It stood to reason that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey would be upset at his team allowing the Chicago Bulls 34 fourth-quarter points on Sunday – and that it probably caused him a sleepless night heading into Monday’s game in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. It’s no wonder the word “playoffs” and “defence” were volunteered by Casey in a short post-game news conference.
But the Raptors ought to less concerned with the defence they saw on Sunday than with the offence. This team’s defensive bona fides have been established; and Jimmy Butler had a second half for the ages, taking advantage of DeMarre Carroll’s minutes limit and wobbly knee. What should be a greater concern is that the Raptors were bogged down offensively at home down the stretch, playing against a team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Despite the fact they were the healthier team, they failed to close.
DeMar DeRozan didn’t take a shot in the fourth quarter until there was just 2:19 left in regulation – Butler hounded him mercilessly – and he and Kyle Lowry both failed to draw fouls when they did attack the rim down the stretch. DeRozan’s final shot from three-point range kissed off the rim.
“The officials are not going to call anything at that time of the game, and I don’t know if we created enough contact to expect the foul,” Casey noted.
They didn’t. But don’t start the tiresome old debate about why two players of established pedigree in Lowry and DeRozan can’t get a break from NBA referees at home – the playoffs will be the time for that – and don’t always hang the reason for a Raptors loss on a defensive issue. Offensive execution down the stretch is a far bigger concern, in my opinion.
NOT SO GREAT SCOTT
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with fan voting for all-star games. There is nothing wrong with a country rallying around one of its own (think: Zemgus Girgensons getting support from Latvia last season) or fans electing a player long past his prime or, even, a player who has missed most of the season with injuries (witness: Kyrie Irving’s total in NBA voting, Derek Jeter’s continued presence in Major League Baseball’s event even as his skills deteriorated).
But the voting of John Scott into the NHL All-Star Game as a captain is a message. It’s one thing for fans not to take a game seriously or at least see it for what it really is; it’s quite another for them to mobilize in a demonstration of how little value they put in the game. There are dozens of different definitions of all-star, but none apply to John Scott, who doesn’t even have the decency to say thanks but no thanks. It’s not that Scott didn’t have time to make a phone call to the league office – he was, after all, a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game between the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. There’s your all-star!
The NHL has never managed to get the all-star game right, mostly because risking injury in an exhibition game is idiotic. Yet enough money must be generated in order for the charade to continue, and this 3-on-3 reincarnation makes as much sense as any other. So my suggestion would be this: if this is how it’s going to be, limit the selection of division ‘captains’ to players who are captains of teams within the division. Your fans have just told you to close the loophole.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Call off the APB on Sidney Crosby, who heads into Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks (which can be seen on Sportsnet and Sportsnet One) with 20 points (including nine goals) in his past 19 games, after managing just two goals and seven assists in his first 18 games. Crosby scored two power-play goals in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders, the first time he’s done that since Oct. 12, 2013. Crosby’s 29 goals and 91 points in 51 games against the Islanders makes him just one of two active players with 90 points or more against a team. Jaromir Jagr has scored 90-plus points against seven teams.
• Love this line from Manu Ginobli of the San Antonio Spurs, when asked about the first scoreless game of 39-year-old Tim Duncan’s 19-year career. “It’s very unusual, of course, but he didn’t play much. He hadn’t played in a week. If he’s playing until he’s 48, I guess he’s gonna have that a couple more times.” It was the first time in 1,360 career games that Duncan was held off the sheet, despite starting and playing 14 minutes.
• It was a happy new year, indeed, for Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: not only did Jan. 1 mark the date by which his contract became guaranteed for 2017, he was also named the San Antonio Express-News Sportsman of the Year, after a season in which he took the Blue Jays to the American League Championship Series and also found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
• Two figures to keep in mind: $300 million and $250 million, which is the estimated amount major league teams have spent on multi-year contracts for free agents after New Year’s Day in each of the past two seasons. In 2012, Prince Fielder signed his nine-year, $214-million deal with the Detroit Tigers on Jan. 26. Heck, even Mark Shapiro signed off on business with free agents late in the game – albeit it a clunker: the four-year, $48-million deal he gave Scott Boras client Michael Bourn on Feb. 15, 2013 when Shapiro was president of the Cleveland Indians (that deal includes a $12-million vesting option for 2017 based on 550 plate appearances this season.) In other words, even though Chris Davis’ decision to turn down a seven-year, $150-million offer from the Baltimore Orioles has blurred the market for other younger, free agent hitters, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are going to make out just fine.
As shocking as it was to see a member of the Vancouver Canucks play a lead role in Canada’s disintegration at the world junior tournament – let there be no doubt: Jake Virtanen is a Canuck through and through – so too must kudos be extended to Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer Tom Renney for laying blame at the feet of the players. Team Canada was undisciplined down the stretch, and that’s on the on-ice leadership group. But know what? It doesn’t say anything about the state of hockey in Canada, or whether these kids will have long and fruitful professional careers or are bad people.
“We’re talking about teenagers that are having to deal and cope with situations in the spontaneity of playing hockey that sometimes works against you,” Renney told The Canadian Press. Look: if you invest emotional capital in teenage hockey players and it ruins your day, that’s your fault. Their teenagers were better than ours, which is OK, for goodness sake.
Jeff Blair hosts the Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.