Archive for the ‘Phoenix Suns’ Category

Game No. 18: Raptors 99, Suns 96

Despite another sluggish start and early double-digit deficit, the Raptors were able to battle back on the road in Phoenix for just their fifth win of the season. The game was won between the second and third quarters, when the Raptors put together their first back-to-back 30-point quarters of the season.

In addition to snapping an eight-game losing streak, the Raptors also beat the Suns for the first time since February 10, 2004, and for the first time since November 2, 2001, they beat a Steve Nash-led team.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- It’s a bit easier to get some offence going and get a W when you have an All-Star in the lineup, and I continue to believe that’s the caliber of play Andrea Bargnani is bringing this season. Despite missing six games with a strained calf and being out of action for 13 days, Bargnani picked up right where he left off. Sure, he got off to a slow start offensively (0-of-4 from the floor), but he was still doing the little things on the floor and staying aggressive, which told me he was mentally into the game and just needed to get his timing back.

What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly that timing would return. Bargnani exploded for 18 points in the third quarter alone, when the Raptors really turned the tide in the ball game, and finished with a game-high and personal season-high of 36 points. Even better, he did it on 21 shots while playing some solid defence and coming up with six rebounds. Andrea the All-Star? Yes, Andrea the All-Star.

2- As if Ed Davis’ season hasn’t been frustrating enough, the young big man had to feel like he hit rock bottom tonight. Three minutes of playing time, zero points on 0-for-1 shooting, one rebound, one turnover, three personal fouls.  Ouch, that’s really all there is to say. This has to be the bottom of the barrel for Davis…right?!

3- I mentioned that the Raptors had to claw back after another sluggish start to a game and another early double-digit deficit. For a young team that should be able to pounce on older teams early, these first quarter woes are really becoming a major concern for Toronto. In their last six first quarters, the Raptors have been outscored by a combined 159-88 (an average of about 26.5-14.7), have trailed by anywhere from eight-to-16 points after the last six opening frames and haven’t scored more than 18 points in a first quarter in any of those games. With that aforementioned youth, I assumed the Raptors would lose a lot of games this season after opening up surprising leads early on. Instead, they’re almost facing an uphill battle by the game’s first stoppage.

4- As bad as the first quarter was for the Raptors in this game, the third quarter was that much better. Carried by a barrage of Bargnani buckets, Toronto outscored Phoenix 31-19 (Bargnani himself, with 18 points in the third, almost matched the Suns’ entire output for the quarter), and went from being down four at halftime to up eight heading into the fourth quarter. It was definitely one of the best, most complete quarters of the season for the Raptors, if not the best so far this year, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint.

5- Here’s my quick take on the Suns. Outside of Steve Nash, and maybe Marcin Gortat, I don’t think you can name one player on that roster who is an NBA starter at this point in their career. Even beyond looking for starters, can you even find more than three or four guys on that roster who can legitimately impact a game on any given night? The Suns need to blow it up and start all over again, and that process will be made easier when about $30 million comes off their books this off-season. But they can speed up the rebuilding process by trading Steve Nash before the trade deadline (and freeing him from this mess of a situation) and stock-piling some good young talent, which they have none of right now. Trading Nash mid-season would also likely put them in better position for the stacked 2012 Draft.

They owe it to Nash, and they owe it to themselves.

6- I could spend my last thought knocking another lackluster performance from DeMar DeRozan, but I’ve said enough about his recent play already. Instead, I’ll take the high road and talk about a positive right now, and that’s James Johnson. Johnson finished with 18 points (on seven-of-12 shooting) to go along with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. In addition, he played more minutes than anyone besides Bargnani and turned the ball over just twice in those 35 minutes. In his last three games, Johnson is averaging 16 points on 54 per cent shooting to go along with six rebounds and about two blocks and two steals.

He doesn’t have to score that prolifically, but as I’ve mentioned recently, if Johnson can even become an average offensive option when the Raptors need him, then coupled with his versatile defence, I’d say at 24, he definitely has a place in the Raptors’ future in some capacity.

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Next up for the Raptors is the back end of a back-to-back in Utah on Wednesday night. The Jazz are an underrated team in the Western Conference and are sitting at home well rested, so the Raps could and should get knocked back down to earth after this win.

Never the less, even in a mostly lost season more about draft positioning than anything else, you still don’t want to see double-digit losing streaks, so this was a much-needed victory for the young Raptors.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 42 Min, 36 Pts, 10-21 FG, 4-6 3PT, 12-12 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Suns Player of the Game: Marcin Gortat – 38 Min, 21 Pts, 9-16 FG, 3-5 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk

Start time: 9:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson
Phoenix: Steve Nash, Ronnie Price, Grant Hill, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat

Injury report

Toronto: Andrea Bargnani is questionable for tonight.

Phoenix: No injuries reported.

What a tremendously depressing game this is. The Raptors are depressing because they’re tied with the Hornets for the NBA’s longest ongoing losing streak (at eight games) and the Suns are depressing because Steve Nash is being wasted on a pitiful Suns squad. Nash is still awesome and Marcin Gortat is now unquestionably a top 10 center, but there’s a huge dropoff in talent after those two. Their third-best player is either Jared Dudley or Markieff Morris.

The Raptors really, really, really need Andrea Bargnani to return to the starting lineup soon. You already knew that, but did you also know that the Raptors are averaging a league-worst 19.3 points in the first quarter? They don’t have a “go-to” guy who is likely to get hot early and stake the team to an early lead. It may be faint praise to say that anyone is the MVP on this suckhole team, but there’s no longer any question that Bargnani is the MVP of this team. And no, I never thought I would type, say or even think those words in that particular sequence.

Random thoughts…

  • Is it weird that I’m happy that Jerryd Bayless is back? I just enjoy watching him play. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a starter on a winning team, though.
  • As a Jays fan, I’m perfectly fine with Alex Anthopoulos not trying to top the nine-year, $214-million contract that Prince Fielder just signed with the Tigers. That deal is probably going to look really ugly by the sixth year, if not sooner.
  • I’m surprised it’s taken me this long into the season to share a “That Mitchell and Webb Look” video with y’all in these posts but now that I’ve remembered that show, you’ll be seeing a lot of these.

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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)

If you didn’t stay up until almost 2:00 AM ET last night to watch the Suns’ triple-overtime loss to the Lakers, you missed one of the most intense NBA games of the season. Here are my key takeaways from that game as far as the Suns go:

  • Marcin Gortat is probably a top 10 NBA center.
  • Channing Frye can stroke from outside but he’s tissue-soft on defense and tends to seize up in clutch situations on offense when he’s double-teamed in the post — he committed a couple of key turnovers in those situations in overtime.
  • Grant Hill and Steve Nash are modern medical wonders.
  • Vince Carter should get the Suns’ renowned medical staff to take a look at that giant barbecue fork sticking out of his back.

You might think the Raptors will have a distinct advantage tonight since the Suns played such a grueling game the night before, but I don’t get the sense that Steve Nash understands the meaning of the word “tired”. There’s also the fact that the Raptors haven’t beaten the Suns in their last 13 meetings — Toronto’s last win was on February 10, 2004, when Vince Carter led Raptors scoring with 29 points.

Injury report

Toronto: Amir Johnson is questionable for tonight with that ankle injury he’s still nursing.

Phoenix: Grant Hill should be fine to play in spite of last night’s triple-overtime game as long as his nurse brings his oxygen tank.

Five questions

1. Was there a way the Raptors could have acquired Marcin Gortat instead of the Suns? He’s exactly the kind of center this team needs.

2. Do you agree with Suns coach Alvin Gentry that Grant Hill deserves consideration for Defensive Player of the Year?

3. Do you think the Suns still have a realistic shot at making the playoffs? They’re three games behind eighth-place Memphis in the West with 11 games to go.

4. Assuming the Suns will have to lean more heavily on their reserves than usual tonight because of last night’s marathon, who is your pick to light up the Raptors off the bench?

5. Since there is absolutely no chance of the Suns trying to retain Vince Carter’s services after this season, should the Raptors try to sign him on the cheap for a season for nostalgia’s sake?

Start time: 10:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani
Phoenix: Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez

Tonight’s pregame song is a Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performance of “Sandwiches” by Odd Future. I’ll be honest, these guys scare me a little bit, but that’s probably because I’m old. They’re certainly energetic, though.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CyMuBi-kH8

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Coming off of one of their most impressive efforts of the season in a win against the Bulls, and with 19 000 people jamming into the Air Canada Centre for an affair with Steve Nash and Vince Carter, the Raptors responded with a completely listless, embarrassing performance.

Andrea Bargnani appeared to be the only Raptor ready to play in the first quarter, as Nash and Carter put on a clinic. Kid Canada had seven assists in the first quarter alone, and Vince poured in 11 points, as the Suns jumped out to a 21-7 lead, and eventually a 35-14 lead after one.

DeMar DeRozan came alive in the second quarter, and the Raptors finally started showing some fight. To give you an idea of how ugly this game was, fans were excited to “only” be down 18 at the half.

The Raptors continued to build momentum in the third quarter, and actually had the deficit cut to 12 midway through the quarter. But as quickly as they had fallen out of the game in the first quarter, the Raps did again in the third. A couple of Vince Carter buckets here, a couple of Nash dimes there, and the Suns’ lead had ballooned to 24 heading into the fourth.

By then, there was nothing left to settle. The Raptors had no chance of even sniffing a comeback, the fans had no chance of even sniffing free pizza, and everyone came to the realization that the highlight of the night had been a halftime performance by Toronto legend, Maestro Fresh Wes.

Aside from the Raptors’ 50 per cent shooting night, there were no bright spots. Bargnani shot an incredible 12-of-15, but looked lost in every other aspect of the game, as usual. DeRozan provided a spark when in the game, but he struggled through foul trouble and played just 24 minutes.

The Suns out-worked the Raptors from the opening tip. They got to every loose ball, ripped rebounds out of Raptors’ hands and silenced a solid crowd early on.

The game was over midway through the first quarter. I don’t care how bad your team is, how good the opposition is or how well you played last game. When you’re out of a home game six or seven minutes into it, that’s unacceptable.

Finally, before we put this game out of our memories forever, I wanted to mention something regarding Jay Triano. For the record, I don’t think Jay is at fault for what happened tonight. We’ll never know if games like this are a product of poor coaching or the result of trotting out a gutless team.

But I will say this. There are those that randomly jump to Jay’s defence after a great effort, like when the Raptors beat the Bulls on Wednesday night. Those fans point to efforts like that as the proof that Triano is doing a great job with this young team. My question to those fans is this: If you believe it is coaching behind a young team giving a full effort and playing above themselves, then wouldn’t you also believe it is coaching behind a young team coming out flat and unprepared?

Just some food for thought.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani -35 Min, 26 Pts, 12-15 FG, 2-5 FT, 4 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl

Suns Player of the Game: Vince Carter – 30 Min, 17 Pts, 7-12 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 7 Reb, 6 Stl, 1 Blk (I get the feeling the boos don’t bother him)

Goat of the Game: Sonny Weems – 12 Min, 1 Pts, 0-5 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 1-2 FT, 2 Reb, 1 Ast