With Lowry's elbow a looming concern, and the playoffs just around the corner, Coach Casey decided to give give both of the team's All Stars a night off. Although this led to the Raptors losing 102-95, the Raptors competed against the second best team in the league to the final buzzer, largely led by Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, and Delon Wright.
The game as a whole didn't really have a rhyme or reason to it. Without taking anything away from the Raptors, the Spurs helped Toronto keep the game close with many uncharacteristic misses -- they went 5-20 from distance, with many of them being uncontested looks. Despite being outmatched in terms of talent, the Raptors were relentless in terms of effort and made enough runs to keep the game close throughout, despite not playing with a lead for the entire game.
The Raptors player of the game was easily Norman Powell, who followed up his strong play against Memphis with a 17 point, 3 rebound, and 2 assist outing on 6-10 shooting. Powell continued to thrive in the open floor, using his explosiveness to score at the rim both in transition and traffic. Delon Wright, Cory Joseph, and Jonas Valanciunas also had efficient scoring nights, as the trio shot a combined 19 of 34.
For those of you wondering how the Raptors managed to lose this game despite shooting 50% from the field and 90% from the free throw line, please direct your attention to the "Rebounding" column of the stat sheet. Playing many minutes with a single big-man on the floor, Toronto gave up 15 offensive rebounds, and lost the overall rebounding battle 47-32. As a note, Lamarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan combined grabbed more rebounds than the entire Raptors starting line-up.
While the team played with energy managing to limit Tony Parker to a quiet night, Toronto had no answer for the Aldridge-Leonard tandem, as San Antonio's forwards scored 31 and 33, respectively. Regardless, the fact that the Raptors were able to keep the game within striking distance without their two leading scorers, and actually played a close game to the buzzer is a testament to the team's competitive spirit. It's also great to see that in DeMar and Kyle's absence, Joseph, Powell, and Wright were all able to step up against an elite team.
- The first quarter was the Jonas Valanciunas show. He finished the frame with 10 of the team's 18 points on 5 of 7 shooting to go along with 3 rebounds and a monster block on LaMarcus Aldridge. After subbing out for what seemed like a quick breather near the end of the end of the quarter, Jonas didn't check back in until the 4:35 mark of the 2nd. JV only shot the ball 4 more times the rest of the game. It is absolutely unacceptable, especially in a game without Lowry and DeRozan, that Jonas gets planted on the bench. Equally troubling is the fact that his teammates didn't seem to look for him on the offensive end. As great as the Raptors' guards played, most of their points were created in the open floor. Toronto struggled mightily to get good looks in the half-court, and Jonas was the only one able to generate good opportunities. I feel like we've been saying this forever around these parts, but Dwane Casey, and the rest of the Raptors need to start trusting Jonas. If he's not scoring, or more specifically, given opportunities to score, the team is in effect negating his biggest asset. JV is too talented and important to this team's long term success to be playing less than 30 minutes on a night without Kyle and DeMar.
- Earlier in the season, I dedicated many recaps to critiquing Patrick Patterson, and specifically, his indecisiveness with the ball. Its great to see how far he's come. Although he's still not the perfect decision maker, he's corrected his terrible habit of pump faking on a wide open shot and then either holding the ball, or swinging it in a way that doesn't shift the defense. It's great to see 2Pat a) shoot more confidently, but also b) take it hard to the basket for a floater, or a dump-off pass.
- At the 8:05 mark of the 3rd quarter, the Raptors ran a set which consisted of Scola struggling to back down Aldridge, only to settle for a terrible turnaround jumper one step in from the free throw line that barely caught iron. Cringe.
- Can we take a minute to appreciate these Spurs? These guys are 64-12, sitting at 10 more wins than the Eastern Conference leading Cavaliers, and no one is talking about them. Although this season may go be remembered as the one in which the Warriors challenge or break the Bulls all time record, this Spurs team is also winning at a historic rate. Even though they didn't play particularly well tonight, the team is surgical on the offensive end in terms of generating good looks. From breaking down the defense and waiting until the absolute last second in order to get an extra defender's commitment before hitting the open man, to touch passing in transition that resembles a full speed three man weave, the Spurs play beautiful and efficient basketball.
What'd you think about tonight's game?