First, there was a period of time when no deficit seemed too foreboding for the Toronto Raptors (6-11) to claw their way back from. Over the past two games, the script has flipped and its hard to fathom a lead too secure for the team to blow.
One would think that the Raptors had found one, leading by as many as 27 points part-way through the third quarter of Tuesday night's game against the Golden State Warriors. But a slow start by the hosts ramped up in a big way in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors posted 42 points that included eight made three's (on 10 attempts) along the way to a 112-103 victory.
The Supporting Players
I've lamented the top-heavy approach of the Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan-anchored offence more than once this season, but at least that's one thing I don't have to gripe about this time around. The club's two leading scorers still got their shots up (the duo combined to shoot 16-30), but much of the spark the team enjoyed early on was provided by Amir Johnson (16 points on 7-10 and 10 rebounds off the bench), Kyle Lowry (20 points on 7-13 shooting and nine assists before getting knocked for a loop by a wayward Andrew Bogut elbow) and Steve Novak (three treys in the span of 1:36 of game time). In each case, there's at least some reason for optimism that this wasn't merely a one-off and may, in fact, be an encouraging trend of a team recognizing the need for more balance.
In a game filled with eye-popping numbers, the most telling one is a big, fat 0. That is the number of defensive rebounds that the Raptors secured in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game. That's right, zero (well, they were technically credited with a team rebound on a shot attempt that veered out of bounds, but that is just a scoring note and doesn't show up in the actual rebound stats). That's what happens when your opponents miss just five shots all quarter, with four being converted into offensive rebounds. In fact, only four Golden State possessions in the quarter failed to result in points (three turnovers and the team rebound).
Star vs. Star
They say that stars reveal themselves by raising their level of play with the game on the line. As the tide turned in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game, you couldn't have imagined a wide star disparity. Steph Curry was everywhere, putting up 14 points and adding five assists in the quarter to provide all the lift that his team needed (he had help from the likes of Klay Thompson, but it was clearly to anyone watching that the Warriors are Curry's team). On the other end of the spectrum, Gay was a complete non-factor, being completely invisible over the final 12 minutes beyond two made free throws, a turnover and a missed three-point heave with the game already decided.
The Disappearance of JV
There have been increased grumblings of late over the mis-use of Jonas Valanciunas, with Toronto being slow to further incorporate him into offensive schemes. The loss to Golden State will do little to silence those critics, as Valanciunas picked up six quick points in the game's first five minutes - and then just two on three shots the rest of the way. Valanciunas, who has seen his development stagnate early this season, currently ranks 144th in the league in shot attempts and is a distant fourth scoring option on his team.
This will be my last recap for a little while, as I am off to Europe for some pre-holiday travel. I will miss the next six games (Friday at Phoenix through the December 18th home game vs. Charlotte). And after Tuesday, the Euro vacation couldn't have come at a better time!
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Tuesday's collapse was that I couldn't even muster much hatred for the inherently likable Warriors. You couldn't ask for a better face of the franchise than Steph Curry, nor a better roster of energetic character guys who play an exciting, up tempo brand of basketball. Then there's the Golden State crowd, one of the NBA's best.
Friday night brings a visit to Phoenix, where Kendall Marshall, Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris and Gerald Green have the surprising Suns at 9-9 in a merciless Western Conference (9:00pm, TSN2).
Prediction: Suns 104, Raps 100 (11-5 this season)