Well, that was a disaster. Just an ugly, incredibly disappointing, 92-90 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Let's begin at the end, as the final seconds of the game will be a major talking point over the next day or so.
Up 2, after a Demar DeRozan miss, the Bobcats had the basketball with just under 26 seconds left on the game clock. Assuming Charlotte would milk the clock, that left about 2 seconds - 1.9, to be exact - for the Raptors to grab a rebound, call a timeout, and run a decent play to possibly tie the game. So, basically next to no time.
As John Schuhmann pointed out on Twitter: even rebounding the ball takes time! The sensible thing - the LOGICAL thing - would've been to foul and put the Bobcats at the line. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rebounded DeRozan's miss, and he's shooting 57% from the line this season; and the Bobcats as a team went 17-30 from the line last night. On a possible (very likely) missed free-throw, or two, you get a chance to run a decent play to tie up the game. But nope, the Bobcats were allowed to milk the clock, even after Dwane Casey had a chance to re-think his strategy with Charlotte inbounding the ball with 5 seconds left. Gerald Henderson - under very little pressure - eventually jacked up a 3 pointer just before the shot-clock expired. Charlie Da...Josh McRoberts got the tap-out, and it was game over.
And with that the Raptors' losing streak in Charlotte, which dates back to March 2010 (March 2010!!), extended to 7 games. Rudy Gay top-scored for the Raptors (that's starting to feel like a rather empty statement) with 20 points, on 8-21 shooting. DeRozan had a rather more inefficient, 5-16 shooting night, and Jonas Valanciunas finished with a double-double; but didn't play a minute of the 4th quarter, because, well, that totally makes sense. For the Bobcats, Henderson led all scorers with 23 points - torching the Raps in the 1st quarter - while Kidd-Gilchrist had a super-efficient 14 points, on 6-7 shooting, and played some solid defense.
Post-game, Casey was characteristically defensive about his decision not to put the Bobcats at the line, blaming the loss on the team's slow start, rather than any one particular possession. That's all well and good, but ineptitude at the beginning of the game doesn't magically excuse ineptitude during the crucial last few seconds. Casey did have a point regarding the Raptors' slow start, however. They began the night REALLY slowly. With the exception of Valanciunas on offense, they were awful through the first 12 minutes.
The Bobcats jumped out to a 6-0 lead, led by Henderson, a player that seems to revel in killing the Raptors - DeRozan in particular. Henderson had 12 points (and an air-balled lay-up, just for fun) in the 1st quarter as the Bobcats built up a 32-18 lead. As good as the Bobcats were through the 1st - shooting 75% from the floor - the Raps were woeful defensively. Henderson found himself open time after time, with DeRozan failing to close him down and/or getting screened off way too easily. As a team the Raps were also extremely lazy tracking cutters to the basket, which led to more than a few easy lay-ups for the Bobcats.
And really, the Raps had no excuses for coming out as flat as they did. Both teams were playing the second game of a back-to-back - the Bobcats having flown home from New York the night before - and the team had something to prove after the loss against the Heat.
The one bright spot in the 1st quarter was the play of Valanciunas. Jonas had 8 points in the 1st, on 4-7 shooting (Yep, he only took 1 shot after that) and was very assertive in the post, grabbing offensive rebounds, and hitting a beautiful lefty hook over Bismack Biyombo. Valanciunas went on to play most of the 3rd quarter, but saw no time in the 4th, as Casey went back to small-ball (what is this obsession?!); rotating Tyler Hansbrough and Amir Johnson as the sole big man.
To start the 2nd quarter, Casey sent a message to his starters by rolling out an all-bench unit lineup of Augustin, Ross, Fields, Daye, and Hansbrough. In any other game this might have raised more than a few eyebrows, but the Raptors starters were so woeful (excluding JV) in the first 12 minutes - particularly at the defensive end - that it was a perfectly acceptable move. The bench unit, other than Hansbrough who had 9 points and 4 rebounds, didn't put up major numbers, but they brought some much-needed energy, and the tide began to turn as the quarter wore on. With the starters back in, and seemingly rejuvenated, the Raps went on 13-3 run - somewhat against the run of play - as a 3-pointer from Kyle Lowry, and back-to-back 3s from the DeRozan, tied the game at the half.
The Raps started off the second-half well - even taking their first lead off a Rudy Gay turnaround jumper - but they quickly regressed back to their worst habits; turnovers, a lack of ball movement, and poor shot selection. The Bobcats went on an 11-0 run, and led 76-70 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
In the 4th quarter a Johnson 3-pointer, complete with his usual slow-motion release, brought the Raptors to within 2, before Henderson and Ramon Sessions got the line to increase the Bobcats' lead to 6. Dwane Casey then decided to go small with Rudy at the 4, which quickly led to 2 offensive rebounds for the Bobcats in quick succession. But then the Bobcats - because don't forget, the Bobcats are still a bad team - began to get sloppy. The Raptors went on a 10-3 run to pull the game to within 2, before DeRozan missed on a drive (it looked like Biyombo got a piece of his shot), and the aforementioned final seconds of terrible clock-management ensued.
The Raptors fall to 2-3, and it doesn't get any easier from here. The Raps play the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, and on current form, the Pacers might be the best team in the NBA.
Some Additional Thoughts:
- I'm really not getting Casey's obsession with small-ball, especially when the Raptors have had a clear advantage offensively, rolling with Amir and Jonas in the past two games. I really like what Fields brings to the team, but he can also be incorporated into a traditional line-up with...I don't know...let's say, either Gay or DeRozan on the bench.
- Gay has been horrendous offensively thus far this season. He's still shooting too many long 2s, and turning the ball over at critical junctures, but he is making an effort to get into the lane - problem is, he's been horrendous around the basket this season, too. 9 of his 21 shots came within 6 feet of the bucket last night, and he only made 3 of them. Not good.
- D.J. Augustin might be the all time free-throw percentage leader in Bobcats history, but he's not a very good basketball player. His fall from competent back-up point-guard, to a dude who might not be in the league next year, is as remarkable as it is sad. Julyan Stone saw back-up point-guard minutes last night because Augustin was so poor.
- The Time Warner Cable Arena was half-empty last night, which is probably a result of the team winning 28 games over the past two seasons, and Michael Jordan's terrible decision-making. But it's a shame because North Carolina is a great basketball state, and the Bobcats do actually have some talented young players. I was particularly impressed with Biyombo who's still really raw, but was very disruptive on the glass, and solid defending the rim last night.