On the wings of a 36 point fourth quarter, the Houston Rockets beat the Raptors tonight, 113-107. It's the first home loss for Toronto in over two months -- the last one was to the Chicago Bulls on January 3rd. The fact that the Toronto Raptors have been winning so much since then is a testament to their offensive prowess. Tonight, it was the continually deteriorating defense that did them in.
Not only did Toronto give up that big fourth quarter, they allowed Houston to shoot 13-for-30 from three and their star, James Harden, to score 40 points -- 20 in the final frame. They allowed Houston's only good role players to shoot themselves into the game: Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer were a combined 8 of 15 from deep. They allowed Dwight Howard position to dunk at will.
It was an eye-opening night on that end for the Raptors, who now have the fourth-worst defensive rating in the NBA over the last ten games. Behind them? The Lakers, the 76ers and the Timberwolves. Sure, the Lakers beat the Warriors earlier in the day, but this is hardly a formula that begs emulating.
Over the last ten games, the Raptors have joined rare air in defensive awfulness. pic.twitter.com/9fHJxekaI4— John Gaudes (@johngaudes) March 7, 2016
It all seemed to be going well for the Raptors at the start. James Johnson and Luis Scola, who have precipitated poor starts and drawn the ire of observers, both had a great first half. Johnson started things off by blocking a Harden three, then proceeded to get eight points in the first quarter. Scola fared even better, using a couple breakaway layups to ignite his old man game, scoring 16 points in the first half on 7-for-10 shooting. Toronto had 61 large in the first half, carrying a double digit lead into the break.
Unfortunately, Johnson, Scola and the defense all disappeared in the second half. Kyle Lowry did some heavy lifting to push the Raptors out to a lead of 18, but much of the offense was yielded to DeMar DeRozan down the stretch. DeRozan, who shot just once in the first quarter, wasn't getting the same calls on Sunday as he was on Friday against Portland, and looked visibly frustrated. Late in the fourth, with his team down four, he drove the ball into traffic and missed a wild shot. Coming back on defense, he laid out Patrick Beverley, committing a flagrant foul and sealing the game for the other team. While it's not only out of character for DeRozan to show emotion like this, it was also strange for him to take it out on Beverley, who was being his usual pest while guarding Lowry and Cory Joseph -- not DeRozan.
DeRozan and Lowry were 9-of-20 for a combined 36 points though, not a bad night by the numbers. Indeed, 107 points is enough to win on most nights -- they even got a peak play from pylon Harden! They just failed to guard in their own end. Down the stretch, it was Harden creating for everyone. His line was one you look to avoid, 40 points on 11-for-20 shooting, going 15-for-19 at the charity stripe.
Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross struggled with the Harden-Howard pick and roll all night, either giving up layups to Harden, dunks to Howard, or open shots on the wing. For the second straight game, against a guard with elite pull-up ability (Lillard was the other), Valanciunas' ICEing was useless. While the big man had 12 points going the other way, Ross wasn't giving anything back with an off-night of eight points on 3-for-10 shooting.
It all adds to the frightening trend we see the Raptors going in. Nearing a league-worst defense in March is exactly where Toronto found themselves last season. Given, they didn't have a DeMarre Carroll coming back from injury, but it's as it was last year: the system is failing, not the players or their effort. In order to boost their opportunity in the here and now, Dwane Casey has to get rid of the Luis Scola - Jonas Valanciunas pairing and get a new rotation to work. The numbers are getting scary, and if tonight is any indication, the losses may be to follow.
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