Who needs defense, anyway?
From the outset, Raptors vs. Wolves was a frantic, sloppy and entertaining-as-hell game that featured some of the most porous defense Toronto's has played during its recent run of good form. But thanks to Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the team's ever-dependable collection of bench contributors, the Raptors were able to outlast the spunky Wolves and improve to 20 games over .500 with a 114-105 win.
There's no way to sugarcoat the defense the Raptors played tonight. It was ugly - even when you factor in that Minnesota's offense has been humming along at a top-10 level in recent weeks.
Lowry uncharacteristically struggled to defend. He seemed to close out on Ricky Rubio a lot harder than you should close out on Ricky Rubio, who shoots just 29 percent from distance. As a result, the Wolves point guard was able to gain a step on Lowry off the dribble multiple times, giving him ample space to set up his teammates. He finished with 12 points and 12 assists.
More concerning, and definitely less surprising, was the play of Luis Scola and James Johnson on both ends of the floor.
Luis Scola looked completely out of his depth trying to keep up with Karl-Anthony Towns. When the future Rookie of the Year was squaring up for a three, Scola was nowhere in site. And when Towns went to work in the post, Scola was simply over-matched physically. Towns didn't have a great night shooting, which saved Scola to an extent, but he still managed to be a -14 on the night. He compounded his struggles by missing a couple lay ins around the basket and bricking a wide-open three in the first quarter, continuing his slow-but-steady regression on the long range department.
Johnson was no better. He couldn't slow down Andrew Wiggins early on, and made some awfully timed gambles - as he's apt to do - in the fourth quarter. He was directly responsible for giving up a three point play that tied the game. Offensively he couldn't take advantage of a couple wide open corner three looks.
The Raptors quickly fell down 19-10 in the opening frame, with the Scola-Johnson pairing piling up 5 shot attempts to the 1 hoisted by Lowry and DeRozan during that stretch. Minnesota aggressively doubled the Raptors star guards and forced the two weak links to beat them. They couldn't.
Scola and Johnson were so bad that Casey yanked them both just 90 seconds into the third quarter. Scola didn't see another minute while Johnson didn't get run again until the fourth. Maybe this is the game that will serve as a wake up call to the coaching staff that a starting five featuring Johnson and Scola just isn't passable.
Okay, that was a lot of nitpicking about a game that pushed the Raptors to 38-18. There were things to be positive about as well.
First and foremost, the trio of Patrick Patterson, Bismack Biyombo and especially Cory Joseph was fantastic off the bench. Terrence Ross was pretty good too, before he got ejected for pretending to throw the ball at the referee after getting called for a charge on Tyus Jones.
Casey wasn't pleased.
"I don't like that passion. That's not very smart of T-Ross ... Any time you fake that, that's not passion," said Casey when asked if he at least like the intensity Ross showed before getting tossed.
"T-Ross had a good night going. He was active on the weak side, good hands. And you waste it with a play like that."
Patterson continued his roll of being a plus-minus stud, mostly thanks to his excellent defense on Minnesota's imposing bigs. Biyombo actually displayed some hands on the offensive end (!) too; the Wolves' defenders were noticeably sticking close to Biyombo as he rolled to the rim - something we rarely saw earlier in the year when he was barely catching 50 percent of the passes thrown his way, let alone converting them into buckets.
Joseph was the star of the bench though. His driving was as unstoppable as his subsequent kicking, and he initiated the dagger that ended the Wolves' hopes of a season sweep of the Raptors.
"That last play where he hit DeMar for a three, the draw and kick ... it was a heady play on his (Joseph's) part," Casey said of Joseph's game-sealing assists.
"He does a great job for us. We're trying to find him more minutes. He does such a great job on both ends of the floor."
Joseph finished with a clean 18 points, 6 assists and 2 rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting - in just 22 minutes.
DeRozan and Lowry did their usually ass-kicking. The former put together a 31, 4 and 4 stat line on an efficient 11-for-19 while the latter came alive in the fourth, finishing with 21 and 6 assists, including a physics-defying layup or two.
All told, this game was a blast to watch. Sometimes defense-free zones make for exhilarating basketball. As does the general air of angst that was created by some questionable officiating throughout the game. This was by no means a perfect performance for the Raptors. But maybe some good will come of it. Perhaps the glaringly obvious poor play of Scola and Johnson will finally inspire Casey to shake up his rotation.
And hey, if not, the current model has yielded a 38-18 team.
What did you think of tonight's game?