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An on-going theme of the first half of the Toronto Raptors' (14-23) season has been an inability to put forth a consistent, full 48-minute effort. There are no shortage of examples of this, particularly over the first 20 games. But no game has offered a more clear, cut-and-dry sign of these incomplete efforts than Sunday's 107-96 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which Toronto held a 20-point lead.
The game's opening 12 minutes couldn't have gone any better. The Raptors shot over 70% while scoring 34 points and allowing just 16 in a first quarter that the Bucks were clearly not prepared for. However, an injury to Jose Calderon, who was at the forefront of the early run, took much of the spark out of the offence and led to a four-minute scoring drought to to start the second quarter.
Even when baskets started falling again, Toronto was unable to recapture a fraction of the first quarter magic. Injury woes and a weak bench effort contributed a 91-62 scoring deficit over the final three quarters.
Hobbled, but Productive
How does a team go from dominant to completely lost in such a short span of time? There's no one easy answer, but it can't help to incur injuries to two of your most productive players. Having Calderon (right calf muscle) and Amir Johnson (ankle) playing at less than 100% physical health is going to be a problem regardless of the circumstances, but it was even more costly given how well both men had been playing. Calderon paced the team's red hot start with 15 first quarter points (he only scored six the rest of the way), while Johnson had a monster 22-14 showing against his former club - and yes, he somehow still toughed out 43:53 of floor time.
Johnson and Davis
After already espousing the virtues of a less-than-healthy Johnson, it's also worth noting how good he was as part of his frontcourt tandem with Ed Davis. The chemistry-rich duo was all over the paint on Sunday, pouring in 42 combined points on 17-28 shooting and gathering 26 combined rebounds (including 12 on the offensive glass). They were two of the four Raptors (with Calderon and leading scorer DeMar DeRozan) to score 20+ points. It's just too bad that the quartet's production accounted for 89.6% of the team's scoring.
As you can see above, four-fifths of the starting line-up had no trouble finding the bottom of the net (Landry Fields had just three points on three shots). The same could not be said, however, for the bench unit. which scored a meager seven points on 2-18 shooting to take the Raps out of the game. What was until recently a pronounced strength of the team was a costly weakness, even moreso on the defensive end, where the Bucks' second unit produced 43 points (John Henson and Mike Dunleavy led the way).
The PG Drop-Off
It may seem like undue piling on to continue lamenting the play of a member of the second unit, but it's nevertheless worth noting how much of a drop-off there was at the point guard spot between the starter (Calderon) and the back-up (Kyle Lowry). While Calderon hit on nine of his 15 shots and generally looked comfortable running the offence, Lowry immediately instilled a flow-less offence within which he missed all four of his shots and failed to get any of his teammates going.
- I can't recall a more naturally, genuinely cute and endearing moment at a Raptors' game in recent memory than the seven-year-old guest announcer brought in for Sunday's "Family Fun Day" game. Without a hint of nerves, the young boy rolled off names like "Luc Mbah a Moute" and "Ersan Ilyasova" with nary a stumble. Herbie better watch out!
The Raptors' home stretch is briefly interrupted by a visit to Brooklyn to take on the Nets on Tuesday (7:30pm, SN1). After a late December swoon, the Nets are an unbeaten 6-0 in January and already own two wins over Toronto this season.
Prediction: Nets 96, Raptors 92 (25-7 this season)