We all knew it wasn’t going to last forever, but boy, it would’ve been nice to go into the All-Star break on a 16-game winning streak, wouldn’t it? Alas, we’ll have to settle for 15-1 in the past 16 and 40-15 overall.
That’s still pretty damn great, by the way.
Before we get to the break, though, a few quick thoughts on what went down in Brooklyn.
Our guy Kyle Lowry doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but boy did he make a couple doozies at the end of the first half last night. The Raptors were on a 6-0 run and looking to head into halftime with the momentum.
And then Lowry foolishly fouled Joe Harris on a three-point attempt; Harris hit all three. And then as the Raptors tried to set up a two-for-one, Lowry dribbled the ball off his foot, and turned it over; Harris nailed a three the other way and Brooklyn went into the half up 12 with all the momentum on their side.
Lowry wasn’t quite done, either: he picked up his fifth foul on a dumb play, 30 feet from the hoop, grabbing Spencer Dinwiddie’s wrist, with a minute left in the third quarter. He had to go to the bench for the next six minutes.
Lowry has been almost superhuman on the court all year, and he was typically great in pretty much every other way last night, finishing with a triple-double. But that first-half sequence hurt, as did having to come out of the game at the most important time.
That six-point swing at the end of the first half wasn’t the only time the Raptors blew a golden opportunity last night.
To start the second half, the Raptors cranked up the D, as they normally do, and forced seven straight misses and a shot clock violation.
But the Raptors responded with three turnovers and three misses of their own.
In the fourth, when Fred VanVleet finally — finally! — cut the Brooklyn lead to nine with 4:13 to go, the defense proceeded to give two straight layups to Caris LeVert.
And then — even though it was probably too late by then — when another VanVleet three got it to 10 with two minutes left, they immediately gave up an open corner three to Joe Harris.
Those were tough breaks on a night where not much went right at all.
Cold Nights are Gonna Come
The Raptors had been shooting lights out since their winning streak began: 50.4% from the field, 40.% from downtown; both league-best marks over the past 15 games.
As good as this Raptors team is, that number isn’t realistically sustainable, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise they were ice cold last night. They were just 16-of-45 from the field in the first half, and 4-of-18 from downtown; they finished the night 38% from the field and 30% from three-point range.
As always, you look for a few adjustments to generate some more high-percentage looks, and you try to get stops and run. Toronto’s D was pretty decent overall, but an inability to get defensive rebounds hurt their running game. In the half court, the Raptors did na OK job mixing it up, with some back cuts, dribble penetration from Fred VanVleet, and post-ups from Pascal Siakam, but unfortunately those weren’t particularly effective either, as we’ll get to.
All in all: It was one of those nights. It happens.
What Did This Team Get up to in New York on Tuesday Night?
”It happens” doesn’t mean we can’t look for a cause. In this case there are a few possible culprits, the most likely being that it’s the last game before vacation, and the team spent their previous night in New York City. On top of that, sustaining that winning energy for 15 games is hard, especially with all the roster shuffling.
Whatever the case, the Raptors looked tired and worn out. Nobody had any legs in their shot, except maybe Serge Ibaka (who sat out the previous game); Pascal Siakam in particular was leaving everything short, and didn’t have his usual burst on his spin moves around the hoop.
The team clearly needs this break.
I think we’ve all marvelled at how Serge Ibaka has turned in his best season at age 30, and he continues to amaze. Last night on the Raptors’ first field goal, he took a pass going at the top of the arc, beat a Jarrett Allen close-out, and drove to the hoop. Joe Harris stepped up to take a charge, and Ibaka smoothly piroueted around him and dropped in a baby hook.
A couple of years ago I’m certain Ibaka would have just bowled Joe Harris over. I don’t know how this guy is getting smoother as he gets older, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to see.
I don’t think anyone can argue with the results though 55 games. I don’t think even the most die-hard believer had Toronto starting 40-15! It’s been a truly great ride so far, and just think: A refreshed Marc Gasol should be back next week. Norman Powell is coming back in March (fingers crossed). This team is gonna be healthy and hungry down the stretch, and I think the second half of the season is gonna be just as fun to watch as the first.