In his 1983 memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade, screenwriter William Goldman summed up Hollywood with the famous line that "nobody knows anything." Goldman was writing about the film industry, but his words ring true in our beloved NBA. For proof, look no further than last night's chaotic and ugly Raptors-Celtics game.
On paper, it looked simple enough: A team riding a nine-game losing streak versus one of the hottest outfits in the NBA. To tilt the odds even more heavily in Toronto's favor, the Celtics were without Jordan Crawford and Marshon Brooks, traded earlier in the day to Golden State.
What could go wrong?
As it turned out, a lot.
On a night when going to the free throw line was more punishment than reward (they shot only 12-25), the Raptors simply weren't sharp enough on their way to a disappointing 85-81 loss. After slogging their way to a four point deficit at halftime, the Raptors came out in the third and laid a dinosaur-sized egg. They were outscored 28-15 and were absolutely dominated by Jared Sullinger, who transformed into Moses Malone circa 1983 to do unholy things to the Raptors' front line. He continually embarrassed Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas on the offensive glass en route to a career night of 25 points and 20 rebounds. On the other side, Johnson and Valanciunas combined for 11 points on 3-11 shooting and were generally invisible.
Fortunately the back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan showed up, especially during a rally in the fourth quarter that saw the Raptors get as close as three points on a couple of occasions. DeRozan was very midrange-jumper-happy and Lowry could never really get his jump shot going, but their efforts were enough to make the game interesting.
Outside of John Salmons (13 points), Toronto got nothing from its bench. Patrick Patterson, so hot of late, only scored two points while Greivis Vasquez played nine minutes, missing two shots and turning the ball over once. Vasquez's play is also a bit of a "nobody knows anything" situation; after the Gay trade most assumed he would be the most useful piece coming back from Sacramento. In fact, he's probably been the worst.
I'll throw on my psychiatrist's hat now and counsel Raptors fans: All is not lost. The ebbs and flows of an NBA season are like a winding river with sharp turns around every corner; just when smooth sailing seems to be ahead something goes wrong. The Raptors were "supposed" to win this game, yes, but they were also "supposed" to lose in Dallas and Oklahoma City. An uncharacteristic performance like this is impossible ti avoid over the course of an 82-game season, but the goal should be to minimize them as much as possible. Toronto is still looking at a favorable stretch of the schedule ahead and this one should be forgotten right away.
Next up, Minnesota.
- Coaches who don't know how to handle foul trouble are frustrating, and Dwane Casey is one of them. Casey benched Terrence Ross for the rest of the first half after Ross picked up his third foul early in the second quarter, opting to dust off Landry Fields for a few minutes. This was a poor decision. Ross averages 3.5 fouls per 36 minutes; even with three fouls already, he's a relatively low foul guy and isn't likely to foul himself out. Even if he somehow did, John Salmons is a capable replacement. Casey hurt his team's chances to win by inflexibly sticking to dogmatic principles about foul trouble that should be tailored to each specific player, not cast over everyone like a giant net.
- It's been strange to see the Raptors focus heavily on the All-Star candidacy of DeRozan while paying much less attention to that of Lowry. I get some of the reasons why - DeRozan's been with the team longer, his play is flashier and he's a more public personality - but there's no doubt that Lowry has been the team's best player and is more deserving of an All-Star nod. It's even more surprising when you consider the source; the team should be invested in promoting all of its players. Alas, marketing and merit don't always go hand-in-hand.