After scoring 96 points against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors exploded for... 86...? against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night. While the offensive numbers might not have been there, this one still managed to be a heck of a lot more entertaining than Wednesday’s turnover-filled slopfest.
Kyle Lowry has Shaken Off the Rust
Last night was Lowry’s best game since coming back from his bruised tailbone, and in fact was one of his best games of the year. The final numbers aren’t exactly awe-inspiring—8-of-16, 4-of-9 from deep, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers—but every minute he was on the floor felt like the Raptors were in control. His shot was dropping, he was aggressive, he used his body to create separation... and he hit the difference-making shot, a looong floater with 30 seconds left that put the Raptors up 8.
That’s kinda the story of Kyle’s season, other than perhaps the Philly game where he was still working out the kinks—the numbers are down, but he’s the steadying force that keeps the Raptors humming. Hopefully, the coaches see that and recognize that the point guard for the second-best team in the East deserves an all-star reserve spot.
Jonas Valanciunas is Putting in Work
Speaking of numbers, someone who’s trending up is Jonas Valanciunas. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in January, on 59.3% shooting (he’s also shot 3-7 from downtown); he’s picked up five double-doubles in those 10 games as well, and has posted a rebound rate of 24%—good for third in the league this month.
It’s his best month since October, and it’s come at a great time, too, as Serge Ibaka is struggling mightily right now.
Valanciunas is an easy target; he’s not a great shot blocker, he’s often late on his rotations, and he doesn’t have the foot speed to defend well in the pick-and-roll. But his net rating of 5.2 is ninth among centres (fifth among starting centres); that’s nothing to sneer at.
The Spurs are the Spurs... Always
You could have been forgiven for thinking this was going to be an easy one. The San Antonio Spurs came in to the ACC missing their best player, Kawhi Leonard; their NBA legend sixth man, Manu Ginobili; and their key offseason pickup, Rudy Gay. But these are the Spurs. Nothing is easy.
Much like the last two times these two teams played, San Antonio manhandled the Raptors on the glass. The discrepancy wasn’t quite as pronounced as that October matchup (+6 on the glass last night, +21 on Oct. 23) but on the offensive glass, the Spurs made it look easy. Their 17 offensive rebounds led to 22 2nd chance points (compared to 5 for the Raptors) and those easy looks kept them in the game.
How bad was the rebounding? During the Spurs’ 12-4 run to end the third quarter (more on this in a minute) LaMarcus Aldridge had two virtually uncontested offensive rebounds and converted them into four points; early in the fourth, Kyle Anderson got a rebound off a Patty Mills miss with three Raptors standing in the paint; finally, with an 8-point lead under two minutes to go, the Raptors gave up 3 offensive rebounds that the Spurs converted to another 4 points.
Rebounding is fundamentals and effort; the Raptors just didn’t put a body on the Spurs’ big men and it nearly cost them.
Dwane Casey, Are You Trying to Give Me a Heart Attack?
During the aforementioned 12-4 Spurs run to end the third, Dwane Casey somehow waited until the Spurs had cut the 11-point lead to 1 before calling timeout.
I complained about Casey’s “wait one play too long” approach to calling timeouts back on my old site; I said he needed to take Gregg Popovich out to dinner and get some timeout-calling advice from the master.
Well Pop put on a clinic last night. Every time the Raptors made a run—heck, before the runs even started in some cases—Popovich was calling timeout to slow them down. During that third-quarter run the Raptors looked gassed, the Spurs were doing their thing, and you could feel momentum shifting their way. I know sometimes you gotta let your guys play through it but I don’t think the Spurs are the opponent to do that with.
Dear Matt Devlin, Please Excise the Phrase “No Call” from Your Repertoire
OK, I don’t normally complain about announcers. It’s a hard job, and the Raptors team is fine. But Matt Devlin really needs to lay off the “no call” call. You’ve heard it: A Raptor drives or shoots, there’s (possibly) contact, and Devlin’s play call goes something like this: “DeMar, floater... no call... and it goes the other way.”
He says it on far, far too many possessions. The Raptors do not get fouled on every possession. Even if they did, the officials are not going to call every foul. And Raptors fans already have enough of a complex about officiating and anti-Canada bias; this isn’t helping. Especially since the Raptors themselves have been joining the chorus of officiating complaints lately.
Please, Matt—stop saying it.
That’s two gritty wins in a row for the Raptors, and although they haven’t quite washed the stink off from that dreadful Monday afternoon game in Philly, they’re getting there. Let’s hope this positive trends continue today in Minnesota!