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Tip-In: Tough to Swallow - Raptors Collapse Down the Stretch in Loss to Kings

After a blistering first half, the Raptors cooled off considerably and had no answer for Tyreke Evans as they start their West Coast swing with a loss to the Kings last night.

Yesterday I posted 3 keys to the Raptors' match against the Kings; slowing Sacramento down on D, getting a good game from DeMar DeRozan at both ends, and winning the battle of the boards.

Well...up until the fourth quarter last night, you could argue that Toronto had taken care of 2 of these 3.

However in the end, Sacramento won the battle of the "keys," and spurred on thanks to a superb effort from an under-the-weather Tyreke Evans, the Kings came back from a 17 point deficit to beat the Raps 111 to 108.

This was an easily winnable game that Toronto let slip away from about halftime on, and now the team has to climb a very steep hill the rest of this Western Conference swing.

So yes, I'm guessing there will be some long faces this morning.

But should there really be?

The type of performance that Raptors' fans saw last night is one I expect to see a lot of this year; an exciting match that Toronto is in till the end, but can't finish off thanks to a lack of talent and/or ability to execute in key moments.

This was indeed the case late yesterday evening as Toronto had no answer for the one-man wrecking crew known as Tyreke Evans, nor could they make the necessary plays at either end down the stretch to get the W.

On offence, players like Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza went cold, and others like Leandro Barbosa were simply frigid.

And on defence the team put up a paper thin front against Evans' running-backesque attacks on the basket, and failed to keep Tyreke's teammates from getting second chances even when he didn't finish.

Bargani's embarrassing attempts at boxing out stick out pretty badly in the latter scenario, but he was hardly alone on this night.  Linas Kleiza did a poor job of keeping the energetic Casspi at bay, DeRozan had his hands full with Evans, Calderon barely had much more success trying to contain Beno Udrih, and even though Reggie Evans again did his best Dennis Rodman impression, he forced too many offensive attempts for my liking late in the match.

Oh...and memo to Jay Triano.

Maybe the wholesale line-up change isn't the best plan at times and what was with the play in the final minute that resulted in a Barbosa air-ball 3? Leandro had been ice cold all night, wasn't there a better option?

Add on the fact that despite a sub-par bout of play on the night, I felt that the team could have used some of Jarrett Jack's resolve down the stretch and it's hard to exclude coaches or anyone from last night's L.  To me this was indeed a team loss and one that will likely test this young team's resolve.  We'll now see early in the season just what sort of fight we can expect from this group; can they put this one behind them and get ready to take on the much more balanced Utah Jazz tomorrow night?

That's the big question.

The other big question for me is if this team can start to get a little more balance to its performances.  

You can laud Reggie Evans all you want for his hustle and rebounding prowess, he's rebounding per minute more than Dennis Rodman in his prime at present, but he still remains a very one-dimensional player.

And maybe that would be fine if he wasn't paired with another one-dimensional type in Andrea Bargnani.

If you could combine them together to form one power forward or center you'd be unbelievably thrilled, but at present, it's a bit like playing 4 on 5 at times and I felt that to be extremely evident down the stretch last night.  Once one became ineffective in their niche (rebounding for Evans, scoring for Bargs) then they were pretty invisible on the court and at times detrimental to the team.

The whole situation also made me think about advanced stats like wins produced scores etc.

For anyone who doesn't believe there's real value in these type of metrics, all you had to do was watch last night's match and in particular, zero in Evans and Bargnani.

You can see why similar to Ben Wallace in the early part of the decade with the Pistons, Reggie's got a chance to score extremely high in terms of "wins produced" if he keeps up this rebounding pace.  There's almost nothing more valuable than a player who time after time can provide his team with an extra possession, especially if his team is then converting on these extra possessions at a high rate.

This was Reggie up until the latter parts of the game.

However once he's forced to be a scorer, his value tumbles as he's such a horrifically inefficient offensive player.

And turning to Andrea, why do advanced stats typically note that Bargs has very little positive impact on games?

Again, turn to last night's match.

Sure he put up 28 points, but with only two rebounds and a good 20+ points scored by the players he was guarding, things even out pretty quickly.

I thought the perfect sequence to describe Andrea's game at present happened late in the game in fact.

At one end, Bargs collected himself off a somewhat broken play, and made a silky-smooth jumper for 2 points helping to keep Toronto ahead on the score board.

But that hardly made up for the fact that on the previous possession, he allowed DeMarcus Cousins to get position on him inside, snatch a rebound, and easily score off said rebound.

Now this isn't meant to be a stinging indictment of either Evans or Bargnani, it's just a reality of the situation right now.  To help this team to win, both need to limit their liabilities so that the areas they excel in stand out, and you saw that in the first quarter against Sacto.  Evans was focussed almost solely on rebounding while Andrea was mixing up his offense, being aggressive in the post, and doing a good job staying with his man individually. Playing in this manner together, they form much more of a two-headed beast, or an "Evanani" as I believe the National Post's Eric Koreen put it last night on Twitter.

I prefer Andy Evans, Reggie's white, snooker-playing cousin but hey, that's just me.

In any event, this loss stings but the team needs to turn around now and prep for the Jazz.

Despite the L, there were some good things to take from this one, especially the play of DeMar DeRozan (14 free-throw attempts!) that hopefully the club can build on as the season continues.

After all, this is what this year should be about, developing talent.

So for all of the pains and heartache of losses like last night's, I'm not going to be too distraught as long as I'm seeing certain parts of the team progress in some fashion, and that was indeed the case last night.

Oh...and I think we can all as Raptors' fans take some solace too in the fact that our club didn't just give Mike Conley Jr. a $45M extension...