The Raptors probably had no business being in this game, but for most of the middle, they lead the Spurs. Problem is, the Spurs remembered that they put up approximately 105 points per game. Vicious D has the recap.
We've now hit the halftime of the season and there's a lot of good and bad. In fact, this game might be the best encapsulation of all that's been good and bad this season.
Exhibit A: DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has shown growth in trying to change up the way he scores and the way he gets to the basket. He's trying to be a more active part of the offense, but still gets burned a lot on the defense. When teams put pressure on DeRozan, he still isn't sure what to do and more importantly, he hasn't learned to exploit the free throw line to gain his room.
Exhibit B: Andrea Bargnani
Bargnani attempts to go to the inside and when he does, he often finds success. However, getting the Italian to do anything on a consistent basis is still a struggle. Gone is his attempt to attack the inside to start games, and with it, his trips to the foul line have disappeared. Sadly, Andrea Bargnani has done little to distinguish himself on the glass since Reggie Evans' injury and is now surpassed by the rookies on the team.
And it goes on from that. There are some areas of improvement in this team over the course of the season with their seasoned players, but it's not all that surprising to see the Raptors struggling to gain their third win of 2011. Especially once we factor in injuries.
While the Raptors have continued their January free fall, the change in the Raptors rotation has been really interesting to see over the past week thanks their weakened lineup. The emergence of Ed Davis and Julian Wright as reliable and interesting pieces may benefit the Raptors greatly in the long run.
Ed Davis seems to have hit a groove where he's becoming a very effective rebounder who has a good nose for the ball. He's challenged some shots and has also battled the opposition in the post for some tough rebounds. Against the Spurs, his work against DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess kept the Raptors competitive despite being out rebounded by 11 rebounds. In fact, when the Spurs completely demolished the Raptors on the offensive boards for second chance points, and Ed Davis was one of the few who managed to get any offensive rebounds to keep the Raptors competitive.
Julian Wright on the other hand, has been a personal favourite of mine and with his current play, it's not surprising to see why. Wright has been one of the best defenders on the Raptors and has been a pest against some of the best players in the league. In tonight's matchup, he managed to get Manu Ginobili to shoot 4-13 from the floor and even made a couple of searing hot passes. With some development, I could see Wright becoming a Doug Christie or Alvin Robertson for the team, albeit as a much weaker offensive threat. It's been so long since the Raptors have had a good-sized defensive wing player that the Raptors should take a real long look at Wright as he's a fairly inexpensive option.
Along with very magical performances from DeMar DeRozan and Sundiata Gaines, the Raptors kept themselves completely in a game that they didn't have much business being in. DeRozan scored a heap of points in the first half and Gaines played some inspired ball to make up for another lackluster performance from Jerryd Bayless. Bayless, who continues to make extremely poor decisions when passing the ball, was a complete ball hog who has shown little of the defensive prowess he claimed to care about when arriving in Toronto.
Despite their valiant effort though, the Raptors defensive woes reared their ugly head and fell apart.
Well, at least that's how Leo and Matt described it.
To hear the Raptors commentators talk about it, it was as if the Raptors put on a defensive clinic the likes of which we had never seen before. Instead, the Raptors come back from a 10 point deficit and built a healthy lead thanks to some timely substitutions, hot shooting, and some poor decision-making by the Spurs.
Yup, the Spurs themselves really shot themselves in the foot in the first half by settling for jumpers.
Nevertheless, that was not going to last long. By the time the second half rolled around, Gregg Popovich got his team playing some form of defense which stymied the Raptors and urged his club to continue to attack the Raptors defenseless interior. As a result, the Raptors just couldn't close the gap by more than 6 points in the fourth before tossing in yet another loss in 2011.
There was no doubt that the Raptors had a chance to close out this game with a win, but ultimately, they gave up too many second chance opportunities to the Spurs. Whether it was the Spurs' offensive rebounding, or the second half turnovers, the Raptors simply didn't have the refinement to keep the game competitive against the best team in the NBA.
I'm fine with that.
The effort was there for most of the team, and while a couple players were maddeningly inconsistent and downright detrimental to the team, the young core of the team seemed to take another large step forward. Tough games against tough opponents will continue to develop the youth of the Raptors and going forward, that should be the goal of this team. DeMar DeRozan now knows that he has to work on breaking double and triple teams. Ed Davis and Julian Wright know that they'll need to continue to work on their offense. That's what happens when you play one of the consistently top teams in the NBA.
It's a harsh lesson, but at the halfway point of the season, it's long overdue.