To say the Raptors (23-38) were beaten by a better team, although truthful, wouldn't be telling the full story.
Sure, they had no answer for Golden State's red-hot offence - evident in the final score of a 125-118 loss to the Warriors (34-27) at Oracle Arena on Monday - but once again they did themselves no favours, suffering their fifth straight defeat.
Golden State shot 57 per cent, a season-high for any Toronto opponent. Instead of imposing their will on a Warriors team that had come in losers of their last four and 10 of 13, the Raptors got caught up in the type of game they just couldn't win.
As the home team put Toronto away on the strength of a 42-28 fourth-quarter shellacking, the Raptors got carried away with the frantic pace Golden State thrives in, impatiently jacking up quick and ill-advised jumpers and ultimately sealing their own fate.
The loss spoiled a blast from the past performance for Andrea Bargnani and overshadowed a near-flawless effort from Amir Johnson. Starting for the second consecutive game, Bargnani finally found his groove to the tune of 26 points while Johnson scored 23 on a remarkable 10-of-10 from the field, grabbing 15 boards, including 12 on the offensive glass. Rudy Gay added 26 points, returning from a one-game absence brought on by back spasms.
Fast Breaking Points
- Execution Breakdown in the Fourth
Mentioned above, the Raptors played right into Golden State's hands over the final 12 minutes. The 28 points they scored in the frame may be deceiving. Almost half of them came in a last-ditch and ultimately unsuccessful effort to claw back into the game (story of the season) and the team needed 29 shots (shooting 28 per cent) to accumulate that total. In terms of their possessions, quantity seemed to supersede quality. Too often they settled for the first available shot and once their lead - it was seven to begin the quarter - began to evaporate and the deficit snowballed to as much as nine, the Raptors gave up on patience, trying to get it all back at once.
On the flip side, the Warriors didn't waste too many of their possessions shooting over 60 per cent, a feat they accomplished in three of four quarters. Stephen Curry scored 15 of 26 points in the fourth while Klay Thompson poured in 10 of his 22, the two combining to miss just one shot in the frame. David Lee led the way with 29 points and 11 rebounds on the night, his NBA-leading 40th double-double of the season.
The Stat: Toronto shot 0-for-9 from three-point range in the fourth after going 9-of-17 from distance in the previous three quarters.
- Ball Movement, or Lack Thereof
An ongoing issue and one that reared its ugly head again Monday evening, specifically in the final period. On the night, the Raptors totalled 16 assists on 41 field goals, compared to 33 on 47 made shots for Golden State. Although Kyle Lowry did an admirable job dishing out nine dimes - one short of his second straight triple-double - to go along with 11 points and 11 rebounds, there was not enough ball movement when it mattered most. Toronto had just one assist in the fourth quarter, coming in the final minute of the game.
It was great to see the Raptors push the tempo, registering a season-best 24 fast-break points. The team needs to generate easy baskets one way or another and if they can't or won't move the ball, they might as well run it. Fact is, with an attack revolving around Rudy Gay and Lowry running the show (or John Lucas III off the bench), this offence has been stagnant more often than not.
The Stat: The Raptors have registered 19 or fewer assists in nine of 16 games since the Gay trade after dishing out 20 plus in 22 of 23 contests prior to the deal.
- Giving Bargnani a Boost
Coach Dwane Casey's decision to re-insert Bargnani into the Raptors starting lineup on Saturday in Milwaukee is one that has drawn criticism and rightfully so. The move sends the wrong message to whichever hard-working big (Jonas Valanciunas on Saturday, Johnson on Monday) that's sent to the bench and sets a negative precedent in general. However, the importance of getting Bargnani going and his value trending upwards during this final stretch is undeniable and on Monday night, the move paid dividends. The often-critiqued forward put up his second highest scoring total of the campaign and most since November 23rd, also matching a career-best with five triples.
Clearly, Bargnani is a more engaged player when he's part of the first unit and featured, at least to a degree, in the offence. Once he got off to a quick start - something he hasn't done in what feels like a lifetime - his confidence came back and his performance (and effort) reflected that.
Although his skill set - when used to its full ability - can be beneficial to a lineup featuring Gay and DeMar DeRozan, a change of scenery is likely the best solution for both parties. A strong conclusion to an otherwise miserable season could help make that a reality.
The Stat: Bargnani has scored 20 or more in nine games this season. The Raptors are winless in those games. Eight of them have come on the road.
- The Unsung Hero (Again)
I'm among the (rapidly growing) group of people that recognize and appreciate the effort, efficiency and overall value of Amir Johnson. I've been praising his work for a long time, yet I can't remember him logging a more impressive night at the office than he did in Oakland on Monday. Johnson did it all on both ends of the floor, which is nothing new but he took his usual efficient game to a whole new level of perfection shooting 10-for-10 and grabbing a career-best 12 offensive rebounds.
All this on a night in which he tweaked a bothersome right ankle (again) and was bumped to the bench (again). Amir has been in and out of the starting lineup all year, routinely getting demoted (as many players would see it) for various reasons, none of which he's liable for. Injuries aside, politics aside, Amir just works his tail off, night in and night out and it's a joy to watch.
The Stat: Johnson is the first player to collect 12 offensive rebounds off the bench since 1995 and the eighth all time.
Golden State sweeps the season series with the Raptors having already defeated them, 114-102 in Toronto on January 28th. The Warriors have won 12 of their last 15 meetings with Toronto, including eight straight in Oakland. The Raptors haven't defeated them at Oracle since February 8, 2004. ... Golden State snapped a four-game losing streak, returning home where they'll play 14 of their next 18 and boast a record of 19-7. ... Curry has scored 25 or more in five straight contests, including a 54-point performance in New York on Wednesday ... Johnson picked up his team-leading 11th double-double of the season. ... DeRozan's career-best nine-game streak of attempting six or more free throws came to an end as he visited the stripe three times, finishing with 15 points and four assists. ... Rookie Terrence Ross played eight scoreless minutes (0-for-4), the third straight game he's been held without a point.
Toronto will visit US Airways Center to face the Phoenix Suns (21-39), 9pm et/6pm pt on Wednesday before wrapping up its four-game road trip in Los Angeles against the Lakers Friday (10:30pm et/7:30pm pt). The Raptors are looking to sweep the season series with both the Suns and Lakers, having taken the first meeting with both clubs at home earlier this year.