Archive for the ‘San Antonio Spurs’ Category

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

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray
San Antonio: Tony Parker, Daniel Green, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan

Injury report

Toronto: Linas Kleiza, Jerryd Bayless and Andrea Bargnani are all out tonight.

San Antonio: T.J. Ford is out until March.

Everybody’s talking about how hot the New York Knicks are with Jeremy Lin, but they’re not the hottest team in the NBA right now. That would be the San Antonio Spurs, who ride an eight-game winning streak and a 20-9 record into the Air Canada Centre tonight.

There’s a lot to like about this Spurs team. We all know about their big three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, but this is an extremely deep team, as well. The Spurs have 10 players who average at least seven points per game — the Raptors have seven players with that average. And while everybody is raving about Linsanity, Tony Parker remains one of the top point guards in the games with his averages of 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game.

Jose Calderon has been leading the Raptors over the last couple of games, but his hot streak might end tonight. In his previous game against Parker and the Spurs last February, he scored just six points on 3-for-9 shooting.

In honor of Manu Ginobili — one of the game’s great floppers — here’s “Flop So Hard”:

You weren’t expecting anything else, were you?

Once again, the Raptors got off to a decent start on the shoulders of hot shooting by DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani and the usual intensity of Amir Johnson. Bargnani and DeRozan combined for 21 points in the first quarter, and the Raptors scored 29 points on the Spurs in that first frame, but they gave up 31.

Unlike Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the Raptors actually kept their hot shooters involved through the second and third quarters, as Andrea and DeMar continued to build on the solid games they were putting together.

Aside from an early scare that occurred when Amir Johnson sprained his ankle (Amir did return in the second quarter), the Raptors enjoyed a pretty successful first half, all things considered. They scored 56 points, were down just four against the league-leading Spurs and shot nearly 58 percent in the half. But the Spurs lead the league in wins for a reason, and they showed it in that first half with picture-perfect passing and ball movement that resulted in them shooting 62.5 per cent.

This was one of the rare instances this season where Toronto’s opponents’ efficient shooting had little to do with the Raptors’ lack of resistance.

The third quarter was the highlight of the night for the Raptors and their fans (unless you were really amped for Leandro Barbosa’s pizza-clinching free throw in the final minute). Roberto Alomar and a big Sonny Weems alley-oop jam seemed to liven up the crowd, and the Raptors used the energy to stage a 13-2 run that actually had them up by three heading into the fourth quarter.

But the fourth quarter is what usually separates the men from the boys, the contenders from the pretenders, in this league. Or in this case, it’s what separates a 44-win team from a 14-win team.

The final quarter was basically an elite, veteran team asserting their will and pulling away from a very poor, young team. The Raptors were held to just eight points in the first nine minutes of the quarter and were outscored 30-16 over the course of the fourth, as DeJuan Blair out-muscled the Raptors’ big men to provide San Antonio’s X-factor. It also didn’t help that Toronto decided to go away from Bargnani and DeRozan at this juncture of the game.

In the end, what was supposed to happen happened, though the Raptors did continue to prove that a young team will get up for a clash with an elite team more easily than they will for a battle with a fellow cellar-dweller.

Bargnani scored 29 points and was fantastic, offensively, looking more like the player who dropped 41 at Madison Square Garden than the guy who couldn’t keep up with Luke Harangody. Though Andrea’s rebounding total of two can definitely be called into question, specifically on some failed box-outs in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan finished with 25 points and was equally as impressive as Bargnani. It was encouraging to see the youngster get to the free throw line seven times, after going three straight games without a single trip.

Another positive for the Raptors was the play of Leandro Barbosa, who scored 20 points and looked comfortable on the floor, despite playing in only his second game after a long layoff.

As for the negatives, besides the team losing for the 15th time in 16 games, Jose Calderon continued to shoot the ball poorly, Amir Johnson sprained his ankle, Sonny Weems still looked lost on the floor for most of the night and Ed Davis didn’t exactly have one of his best performances. Although with Ed, he did take a nasty spill in the third quarter, and seemed to be having problems with his left wrist after that.

Another Raptors-related note I wanted to pass along was a scolding that Jay Triano looked to be delivering to DeRozan. In the second quarter, Triano called a timeout, and when the players sat down, Jay walked up to DeMar, and looked to be pretty pissed about something. I was nowhere near close enough to hear what was said, and it may not have been negative at all or it may not have even been directed at DeMar, but it definitely looked that way.

Lastly, I wanted to finish with some praise for the almost flawless Spurs. You’ll often hear that the best defensive basketball teams work like all of the players are connected on a string. There was a sequence of defensive possessions throughout the game where the Spurs demonstrated this better than any other team I have seen in person. To be honest, it was beautiful to watch as a basketball fan.

And yes, defence can be beautiful to watch. Let’s just hope we get first-hand experience of that in Toronto…in our lifetimes.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 25 Pts, 10-18 FG, 5-7 FT, 4 Reb, 4 Ast

Spurs Player of the Game: DeJuan Blair – 36 Min, 28 Pts, 14-21 FG, 11 Reb, 1 Stl (Blair scored 14 of his 28 in the fourth quarter. He was his team’s most dominant player in their most dominant quarter)

Goat of the Game:  Sonny Weems – 34 Min, 8 Pts, 4-9 FG, 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 TO (How Sonny got 34 minutes tonight is truly a mind-boggling question. For the record, Julian Wright played less than a minute)

Manu Ginobili

Sure, sure, the Spurs have the best record in the NBA right now. But the Raptors actually played them pretty tough on January 19 when Toronto took an 11-point lead into the second half. Of course, then Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reamed out his players, doubled up on DeMar DeRozan (who had been killing the Spurs in the first half) and worked in some zone defence. San Antonio won that game 104-95 and they’ve gone 7-2 since then even though seven of those games were on the road.

The Spurs are midway through their epic nine-game “rodeo road trip”, which is an extended trip they have to embark on every February during the period that the AT&T Center is occupied by the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. On the official website, they display the slogan “More than an 8 second ride.” Coincidentally, that was the slogan I posted over my bed in my university dorm. HEY-OHHHH!

Injury report

Toronto: Leandro Barbosa, Jerryd Bayless and Alexis Ajinca have all been cleared to play tonight.

San Antonio: Matt Bonner is probable with a bone bruise in his right knee, and the Spurs’ five starters have each played in all 51 games this season. You see how luck plays a certain part in team success in this sport?

Five questions

1. Did you know that if the Spurs win all five remaining games on their road trip (including tonight’s game), they’ll tie their own NBA record set in 2003 for the longest road trip winning streak?

2. Should Andrea Bargnani lay off the three-pointers for a while? He’s made just four of his last 29 shots from that range.

3. Do you think Trey Johnson could be a suitable, cheap replacement for Sonny Weems as a backup guard once Sonny becomes a free agent after this season?

4. Where would you rank Gregg Popovich among all-time NBA coaches if he wins his fifth championship coaching the Spurs this season? Phil Jackson is the only coach with a better winning percentage than him among guys who have coached at least 1,000 games.

5. Is it a given that Bronson Pinchot will play the lead role in the eventual Manu Ginobili biopic?

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Liveblog: James Borbath on theScore.com and ScoreMobile
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
San Antonio: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair

In tribute to San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner’s impression of Napoleon Dynamite in this video, our pregame song is the one Napoleon danced to at the end of the movie — “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai.

Manu Ginobili and DeMar DeRozan

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Spurs’ locker room when they went into the half trailing the lowly Raptors by 11 points last night. You think he tore a few new orifices in there? I think he probably did. Anyway, that was a different Spurs team in the third quarter. They both exposed the Raptors’ sorry interior defence as they asserted their own defensive superiority with an effective combination of zone defence and double-teams.

What was different about these double-teams is that they were on DeMar DeRozan, and I don’t think I’ve seen another NBA team apply repeated double teams on him before last night. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich obviously saw that DeRozan had 20 points at the half while Andrea Bargnani was having his second crappy game in a row, and then Pop instructed his players to double-team DeRozan and collapse into the paint when he tried to drive. As you’ll see in this sequence of third-quarter plays, this strategy worked very well. On the last two Raptors possessions in the video (the last one of which is actually a Bargnani miss), I included the subsequent Spurs possessions where, in contrast, they scored quite easily in the paint.

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