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For all intents and purposes, Wednesday night's game between the Toronto Raptors (24-38) and Phoenix Suns was decided late in the opening quarter. It was then, as Marcin Gortat jostled for positioning with Amir Johnson under the Phoenix basket with under a minute to go in the frame, that the Suns' only viable centre rolled his ankle and limped to the locker room.
The injury left an already-shallow Phoenix front court to resort to a small ball line-up that would go on to commit an outrageous 29 turnovers while scoring just 71 points en route to a 27-point loss (98-71). The Morris twins, who provided most of the front court minutes in Gortat's stead, were central contributors to the cough-up fest, recording seven between them.
The Raptors, for their part, didn't have to do much to snap their losing streak or to look good against the abysmal Suns (let's be honest - even Gortat wouldn't have made much of a difference on this night). They had six players score in double digits, compared to just one for Phoenix. One of those players was Sebastian Telfair, who got 27 minutes worth of revenge opportunities against his old squad and came through with 13 points, seven assists and four steals.
Telfair Has His Moment
It wasn't a performance big enough to decide the winner of the deadline day trade (that won't be determined until we see whether Telfair is still in Toronto next year and just what becomes of that conditional second rounder), but Telfair's effort in Phoenix demonstrated clear signs of a player who was motivated and probably forced Dwane Casey's hand regarding the minutes allotment at the point. If his performance didn't do it, the 27-year-old's post-game comments certainly highlighted a player who wanted to show up his old club: "Anytime your spot is taken or given away you want to come out there and show you are a player. I do this for my family and my kids. I got to do this." For some context, he felt that his spot was "given away" to rookie Kendall Marshall, who had done little to earn the back-up role.
Not every one of Phoenix's turnovers were forced, but the majority probably were. Telfair's four steals led the way as part of the club's 11, while on-the-ball pressure forced primary Phoenix ball handlers Goran Dragic and Diante Garrett into four turnovers each. From there, the Raptors were able to convert them into easy baskets and open looks on the other end of the court, shooting 48.1% (37-77) from the field and 11-24 (45.8%) from three-point range.
Rudy Gay (five points on 2-7 shooting) couldn't get it going and Kyle Lowry (five points on 2-3 shooting) was surprisingly quiet for a guy who has enjoyed punishing former positional rival Dragic in the past (he did, mind you, cede minutes to Telfair). That left things up to the bench,which, led by Telfair and Johnson (14 points on 5-8 shooting), outscored the Suns reserves 54-32 and shot 48.7% (19-39).
There was an overwhelming feeling of 'who cares?' to the whole game - and not just because the two teams are completely removed from the playoff pictures of their respective Conferences. Aside from a nice-looking DeMar DeRozan finish off an alley-oop, there just wasn't much to get excited about in a game that lacked flow, involved seemingly disinterested participants and was played in front of a lifeless crowd (who had reason to be). I saw some of last night's dramatic Boston/Indy game as well (Jeff Green won it for Boston on a last second lay-in) and it looked as if the games were being played in different leagues.
- As bad as their 29 turnovers were (not that a Raptors fan should talk - Toronto had 21 of their own), it's hard to believe that it represented an American Airlines Arena record, given how many games that arena saw from the run-and-gun era. You mean Steve Nash and co. didn't have one game in which they played completely out of sync from one another?
The Western swing ends in L.A., with the Lakers, fresh off a 25-point comeback win, playing host on Friday night (10:30pm, TSN2). It probably won't be quite the walk in the park that Wednesday was.
Prediction: Lakers 101, Raps 89 (40-16 this season)