However some familiar issues reared their ugly heads as Toronto gave away yet another one down the stretch...
Let the drive towards a top three draft pick continue!
Last night the New Jersey Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sacramento Kings beat the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Washington Wizards took the Los Angeles Clippers to double overtime before falling 127 to 119. Had all three lost it would have been a nice boost for the Toronto Raptors, who did their part in terms of trying to lock up as many lottery balls as possible, losing 114 to 106 to the Phoenix Suns.
There's really not a lot to discuss or get into in this one.
Again, the Raptors' lack of poise and execution down the stretch cost them the game, a game they led by 13 with only a few minutes left in the third quarter.
However Aaron Brooks sparked a late quarter charge by the Suns, and suddenly things were deadlocked at 86 going into the fourth quarter.
After that it was a back and forth affair with neither team able to gain a huge advantage.
At the 4:24 mark, the Raps had actually established a six point cushion for themselves and I tweeted that the game's final ticks would now come down to execution; could Toronto get good looks and prevent Phoenix from doing the same?
Unfortunately, as has been the case nearly all season, the answer was no.
Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash immediately ran a succession of beautiful plays that either got wide open looks for the Suns' best shooters, or drove the ball to the hoop allowing Martin Gortat to use his size advantage for easy baskets.
And Toronto, aside from one nice play to get DeMar DeRozan going to the rim for a lay-up that he missed, settled for jumper after jumper, as things unwound completely for TO.
Three other notes along the lines of "been there done that" in a game that was the season for Toronto in a nutshell:
1) Toronto can't shoot.
Yep - the team hit 49% of its shots when all was said and done but down the stretch...clank, clank, clank. The term "regression to the mean" comes to mind as players like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, who started off shooting the ball quite well, ended up with sub-par numbers. Bargs was on fire early but late, settled for his usual low percentage shots and finished 10 of 22 on the night. DeMar? A similar 9 of 20. The Raps desperately need to bring in some players who can hit shots down the stretch. Their lone gunner is Leandro Barbosa, the same player who can hit 3 big shots in a row, only to see his fourth shot go off the side of the backboard.
2) The team has no go-to option.
The Suns made it quite clear last night. If we're going to lose this one, we're going to do so with the ball in Steve Nash's hands. However Nash is Nash, a two-time MVP and the most cerebral point guard in the game. Against a team like the Dinos, putting the ball in his hands is a pretty safe option. While Nasty Nash was carving Toronto up, the Raps were struggling with Phoenix's zone D and unable to effectively attack it. There was no "go-to" option and as a result, Toronto sorta played the end of the fourth quarter the same way they played the middle of the first.
3) The Raptors struggle against speedy point guards.
Much like the chaos caused by Ty Lawson on Monday night, Aaron Brooks gave Toronto fits last night. The Raptors simply can't match up with most of the quicker PG's in the league, and it's a major issue in terms of defence. Brooks had 25 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in only 34 minutes and was the main reason Phoenix got back into the game. This is something that hopefully will be addressed this off-season as well.
Nothing too earth-shattering right?
But hopefully these same trends are starting to sink into the collective brains of Raptors' management as many of the issues are the same ones that have been apparent for the last few seasons.
Unfortunately, with games against Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers back to back on the horizon, fans will probably get to see these issues thrown under the spotlight a few more times...