Two teams battled it out to the final possession and the Raptors just didn't get the breaks they needed to prevent the Lakers from pulling off the expected win. The Raptors never went down without a fight and it should warm the hearts of fans to know that the Raptors showed that they can bring back the beauty of Raptors basketball that has been missing in the past weeks.
There have been a few personal rules I've had since I've started writing at the HQ, and one of the primary ones has always been to try and stay away from criticizing the refs of the NBA too much. I don't find it particularly interesting to keep on harping on them, and half the time, the team can always do something to negate the refs' impact on a game.
That being said, it was a simple travesty what happened the other night at the Staples Center.
You can expect a lot of things as a fan of the NBA. You know that if the opposing team has one of the top players, they are going to get superstar calls. It's part of the life of an NBA fan. There will be inconsistencies in games thanks to players and just what the refs manage to see over the course of a game.
However, last night, it was just outrageously blatant.
From phantom fouls charged to Raptors guarding Kobe Bryant, to a series of non-calls when the Raptors tried to take the ball inside or simply drive the ball along the three point arc, the Raptors were suddenly battling the refs as well as one of the strongest teams in the NBA. Players like Antoine Wright were getting called for establishing a vertical defense against Bryant, while others such as Chris Bosh found injustices on both sides of the floor.
Heck, even a fan managed to interfere with a ball going out of bounds as Jose Calderon reached out to save it.
It was just that kind of night for our boys in red. That is not to say that they didn't put in a team effort for most of the night. In fact, this has easily been the best overall team effort that we've seen from the Raptors in quite a few weeks. Deflections and forced turnovers were turned into fast breaks and guys such as Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan finally got themselves back on track. DeMar in particular, got the Raptors off to a solid start and helped dictate the tone for the Raptors in the early minutes. And while Chris Bosh was still struggling to lead the team through his actions, he did make a large impact on the game, including notching a game-tying 3 within the final 10 seconds of the game. On top of that, Amir Johnson and Jose Calderon both had solid outings while Marco Belinelli put in some good minutes to help the team.
However, there was no bigger star for the Raptors on this night than Jarrett Jack.
Besides giving the Raptors timely offense, Jack also made several key defensive stops including drawing a foul on Kobe Bryant. A leader who scored when the Raptors needed someone to take charge, Jack played his heart out and left everything on the court. In fact, we all remarked that we just weren't sure where Jack was getting all his energy. After looking absolutely exhausted, he went on to follow up with a coast-to-coast drive which led to a couple free throws. It's not an understatement to say that Jarrett Jack almost single-handedly kept the Raptors in the game in the third.
However, no matter the team effort that the Raptors put into the game, some things were just insurmountable. From the intimidating presence of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the middle, to the efficient game of Kobe Bryant, the Raptors played their hearts out to bring the game down to a final shot. In fact, for most of the game, the Raptors led. It was until the Raptors entered the fourth quarter that the referees started exerting their influence and turned the game.
Despite the loss, I'm pleased to say that our Raptors seem to be back.
Their defense was much more solid at times and rotations seemed to be more effective against the Lakers. While lapses still occurred, the Dinos still managed create opportunities from turnovers. It is this continued effort that will insure that the Raptors will be just as competitive in Sacramento.
Without the benefit of a day's rest, the Raptors will be going to Sacramento after putting in a full effort against the Lakers. If the Raptors can maintain even half of their energy from the Lakers, they should be ok to take on the Kings. The Kings on the other hand, have lost four of their last five games, but have also managed to defeat teams such as the Jazz and Rockets despite relying on Tyreke Evans to handle most of the offensive duties. If the Raptors are not careful, they could easily end the day with a loss.
Nevertheless, I believe the signs that we saw yesterday were encouraging and showed that the Raptors are finally pulling out of their mini slump. It's a good thing too, because unless the Raptors are able to pick up a win here and there, their losing streak may balloon up to five or six in the next week. Games like tonight's Kings game are what leads in the standings are made of and it's time that the Raptors take full advantage of a team's weakness.