By Frank McLean
After Friday night’s big 105-80 win in Atlanta, Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey was hopeful that effort would carry over 24-hours later in Houston against the Rockets. However, inconsistency reared its ugly head and the Raptors lost 98-76.
If you want to get into Casey’s doghouse, not being ready to play when its time to start the game will do it. The Raptors coach was not a happy man postgame.
“When you don’t come out in this league ready to play mentally and physically, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your behind handed to you,” Casey said. “Tonight we didn’t come out with the right mind set. They were the hungrier team. They did all the hard and grimy things that we did Friday in Atlanta.”
Casey summed up Saturday night’s game in a nutshell, the Raptors were not physical. When they have trouble shooting from the floor, they have to play hard physical defense or they don’t have a chance to win.
On Friday night, Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan were the only Raptors to have any luck shooting the ball, but that hard grimy defense Casey loves won the game. They took the paint away from Jeff Teague and Hawks All-Star guard makes his living using his speed on drives to the hoop.
The Raptors defense also shut down one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters in Kyle Korver. Every time Korver let one go from behind the arc, there was a Raptor flying in his face. Saturday night, the Raptors did none of that.
It was not like the game was a lost cause. The Rockets were not that good either. They only had a 40-36 lead at halftime, but came to life in the second half behind James Harden’s 16 points. He only had a measly 4 points in the first half, all from the free throw line. The Rockets also got help from their bench as Corey Brewer gave his team a spark by leading the Rockets with 25 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field.
The other thing missing from this game for the Raptors was Lou Williams. Sweet Lou turned his ankle in the third quarter the previous night and wasn’t available.
When the Raptors have needed some help and a kick in the collective butt this season, Williams has been the man. Coming off the bench he has averaged 24.5 minutes and 15.4 points per game, making him a top contender for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. The Raptors are 11-1 when he leads the team in scoring. If that isn’t a good enough reason to put him in consideration for the sixth man honors, what would be?
So it’s off to New Orleans Monday night and Dallas on Tuesday for another back-to-back on the road.
The Raptors get a break Monday as the Pelicans will not have the services of Anthony Davis. Davis re injured his right shoulder Saturday against the Miami Heat. New Orleans is 2-5 this year without him in the lineup, but that didn’t seem to matter on January 18th in Toronto when Davis didn’t play with a groin injury and they snuck out of town with a 95-93 win.
It won’t matter who is wearing Pelicans or Mavericks uniforms the next two nights if the Raptors don’t do the “hard grimy things on defense” their coach expects. Without the needed defensive effort, the Raptors could easily end up with a 1-3 road trip.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.