went to perfection for the Raptors. The young guys were forced to play heavy minutes due to injuries, the team put in a commendable effort and provided quality entertainment for the fans, and yet the resulting loss should help draft positioning. As of right now, the Raptors would likely land the fifth pick.
Raptors Player of the Game: Julian Wright – 41 Min, 11 Pts, 5-7 FG, 1-4 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk (Bayless, Bargs and DeRozan had flashier numbers, but Wright was the engine that drove the team tonight)
Grizzlies Player of the Game: Rudy Gay – 39 Min, 21 Pts, 8-20 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk
Goat of the Game: Sundiata Gaines – 17 Min, 6 Pts, 3-10 FG, 0-4 3Pt, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO