I know I'm supposed to sit here and offer up some perspective on how, irregardless of in-game happenings, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is whether a team won or lost. And yes, plenty of criticism is warranted in the wake of the Toronto Raptors (22-21) surrendering 126 points en route to a 126-118 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
But man, what a fun, eventful, crazy game!
Terrence Ross clearly gets the headline billing here, looking like a man possessed en route to an out-of-nowhere, franchise record-tying 51 points on 16-29 shooting, including 10 made threes on 17 attempts and 9-10 shooting from the line. His scoring outburst was directly connected to a potentially scary ankle injury to DeMar DeRozan (caused by Hedo Turkoglu, sure enough), who managed just two second half minutes before being forced to the bench. Patrick Patterson also joined the mash unit with a broken nose, ironically suffered on a play for which he was called for a foul.
In the end, huge offensive nights from Blake Griffin (30 points on 10-18 shooting) and Jamal Crawford (37 points on 12-23 shooting, 11 assists) were too much for even a performance that evoked memories of the Vince Carter era to overcome.
It took me longer than I care to admit to write this paragraph, if only because I was stumped on how to properly convey how out of the blue, random and stunning Ross' historic outburst was. Instead of deciding on one eye-popping stat/factoid, I'll throw a bunch at you. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player in NBA history to top 50 while averaging less than 10 points per game. In the six games leading up to Saturday's explosion, Ross had scored a combined 48 points. Heck, he hadn't scored so many as 40 at any level of basketball, let alone the pros. Ross said all the right things afterwards about focusing on the team and being disappointed by the loss, but how could you blame him for being a little amped about matching (and coming one late free throw miss away from surpassing) the franchise scoring mark set by Carter vs. Phoenix on February 27, 2000 (Ross had just turned nine at the time).
Well, That Was Fun
To steal the intro from Cathal Kelly's recap, fans in attendance at the ACC on Saturday night got full value and then some for their ticket. On top of Ross' unforgettable night, you had 244 points scored, a bevy of ferocious dunks, a pre-game dunk spectacle by the Clippers, a big night from the immensely watchable Griffin, two Raptor double-doubles (Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Kyle Lowry had 11 points and 12 assists), a number of chances to boo Turkoglu and an exciting finish (up until a late 13-3 run by L.A., anyway). Toss in some additional in-game entertainment (more on that below) and it was clear than an evening billed as "Fan Appreciation Night" came through in a big way.
With Chris Paul on the shelf, you'd have thought that the Clippers would be at least somewhat out of sorts with a historically turnover-prone Darren Collison taking the place of one of the league's best and most stable floor generals. However, it was the Raps who looked shaky with the ball, committing 14 turnovers to just six for the Clips, an unbelievably low total for such a high octane offence. Lowry, Ross and Greivis Vasquez committed three turnovers apiece.
The severity of DeRozan's ankle sprain remains to be determined, but any thought of an extended absence from the team's leading scorer is a scary proposal. With a match-up with the fast-charging Brooklyn Nets coming on Monday, it isn't exactly a prime time to be losing such a key contributor (not that there is such a thing).
The Raps have earned enough respect in my books for me to criticize them for a finish that, in other years, I likely would have shrugged off as an inevitable fall-apart. By criticizing what was a 24-13 Clippers' run to end the game, I acknowledge that I should be able to expect Toronto to keep pace with Los Angeles. So here it is: the Raps didn't possess the same confidence nor competitive fire in the latter stages of the fourth quarter as they did throughout the rest of the game, creating a meek compliance to the Clippers' assertive, physical play.
On most nights, a halftime performance by Tag Team, the hip-hop duo of "Whoop, There It Is" fame (as in, "Tag Team, back again...") would be more than enough to take sole acknowledgment in this space. However, on this particular Saturday night, an evidently soused Laurence Fishburne took centre stage in exuberant fashion.
The Miami Heat wouldn't have much hope without LeBron James. The Oklahoma City Thunder would really be in trouble minus Kevin Durant. The Clippers? They seem to be coming along just fine without CP3, going 8-3 and seeing continued development from Griffin and Most Improved Player candidate DeAndre Jordan (who had a relatively quiet six points and 11 rebounds on Saturday). Toss is some dead-eye shooters and a deep bench and, yeah, the Clips are good.
Big game looming in Brooklyn on Monday night (7:30pm, TSN). The DeRozan factor is huge, but so is the Nets' ability to shift their focus 24 hours after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett make their return to Boston.
Prediction: Nets 105, Raps 97 (25-10 this season)