HOUSTON - It was a long night at the office for the Raptors, who went home empty handed Monday night.
It was long, it was ugly and it ended in disappointment. It was not the first time they've endured such a night.
"[There are] no moral victories in this league," Kyle Lowry said, as if he had been practicing the cliche that has become more of a slogan for this team over the years. It's the second time he's used it in 10 days.
And he's absolutely right.
The Raptors played 58 minutes of basketball, at least 40 of which were hard fought, in a game that elapsed three hours and 17 minutes. They clawed back from 17 down after an atrocious second quarter, overcame injuries and foul trouble while hanging in with a more talented team on the road.
Ultimately, a loss is a loss. Toronto now has five of them in eight games. The question is, what can they learn from this one?
"I am proud of the way they fought and scrapped and got back in the game," Dwane Casey said after his team's 110-104 double-overtime defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets. "They could have laid down two or three times and they didn't."
"There's no moral victories in this game but, I see our team growing, fighting through things. It's a totally different feel from last year."
Their resiliency was notable. Toronto's 87-86 lead, following an Amir Johnson put-back with 40 seconds remaining, was its first since early in the opening frame. They scored just 13 points and shot an abysmal 18 per cent in the second. The defensive effort was equally as impressive, holding the Rockets to 44 per cent and neutralizing Dwight Howard and James Harden - for most of the game - as well as you can hope to.
Offensively, they were treading water at the best of times. "We had so many opportunities to score," Casey said, "but we have to convert them."
They didn't, not often enough to win. In fact, they were fortunate to come so close. Rudy Gay made just 11 of his career-high and franchise-most 37 field goal attempts, while DeMar DeRozan hit just six of 25. Together the pair shot 27 per cent on 62 attempts. Overall the team registered just 10 assists, a season low despite the extra time, on 38 made field goals.
"We can't let us not making shots get us frustrated at all," said DeRozan, who had 22 points, second to Gay's team-leading 29. "We're going to make shots, they're going to come but we know we can stay in games with our defence and that's what we did."
Those two missed a handful of jumpers they generally tend to hit with some consistency, as they pointed out, but poor shot selection continues to plague the Raptors' high-volume duo early in the season. Both players are shooting below 37 per cent through eight games and DeRozan is now 18-for-70 (26 per cent) over his last four.
"We being the go-to players on this team, we have to [keep shooting]," DeRozan maintained. "We can't get frustrated if the shot's not going. It would be a whole different story if we didn't take the shots, if we were out there being passive and not taking the shots we normally take."
"It sucks that we're missing a lot of easy shots but we're going to continue to fight it out no matter what. We could be out there playing with a bowling ball and we're going to continue to shoot it."
Gay drew most of the ire from fans for his 37 attempts. With 34 seconds remaining in regulation - knotted up at 87 - Gay, isolated on the wing, winded down the shot clock and launched a 22-footer that clanked off the side of the rim. "We prefer for him to go to the basket," Casey said of that specific play. "That's what we wanted, to attack the rim. I don't know if it was fatigue or good defence but the play was drawn for him to attack the rim."
Fast forward, down three in overtime, Gay knocked down the triple that bought the Raptors an extra five minutes. The true Rudy Gay experience. You take the good with the bad. On this particular night, there was far more of the latter.
"We're fighting," Lowry said. "That's all we can do is keep fighting. Like I said, no moral victories in this league, none of that."
"But as long as we fight and play as hard as we can possibly play and do the things we know how to do the basketball gods will help us out a little bit. We'll win some games like this."
Aches and pains
Lowry sat in the locker room after the game, both feet soaking in buckets of ice water. The Raptors' point guard sustained a sprained right ankle in Saturday's lopsided win over Utah but said he never had any doubt about playing against his former team in Houston.
He struggled early, going 2-of-8 from the floor through three quarters but helped ignite Toronto's run in the fourth. Lowry shot 4-for-8 and scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime periods before eventually fouling out.
"Guys are tired," he said after the game. "But guys are spirited, guys are still up. We're not going to put our heads down, we're going to learn from the game and we've got another tough test on Wednesday."
The point guard admitted his ankle was sore after playing 47 minutes but doesn't plan to miss any time, with another former team on deck in the Grizzlies.
Gay was also icing down a sore ankle that he tweaked during the game.
Gay will make his first return to Memphis following last season's three-team trade when the Raptors visit the Grizzlies Wednesday night.
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