North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

When losing isn’t a bad thing: A postcard from Toronto

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How long was Rasual Butler holding the ball for? Was it for a a full five seconds? Less? More? There’s a report he asked the referee to count out loud, which probably wasn’t enough. And for what it’s worth, he shouldered the blame, but that’s not what people will remember: they’ll remember him standing there, getting the ball for the first time all game, for what the NBA would later rule was 5.8 seconds, failing to get the ball in bounds.

That’s not fair to Butler, and it’s the wrong thing to take from Sunday’s game; which was, even after 48 minutes, exactly the best kind of game the Raptors could have played this season.

The Raptors went with a new coach this season, which I’m sure you already knew. And the team’s improved under Dwyane Casey, most notably with Andrea Bargnani. Again, I’m sure you’ve noticed this, even if only through the video at The Basketball Jones. What I’m not sure if anyone is noticing is how much better the team looks as a whole.

In the past few seasons, Toronto hasn’t just been bad, they’ve been atrocious. In the past two seasons, they’ve had the league’s worst defensive rating. They got blown out by teams on a regular basis, sometimes allowing close to 140 points in losses. Their draft history since taking Chris Bosh has been brutal: it includes busts like Rafael Araujo or Roko Ukic; underachievers like Charlie Villanueva; and talent like Roy Hibbert, who was flipped almost immediately for Jermaine O’Neal. They won six playoff games in 2001 when they were a basket away from the Eastern Finals; in the 10 seasons since, they’ve won a total of five postseason games.

This is a culture of losing, arguably the most hapless team team in the city Grantland called the worst sports city in the world. And Casey’s done a lot to change that, even in less than half a season. The loss on Sunday is a perfect example of how.

The first thing to notice is how Toronto lost: to a shot that put the Lakers up 93-92 with 4.2 seconds left. This game wasn’t a blowout. Toronto’s defence kept the Lakers, a team with an offensive rating of 103, to under 100 points. They held the Lakers to about their average points-per-game. And without Andrea Bargnani, too. Last year, Toronto lost both games against the Lakers, but allowed many more points. This is progress.

It sounds even better within the context of this game, since the Lakers took an early 18-point lead. They’re not a team that knows how to get stops when they need it – just see Bryant’s shot for that – but they are one knowing how to mount a comeback.

Part of them came from the play of Jose Calderon, who dropped 30 points (a high among both teams) and had six assists. His play this season has been great: his scoring and Assist Percentage are up while his Defensive Rating is tied for a career-best. If the Raptors were to sell him, his play is putting his stock as high as it have ever been. And remember, it wasn’t that long ago a Spanish newspaper quoted him as saying he’d like the chance to compete for a title.

Which isn’t something that’s going to happen in the next couple seasons in Toronto. But down the road? DeMar DeRozan’s play has been hot and cold this season, but it’s worth noting his play on Sunday had a season-high seven assists and him attacking the basket and getting to the line. Coupled with a nice (if not good) game by Ed Davis, it wasn’t a day to forget for the budding talent. And this isn’t to mention Jonas Valanciunas being named FIBA European Young Men’s Player of the Year, either.

And ultimately, losses are what this team should be thinking about: they’re not a good team, they’re not likely to make the playoffs (even if they’re 11th in the conference) and concentrating on the draft is what they should be thinking about. They still have a glaring hole at the 3; losing games would certainly help them in finding someone to put there.

Still, Sunday’s game was close and exciting. It had the Raptors coming back to almost win, had nice performances by two of the best players and even a pretty memorable moment, even if it’s another one where Toronto comes out on the losing side. So cut Butler some slack. You couldn’t have asked for a better game for the Raptors, even one where DeMar’s final shot drops.

Originally written for/pitched to a blog that shall remain nameless.


Written by M.

February 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm

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