An undermanned Toronto Raptors team was unable to hang on for victory against the Utah Jazz on Monday night, dropping a 140-133 decision at the Air Canada Centre. Playing without Kyle Lowry (right ankle), Landry Fields (right hand) and Alan Anderson (left foot), the Raptors put together their strongest effort of the season thus far as they battled until things fell apart in the third overtime session.
After talking about slow starts for the past week, Toronto came out strong and led for the duration of the game until the Jazz pieced together a 7-2 run to close regulation and force overtime on the second three-pointer of Al Jefferson’s career. The two teams battled back and forth for the next 15 minutes, but the minutes eventually took a toll on Toronto’s starters. With Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza fouling out in the first and second overtimes and DeMar DeRozan logging 60 minutes and Jose Calderon logging 50 minutes, the Raptors were unable to contain the Jazz.
Paul Millsap connected on three of his four attempts from beyond the arc in the overtime sessions as he (34 points, nine rebounds), Al Jefferson (24 points, 17 rebounds) and Mo Williams (17 points, 14 assists), were ultimately too much for the Raptors to handle.
*The fight in this team: After a horrific game against the Sixers on Saturday night, the Raptors looked like an entirely different team in this game against the Jazz. In the loss to Philly, they looked like a team waiting for Lowry to return from injury to save them. Against the Jazz they were a group of players working together and giving everything they had as they tried to pull out a victory at home before heading to Indiana. After a lacklustre start to the season, it was the most grit the team has shown this year.
*DeRozan’s continued emergence: Sure, everyone under the sun questioned the numbers of his contract extension, but no one can deny the improvements to DeRozan’s game this season. He scored 37 points to match his career-high, but most importantly he added eight rebounds and dished six assists in his 60 minutes of action. Oh, yeah. He played 60 minutes and did all that he could to will the team to victory. Looking for improvements, check out how he knows how to pass out of a double team, his work in the post against Randy Foye or the driving dunk with 23.3 seconds remaining in the first overtime. These are things we didn’t see last year.
*Kleiza’s big return: After missing four games with an excused absence for a family matter, Kleiza played 12 mostly meaningless minutes against the Sixers. On Monday night he provided a huge boost off of the bench, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven boards before fouling out in 30 minutes of playing time. While Anderson and Fields are out with injury, the team needs both Kleiza and Dominic McGuire to play bigger roles.
*Minutes played with a game on Tuesday in Indiana: After playing DeRozan 44 minutes on Saturday night against the Sixers, Casey acknowledged that he would need to monitor the minutes played by DeRozan and Calderon. With a back-to-back looming (the team finished speaking with media at 11 p.m. ET Saturday night with the whiteboard in the locker room saying the bus would be leaving for the airport to fly to Indiana at 12 a.m.) DeRozan logged 60 minutes, Calderon 50 minutes and Andrea Bargnani nearly 49 minutes.
*Getting to the line: There were a lot of iffy non-calls in this game, so this isn’t entirely on the Raptors, but Toronto attempted 30 free throws and made 23 of their attempts. In comparison, the Jazz connected on 34 of their 43 attempts.
*Defending beyond the arc: Utah shot 49.5 per cent from the floor in the game. The Jazz shot 54 percent from beyond the arc and had six more three-point makes than the Raptors. After giving up the second three of Jefferson’s career at the end of regulation to go into overtime, Utah had 11 made three-pointers. Millsap brought that total to 14 for the game as he connected on 3-for-4 attempts in the extra sessions.
*Prior to this game it felt like it could be another ugly loss. The showing from the team on Saturday did nothing to inspire hope that an undermanned group would pull together to test Utah. They exceeded the expectations placed upon them before the game and showed that they have fight in them, regardless of who is or isn’t on the floor. There is good in this loss, even though it was a tough one. DeRozan, Calderon and Casey all said this game shows the team can compete against anyone.
*DeRozan on what he has tried to add to his game this season: “Just trying to improve everything. Just try to do more than what I did before. That’s rebounding, assists, playing defence, playing the passing lanes, getting steals. Just trying to do everything.”
*The decision to go with Aaron Gray in the third overtime session instead of Jonas Valanciunas raised some eyebrows, but after sitting the rookie for all but 1:05 of the second half and overtime sessions, Casey said he wanted to go with experience, but acknowledged that, “You could second-guess that. That’s fair.”
*Foye was asked about the play of Millsap and Jefferson in the Jazz victory: “Everybody just played their heart out and we said to each other that we don’t want to lose, we want this game even if it takes six overtimes.”