What’s that? You want a summary of the Toronto Raptors’ 76-98 loss at the hands of the Houston Rockets?
For the most part that should suffice. It was an ugly one from the start with both teams wasting possessions and minimally producing on offense. The Raps’ normally-reliable backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan failed to establish a rhythm in the opening frame, and the negative momentum carried through to the final buzzer. Houston was equally horrendous in the first half and both teams combined for a startling 26 turnovers at the break. Toronto went ice cold in the third quarter on 29.4% shooting from the field. Its opponents broke away thanks to a crafty performance from James Harden. The bearded fellow recorded 16 of his 20 points in the third in a series of midrange jumpers and free throw appearances. By the final minutes fans were treated to special cameos from Lucas Nogueira, Landry Fields and Greg “I’m Not Aaron Gray” Stiemsma. Leading the way for the Raptors was James Johnson, who recorded a career-high 27 points despite his team’s sloppy outing on both ends of the floor. Congrats are in order for JJ, but the team looks to reset tomorrow in anticipation of another back-to-back versus the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks.
Post-game report card:
A meaningless Greivis Vasquez three-pointer in the final moments saved Toronto from breaking its season-low 75 points. Regardless, in the absence of Lou Williams due to an ankle sprain, this was certainly one of the worst offensive performances we’ve seen in a long time. As previously noted, the backcourt struggled throughout and combined for just 21 points on 6-27 shooting. Amir Johnson found himself in foul trouble once again and thus was limited in contribution. The Raptors seemed to throw the ball away as if it counted for points. In fact, Paul Jones has statistical evidence of that claim:
— Paul Jones (@Paul__Jones) February 22, 2015
They matched their opponents with 23 turnovers on the game and never really capitalized on the Rockets’ mistakes. The third quarter ultimately sealed Toronto’s fate. The mix of forced shots, technical fouls, blatant frustration and questionable officiating compounded on the losing team. Chalk it up to fatigue from last night’s dominant effort over the Atlanta Hawks or the inevitability of struggle in an 82 game NBA season. This was an ugly game from an offensive standpoint.
It wasn’t pretty on defense either. Corey Brewer somehow recorded a season-high 26 points on 12-19 shooting. If that doesn’t paint a picture of how this one went, I don’t know what will. Sure, Harden is the league’s leading scorer. Sure, coach Kevin McHale puts a nightly emphasis on offensive efficiency. But for a team that held the Eastern Conference’s number one seed to 80 points last night, this is simply inexcusable. Toronto essentially backed down in the third quarter. Many will attribute the sudden disparity between teams to the Raptors’ inability to make baskets. But you have to give credit where it’s due, and the Rockets managed 28 points in wake of their opponent’s poor defensive showing. In a general sense, we saw Harden put on a one-man-show with nobody to stop him. There’s no question that Dwane Casey will have this contest on heavy playback for the coming days.
Hey, another area of struggle! Houston won the battle of the boards 52-39 tonight. Amir and Jonas Valanciunas tied for a team-high seven boards each. That should say enough. On the flip side, Brewer recorded an impressive 10 rebounds while Donatas Motiejunas added a team-high 11 boards. The Rockets also outmatched the Raps with 11 offensive rebounds, allowing for 15 second-chance points and a big win to further their progression in the tightening Western Conference.
Game Ball: James Harden
Harden is arguably the most talented scorer in the league. He finds so many ways to get buckets, from decisive shots off the dribble to graceful drives to the hoop. The beard delivered his team a W and deserves our recognition.