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Raptors hang with Suns but come up short, losing 114-106

Toronto couldn’t overcome early turnover trouble and big games from Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton, as they fell to 2-2 on their current road trip.

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

If there’s an early lesson from this long road trip for the Toronto Raptors, it’s that even when their effort is there, the margin for error is still razor thin.

After the woeful defense and anemic shooting of late December and early January, the Raptors are visibly in a much better spot today. They’ve got one of the league’s top five offenses over the last 10 days, their star players in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam have come to life, and they’re getting big contributions from Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa on both ends.

All good news, right? Well, it’s not resulting in wins — not yet at least — as the Raptors went into Phoenix and made just enough mistakes to lose, 114-106. It’s the fifth win in the last six games for the Suns, who were led by 29 points from Mikal Bridges (on a blistering 12-for-19 from the field) and 22 points and 13 rebounds from Deandre Ayton.

Fred VanVleet had 24 points to lead the Raptors, while Gary Trent Jr. had 21, Pascal Siakam chipped in 19 and Precious Achiuwa had an 11-point, 12-rebound double double. Scottie Barnes had the most well-rounded outing, posting 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.

Turnovers were the story early on for the Raptors, as wayward bounce passes resulted in transition opportunities for the Suns. Bridges got easy shots early, scoring 10 of the first 14 points for Phoenix, allowing him to build a hot hand that extended through most of the game. Toronto ended up with six turnovers in the first quarter alone, but some good offensive decision-making from VanVleet and Trent Jr. — getting downhill and to their spots on the floor — kept things mostly even. The Suns led by just three after the first.

After playing the whole first quarter, Siakam extended his minutes into the second to lead the Raptors bench unit. Nick Nurse wouldn’t dig into the ninth or tenth spot in his rotation until the second half in this game, which meant heavy minutes for the starters in the first half. Still, the Suns managed to find bench players to pick on, as they were able to extend their lead on a series of Chris Paul pick and rolls against Juancho Hernangomez. While a couple VanVleet shots near the end of the half kept it close, the Suns went into the break up 62-53.

The Raptors responded, though. Coming out of halftime with their best stretch of the game, Toronto picked up their defensive intensity and got threes from both Siakam and VanVleet to rip off a 10-0 run. They would end up +11 in the third before fatigue started to become a factor.

To buy his big guns some rest, Nurse went with a bench lineup led by Scottie Barnes to start the fourth — supporting with Malachi Flynn, Chris Boucher, Thad Young and Hernangomez. It wasn’t quite the disaster-class that some expected it to be, but throwing in two cold bodies did eventually catch up with the Raptors. Flynn bravely made a couple threes, but it’s all Toronto could muster offensively. Once the Suns’ starters started to come back in five minutes into the quarter, they were able to take a small lead and get control over the game.

On the game’s late possessions, the Raptors couldn’t summon the same energy they started the half with. Paul and Ayton started to hunt out mismatches in the pick and roll and Toronto missed key rotations — a Paul triple with 1:30 left ended up being the nail in the coffin, putting Phoenix up four and ahead for good.

Now, the road trip rolls on. The Raptors will meet the Jazz — another team in the Western Conference play in picture — on Wednesday night.