A few minutes into the 3rd quarter of last night’s game I started going over how I was going to write this post-game report. My opening line was going to be something along the lines of "Holy crap, what just happened?!" and I was going to follow that up with snarky comments about the Eastern Conference really not being that bad, about how the Warriors were doing a really good Raptors impersonation; and something about broken clocks telling the correct time twice a day.
I guess I shouldn’t have bothered expending the mental energy.
After leading 75-48, 3 minutes into the 3rd quarter, the Raptors scored just 28 points for the remainder of the game, while the Warriors put up 64; winning the 4th quarter, 42-15, on their way to a 112-103 victory. DeMar DeRozan top-scored for the Raps with 26 points, and Amir Johnson had 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench; but after a slow start, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson scored 27 and 22 points, respectively, to lead the Dubs to the win.
It was the largest blown lead in Raptors franchise history, and one that could have major ramifications for a number of players on this floundering team, and for head coach, Dwane Casey.
While in a vacuum blowing a 27-point lead is shocking –- it really should never happen to a professional basketball team -- somehow Golden State’s 4th quarter comeback had a feeling of depressing inevitability about it. This wasn’t the Grizzlies blowing a 27-point lead against the Clippers in the playoffs 2 seasons ago – a game that still defies belief – this was the Toronto Raptors; a poorly coached team that are unable to make adjustments when things start going against them late in games. The Warriors, on the other hand, are one of the best shooting teams in NBA history, and are always in games because of that fact.
If ever a team was going to blow a 27-point it was going to be these Toronto Raptors, and it was going to be against a team like the Golden State Warriors.
And yet, the Raps did so many things right last night – particularly in the first half – that such a pathetic 4th quarter meltdown is tough to accept. Heading into the 4th quarter the Raptors had restricted the Warriors to 4-18 shooting from downtown (22%), were winning the rebounding battle, 37-22, and had 29 bench points to the Warriors 9. You could chalk up some of the Dubs’ poor shooting through 3 quarters to simply going cold – Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did miss some open looks, particularly in the 3rd – but the Raptors also did a fairly decent job of chasing shooters off the 3-point line, illustrated by the fact that Curry only had 2 attempts from 3 in the first-half.
Through 3 quarters the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were a combined 12-18 from the field, while the vaunted Splash Brothers were just 8-23.
And the Raptors started this game off looking like a completely different team to the one that had lost 3 straight at home, heading in. Lowry was aggressive early, driving and cutting to the basket, and Jonas Valanciunas started well (there’s a trend here) signaling his intent with a gorgeous spin move and dunk after Andrew Bogut went for his shot-fake. The Warriors, on the other hand, looked flat and turned the ball over frequently. A Kyle Lowry 3 at the end of the 1st quarter capped off a 22-5 run for the Raps, and saw them build a 36-19 lead.
The Warriors went on a 13-4 run to start the 2nd, but the Raps weathered the storm, and took control of the game by…wait for it…actually running some basketball plays! Lowry and Amir Johnson (who had a really solid bounce-back game, by the way) connected on a well executed pick-n-roll, before Steve Novak hit 3 straight 3-pointers – one off a beautiful drive and kick from DeRozan – to help push the Raptors lead to 17 by the half.
A 10-0 to start the 3rd – aided by two DeRozan corner 3s (he had 12 in the quarter) – pushed the lead up to 27 and appeared to stave off the classic 3rd quarter Raptors collapse. But towards the end of the 3rd the Dubs began to inch their way into the game, while the offense for the Raps began its sorry slide into stagnation.
The signs of an offensive implosion were there: A couple ugly contested mid-range shots from DeRozan and Gay (who else?) seemed to take the Raptors out of their offensive flow towards the end of the 3rd. Both shots went down, but the selection, and lack of movement was an ominous sign of things to come.
And speaking of things to come: Dwane Casey is getting fired this season – if not today, then soon. And while he’ll lose his job because of the collective resume of ineptitude that he’s built up during his time coaching the Raptors, last night’s 4th quarter implosion, on its own, was a fireable offense.
To begin with, Novak was left in during the 4th quarter for far too long, and without plays being run for him at the offensive end, he became nothing more than a defensive liability in the Raptors' small-ball lineup. And while the Warriors got hot (8-11 from 3 in the quarter) and made some crazy shots (an off-the-dribble 3 from Curry over Gay stands out) the tactic of doubling the ball-handler, which left the white-hot Thompson wide open on more than one occasion, was an exercise in stupidity.
And then there was the offense, which reverted back to the no-movement, iso-heavy mess that we’ve seen all too often this season. The play after one timeout – I’m assuming this is what was drawn up – was a contested DeRozan 20-footer. He made the shot, but that just can’t be the play you run coming out of a timeout, especially when the opposition is rapidly moving through the gears at both ends.
The Warriors sealed the contest with a Harrison Barnes dagger 3, and some Curry free throws, and they move to 11-8 on the season. The Raps, haven’t won in Oakland since 2004, and no longer lead the Atlantic Division (Ladies and Gentleman, your division leading Boston Celtics!) They fall to 6-11 and play the surprisingly pesky Phoenix Suns on Friday.
December 15th is drawing near, Raptors fans.
Additional Game Notes:
- Before last night's game the Raps, relative to the rest of their division, were like that kid averaging a D- in a class that everyone else is failing. The Raps are now failing that class, too.
- The corpse of Jermaine O'Neal (remember him?) absolutely killed the Raptors last night. He finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds, including 4 offensive boards and 1 monster block
- Despite the Warriors comeback their bench looks awful this season. Marreese Speights anyone? No thanks.
- Rudy shot 50% from the field for the first time this season...so there's that
- Steph Curry is lauded for his shooting -- and rightly so -- but the man is one hell of a passer. Some of his dimes last night were breathtaking. Ginobli-esque.
- The Warriors have the best crowd in the NBA, to go along with the best logo and the best jerseys. They're a pretty cool franchise all round.