With 4 seconds left in the game, I actually started typing the opening of this recap.
It read: "Now this is how you win ball games."
Or maybe "typeless" is a better way to describe it.
When Mo Pete's three-point attempt hit nothing but net with four seconds left it looked like the Raptors were going to walk away from this game with a quality win. But in an almost surreal fashion the Raptors were victims of their umpteenth heartbreaking loss as Damon Jones drained an open three pointer as time expired giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 98-97 win.
Up until the Damon Jones shot, the Raptors played the Cavs neck and neck. For every Cavs run the Raptors answered with one of their own. Toronto gave up a six point lead with about two minutes remaining but it was hardly a classic case of "we blew it." No, both teams gave up bigger leads at various points and this game was a back-and-forth affair throughout.
-The Raptors gave up 48 points in the paint - but scored 38 of their own as opposed to their usual 20-some.
-Toronto shot only 43.8 per cent from the field - but they held the Cavs to 45.6%.
-Lebron James torched the Raptors for 35 points - but Morris Peterson poured in 31 of his own.
-And the even though the Cavs grabbed 41 rebounds the Raptors did them two better grabbing 43.
My first reaction to the loss was utter shock and indeed it took me a few hours to actually sit down and type something coherent regarding this game's outcome. As tough a pill to swallow as some of the Raps other close losses were because they blew leads, this one seemed even tougher for me to stomach as it seemed that finally the stars were aligned correctly for a win in front of the first sell-out of the season. My thoughts afterwards alternated between "damn, this team can't catch a break!" and "of all people to hit that shot...Damon Jones!" I've never been a Jones super-fan but his attitude and his utter USELESSNESS in Cleveland this season has really not made him someone worthy of praise in my books. (And HQ readers should be thankful that Howland wasn't typing this recap as he's an even bigger fan of Damon...) It REALLY burns me up that someone who held out for more money, when he should be thankful he's in the league at all, and who did nothing the entire game, hit the winning shot.
But as I sat in my post-game stupor watching some of the various other NBA games finish up something struck me. Damon Jones did not win this game. No, Lebron James did and he simply was doing what all of the league's best players do in crunch time...they find a way to win.
I've spoken this year ad nauseum about the Raptors getting beaten by other star players so I'm not prepared to launch into another tirade. However tonight was another example of this theorem as while James didn't score the winning basket, he did draw three Raptors to him on his drive to the basket, therefore finding a wide-open Damon Jones for the game-winning shot. And this example wasn't just present in the Raptors loss either.
-Washington lost a closely fought contest to Miami 118-112. The key play down the stretch? With the game tied Dwayne Wade drove to the basket, bumped off his man and hit a jump shot giving the Heat the lead. They never looked back.
-Chicago lost to the Detroit Pistons 106-101 and while the game came down to some free throws and great defense by the Pistons, Chauncey Billups nailed a clutch jumper to give the Pistons the momentum they needed to close things out.
-Paul Pierce had a triple double including a ridiculous three point shot with a man in his face and time running down as he lead the Celtics past the 76ers 104-101.
-Kobe Bryant dropped 40 points on the New Orleans Hornets in a 113-107 victory but more importantly had 18 of these in the fourth quarter and numerous clutch plays down the stretch helping his team close out the win.
After watching all of these displays thanks to the Score's "Court Surfing," I realized that as fans, we can't take the "the Raps can't catch a break" approach. Sure Mo Pete's shot was clutch...but it was the result of some great offensive rebounding by Toronto after THREE terrible offensive sets. No, Toronto still does not have the individual talent to win games and they really must do the "little things" to win each game they're in and thus in fact create "their own breaks."
And speaking of individual talent, Chris Bosh was noticeably absent from the first half. Bosh got into early foul trouble but just did not look ready to play and was openly criticized for not "bringing it" by assistant coach Jim Todd before the start of the second half. While CB4 played a great second half, fans had to wonder if the Cavs would have been within striking distance if Bosh had played the whole game in the manner he played the second half.
On top of hitting what at the time looked to be the game-winning shot, Morris Peterson was phenomenal for Toronto. He was matched up against perhaps the league's most dominant player in Lebron James, yet scored 31 of his own. Mike James was almost equally as good offensively chipping in a mere 30. But coach Sam Mitchell knows that all the offense and in the world isn't going to win these type of games. No, if you can't stop the other team or make the key plays down the stretch, 61 points from your starting backcourt is going to be about as useless as Darrick Martin clapping from the bench in effort to startle Damon Jones during his game-winning shot. (Which as a side-note could be described as either a wily veteran move or one of the most laughable things I've seen in an NBA game...take your pick.)
The Raptors have lost their last 10 games by an average of 3.9 points.
Think about that statistic for a minute.
It's basically stating that if the Raptors had prevented their opposition from scoring an average of four more points in each of the last 10 games, than Toronto would have won them all and instead of having a record of 21 and 40 at this point in the season, would be sitting at 31 and 30! Yes, one game over .500 and firmly fighting for one of the final three playoff spots!!!!!
Yes, perhaps overly simplistic but hopefully you get my point. This team isn't one getting "blown-out" on a nightly basis. And this isn't the Kevin O'Neil era when the ACC was giving out free pizza if the Raptors could score 60 points - Toronto currently has no trouble scoring. This team, with some better defence and crunch time play, could be right in the mix of things!
And maybe that's what's most frustrating about last night's loss. The team scrapped and fought for a full 48 minutes and were more deserving of a the win than Cleveland, who with the exception of Lebron James, seemed adrift. At some point this team HAS to start making key stops and closing out games or things could get pretty disheartening if they're not already. My fear is that there's only so many Jason Terry, Damon Jones, Sam Cassell, Vince Carter, Bonzi Wells, etc, etc last second shots you can take before you just stop playing, something a young team seemingly headed in the right direction, can ill afford to do.
Here's to hoping that the light switch flicks on and the Raps players start getting it. Because there are still a good number of games left and by the way Sam Mitchell dismissed the media in complete exasperation after last night's loss, I'm not sure even he's a believer that at some point this will occur anymore.