Down double digits in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, Kyle Lowry and the Raptors fought back. That alone was a welcome sight, given where this team has been over the last couple weeks.
Alas, there are no moral victories in the NBA — none that allow you to pick up games on a struggling Cavaliers team, at least — as the Raptors lost their fifth straight tonight, 101-99 to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Down two last night in San Antonio, the game came down to a Norman Powell desperation heave after a full-court run. Tonight, the odds seemed a bit better with the Raptors down two with the ball in the frontcourt. This, after a hashtag blessed timeout that was granted despite Jonas Valanciunas not quite securing the ball on a defensive rebound.
Blame karma or whatever you want: what the Raptors coaching staff came up with was a carbon copy of the Lou Williams shots of 2014 — a pass to Lowry sixty feet away from the basket, where he was left to scramble and shoot a fadeaway three over Tony Allen and Marc Gasol. It missed, and the Raptors lost.
All these words to decry a late-game play call are worthy groveling, especially since the Raptors played tough enough to win. That especially goes for Lowry, whose 29 points and eight assists came mostly toward the game’s conclusion. His NBA-leading sixth four-point play kicked off a 6-0 Raptors run to tie the game at 99, only to watch Marc Gasol hit the game-winning free throws with less than a minute remaining.
Gasol hit from the line, from deep, and everywhere else for the Grizzlies tonight. He had the team’s first 16 points, comically beating both Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas with drop steps and long bombs. He’d end with a career-high 42 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two blocks — the kind of line that reminds you he’ll be among the All-Star reserves announced tomorrow night.
Gasol got help from his supporting cast too, who overcame a 4-of-12 night from Mike Conley. Tony Allen had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Zach Randolph made seven of his ten shots for 16 points, and that man Vince Carter had seven off the bench. Those points included... a reverse 360 layup?
If this was the best of Carter, we saw the worst of it at the end of the second half — clipping Lowry in the eye while challenging a shot to earn a technical foul. It was just part of the Grizzlies’ time-proven strategy of “grinding” their opponent, which may have worn down the Raptors by the final buzzer.
Indeed, Toronto could’ve run away with this thing if they could just make some shots. Raptors wing players bricked countless open shots, as the team shot just 29.4% from three-point range. The biggest culprit here was Patrick Patterson, who shot 1-for-7 from three in 27 minutes, including a big miss with under two minutes left. Terrence Ross was just 2-for-7, and looked rushed on many attempts. Jared Sullinger, bless his heart, was 0-for-6 from the field as his jump shot currently looks like it took eight months off instead of four.
Norm Powell did his part, filling in for DeMar DeRozan in body and spirit, as he scored 21 points on 21 shots. Inefficient as he was, it’s refreshing to see Powell playing with confidence. His drives to the rim encouraged Memphis to bring help, and although he missed a few layups, he also made a couple passes that began swing sequences. He’s becoming an effective downhill player who knows his role; it’s when he falls in love with the jumper that he loses a bit of momentum.
This Raptors loss shouldn’t be taken too negatively, though. This was a schedule loss — a cruel overnight trip across the country after playing the second best team in the Western Conference. They played a tough-nosed team to a final possession for the second straight night, and came up just short.
Now after playing 14 games in 25 nights, the Raptors can lick their wounds and take this positive play to the Air Canada Centre. Waiting for them is Milwaukee, Orlando, New Orleans, and (hopefully) a healthy DeMar DeRozan. With the Cavaliers and Celtics also in the doldrums of January, it’s never been a better time to work through “some stuff”.
The Raptors play the Bucks on Friday night.