Maybe its just my inner holiday softie coming out (sorry for the belated recap, by the way), but the Toronto Raptors' 112-99 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the defending NBA Finals runners-up, seems like one of the more palatable, acceptable losses in recent memory.
Yes, the team went cold with the game on the line in the fourth (39% shooting), at a time when the Spurs got hot from three-point territory (6-7 in the final frame). And yes, San Antonio controlled the paint, enjoying an edge in both rebounds (50-40) and points in the paint (52-36). But a wide-ranging offensive performance by Terrence Ross, coupled with the context of a very successful 2-1 road swing and their current standing atop the Atlantic division, makes for a positive outlook on the club, even after a loss.
The ability is there, even if the consistency is not. For the second time since becoming a starter after the Rudy Gay trade, Ross was the team's offensive standout, making 10 of his 16 shots (same as his previous breakthrough on December 13th against Philadelphia) and scoring in a variety of ways. With DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry struggling with their shot (more on that later), Ross was showcasing some offensive versatility, making some three's (3-6 from three-point range), vexing Marco Belinelli with a series of pull-up jumpers and executing a big second quarter dunk to finish with 23 points. The performance marked a nice rebound from his 2-10 shooting effort vs OKC just one night earlier.
Leonard Dominates DeRozan
DeRozan was swallowed up for much of the night by San Antonio's go-to stopper Kawhi Leonard, managing just 13 points on 5-16 shooting. Leonard played up on him for much of the night, allowing little space to operate and frustrating the USC alum into several bad shots and three turnovers. Leonard's effect on DeRozan was evident late in the first quarter, as DeRozan recieved a technical foul after angrily disputing a continuation call on his foul on Leonard.
This cool piece by the Globe's Rob MacLeod on the ever-coveted courtside experience at Raptors' games is worth a read.
It never seems entirely clear whether Tony Parker is over-rated, under-rated or properly rated. In an upper NBA stratosphere that typically counts the names LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, Parker often seems like an afterthought. And yet it is Parker who consistently appears on the fringe of MVP races (sixth last season, fifth the year before, eighth a few years back), sits comfortably among the league's two or three best point guards and reigns as the best player on a reliable juggernaut of a franchise. Parker on Monday night: 26 points on 10-19 shooting and eight rebounds. Ho-hum.
The Western swing is over, but the road trip isn't. After their current three-day holiday break, the Raps kick off a key home-and-home series against the Knicks at MSG on Friday (7:30pm, TSN2).
Prediction: Raps 102, Knicks 100 (12-6 this season)
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYONE!