The Toronto Raptors did not play like a team that is trying to fight their way into the playoffs on Monday night.
In a disappointing 90-84 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Raptors came out lethargic and were unable to erase the many mistakes they made in the opening 12 minutes.
“It was a stinker,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “They whupped us. They outworked us. We tried to turn it on, but they got us … They forced us into 12 turnovers in the first half. That was the ball game.”
For a team that is trying to make a playoff push with 25 games remaining, every game counts. There isn’t room to make the kind of mistakes the Raptors made if the team hopes to make it to the post-season.
Trailing 17-16 after the opening quarter, the Raptors turned the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes of the game. They would continue to create problems for themselves by shooting just 35 per cent from the floor and finishing with 13 turnovers in the first half.
If it wasn’t for DeMar DeRozan’s 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting, the final outcome would have been even uglier.
“I thought DeMar had that sense of urgency,” Casey said. “Why we would not have that at this time of the year with what we are fighting for, what we are scratching for, and what we have been through is shocking to me. I told the guys, and they feel bad about it.
“We have time, but we do not have a lot. We have to be in desperate mode. We do not want to be in a tight, worried-and-scared-to-play mode, but a desperate, hit first, and I-am-going-to-get-to-the-floor-first mode.”
That “hit-first” mode was everything the Raptors did not have on Monday night.
While there has been a lot of talk about the boost that Rudy Gay has given the Raptors since the trade that brought him to Toronto, Gay had perhaps his roughest night in a Raptors uniform against the Wizards. Shooting just 1-for-11 from the floor, Gay struggled all night. His lone basket came off of a dunk to start the fourth quarter. While he had six rebounds, four assists and four steals, he also contributed five of the team’s 14 turnovers.
“Disappointment,” Gay said of how he was feeling after the game. “We’re a better team than the way we played today. A way better team.”
While Gay is correct, being a better team and playing like a better team are two different things. With Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers waiting in Cleveland for Wednesday night’s game, the Raptors need to learn from this loss, let it sting just a bit and then quickly get themselves back on track.
“That’s the most important part, not letting it linger,” Gay said. “Not letting what happened today linger.”
Learning how to be consistent
Monday night was not a great night for Gay. He struggled on both ends of the floor and could not shoot his way out of the slump he was in to start the game. Visibly upset after the game, Gay spoke about the importance of learning to bring consistency every night.
“As we get better, we have to learn to do that every night and be consistent,” he said. “Today wasn’t a consistent effort at all.”
Coming from a Memphis Grizzlies organization that prides itself on defence and effort in every single game, Gay hopes to be a model of consistency, even when things are not going his way.
Obviously disappointed in the loss, Gay stressed how critical it is for the team to step up and play together. He also called attention to the fact that this Raptors team needs to play for more than just the hopes of reaching the post-season.
“DeMar played well, but it takes more than one person,” Gay said. “You have to be a full team. Especially to meet the goals we have, as far as getting to the playoffs … No, it’s not even really about getting to the playoffs, it’s being as good as we could possibly be. We’re a lot better than we played tonight.”
During the 4-19 start that continues to haunt the Raptors as they try to sneak their way into the playoffs, slow starts were a problem. So was a lack of execution down the stretch, but yes, slow starts were something that the team needed to shake to turn their season around.
Fourth-year swingman DeRozan has seen more than enough games wind up in the loss column after the team has gotten off to a less than stellar start.
“Everything was on us,” DeRozan said about the loss. “If we would have played the first half like we played the second half, it could have been a different outcome. We didn’t and they took advantage of that.”
Gay echoed the sentiments of his teammate.
“We can’t start off like that,” Gay said. “Not when we have the goals that we have. We can’t start out like that at all. We have to be more aggressive, we have to be more in attack mode.”
There wasn’t much of a duel between Washington rookie Bradley Beal and Toronto’s Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. While Valanciunas finished with four points and three rebounds in 18 minutes of play, Ross logged just over six minutes of play after missing Friday’s game with the flu. On the other side of the floor, Beal led the way for the Wizards, scoring a team-high 20 points to go with six rebounds and two assists in 39 minutes of burn.