After a letdown game in Denver on Monday, which left an 11-game win streak abandoned in the Rockies (along with Leo Rautins), the Raptors didn't get off to an inspiring start on Tuesday against the Suns. Phoenix, winners of just 14 games this season and fresh off the firing of Jeff Hornacek, started the game on a 7-0 run -- scoring on an uncontested putback, an open three, and a blow-by dunk.
Visibly infuriated, Dwane Casey called a timeout just 90 seconds in. He laid into his team and proceeded to scream defensive adjustments from the sideline for most of the first half. What followed wasn't altogether beautiful basketball, but as it so often has for the Raptors this season, it ended in a win -- 104-97.
As is totally normal, Toronto was led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who took turns being excellent in this one. In the first half, Lowry had the stroke going from deep. He hit five of his first six three-point attempts, finishing the game with 26 points, four assists and two steals. In the third quarter, some questionable officiating and a shot to the head from Mirza Teletovic ignited DeMar DeRozan's previously flat night, as he turned in 22 points of his own. This included a contested three with under a minute left to push the Raptors' lead from five to eight, essentially sealing the win.
The best two-way performance of the night went to Terrence Ross, though. Ross was all over the floor -- grabbing rebounds, forcing steals, and driving to the basket. His stat line of 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a steal belies his impact on this one. He had foul trouble early and the Raptors suffered for it. When he returned in the second quarter, Toronto went on an 11-0 run. Throughout the game, the Raptors looked a whole lot better with Ross on the floor.
Unfortunately, Ross' performance flew in the face of Norman Powell's first career start. In a clear attempt to keep his hot bench intact, Powell got the start for an injured James Johnson and looked out of his realm in 15 minutes, going 0-for-3 for a -1. It'll be interesting to see if Casey gives Ross the bump to starter if Johnson is missing any more time. Toronto was clearly adjusting to a different look this time around, with just eight regular rotation players available.
On the other side of things, despite having their lineup decimated by injuries -- most recently T.J. Warren -- Phoenix was able to put in 97 points on 47% shooting. This was mostly due to defensive issues, almost all of which stemmed from the frontcourt pairing of Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas. Each took their turn getting dunked on by Markieff Morris, who looked to be auditioning for a spot in the Raptors rotation with a monster 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Scola and Valanciunas didn't just have issues with Morris, though. Mostly anyone who drove the ball at them were able to go around them or draw a foul. If the last two games are any indication, teams are starting to read the book on the foot speed of these two guys, and the Raptors have been far better when they're staggered or on the bench.
So, a lot of question marks but an encouraging win on the second night of a back-to-back for the Raptors. They're now 33-16 and look forward to a game in Portland on Thursday night.
What were your thoughts on this one?