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The Raptors' Perfect Storm, or, "Why Toronto Keeps Losing Close Games"

The Toronto Raptors dropped another close one last night to the Miami Heat. The HQ's Adam Francis takes a look at this disturbing trend, attempting to identify the causes for continued "close losses."

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are 1-16 in game situations where they're behind by 5 pts or less with 3 minutes left.

If the Raptors are within 5 points (ahead or behind) within that same period, they're 7-16.

I lifted that incredible statistic from my partner Kinnon Yee's recap of last night's loss to the Heat, yet another affair where Toronto fought tooth-and-nail only to lose in overtime.

It's hard to put these types of continued losses into words.

At this point the club is one and five in overtime games, and well, you saw the stat above. They simply aren't closing out games very well (to put it mildly), and there's no question the Raptors would be a lot closer to that eighth playoff seed, had they been able to turn some of these heartbreak losses into wins.

In the wake of the loss, and again this morning, I received a stream of tweets wondering why we keep seeing the same pattern game after game, night after night.

-Is there a lack of talent here?

-Is the club inexperienced and making bad decisions down the stretch?

-Is Dwane Casey using the wrong players or tactics?

-Is Andrea Bargnani screwing things up?

Well, thankfully the answer to this I think has little to do with Andrea Bargnani.

To me, we're again this year seeing a combination of two major factors that account for the bulk of these results; a lack of elite talent, and a surplus of effort. I'm labeling it the Raptors' "Perfect Storm," something I first touched on after Toronto's loss to Philadelphia last week.

Dwane Casey consistently has his troops ready to play, and the roster is now chalk full of gritty, athletic, energetic and determined players who echo his style, and bring it on every possession. From Kyle Lowry to Quincy Acy, it's rare that we see this team take a night off in terms of overall effort.

That all-out effort keeps the team competitive on a nearly nightly basis, especially against the NBA's lesser foes.

But against the league's top clubs, you don't see the same results consistently. For one, many of the league's clubs exude that type of effort themselves and secondly, elite talent trumps effort at times, especially over the long haul.

To me, last night's loss to the Miami Heat was a good example of this "perfect storm."

Toronto's all-out effort kept them neck-and-neck with Miami throughout the bulk of the game. But in overtime with the game on the line, Miami could look to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen to clinch the win.

The Raps were left with Alan Anderson, Alan Anderson Anderson?

The point here is that the Heat's talent shone through with the game on the line and the Raptors' lack of it, did so as well.

Of course, this was only exacerbated by some strange rotation decisions by Coach Casey, and Anderson's insistence on going one-on-five possession after possession, but ask yourself, even if Ed Davis had taken Aaron Gray's random minutes, or Kyle Lowry taken those shots of Anderson's, would the end result have been much different?

This isn't meant to be a slight on guys like Anderson as frankly, without Anderson's earlier play, the club wouldn't have even made it to OT. But the stats don't lie. Anderson is shooting 35 per cent from long-range this year, and up until the OT period, he was above that mark. So it's not a huge surprise that he went on to miss his final five three-point shots, taking him to 4 of 12 on the night from deep.

(Calculating the math...hey, that's 33 per cent, right around his average this year!)

Yep, the old "regression to the mean" idea, and I think this applies to the entire Raptors' team.

The club's effort, energy and focus tend to catch teams with superior talent by surprise, but over 48 minutes, or especially, 48 plus X number of overtime sessions, the elite talent comes out on top. Supporting this is the fact that Toronto's one overtime win came against a Eric Gordon-less New Orleans club, hardly championship contenders.

Even against what one would call lesser foes, we've seen examples of elite talent trumping effort. The Sacramento Kings have been a match-up nightmare for the Raps because despite their most valiant attempts, they have no one to contain the behemoth that is DeMarcus Cousins.

Admittedly though, there's more to this puzzle than just "elite talent trumps effort over the long haul."

Toronto is simply quite terrible in the final five minutes of close games.

The Raptors on the season sport an offensive rating of 103.8 per's stats database, 11th best in the league. However during those final five minutes of games they are either losing or winning by five points or less, the Raptors' offensive rating plumets to 87.6, second-worst in the NBA ahead of only the Washington Wizards.

The defensive story is better...but only because Toronto's defence hasn't been great this season to begin with.

Again per's stats database, Toronto's defensive rating drops from 105.4 (fifth-worst in the NBA) to 118.0, last in the league in that "crunch" time period described above.

And if you peruse the various other advanced metrics over that time period, True Shooting percentage (a gawdawful 41.7% mark), Rebounding percentage (45.1%, third-worst in the league), you name it, they're almost all at the bottom or near the bottom of the league.

This club simply doesn't get the job done when the game's on the line.

Some of that perhaps comes down to coaching. It's hard to score efficiently when Aaron Gray is one of your five "crunch-time" guys, and the club desperately needs better motion and execution during that time period.

Again, no ill-intent towards Aaron, but he's not Ed Davis or Landry Fields, so it's hard to understand rolling him out over the aforementioned duo.

And yet, Gray is hardly Chris Bosh either.

Above the coaching issues is the fact that when Dwane Casey gazes down that bench to decide who to stick in during these close sessions, he's faced with the likes of an inconsistent Alan Anderson, an inexperienced Terrence Ross, or a wilting DeMar DeRozan.

Not great options.

Toronto just doesn't have that guy they can go to for their offense in the crunch time still, and while Kyle Lowry was supposed to be said person, it hasn't happened.

The scarier part for me therefore, and something identified by various readers, is how this situation changes.

If Lowry doesn't get that moxy back, who takes on this closer role? We've seen enough from guys like DeRozan and Bargnani to know that they're not the answer. Maybe Ross or Jonas Valanciunas evolve into "closers" of sorts, but that's likely a ways away so until then...

Yes, there's a pretty good chance we're treated to more results like last night's, going forward.

Dwane Casey can do some tinkering to possibly aid the situation (improved crunch-time strategies/execution, different rotations etc) but in the end, this one's on the personnel that he's got to work with, something that likely remains consistent barring any Bryan Colangelo trade deadline moves.

And that's entirely another article.