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What, exactly is Dwane Casey supposed to say to his team after a loss like the one the Toronto Raptors (14-25) experienced oh Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, a loss in which they still couldn’t come out on top despite leaving everything they had on the floor?
Already battered and bruised, the Raps rallied from what was a 19-point deficit against a defensively tough and physically assertive Bulls’ squad to force overtime. However, Luol Deng’s game-winning pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds left in the extra frame made their efforts all for naught and handed Chicago a 107-105 win.
Standing out for the Raps were Kyle Lowry, who took the team on his back and served as the heart and soul within the comeback effort, and Alan Anderson, who matched a career-best with 27 points while also keeping the visitors in check for most of the second half with some strong two-way play (he finished a team-best +21). On the other side of the court, Carlos Boozer dominated the paint to the tune of a season-best 36 points on 16-24 shooting and 12 rebounds.
Gotta Have Heart
Obviously, heart and hustle aren’t exactly tangible, measurable qualities, but anyone watching Wednesday’s game would be hard-pressed to argue that this wasn’t one of the Raptors’ most inspired efforts of the season, particularly in the second half. Fighting the physical struggle of being banged up and playing a tough, playoff-bound team and the psychological struggle of a severely one-sided first half, the team gutted out a 54-48 edge over the final 24 minutes of regulation by remaining active on defence and getting more assertive offensively by attacking the rim. In addition to the efforts of Lowry (more on him in a sec) and Anderson, Quincy Acy continued his march towards fan favourite-dom with eight points on 4-4 shooting and six rebounds over 15 energy-infused minutes (Acy has also become the team leader in disallowing opponents’ shots after the whistle).
There was a point during overtime while watching Lowry finish on yet another foray into the paint that it dawned on me that – oh yeah – this guy was playing on a sprained left ankle. The Villanova product gave it his all on Wednesday regardless of physical status, scoring efficiently (26 points on 8-15 shooting), getting to the line (8-11), producing an all-around effort (seven assists, five rebounds) and locking down defensively (two steals and a +16 while playing a critical role in holding Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson to three combined points). Dating back to the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, Lowry has scored 45 points in five quarters on a bum ankle.
Those Pesky Free Throws
This may come as a shock to all of you, but I’m not a professional athlete. Still, even I can understand the agonizing frustration that probably stems from working that hard and coming that close, only to miss key free throws down the stretch. Sure, a 23-32 (71.9%) clip probably doesn’t seem THAT bad, but the audible groans from the ACC faithful after each missed freebie (Amir Johnson, at 1-4, was the worst offender) told the story of how painful it truly was, particularly in what would be a two-point difference.
It feels strange to see Johnson’s name appear in the “Bad”, particularly after a game in which the team collectively produced so many of the same qualities that the power forward typically offers. It’s not that he wasn’t trying, but he merits inclusion here for being so significantly over-matched against Boozer and being unable to compensate offensively (five points on 2-9 shooting). In hindsight, it was an awfully tough ask to expect Johnson to handle Chicago’s imposing frontline on the tail end of a back-to-back while nursing injuries of his own, but that doesn’t change the fact that he didn’t get the job done.
- It probably wasn’t a great sign when the Bulls hit triple digits in scoring. Chicago is 9-0 this season when posting 100+ points, whereas Toronto holds an 0-18 record when allowing their opposition to hit the century mark.
- It wasn’t a bad night for the club beyond the actual game. From an energetic crowd (filled, admittedly, with plenty of Bulls fans) to an always-entertaining “Hot Dogs” halftime show to that rather spastic, full-body dancer who wound up getting the centre court treatment late in the game, the in-game entertainment paid off nicely.
- Cheer up, Raptor fans. At least Kevin Durant like(d) us.
A trip to Philly on Friday night (7:00pm, TSN2) brings Toronto up against a significantly less stringent defence and a less imposing front court. Still, you have to figure that the host Sixers have a pretty fresh memory of their 90-72 loss at the hands of the Raptors last Wednesday.
Prediction: Sixers 98, Raptors 92 (27-7 this season)