Looking to get things on track in the home stretch before the playoffs, the Raptors welcomed the Lakers in need of a win. Although Toronto ultimately pulled out the victory 94-83, the first half was not pretty.
The opening frame of the game can best be described as a classic example of the more talented team versus the harder working team. After starting the game off with multiple Jonas Valanciunas post-ups, the Raptors kept settling for tough, out of flow shots, while the Lakers consistently created opportunities by pushing the pace off of misses, and creating through sets beginning with a high screen. The theme of the quarter was perfectly captured by two plays: a wide open Jeremy Lin layup via a backdoor cut around the 3:40 mark, and a well timed Lakers triple team on DeMar DeRozan to end the quarter.
While DeMar and Terrence Ross continued to struggle in the second quarter, TSN2 might as well have broadcast a very important and obvious message in their broadcast: PLAY JAMES JOHNSON. Lay up off of a steal, a post up on Wayne Ellington, and a hard drive and score; when Johnson plays, good things happen. Johnson single handedly flipped the script as his effort and tenacity matched that of the Lakers, and brought the Raptors within two at half.
The second half was effectively just the Raptors slowly pulling away. Aside from James Johnson finishing the game with a convincing 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, another bright spot was Ross' second half. Scoring 10 of Toronto's first 12 points, Ross kickstarted the Raptors offense which eventually led to Toronto pulling away.
Two key points to end the recap:
1) I don't know what happens behind closed doors, but James Johnson needs to get consistent minutes. I always hesitate to question the basketball IQ and rationale of NBA coaches, but Johnson's production and his effect on the team is becoming harder to deny. He plays hard, keeps defenses honest by constantly moving and making decisive attacks, and doesn't take plays off on the defensive end. I don't care if Vasquez is a better shooter, I don't care if Hansbrough can mix it up. Play. James. Johnson.
2) DeMar DeRozan's play as of late is concerning. When DeRozan got injured earlier in the year, Kyle Lowry put on the hat of best player and carried the Raptors. Unfortunately, DeMar has not been able to do the same in Lowry's absence. Raptors fans have been excusing DeRozan's poor shooting percentages and overall inefficient offense for quite some time, because the Raptors were still winning games, but a 1-for-10 performance against the Lakers is inexcusable. DeMar to find a way to turn things around, because right now he's hurting the team.
What did you guys think?