Lightning didn’t strike twice at the ACC on Sunday, much to the chagrin of the Toronto Raptors (11-7). Despite some sloppy play and plenty of blown opportunities against the Phoenix Suns, the Raptors still had life in the dying seconds after Eric Bledsoe missed one of two free throws to leave the hosts trailing by three with 12 seconds on the clock. However, a well-defended possession by Phoenix ended with Bledsoe blocking a Luis Scola three-point attempt to seal the 107-102 win.
The Bledsoe block put the finishing touches on a game that the Suns seemingly controlled for much of the night without ever quite closing the door on the Raps. Phoenix led by as many as 12 points, but most of the 48 minutes on Sunday saw a single digit score difference. In fact, no single quarter score offered an edge of more than five points. Still, for any run Toronto was able to make, the Suns had an answer from their well-balanced scoring attack. Bledsoe and former Brooklyn Net Mirza Teletovic shared a team-high with 20 points apiece and were two of the six Suns with between nine and 17 shot attempts.
For the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan stepped in to fill the void of Kyle Lowry, who struggled with his shot all night. DeRozan tied his season-high with 29 points on 11-20 shooting, including a perfect 7-7 from the line. However, Lowry’s 17 points on 5-14 shooting proved tough to overcome for a club that relies so heavily on their point guard to serve as their spark. Lowry has shot 44.5% in the team’s 11 wins, compared to 38.3% in their seven losses. Outside of the starting back court, DeMarre Carroll added 20 points on 8-13 shooting, but no other Raptor reached double digits, compared to five of their Phoenix counterparts.
Keeping things interesting
This year’s Raptors seem to be quickly becoming a bizarro, defensive version of last year’s club. Where the 2014-15 Raps could overcome practically any deficit with a burst of offense, this year’s edition appears capable of containing their opposition defensively and finding ways to put points on the board. The Suns led by six with 17 seconds remaining when Carroll drove in for a layup, TJ Warren missed a free throw and Lowry made all three attempts from the free throw line on a three-shot foul before Bledsoe’s 1-2 performance from the line afforded the team the chance to pull even. For as tactically different as the Raptors have been from one year to the next, the ability to stay in games to the end is a nice constant to be able to lean on.
The names that did the most damage for the Suns on Sunday weren’t always the ones that Toronto would have game planned for. Teletovic, Warren and Jon Leuer all stood out with timely, back-breaking shots to spark the Phoenix reserves to 51 points despite none of the three playing as many as 30 minutes. On the other side of the court, Saturday hero Cory Joseph wasn’t in top form and no member of his second unit reached double digits en route to a combined 25-point effort. While the Suns backups shot 55.6% (20-36) from the field, the Raps reserves managed just 35.5% (11-31).
Patterson, Ross disappoint
As an extension of the second unit issues, it’s tough not to point out the continued disappointment of Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. Both men carried reasonably positive expectations heading into the season, with Patterson considered the favorite to land the starting power forward spot and Ross looking like a potential candidate for a bounce back season in his fourth NBA campaign. The struggles of both have contributed to significant holes in the roster which may need to be addressed. The Raps cannot keep relying on 35-year-old Luis Scola to play starter’s minutes all season and still be fresh for the playoffs, while the second unit needs more scoring punch than Joseph, who is already being asked to be a facilitator and key defender. Six combined points on 2-11 shooting isn’t doing it for the Raps holdovers.
Dwane Casey surprised many by going to Lucas Nogueira for a six-minute stretch between the first and second quarters. While Bebe displayed a high energy level and a few positive statistics (two points, two boards and a steal), his short D-League stint – one that will likely resume once Jonas Valanciunas returns – has still left him a little lost and a step slow to this point for the NBA game. It’s not an ideal sign that he finished as the team’s second worst plus/minus player at -9 (Patterson was worst at -10) despite playing significantly less than any other Raptor.
Kudos to the Raptor and the game operations crew on what was a pretty clever response to LeBron and the Cavs for their style-cramping close-in of the Dance Pak on Wednesday. As the Dance Pak took to center court on Sunday before tip-off, they were surrounded by caution tape and ‘At Work’ warning signs.
Much has been made of how the Suns made a mess of an ideal developmental model from two years ago that featured young, talented players, a glut of draft picks and a surprising run that nearly resulted in a playoff spot in the West into Brandon Knight, Morris twin trade demands and some draft pick swapping. These Suns, however, remain frisky and boast an energy sparked by their explosive Bledsoe/Knight back court. It won’t do in the West what it could in the East, but hey, it’s something.
A tie game heading into the fourth at Hershey Centre was blown wide open by the visiting Delaware 87ers, who rode a 40-point fourth to a 125-109 victory over the 905. Former Cincinnatti Bearcat Sean Kilpatrick and one-time Tennessee Volunteer Jordan McRae combined for 68 points, besting impressive showings by Ronald Robers Jr. (22 points on 10-15 shooting and nine rebounds), Delon Wright (20 points on 8-14 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists) and an active but inconsistent effort by Bruno Caboclo (17 points on 6-20 shooting, three steals, three rebounds, three blocks, three assists).
The last road game in a while – imagine that! – comes Wednesday night in Atlanta (8:00pm, TSN), although it also represents the start of another travel-heavy back-to-back. For Carroll, though, it marks his first return visit to the Hawks since flying the coop in free agency.
Prediction: Raps 94, Hawks 90 (record this season: 6-11)