The best way to follow up a disappointing loss is with a big victory.
A victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, despite their 17-23 record, qualifies as big for the Toronto Raptors.
On Sunday afternoon, Landry Fields put together his best game of the season while helping to hound Kobe Bryant into one of his worst as the Raptors held on for a 108-103 win.
It’s generally a successful afternoon for the opponent when Bryant admits fatigue, or any other less-than-superhuman trait. After the game at the Air Canada Centre, Bryant shouldered the weight of another disappointing loss and a 10-for-32 shooting performance.
“My legs are a little tired and my shot is just short,” he said. “That’s on me. I’ll take this loss on me, gladly. There were a lot of easy shots. A lot of them, I should have put down and I will. So that is just on me.”
Armed with the toughest responsibility in the game, Fields came through for the Raptors. He smiled when asked about his defensive efforts.
“Well, the coaches told me I was going to guard Kobe, so … He’s top two greatest players of all time, arguably,” Fields said. “With him he’s going to get his points, really. There’s no way of stopping him. You just have to make it as hard as possible. That has been my mindset ever since I came into the league. React to his first move because he gives a bunch of them and remain as solid and contest his shot as best as possible.”
It was the fifth consecutive road loss for the Lakers and it happened with Dwight Howard only playing 17 minutes before being tossed after picking up a technical foul and then later a double-technical after jawing with Alan Anderson. Howard had five points and two rebounds in his 17 minutes.
After jumping out to an early 16-point advantage in the first quarter, the Raptors were finally able to play under control with the lead. Yes, the stories will be more about the Lakers looking — and playing — badly than the Raptors looking good, but coming off of that blown 19-point halftime lead in Philadelphia, this was an important game.
With quiet offensive nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (eight points apiece), the Raptors received standout performances from Fields, Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. Anderson also chipped in with 14 points and a career-high eight assists off of the bench. Calderon scored a team-high 22 points to go with nine assists and Davis added 18 points and eight rebounds. The star of the afternoon, though, was Fields.
1) Landry Fields takes a turn as the Kobe-stopper
While Fields has had his ups and downs (and some surgery, too) since joining the Raptors, he was at his best in the victory over the Lakers. Contributing an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double on 8-for-11 shooting, Fields repeatedly hurt the Lakers on the offensive end of the floor.
Running the floor, crashing the boards and disrupting the Laker offence (Fields had four steals in the game), Fields made smart decisions all afternoon. While he was solid offensively, his biggest impact was felt on the defensive end of the floor.
Matched up against Kobe Bryant, Fields did the best that anyone can do against as potent an offensive player as Bryant: he forced him into tough shots and wore him down. Bryant finished the game with a game-high 26 points, but needed 32 field goal attempts to get them. Bryant attempted just three free throws and had six of the team’s 13 turnovers. While Bryant finished with just one more point than Pau Gasol’s 25 points, it took Bryant 17 more attempts.
2) Refs with a quick trigger on calling technicals
While Gasol certainly benefitted from Howard’s first-half ejection, both Metta World Peace and Bryant felt that Howard’s second technical was uncalled for. Bryant was also whistled for a tech in the fourth, but the ejection of Howard on what appeared to be a weak double-technical call is a reminder of how careful a player has to be when they already have already received a technical.
“That technical was bad,” World Peace said. “I think it was a mistake. But it’s okay. They made a mistake today giving Dwight the tech because the other guy initiated it. Am I right? Am I wrong? I could be wrong. He did initiate it, right?” He went on to give the officials some leeway by saying, “It’s okay. They made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes.”
Bryant wasn’t as forgiving, explaining why he wasn’t a fan of the double-technical.
“I really don’t agree with that one at all,” he said. “What’s a player supposed to do? A guy cuts in front when he’s trying to walk back up the court. An official told me he should just walk away. I said ‘Which direction? Should he just turn around a just walk to the bench?’ He’s walking back down the other end of the court to get back on offence and there’s nothing he can do. A guy steps up to him and puts a forearm in his chest, what’s he supposed to do? You say one thing and now it’s a double-technical. And I just don’t agree with that.”
3) Second unit staying ready
Aaron Gray is not supposed to be starting games for this Toronto Raptors team. But because of injuries to Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani, that is where he’s found himself on various occasions this season as Casey tries to manage minutes and fouls for Amir Johnson and Davis. While there are plenty of things Gray cannot do on a basketball court, one thing he does do is show up. Every game. Gray is the perfect kind of reserve, because he’s always ready. Pre-game he can be found in the locker room watching tape and talking with the other bigs about schemes. He has also had a hand in mentoring rookie Quincy Acy. Acy is another reserve who, after spending time in the D-League at the start of the season, has been called upon in games of late and has responded. The two combined to play 24 minutes, allowing Casey to give Johnson and Davis adequate rest.
4) Jose Calderon’s solid afternoon
Casey has said he’s going to stick with whichever point guard (Calderon or Lowry) is playing best within each game. He didn’t defer from that plan against the Lakers, sticking with Calderon for 30 minutes as he repeatedly made the right decision and toyed with the Los Angeles defence. Calderon finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He added nine assists and earned the praise of his coach for his performance while facing Bryant.
“Kobe Bryant is one of the best,” Casey said. “I saw it firsthand a couple of years ago in the Western Conference finals against Jason Kidd. He disrupted everything with just a one-man press. I thought Jose today handled it with skill and poise because if he was off balance and shaky everything else would have been. He did a great job of making reads, find the cutters, finding the roll man and being aggressive with his shot.”
5) Lakers cutting corners
It’s obvious that the Lakers have some issues to straighten out. There are not many teams in the league that should give up 55 per cent shooting to the Toronto Raptors. Especially when that team shoots 43 per cent for the game.
The victory against the Lakers was the first game this season that Toronto has won in regulation where an opponent has topped 100 points. After the game, Nash said the team was disappointed in their performance against the Raptors.
“I thought our effort was spotty and a little lazy cutting corners,” he said. “I know we flew across the country yesterday and played an early 10:00 a.m. west coast game, so for me that’s not an excuse but a sign. We have to come ready to play early and I didn’t feel like we were ready to play. I thought we cut too many corners at too many different times in the game.”