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There are “good” losses (see Sunday’s loss to San Antonio), bad losses (Tuesday night in Houston) and just sad losses. Wednesday night in Memphis was just sad for the Toronto Raptors (3-13).
With Andrea Bargnani (ankle) out, the team did well to spread around the offence (five double digit scorers) and demonstrated a level of defensive execution (at least until the third quarter happened) that harkened back to last season. Facing the second half of a back-to-back set against the NBA’s best team, the Raptors were down by just one point heading into the break.
Of course, that was before things went downhill for Toronto during a 33-14 third quarter that moved what had been a neck-and-neck contest irreversibly towards blowout territory (the end result was a 103-83 loss, their sixth in a row). As has been the case in so many prior games, the club allowed things to spiral out of control by taking ill-advised shots and half-hearted attempts at drawing contact before allowing a transition basket at the other end of the floor on account of failing to hustle back.
The First Half
After Tuesday’s defensive debacle, a message clearly got through during the first half in Memphis. They held the Grizzlies to 45% shooting and had done well to keep Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in check. In fact, they actually held a 26-18 advantage in points in the paint against an exceptional Memphis front court. Like the rest of their first half gains, the PIP edge didn’t last: the Grizz rode a 28-6 dominant second half to a 46-32 end result in the category.
Pietrus Coming on Board?
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein sent a tweet on Wednesday reporting that the Raptors had renewed interest in Frenchman Mickael Pietrus. At this point, there’s nothing more to it than the less-than-140-character report (albeit from a terrific source), but it’s at least something. Not that this “something” is really all that much of anything – Pietrus has started just 10 games over the past two seasons and, now on the wrong side of 30, may be slowing down a step. However, he’s still a better defender than any small forward on the roster except for Dominic McGuire – and he isn’t nearly the offensive liability that McGuire is. With the club coming up against skilled wings like Andre Iguodala and Tyreke Evans next week, Pietrus could have a big role with the team right off the bat (provided he actually signs). It’s gotten this bad for the Raps – a rumour about adding an unsigned role player qualifies as a “Good”.
The Battle Up Front
Just because Memphis’ dominance on the glass could be easily predicted doesn’t mean it wasn’t a major deterrent for the Raptors’ effort on Wednesday. The Grizzlies held a 46-33 rebounding advantage on top of the aforementioned 46-32 PIP edge and attacked the offensive glass for 12 boards to Toronto’s seven. Randolph was as active as expected (13 rebounds, four offensive), while Marreese Speights (12 rebounds) was also a difference-maker.
The Third Quarter
If you had previously told me that the team’s fourth quarter woes would become third quarter troubles, I might have called it progress (in a warped way, I guess). But 71 points over the past two third quarters looks like anything but progress now. That Toronto has stumbled out to 17-4 and 11-1 deficits to begin their last two second halves suggests a disconcerting inability to motivate themselves and get going immediately out of the break.
- If Pietrus does come on board, that could well spell the end of McGuire’s brief Raptors stint. Wednesday already represented his ejection from the rotation, with Linas Kleiza taking his starting spot. The reality: McGuire came on as a defensive specialist who hasn’t adjusted to Dwane Casey’s defensive system and, therefore, hasn’t been remotely effective.
- The Pre-Season Doesn’t Matter, Reason No. 27,736: Toronto’s last visit to Memphis came in the pre-season finale, when they posted 120 points on the Grizzlies in a 120-106 win. After watching Wednesday’s game, I’m not sure the Raps would score 120 points at the FedEx Forum once in 30 meaningful games.
Friday at the ACC (7:00pm, TSN2) represents a fascinating chance to see a Phoenix Suns team that has been lacking an identity through 16 games. They have a near-even 7-9 record, having both crushed the Denver Nuggets and been blown out by the Detroit Pistons.
Prediction: Raptors 103, Suns 98 (11-4 this season)