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Lewenberg: Raptors mimic Seahawks in win over Jazz

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Josh Lewenberg
2/4/2014 2:06:19 AM
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SALT LAKE CITY - Sporting a Seahawks cap during afternoon shootaround, coach Dwane Casey reinforced a sentiment he's preached over and over again since coming to Toronto.

"Relentless defence wins in any sport," he said after watching the hard-hitting, opportunistic Seahawks stymie the Broncos and their high-octane offence.

Casey didn't have to say much as he and his team watched Seattle's dominant Super Bowl victory from their Salt Lake City hotel Sunday night. The message had already been engrained into the mindset of his players and stuck with them in Utah the following evening.

"We can't control if our shots go in, we can't make every shot but we can control when we play hard on the defensive end," DeMar DeRozan said after holding Utah to 41 per cent shooting in a 94-79 win over the Jazz Monday. "We're understanding that more and more every game."

Again, the Raptors got off to a slow start on the defensive end, something that plagued them in Portland Saturday as their comeback bid eventually fell short. The Jazz shot 50 per cent and scored 27 points, closing out the opening quarter with a three-point lead before Toronto tightened the screws in the second frame.

Utah scored just 17 points in the second quarter, shooting 35 per cent from the field, 0-of-7 from three-point range and was held without a single assist. The Jazz didn't score more than 18 points in any quarter after the first.

"That's an issue with our team," Casey said before the game. "For whatever reason we turn up the intensity after halftime. I don't know if they like hearing me go ballistic at halftime."

"It's one of our unfortunate traits, I would say, but again we'll take [the win]."

The Raptors resiliency was tested again as Kyle Lowry - fresh off being named Eastern Conference Player of the Month - left for the locker room late in the third quarter to get treatment on a sore right knee.

Lowry has been the team's most consistent contributor but seemed off his game, shooting 1-for-8 in 25 minutes before he was ruled out for the fourth quarter.

The good news is the injury doesn't appear to be a serious one. Lowry has been battling soreness in the knee for about a week, playing through it and playing well, but on Monday he couldn't get it loose.

"I couldn't help my team as much as I wanted to," said Lowry, who expects to play in Sacramento on Wednesday. "I trust my teammates would get the job done and that's what they did tonight."

Toronto's depth and team chemistry came through with Lowry on the sideline. Greivis Vasquez, who returned from a bout of the flu, stepped in at the point and scored 12 off the bench. Amir Johnson - playing on a sore right ankle - looked better, recording a double-double. Jonas Valanciunas had one of his better games in a tough matchup against Enes Kanter and John Salmons chipped in with 13 off the bench.

As it has been when one Raptor struggles or gets hurt, the next man steps up.

"That's what it is, I think we're playing for each other," Vasquez said. "I want Kyle to get healthy, I want the best for each and every one of us so that's important, man. When you have a team that has such a great atmosphere in the locker room, that care about each other, it's going to be scary."

Most importantly, it was the defensive effort that carried them to their sixth win over the last eight games. Casey preaches it every day and his troops have all bought in. They've seen how far it can take them.

"The good thing about it is our players were talking about it last night watching the [Super Bowl]," said the Raptors' coach. "Our guys were talking about how [the Seahawks] were hitting people and that's what I've been preaching and am preaching, hit first."

"Basketball-wise, it's a little bit different but you can be aggressive for 48 minutes, take away options, take away passing lanes, bump cutters, box out [and] hit people coming for rebounds."

Casey, an assistant with the Sonics for 11 years, resides in Seattle during the offseason and was invited to visit the Seahawks training camp a couple summers ago, where he - along with Blazers coach and good friend Terry Stotts - got the opportunity to watch Pete Carroll at work.

The takeaway for Casey was to fully embrace and stay true to his philosophy as a head coach.

"[Carroll is] a guy that's comfortable in his skin and I'm at that point in my career too," he said. "In his first couple of tries he tried to do it the way the organization wanted to do it and he was trying to please everybody. I think you have to coach to your personality and to the personality of your team and that's what he conveyed to [Stotts] and I when we met with him"

That philosophy - defence first, second and third - has been hammered home since day one and the results are beginning to reflect it. Entering Monday's games the Raptors ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, just behind the league's heavy hitters (Indiana, Chicago, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio).

On Monday they surrendered just 79 points, matching the second lowest total they've given up all year.

"I don't care who is playing, when you play the Utah Jazz, it's a brand of basketball that's very difficult," Casey said. "You're going to have to grind it out, you're going to have to earn every inch, every yard in this place and we did tonight."

"The rest of the way, before the [All-Star] break, we're going to have to grind it out mentally and physically," he continued. "That's how it's going to be because people are going to come out throwing haymakers at us and we've got to be physically and mentally prepared for it."

On the season, they're now 22-6 when holding teams under 100 points. They're 20-4 when opponents shoot below 45 per cent.

Amir Johnson dunks (Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
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