Suffice to say that this wasn’t what Dwane Casey had in mind when he ominously told reporters that he couldn’t wait for Feb. 27th to roll around. If the Toronto Raptors (37-21) had additional incentive to play hard against the league-leading Golden State Warriors after a January 2nd loss in which Warriors star Steph Curry got a little too showy, they certainly didn’t show it in meekly succumbing to a 113-89 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
If the game hadn’t already been decided by the time that Golden State returned to the locker room at halftime with a 23-point lead, things were surely put on ice as they poured in 44 third quarter points to build up a 41-point advantage heading into the fourth. By the time the Raptors were able to muster any kind of resistance by scoring the first 11 points of the final frame and finishing with a 32-15 scoring edge, they were doing so against a Warriors’ second unit with regulars like Curry and Thompson looking on comfortably from the bench.
Golden State didn’t have much trouble executing their offensive game plan, as the Splash Brothers combined for 47 points on 17-31 shooting. They led a multi-pronged attack that shot 48.3% (42-87) from the floor and 46.4% (13-28) from three-point range, compared to just 40.3% (31-77) and 18.2% (4-22) from the Raps. Really, the only fight shown by Toronto didn’t even occur during play, as Tyler Hansbrough got into it with Festus Ezeli once the whistle had already blown late in the third. The skirmish resulted in ejections for both players.
The 2012 NBA Draft battle
Many Raptor fans were crushed when Harrison Barnes came off the board one pick shy of their team’s No. 8 selection in 2012 and were perplexed when Toronto then used the pick to reach on University of Washington product Terrence Ross. Ross, with his stock at an all-time low thanks to an underwhelming season, hasn’t exactly emerged as a ‘told ya so’ success story, but he’s had a very similar career arc to his fellow small forward. And on Friday night, it was Ross who was the better performer, scoring a team-high 18 points on 7-14 shooting to just six points by Barnes in six more minutes on the floor. Barnes had the more balanced game (seven rebounds, three assists) and finished with a whopping +45 point differential, but hey, it’s still the closest thing to a positive I could find. Of course, the best 2012 small forward draftee in the game was probably Draymond Green, who was selected in the second round and has become the glue guy for these dominant Warriors.
It was easy to play armchair quarterback on Friday night and question how guys like Curry, Thompson and Green were consistently finding space to operate and get open looks. Not only is the task of closing out on so many capable perimeter threats a formidable one, but Steve Kerr’s club makes it all the more difficult with their crisp passing and selfless playmaking. Golden State finished the game with 31 assists (including eight from Shaun Livingston and 18 from the starting five) while allowing just 12 turnovers, a remarkable rate compared to Toronto’s 15 assists and 19 turnovers.
Fast break points
The Warriors were going to make their share of three-point bombs because, well, that’s what they do. What could – and should – have been prevented, though, was their 22-7 edge in fast break points. Playing at home after two days of rest against a club facing their fourth game in five nights, there was simply no excuse for the Raptors to be inferior in transition on both sides of the ball.
I hope that Casey’s starting lineup switch, which saw Patrick Patterson join the starting five and Amir Johnson head to the bench, is not just a one-night gamble. Nothing against Johnson, but it was clear that a jolt was needed for the Raps. Patterson can provide some shooting to help take pressure off the slumping back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, while Johnson can still serve as glue guy in a sixth man role and, hopefully, stay a little fresher over the stretch run. It didn’t work on Friday night, although I’m not sure anything was going to.
The Warriors have been a fascinating, exciting team to watch all season long and that won’t change any time soon. This spring, they will have to contend with expectations, a ridiculously deep Western Conference and a potential first round playoff tilt against the Oklahoma City Thunder as they seek to fulfill their championship ambitions. During awards season, Curry looks like he just might edge out James Harden for an unlikely MVP trophy. And finally, this off-season will offer an interesting test for Kerr, owner Joe Lacob (who unleashed his inner Mark Cuban as a boisterous supporter at the ACC last night) and GM Bob Myers, as they contend with the start of Thompson’s new deal and the tricky restricted free agency of Green.
Another road game and another back-to-back, as the Raps travel to MSG to visit the Knicks tonight (7:30pm, SN). This should-win affair could kick off on a somber note, with the home team expected to honour the late Anthony Mason before the game.
Prediction: Raps 107, Knicks 104 (record this season: 37-15)