The Toronto Raptors began the second half of the season last night with a loss to the Houston Rockets. Although the Raptors came within a Linas Kleiza three-pointer of tying the game, the loss exposed some issues which could be troublesome for the Raptors moving forward. The HQ's Scott Campsall has the game story including a couple of rough outings for Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan.
With the All-Star break officially over, the Toronto Raptors took on the Houston Rockets last night for their first game in 6 days, a mark which easily stands as the longest layoff between games this season.
Despite providing the Raptors with some much needed rest, the All-Star break also apparently caused the Raps to develop a certain amount of rust--a point readily apparent during the first quarter of the Dinos" 88-85 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Other than some early activity by DeMar DeRozan, the first quarter effort for the Raptors was largely devoid of energy or intensity at either end of the floor. Concentration was also an issue as the Raps turned the ball over six times in that opening frame. By the time the buzzer sounded, the Raptors were already down 27-15, a first quarter deficit that again proved to be the difference in the game.
The Dinos came out of the second quarter exhibiting much more life than in the first; this was due in large part to the efforts of Jamaal Magloire.
Much like he did against the Lakers a few games back, Magloire had an immediate impact in the game after entering to begin the second quarter. Magloire's energy level on both ends of the floor seemed to motivate his teammates, like Ed Davis specifically, who played that second quarter with the killer instinct required to get his team back into the game. Davis battled on the boards, and was possibly the most aggressive we have seen him all season long. Davis' fifteen rebounds in this game tied his career high, and surpassed his previous high on the season of 12.
Magloire's physical prescience on the interior seemed to stifle Luis Scola's offensive attack that was so effective for Houston in the first. Scola scored 8 of his 15 points in the first seven minutes of this game, and wasn't quite as effective after tangling with Magloire in that second frame.
While the Raptors increased energy level allowed them to get back into the game, it seemed as though they could not get any closer than within 8 points. Every time Toronto got the lead down to that 7 or 8 point margin, and looked to make a more significant run, Houston would respond with a bucket or two to keep the Raptors at bay.
This was true until late in the third quarter when the Raptors went on a 15-6 run which saw them close the gap to 3. After a miraculous buzzer beater by Goran Dragic to close the quarter, the Rockets extended that lead back to 5.
The fourth quarter proved to be an excited back-and-forth battle. The Raptors actually came within 2 points with the score 85-83, before Anthony Carter fouled Kevin Martin--an 88% free throw shooter--with 11.7 seconds left in the game.
Toronto did have an opportunity to tie the game on the following possession, but Linas Kleiza missed a three-point attempt with just over a second left on the clock to seal the victory of the Rockets.
The Rockets victory was thanks to a pretty solid team effort offensively that featured four players scoring in double figures. Kevin Martin finished with 14 points, Luis Scola had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Samuel Dalembert managed 10 points and Kyle Lowry--the undisputed star of the game--scored 26 points, dished out 5 assist and grabbed 3 rebounds. Lowry caused fits for the Raptors, getting to the basket at will and making them pay for going underneath the screen in pick and roll situations.
On the Raptors side of things, there were a number of interesting things that took place in this game which could be cause for concern going forward.
The Raps played a crunch time lineup of James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza and Anthony Carter. This is great for players like James Johnson--who played great defense on Kevin Martin and proved once again that he is starting to put it all together--and Amir Johnson--who has struggled this season but played with great energy and was effective on both end of the floor in this game--but not so good for starters DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon.
DeMar DeRozan had an outstanding third quarter, scoring 10 points and significantly contributing to the Raptor comeback. In the fourth however, DeRozan sat the entire quarter as Dwane Casey opted to go with a more defensive minded lineup, not exactly what you want to see out of one of your supposed franchise cornerstones.
Jose Calderon on the other hand, was pretty much ineffective from the get go. Calderon played only 24 minutes and made just 3 of his 9 field goal attempts. Although he managed 7 assists, he was a liability defensively every time he stepped on the floor and was routinely beat off the dribble by the much quicker Kyle Lowry.
There was much talk over the All-Star break about how well Calderon had been playing and the potential to move him before the deadline. While he is an undeniably valuable asset running the offense for the young offensively challenged Raptors, it is defensive performances like the one last night that have led to questions about his long term viability as Toronto's point guard.
Although it is disheartening to see those players sit on the bench during crunch time, the accountability Dwayne Casey is placing on his players, regardless of their position on this team, is almost unprecedented in Raptorland and frankly, is a welcomed sign for Raptors fans who suffered through the Jay Triano era.
On a positive note, the Raps' bench was fantastic, outscoring the Houston bench 31-17. Leandro Barbosa led the way for the bench brigade with 11 points while Linas Klieza added 8 and Ed Davis had 5 to go along with his aforementioned 15 rebounds and some solid defense on that end of the floor.
We won't have to wait long to see how DeRozan and Calderon respond to the fourth quarter benching as the Raptors will be back at it tomorrow night, taking on the Hornets in New Orleans. This is a very gettable game for the Dinos, should they accomplish the things outlined in our three keys to the game. The three keys are as follows:
1) Cool Down Kaman: Chris Kaman has been on a tear since he returned to the Hornets lineup. Kaman is averaging 16.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in his last ten games and poses a big threat to the Raptors interior. In order to stop Kaman the Dinos are going to have to defend inside as well as they did last night, which means getting good minutes out of Ed Davis and Amir Johnson again.
2) As Always, Get Off to Good Start: This has been a key to the game almost every game this season, yet it continues to be a struggle for the Toronto Raptors. With the way Magloire has played, and how his individual energy level has lifted the level of his teammates, Casey might want to consider starting Magloire tomorrow against the Hornets. But then again, we may see an extra motivated Aaron Gray who will be playing against his former team who elected not to re-sign him in the off-season. Either way, the Raptors are going to have to do something to ensure that they do not come out of the gate flat again, or they run the risk of losing to the third worst team in the league.
3) Beware the Former Raptors: Both Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli are playing big minutes for the Hornets and have been solid contributors this season. Being that the Hornets are the third worst team in the league and thus have very little to play for, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see both of these players get up for this one. Jarrett Jack in particular, may be out for blood against Jose Calderon in an attempt to show the Raptors that they made the wrong decision in jettisoning Jack and keeping Jose. Jack scored 17 points in each of the two match-ups against Toronto last season, and Belinelli was less effective, scoring 2, and 13 points in each of those respective games against the Raps.