Toronto lost its twenty-fifth game last night, a 102 to 99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. But should this have been a loss, or could some changes by Dwane Casey down the stretch have resulted in a win? The HQ takes a look...
The Toronto Raptors may not be trying to "tank," but they're sure finding interesting ways to lose close ones.
Last night was Exhibit 14C, with the Memphis Grizzlies surging back in the game's final minutes to steal one from the Dinos, 102 to 99.
This wasn't quite a case of the Raptors getting up big and suffering a complete collapse, no, rather this was a game of runs that went back and forth for most of the match.
The only problem was that the last run was made by Memphis, and that sealed the victory for the Grizz.
So what happened?
Well, my first thought was that Dwane Casey botched this one by not keeping his bench in the game. Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa repeatedly shredded the Grizzlies' defence, and when defenders rotated to them, they found bench-mate Linas Kleiza for open jumpers.
Combined, the three players were plus-21 on the night, scored 43 points, shot a very efficient 15 of 26 from the field, and were perfect from the free-throw line. As was the case in Toronto's win over New Orleans on Wednesday night, the bench was huge again, and yet Casey decided with the game in the balance, to go back to his starters.
Now ordinarily I'd be ok with this if the starters had shown something earlier in the match, as maybe they simply had a rough second half, and needed a blow. But that was not the case, and in fact these starters were -51 on the night with an invisible four point, minus 10 performance by DeMar DeRozan leading the way.
Which made Casey's decision to reinsert said crew, that much more curious.
Admittedly, the bench had just surrendered seven straight points, resulting in a Toronto time-out, so you could see why Casey may have wanted to shake things up.
And the re-insertion of Calderon, DeRozan, and Gray did result in a 7 to 2 run for TO, giving them back the lead.
But that didn't last very long.
In fact, after that run by the Raps, Toronto scored only six points in the remaining six minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, Memphis kept wearing the Raps down, scoring from inside and out, and by the time the buzzer sounded, they had won the game.
In my books, the time to reinsert the bench crew, especially Jerryd Bayless, who Memphis simply could not contain, was without about three minutes left in the match. The Raps' offence was really struggling, and needed someone to get into the paint and open things up for their teammates.
And even if Casey went with Barbosa instead, Bayless would have been a solid option in the game's final minute when the team was behind no?
But instead, fans were treated to Mr. Rasual Butler.
Yes, the same Rasual Butler who's shooting 38 per cent from the field, and 27 per cent from long-range.
Butler didn't touch the ball to get off a shot, but the point here really is that if you were confused by Dwane Casey's personnel decisions down the stretch, you weren't alone.
Now hindsight of course is 20/20, and had Jose Calderon hit his game-tying three-point attempt, maybe this whole "personnel" discussion would be a moot point. And if the Raps had hit their free-throws down the stretch, again, maybe I'm writing about a different subject.
But that's not what occurred, and now the Raps are again having to explain why and how they let another winnable game slip away.
Was Casey playing certain players at the request of Bryan Colangelo?
An extremely bold question on my part, but one that admittedly fluttered through my brain as the final seconds ticked off the clock in this one. In a similar situation against Houston earlier in the week, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan sat in the fourth quarter and tonight, I honestly expected to see a similar situation. It was just a bit too "Triano-ish" to see the reappear, after the bench had done so much work in wrestling the lead back away from Memphis.
And to me, that's the big piece here.
Forget the end result, one that "tank nation" is undoubtedly happy with anyways, but look at the final minutes of the match. I want to see DeMar DeRozan succeed, but just as I wanted Toronto to bench Bargnani when he wasn't performing, I hope they do the same with DD. Part of this season for me was not only about getting a top pick, but incremental learning, including deciding who their go-to closers are.
And after tonight, I'd argue the team is no closer in that respect.