It was an exciting finish to a game that the Toronto Raptors probably shouldn't have been in but the HQ's a ok with last night's loss to Washington...
I suppose there are a few different ways that you can look at last night's 111 to 108 loss to the Washington Wizards if you're a fan of the Toronto Raptors.
On one hand, you could be happy having seen your team battle back from an 18 point deficit to force overtime in a game they had no business being in, based on their lackluster first half play.
On the other, you could be disgusted with the loss for those same reasons, since even some modicum of urgency in the first half likely would have meant a Toronto win.
Heartbroken is of course another option here, considering Toronto did indeed fight all the way back, only to go cold in the extra session, losing all momentum, and the game in the process.
Or maybe you're like me this morning, quite content with how things turned out considering it plays into the best-case scenario you described at the beginning of the season; the club fights hard each and every night, the youngsters continue to develop and the D improves, but the team simply doesn't have the talent to rack up many wins, giving them another top lottery pick when all is said and done.
And last night's loss, well, it would contribute nicely to said scenario would it not?
Here we had a Raptors' team looking dead in the water after one half, displaying none of the energy or intensity they displayed 24 hours earlier against the Miami Heat. The Wizards held a double digit lead for the bulk of the game, and this one looked to be a potential blowout loss.
But Raptors' coach Dwane Casey rallied the troops and by the time the fourth quarter was halfway through, it looked like a Toronto win was suddenly a possibility with the Raptors surging on the strength of the play of Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza.
You have to tip your hat in fact to the job Casey did last night.
Some of his usual suspects simply didn't have it going so Casey planted them firmly on the bench, opting to go with what was working. That was primarily Bayless and Kleiza but it also included players like Anthony Carter in stretches, and whoever he inserted, seemed to reward his decision with a big play. If not for Casey's personnel moves, and his consistent use of various defensive schemes late in the game which completely took the Wizards out of their previous offensive groove (Washington shot about 60 per cent from the field until late in the match) this surely would have been another L in the loss column.
It also didn't hurt that Jerryd Bayless made like The Fresh Prince and took over scoring-wise late. It might as well have been a scene out of the "Pass it to Will" episode as the rest of Bayless' teammates got nary a look through the game's final possessions.
John Wall was no slouch either and the game's final minutes were essentially the Bayless vs. Wall show. Neither was uber-efficient on the night, Wall was 10 for 19 while Bayless was 9 of 23, but it made for one of the more entertaining finishes for the Raptors in quite some time. Add in Linas Kleiza's best game in probably a year (30 points on 11 of 16 shooting, including a Mo Pete-esque awkward 3-pointer to keep Toronto within striking distance late) and this was must watch basketball.
Ok...maybe for Dino die-hards.
Beyond the loss, the team's lackluster play early, and the gutsy finish, there are a few things that I think need to be highlighted from this game.
For starters, hopefully Bayless' play at the 2 of late opens the door to moving Leandro Barbosa.
Bryan Colangelo recently noted that teams indeed have been inquiring about the former Suns' services, but perhaps now the Raps would feel comfortable enough to deal him for something more "future forward" let's say. A first-round pick might be a stretch, but getting something to help with the Raptors' ongoing rebuild would be big.
This then plays into my next point from last night's affair.
The Raptors need to add more talent, and the best way to do this unfortunately, is through the draft. I say unfortunately, because getting a higher draft pick usually means having a worse record, meaning losing more games meaning fans throwing around the dreaded word "tank."
I'm not advocating starting Anthony Carter here. As previously noted, I want to see this team grow and develop but a few more losses, including ones like last night's are probably better for the franchise in the long run. Even with the loss last night, the Raptors are only three and half games out of a playoff spot in the East, so this is a season where games like last night's could very well mean the difference between an Anthony Davis, and a Cody Zeller.
And that's why moving Barbosa plays into this whole "eye towards the future" movement. (I prefer that over "tank," although admittedly, based on advanced stats, Toronto may actually win more games minus Leandro.) If Jerryd Bayless looks like a future 2 for this club, then press him into action from here on out. By default his youth makes him a much more viable option than Barbosa, and who knows, maybe Jerryd even becomes a Ben Gordon-esque player for the Dinos down the road, igniting the club off the bench. (Ben Gordon the Chicago Bull that is.)
Because someone needs to provide that spark.
You'd assume minus Andrea Bargnani that it would be DeMar DeRozan, especially after his outstanding performance against the Heat one day earlier, but DeMar didn't even play last night.
In fact not only did he play, but did you know DeMar DeRozan played a team-high 44 minutes last night?
Me neither, until I glanced at the box score this AM.
DeRozan did have 15 points and 4 rebounds, but this was about as invisible a 15 as possible and DeRozan's 4 of 10 shooting performance wasn't the type of effort this team is looking for from it's potential franchise cornerstone.
I wouldn't be surprised if from here on out actually, Bayless becomes the team's second option offensively when Andrea returns. He's streaky as hell, but Bayless does a better job of consistently competing at both ends and is still the best option the Raptors have in terms of creating off the bounce. Watching him last night made me wonder if we weren't putting a bit too much stock in Bargnani's early absence, since Mr. Bayless was missing for a chunk of that time as well.
So tally things up here.
Did Toronto lose to a team they're trying to catch in the "draft standings?"
Did they compete in said loss, nearly stealing the win?
Indeed they did.
Did we see some more promise from the club's youngsters?
In Bayless for sure, however Amir Johnson had another solid game for TO too.
When you add those points up, I think it's hard to be too upset with last night's end result. This season to me is about baby steps in the right direction and while yesterday evening's match ended up being the 18th L on the season for Toronto, it could be an L we as fans look back on with gratitude.