The Toronto Raptors started the season playing motivated basketball, however in the last 8 games they have been anything but. Is the Raptors' poor play in the first quarters the reason for their losing streak?
Now, that seems a bit ridiculous considering the deficit was only about 11 points, and there was more than 40 minutes left in the game, but with the way the Raptors have competed--or not competed--over the course of this season it has become apparent within the first quarter of most games whether or not the Raptors have brought the effort they need to compete for the entirety of that particular match.
Much to this point, this season the Raps' first quarter effort has been a key indicator as to what type of game the Raptors are going to put together as a whole. In the four Toronto wins this season only once did they trail after the first Q, and that was against the Knicks by only a single point. Simply put, when the Raps don't get off to a good start, they don't win; and yesterday afternoon's affair was no exception.
The Raptors once again started extremely slow out of the gate. They scored only 11 points in the first quarter and found themselves trailing by 16 points at the end of the first quarter. As I pointed out in the Rapid Recap, this was the fourth time in their last five games that the team failed to score 14 points or more in the opening quarter--a trend that has magnified the importance of losing the offensive firepower of Andrea Bargnani.
The team actually competed in the next three quarters, winning both the second and the fourth, but the deficit they created for themselves in the first was too large to overcome. Granted, the Clippers did rest their starters for extended minutes throughout the game, allowing for the Raptors to bridge the gap more than they would have otherwise, however the fact remains that this game--like many this season--was lost in the first quarter.
It is obvious that the Raptors lack significant offense options within their starting five. With Bargnani out, neither Ed Davis nor Amir Johnson are particularly talented offensive players, especially in the half court; the same is true for James Johnson. DeMar DeRozan isn't quite the offensive talent he perhaps should be by this season, and has struggled when defenses have focused in on him. Calderon is a somewhat reluctant scorer, but has the skills to run a team and get them going on the offensive end.
Yet, we have seen these players put up points together at times in the past. In the end, it all comes down to the effort; and yesterday the Raptors came out with very little. Rather than working the pick and roll and driving to the basket, the Dinos settled for too many jump shots and looked out of sync.
DeRozan was actually effective when driving to the basket early on, but his willingness to get to the bucket didn't last long and was part of the reason he finished just 4-19 from the floor. James Johnson and Jose Calderon also fell in love with the jump shot, and did so with little success. The pair combined for 10 points on 4-16 shooting--hardly what you want out of your starting lineup.
For whatever reason, the fervor with which Dwane Casey had his team playing early on in the season has dissipated and we are now left with performances like we saw yesterday which leave the observer bewildered at the difference between the Raptors we saw at the beginning of the season, and the Raptors that we have seen over the last 8 games.
After the game Dwayne Casey echoed these sentiments, commenting that "We've got to evaluate everything because that's two games in a row where we've had a lackluster start, spotting a team that number of points..."
Given Casey's comments, it is very possible that we may see a change in the Dinos' lineup come Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns. Casey has already sent a message to forward Amir Johnson that any lack of effort will not be tolerated.
Johnson played only 6 minutes against the Clippers for the aforementioned rationale, and Casey opted to play Aaron Gray, who had a solid game, in favor of Johnson because, according to Casey:
"I just thought Aaron Gray was sprinting back and doing a good job getting back and Amir wasn't and those types of things are not going to be acceptable."
Dwayne Casey has made it known that he will hold his players accountable, which has to be a good sign for an organization that hasn't had a coach attempt to do anything of the sort in quite some time. We can only hope that by sending this message his team, they will come out with increased effort on Tuesday against the Suns.
The Raptors will travel to Phoenix next where they will look to take advantage of a Suns team that will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. If Toronto finally comes out of the gate with that much needed energy and effort, they should be able to outwork a tired, and frankly not very talented, Suns squad.