After getting blown out in Milwaukee the Raptors returned to the Air Canada Center to host the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs. The HQ's Sasha Kalra takes a look at what happened...
The San Antonio Spurs had beaten the Toronto Raptors earlier in the season but the these teams had split the season series in the past 3 years. (A Roko Ukic masterclass comes to mind.)
The Raptors wanted to make it 4 years in a row as they kept up with the Spurs right up until the final quarter. They took a 2 point lead into the 4th...
...and that was when a Herculean collapse ensued.
Manu Ginobili delivered an emphatic dunk to start the quarter and that would prove to be a statement of intent for the veteran Spurs.
This game will be undoubtedly remembered thanks to DeJuan Blair's beastly line of 28 and 11 with a steal and two blocks, but that would be a disservice to the Spurs point guards who afforded him all of the space he feasted on. His performance can probably be best put into perspective by looking to his coach, the one and only Greg Popovich:
"We don't call his number. We don't do anything for him. We don't throw him the ball. We don't do anything..."
Tony Parker, George Hill and Manu Ginobili had effective games as they combined for 43 points and 23 assists. They got to the rim at will and created enough space for Blair to do some damage. They were the catalysts who helped the Spurs finish with 70 (yes 70) points in the paint and once again the Raptors lack of interior defence was exposed.
It is worrying that Blair's career high (twice) has come against the Raptors and in particular Andrea Bargnani. Speaking of Il Mago, he led the Raptors in scoring with 29 points and chipped in with 2 rebounds. He was aggressive early on and finished with a good shooting percentage. DeMar DeRozan's mid range jumper was once again as smooth looking as ever. He scored 25 points and contributed with 4 boards and 4 assists.
But outside of those two, and Amir Johnson's heroic 12 points and 13 rebounds, there wasn't a lot to write home about. Bench production was awful for the Raptors as Leandro Barbosa was the only reserve to register a point. And he was a team low -16 on the night. The Brazilian Blur finished with 20 points but hurt the team with his shoot-first mentality late in the game when the Dinos should have been looking to feed DeRozan or Bargnani.
Greg Popovich has done a great job remodeling this Spurs team. Tim Duncan is averaging career lows across the board but most importantly in minutes per game. When you have guys like Blair, Hill and Gary Neal ready to step in, it makes that transition much easier. The Spurs look to push the tempo and are one of the best scoring teams in the league this season, something they weren't known for in years' past.
On last night's evidence it was clear that San Antonio really decided to show up in the 4th quarter. Through the first 3 they seemed to be going through the motions and keeping up with a team that was giving it their all. They became a totally different beast in the 4th as they methodologically killed off the Raptors.
If Popovich can keep this team healthy throughout the season nobody would be surprised to see Tim Duncan lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the 5th time in his career come May.
For the Raptors the focus now shifts to Friday when they will host Portland and their in-form forward LaMarcus Aldridge. You think Nate McMillan is going to show him a tape of Blair's game?
-Midway through the 1st Amir Johnson clashed with DeJuan Blair in the air and landed gingerly on Sonny Weems. He had a sprained right ankle but returned to the court and gave the type of gritty performance that would make Jeff Bridges jealous.
-70 points in the paint! I know this has already been mentioned but I felt the need to bring it up again.
-Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar was in attendance and looked like he was enjoying the game. That was until Rod Black began to interview him...
-It was a pleasure watching the Spurs move the ball on offense. They almost always take the best shot available. The Raptors could learn a thing or two
-Does any team embody their coach as much the Spurs do Popovich? Their no-nonsense efficient approach is eerily reminiscent of their coach and his best qualities
-The Raptors were awful in defending the pick and roll. Parker, Hill and Manu were killing Jose and Bayless all night with their penetration.
-Franchise apologizes for the lack of a "Rapid Recap" last night. He was too zoned into the Duke-North Carolina match that tipped prior to the finish of the SA-TO match...