As regular readers of this blog will attest, I’m not one for harping on officiating or paying lip service to any fan complaints about perceived bias against the Toronto Raptors (7-5). NBA officials are, for the most part, good at what they do and a missed call here or there rarely decides the outcome of a game – and I won’t even bother addressing suggestions that anti-Raptor or anti-Canada sentiments color their calls.
That being said, in a game as close as Tuesday’s 115-110 thriller at Oracle Arena, two calls loomed large in sending the Golden State Warriors to 12-0. With 2:03 to go and the Raps down by two, Cory Joseph appeared to beat out Klay Thompson for a rebound on the offensive glass and record the easy game-tying put back, only for Bill Kennedy to whistle Joseph for a phantom offensive foul. Then, with 15 seconds left and Toronto trailing by one and looking for the go-ahead basket, Kyle Lowry was called for an offensive foul despite replays showing, at best, two-way contact. Both cases featured a dubious call in a one-possession game and left an unshakable sense of ‘what if’ amidst what was a highly impressive losing effort.
Questionable whistles aside, there was plenty to chew on Tuesday night at Oracle. The dynamic starting back courts poured in 56 points apiece with Steph Curry doing Steph Curry things, new Raps Joseph and DeMarre Carroll continued to prove their value early on, Toronto didn’t back down from the Warriors’ high-energy tempo and even forced more turnovers than they coughed up and the visitors also employed an interesting hack-a-Bogut tactic that other Western contenders will surely take note of.
Aggressive second half
One of the major battles faced when you take on the Warriors is a psychological one, requiring an opposing team to sustain their trademark offensive explosions without getting so discouraged as to play their way out of the game. That was a distinct concern after a 12-2 Golden State to close the first half sent the hosts into the break with a 63-47 advantage. However, the Raps surged out of the gates to start the second half. Not only did they score 36 third quarter points, but they kept the Warriors on their toes throughout the second half by forcing 13 turnovers, getting to the line for 29 free throw attempts and out-rebounding the defending champs 27-12 (they finished the game with a 40-34 edge on the glass).
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the assist battle was a rather one-sided one in a game that pitted the league’s most prevalent passing offense with a club currently ranked 27th in assists per game, but the 31-18 disparity is still worth noting in a game ultimately decided by just five points. Golden State’s 31 assists came on 72% of its 43 made free throws, helping them shoot 53.8% on the night. Meanwhile, the Raps recorded assists on less than half of their 37 field goals. For the Warriors, 21 assists were recorded by someone other than their primary ball handlers (Curry and Leandro Barbosa), compred to just six by Raptor players other than Lowry and Joseph.
Bigs a missing link
With Lowry, DeRozan, Joseph and Carroll bolstering Toronto with exceptional guard and wing play, it was hard not to notice the absence of any real standout big for the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas pulled down 11 rebounds but looked lost at times, no more so than in picking up three rapid fire fouls within two minutes of re-entering the game during crunch time. Luis Scola seemed to be in the middle of everything the Raps did, but also tired noticeably down the stretch. Dwane Casey clearly didn’t trust Bismack Biyombo, who played a season-low 6:40, against the explosive small ball Warriors. One guy who could have made a difference, Patrick Patterson, remains mired in an early season slump that has seen him open with career-low averages in points per game (6.2) and field goal percentage (38.4%).
While Tuesday marked one of Golden State’s biggest nailbiters during their 12-0 stretch to open the season, it wasn’t their slimmest margin of victory. That distinction belongs to a November 4th tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers, where they held on for a 112-108 win. Last Saturday, they needed overtime to outlast the Brooklyn Nets, although they did wind up winning by eight points.
Among a bevy of stats that serve as an homage to the unfathomable MVP follow-up season that Curry is enjoying so far, I’d like to share two of my favourites. Earlier this week, he passed his dad, Dell, in career threes made, despite playing less than half as many games to date. He has also accumulated exactly 404 points and 71 assists through 12 games, numbers that have been matched by exactly one other basketball player ever: Michael Jordan.
It’s a ‘short memory’ kind of day for the Raps, with a trip to Utah looming tonight to face the Jazz (9:00pm, TSN). Toronto can’t afford to sleep on the 5-5 Jazz, who boast wins over Memphis and Atlanta along with the league’s premier rim protector in Rudy Gobert.
Prediction: Raps 103, Jazz 98 (record this season: 5-6)