Raptors coach Dwane Casey was about to use the word “atrocious” to describe something about his team. He stopped himself and pivoted into giving credit to the Orlando Magic. “They made some tough shots,” Casey said, “they made some good shots.” There were more words, but everything could be summed up in Casey’s exit: he scrunched the box score up in his hand and strode off. The Raptors lost to the Magic 114-113, in yet another close game that wasn’t all that close.
The game didn’t start this way. The Raptors looked sharp in the first quarter, with their fully functioning starting lineup and productive bench. Kyle Lowry led the way, of course, but DeMar DeRozan also made his return to the roster. Late in the first, Lucas Nogueira and Pascal Siakam came in (along with Cory Joseph) and the team didn’t miss a beat. Toronto was up 36-27 then, and were cruising along into the second as they pumped the score up to 49-39. Now, let’s stop here. Jonas Valanciunas has just made his second free throw. There is 6:10 to go in the half. Things are good.
Except, what’s this? The Orlando Magic, led by D.J. Augustin of all people (he finished with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting), somehow went on a 19-0 run late in the second quarter. (It was a 21-2 run to finish the half.) It wasn’t only former Raptor Augustin though; Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 10 rebounds, on 9-of-17 shooting) went off, Elfrid Payton (11 points, 10 assists) could not be contained, Serge Ibaka (12 points, 7 rebounds) chipped in as well. By the end of the frame, the Raptors were looking at a 9-point deficit. Yowza.
As is the Raptors way, they made things interesting. Terrence Ross had 17 points off the bench (including 4-of-7 on threes). He also helped out with three steals and a timely and-1 late in the game that he finished through contact. DeRozan’s first game back after spraining his ankle was good (not great), but he had 22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and he went 10-of-11 from the free throw line. (Just don’t say anything about his 6-of-18 from the field — or his defense.) And naturally, Lowry laboured. He had 33 points (9-of-18 from the field, 6-of-9 from three), 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. Lowry’s game wasn’t perfect — because none of the Raptors were — but this game isn’t even close without his late 3s. After another spirited Raptors run late it felt like there was a chance. But we know how that usually goes.
The rest of the team were varying degrees of disaster. Valanciunas (12 points, 9 rebounds) followed up a strong first quarter with largely invisible play. Bebe picked up five ticky-tack fouls and had to take a seat. DeMarre Carroll is... I’m not even sure anymore. Norman Powell should have gotten more minutes, but his game didn’t exactly pop for the 13 minutes he was out there. (Meanwhile, Cory Joseph and Jared Sullinger? Hoo boy.)
We will continue to say not to panic. There are still the components here of a good team. Lowry and DeRozan are all-stars for a reason. The team has faced challenges and rose to met them in the past. But, just between you and me and the internet, I’m a tad worried. When the Raptors’ offense is clicking it feels like the sky is the limit — no shot is bad, every lane is open, there is no wrong move. But the defense continues to be extremely shaky, prone to giving up monster games from likely and unlikely sources. You can shrug your shoulders at Marc Gasol dropping 40, but masterpiece performance from D.J. Augustin? A late surge from Jeff Green? This should not be.
The wait between the end of the game and the appearance from Casey was telling. Usually he’s out promptly to address the media, win or lose. The man is a pro. But there’s no way he’s not upset right now. “It’s everybody, and that’s what I told the team,” said Casey. “Everybody is involved. Me, put me and the whole group in the room, we’re all accountable for this atrocious—”
That’s where Casey stopped. But where do these Raptors’ struggles end?