Thus far this season the Toronto Raptors have struggled to put together a strong effort for the full 48 minutes of a game. This theme continued Saturday night as they dropped another frustrating contest to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Raptors made just 2 of their 20 attempts from the floor in that quarter - a performance that will go down as one of the worst offensive displays in team history.
To a large degree, that abmisal second quarter really was the Raptors undoing on this night. The team took a six point lead into that second quarter, but after Dwane Casey opted to send out a lineup that included five bench players - a move that stagnated the offence considerably - the team lost all of the momentum they had gained in the first, and really never recovered.
"We just lost our focus at both ends," DeMar DeRozan said about the effects of that rough second quarter. "We coudn't score and we couldn't get stops."
Without Lowry and Fields in the lineup, Dwane Casey was left with much less depth at his disposal than he has had the luxury of utilizing thus far this season. Normally, Casey can go to a second unit of all bench guys which includes Calderon, Anderson, Lucas, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis - a talented group that can put the ball in the basket. Saturday night's version of the second unit was far less talented - specifically on offence.
To open the second quarter, Casy went with a lineup that included John Lucas III, Terrence Ross, Linas Kleiza - for the first time this season - Amir Johnson and Ed Davis. A few minutes into that lineup's time on the floor, the 76ers opted to go small, so as an adjustment, Casey brought in McGuire for Ed Davis in a move that sacrificed Davis' offensive skills for McGuire who really struggeles on that end of the floor, but matches up much better with with the Sixers perimeter oriented squad.
The result was the momentum killing stretch mentioned above which also seemed to effect the starters as they returned to the game.
"It is very difficult, and then they went small and that complicated things even more," Casey told the media after the game about finding the right lineups to use against the Sixers. "That takes out Eddy and that takes out Jonas when they do go small like that. And gives us the option of playing Andrea at the five position."
So far this season, the Dinos have struggled to get off to effective starts out of the gate, digging themselves a large hole from the outset. In this game however, the starters actually played well to begin the game. This time it was the bench that set the team back which is unfortunate, but the solid play of the starters has to be a positive takeaway from this game.
"We haven't put together a true 48 minutes," Casey said "give me 46 minutes and ill be happy with that, but I see light at the end of the tunnel."
The light that Casey is talking about is how the Dinos performed in the first, third and fourth quarters of the game. The third quarter in particular - where the Raptors outscored the Sixers 29-17 - was huge, as the club came out determined to get back into the game.
Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon were both a big part of the comeback in that quarter. Bargnani had 8 of his game-high 23 points and Calderon dished out 5 of his game-high 11 assists in that third quarter.
A Calderon alley-oop to Amir Johnson at the buzzer brought the Raptors to within 7 heading into the fourth. But, that is the closest the team would as they were unable to close the gap in that final frame.
On the Philadelphia side of things, it really was a balanced attack. Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday lead the starters with 16 points a piece, while Dorell Wright chipped in 15 as well. Off of the bench, Nick Young was a Raptor killer, also scoring 16 points - 11 of which came in that second quarter.
Despite the loss, there were a few positive for the Raptors to take from a game like this - namely, Andrea Bargnani's offensive performance. Bargnani looked comfortable on the floor for maybe the second time all season which may be a by product of playing next to Jose Calderon - perhaps more evidence that he should be playing alongside Jose Calderon in that second unit once Lowry returns to the lineup.
The Raptors were able to go to Bargnani in situations in which they needed to score and he came through on a number of occasions. Only time will tell if he can string together any more of these types of games, but just seeing the ball go in the basket for Bargnani is a huge plus for this team.
Another plus from Saturday evening was the way in which the rookies played. Despite seeing limited miutes, Jonas Valanciunas looked strong and active against the smaller frontcourt of the 76ers. Valanciunas finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes of action, which essentially amounted to the first few minutes of the Raptors' most successful quarters - the first and third quarters.
Terrence Ross also got some extended run with the second unit thanks to the Landry Fields injury. Although he looked somewhat lost on the defensive side of the ball, he made a couple three-point shots and seemed to find a rythem offensively after being on the floor for some extra time. The biggest thing for Ross is going to be simply getting minutes, and a game like this allows for that which, in the end, is certainly something positive.
The Raptors will have Sunday to prepare themselves for the Utah Jazz who come to town Monday evening. The Raptors are hoping to have Kyle Lowry back for that contest.
Notes: Alan Anderson left the game in the third quarter with what is being called a sprained foot. Anderson will be reevaluated at some point today. Landry Fields did not play last night and is also being evaluated for an apparent wrist injury. Linas Kleiza returned to the lineup after being on leave from the team to tend to a family matter. He had 2 rebounds in 12 minutes of action.