Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Raptors leaned heavily on Kyle Lowry, laboured hard after digging themselves into something of a hole in the first half, and fell short in the dying seconds to the relentless San Antonio Spurs. The final score was 108-106, though it does come as a surprise it was that close.
The first half was unkind to the Raptors. For the first time this season coach Dwane Casey got his presumptive starting frontcourt and full complement of big men. Toronto opened the game with Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas and then watched as — surprise! — the two slow-footed big men had trouble on the defensive end. Sullinger played just shy of 12 minutes, went 0-for-4 with two rebounds and got a quick hook in the third quarter, never to be heard from again.
Valanciunas fared better over time, finishing with a respectable line of 9 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. There was a place for him in this game guarding LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and attempting to bully his way to the rim. Still, Lucas Nogueira’s involvement felt more pronounced overall. Bebe played an impressive 26 minutes, putting up 6 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, while covering a lot of court. The Raptors made their second half run with him on the floor for most of that time.
But it was Patrick Patterson whose presence mattered most. Despite being on a minutes restriction, and coming out of the game immediately after getting roasted by Davis Bertans (of all people), Patterson’s all-around game was a welcome salve to some of the Raptors’ recent woes. Patterson had 12 points (on 5-of-6 shooting, including some midrange shots!), 4 rebounds, and looked strong.
So that’s the frontcourt four and everything they managed to bring (or not bring) to tonight’s game against the Spurs. Now we get to the troubling stuff — I mean, besides the loss itself.
First, DeMarre Carroll, non-entity. I don’t know what happened tonight by Carroll went 0-for-6 and was just completely annihilated in everything he tried to do. (A 1-on-1 break against Danny Green that ended in a snuffed lay-up attempt was just about the final straw.) Carroll’s quick hook in the third quarter in favour of the Terrence Ross-Cory Joseph combination felt like mercy.
Second, I refer you back to the lede: the Raptors once again leaned very heavily on Kyle Lowry. Now, here’s the thing about doing that. Most of the time, the Raptors’ heart and soul will deliver. Lowry finished with 30 points on 9-of-23 shooting (including a disastrous 1-of-7) from 3, but he never stopped getting into the lane trying to make something happen. Lowry shot 11-of-12 from the free throw line, and probably hit the deck about as many times (if not more). That the Raptors lost makes this effort — another 40+ minute night — a waste. It will be interesting to see if the Dwane Casey opts to sit him tomorrow night in Memphis.
There’s no third thing to mention here. We can praise the play of Norman Powell, who had his troubles (and spectacular successes) finishing at the rim for 16 points; we can cheer on the ridiculous play of Terrence Ross, who is both amazing and frustrating, and his 21 points; we can applaud Joseph’s mini 6-point explosion in the third to get the Raps, who had been down by 10-11 points for most of the first half, back within striking distance.
But we have to draw the line somewhere, and that place is here in the moment with 3:45 minutes to go in the third. Casey finally gave Lowry some rest and the Raptors responded by turning a five point deficit into a tie game going into the fourth. For a Toronto squad — even facing a depleted Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker or Pau Gasol — this was no small thing. The Raptors have to be able to execute without Lowry on the floor in small stretches. We’ve seen this show before if they can’t.
We’ve also seen what happens when the Raptors minus DeMar DeRozan decide to lean too heavily on their diminutive point guard. Lowry is a man of steel in his way, but he’s not invincible. Before the game, Casey remarked on his team’s “edginess” after having lost three games in a row. He praised his team and it’s true the Raptors don’t have a ton of quit in them. They play to win. But, now it’s four losses in a row and the edginess has likely not abated.
And neither, I assume, have the bumps and bruises Lowry has accumulated over this same stretch. Be wary.