There are times when a look at the final box score of a basketball game doesn't quite make sense. A losing team's shooting percentages look good, their turnovers are low, rebounds and assists draw relatively even. But somebody has to win and this evening, in the Raptors' game against the Suns, it was Phoenix hanging on to win 107-102. Still, the stats would almost--almost--suggest otherwise.
The game was uneven for the Raptors from the get-go. The trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo were each doing their part to keep the Raps close. As has been the norm as of late, Lowry sat in control of whatever the team tried to do; DeMarre filled whatever lane was needed of him; and Biyombo, well, he walled off the rim any way he could, amassing four blocks on the night and accounting for many more altered shots at the rim.
But the Raptors couldn't locate their offense and their defense at the same time. The Suns, playing small without Tyson Chandler, were gunning from the outset. They shot 40 percent from three, and had five players in double figures by the end. (And only two of them were starters--Brandon Knight with 16 points and Eric Bledsoe with 20.) The story for most of the game was the Raptors inability to mark Mirza Teletovic, who bombed away from deep to the tune of 6-of-7 from deep (7-of-9 overall) for 20 points. Jon Leuer also had himself a game for 16 points including threes and a couple of huge dunks, and TJ Warren added 15. It was a balanced attack for the Suns, who clearly took advantage at times of Toronto's tired legs.
"Well the problem was the second chance points," said Casey after the game. "They had 14 second chance points to a team that was playing small." There's one stat that doesn't exactly jump out at you in the box score. But Casey went further: "Again back-to-back is no excuse, running out of gas. In fact we shot better from the three than they did. Doing the dirty work, the gritty work are things we have to do." It was a decidedly non-analytical way to summarize the game, but it offers the best explanation.
The Suns did win the rebounding battle on the offensive and defensive glass (50 to 43 and 13 to 8) and did always seem to have an easy answer for whatever run the Raptors could put together. The three point shooting kept Toronto in it (the Raptors shot 12-of-29 as a team) but it always felt like they were a step slow on making a play--"running in mud" as Casey would have usually said. By the fourth, there were enough turnovers and strange plays going against the Raptors to suggest they just didn't have the juice they needed to put the Suns away. A glance at the bench scoring for Toronto, a mostly meagre showing from Joseph, Patterson, Ross and the rest, confirms this.
(We did get a nice little run from James Johnson though, who did both good and bad James Johnson things. Also, Lucas Nogueira got in the game in the second quarter, played for six minutes, and had a dunk. Remember this moment, because after losing his man (Mirza or Leuer) for most of his time on the court, we probably won't see him much again.)
On a night like this, it's fitting that DeMar DeRozan, the leader of the good stats but strange outcomes team, would lead the way for the Raptors. DeRozan had 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting with seven assists and did his best Kobe Bryant impression down the stretch for Toronto. It was DeRozan who hit the go-ahead bucket in the dying minutes to give the Raptors a 97-96 lead. But the Suns scored the next seven points and, despite a spirited mini-comeback by the Raps which included three free throws from Lowry and a last second three point attempt by Luis Scola that was blocked, Phoenix never actually looked back.
We can quibble about some of the officiating, or shrug our shoulders at the obvious tired back-to-back outcome, or just acknowledge this is the way of the basketball world sometimes. The Raptors are 11-7 after a tough November. What did you guys think of the game?