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It was almost too simple. The Toronto Raptors (9-20) were enjoying a renaissance spurred (no pun intended) on by defensive execution and a string of sub-100 opposition scoring totals. It figures, then, that what had been a five-game win streak would come to an end with their opponent scoring – yep – exactly 100 points.
The Raps’ 100-80 loss to the San Antonio Spurs offered many of the hallmark traits of the club’s first quarter of the season – incomplete efforts (56 points allowed in the second half), poor transition defence and a maddening tendency to get discouraged and settle for bad shots in the midst of a scoring drought.
But there were still positives to be garnered in what otherwise looks like a blowout loss. The bench (53 points) was once again a key supporting factor, as was some Jose Calderon-supported balanced scoring. Most encouraging? That Toronto currently sits in the same position through 29 games as last year’s lockout-shortened season, thought by most to be a success.
Calderon, the Starting PG
With the news that Kyle Lowry should be eligible to return to action this weekend (possibly as soon as the New Orleans game), Calderon is making himself increasingly difficult to remove from the starting five. It’s not that he exactly sparked an excellent showing among the Raps’ starters in San Antonio (27 points), but he still served as a stabilizer, picking up the second unit and finding weapons (Alan Anderson, Terrence Ross) with DeMar DeRozan struggling (more below). Whenever Lowry gets back into the line-up, Calderon has all but guaranteed that his return will start on the bench.
For much of the first half, Toronto carried their momentum from the five-game streak and asserted their game plan. They didn’t let the Spurs get active on the glass, slowed their transition offence and forced them into a slew of low percentage jumpers. In fact, it was only a quick 14 points in the final three minutes of the half that brought San Antonio to 44 going into the break. The defensive effort didn’t last, but that’s still something, right?
DeRozan and the Free Throw Discrepancy
It wasn’t so much DeRozan’s six points on 3-9 shooting or even his utter bewilderment in how to overcome the length and athleticism of Kawhi Leonhard – much of that is a testament to the Spurs’ ability to make adjustments against a player who had averaged 27 points against them over the past four meetings. More disconcerting in DeRozan’s Wednesday night stinker was his 0-0 showing at the free throw line, an issue that extended through to the rest of a roster that managed just 12 attempts from the charity stripe, to San Antonio’s 29. The twist of the knife: despite the 17-free-throw disparity, the two teams missed an equal number of attempts (five).
Out-Hustled and Out-Muscled
You can win a game without controlling the paint. You can also win a game without being the more energized team on the floor. You just won’t win too many when you get dominated in both facets of the game. The Raps were outrebounded 44-35 (San Antonio did most of their 31-17 rebounding edge in the second half) and manhandled 34-18 in the paint, while also surrendering a 13-2 advantage in fast break points, which don’t even take into account the free throw difference.
- A few relatively unfamiliar faces on the Raptors got the late Christmas gift of playing time on Wednesday. Aaron Gray saw his first action since December 12 and first start of the season (after commiting three fouls in seven and a half minutes, he may not be long for the starting five). Quincy Acy got another garbage time opportunity, his fifth such shot at PT of the season. Most significantly, however, Landry Fields saw floor time for the first time since undergoing wrist surgery in November. That this note is appearing in the random should tell you all you need to know about the trio’s non-descript contributions.
A visit to New Orleans on Friday (8:00pm, TSN) offers not only Toronto’s first first-hand look at ‘The Brow’, but it provides a reunion (of sorts) with Dominic McGuire and an interesting comparable between East/West bottom feeders.
Prediction: Hornets 92, Raptors 88 (19-5 this season)