I have long maintained that one characteristic of a strong team is the ability to win a game in which they play poorly. Whether the Toronto Raptors’ win last night over the Orlando Magic offers proof of that notion, or was a demonstration of the Magic’s ineptness, is open to debate. What isn’t arguable, but is worrisome – the fact the Raps allowed the Magic back into a game in which they appeared thoroughly beaten. That’s two straight games against sub-.500 squads in which Toronto surrendered big leads in the second half, and needed to scramble to grab the win.
The Raps built a hefty lead in the first half using an unlikely lineup. Coach Dwane Casey, knowing he’ll need fresh legs tonight against the HEAT, rested his starters early and was rewarded with excellent play by the second unit. Nando De Colo, looking increasingly comfortable in Raptor red, made a couple of buckets, as did Landry Fields (remember him?) and Ever-Ready Steve Novak. Jonas Valanciunas was having the devil of a time guarding Nikola Vucevic, but was scoring himself. The Raps’ lead was 21 at the half, and up to 21 in Q3 before the shots stopped falling. DeMar DeRozan was productive, taking the ball to the hoop to draw fouls again and again. He ended up taking more free throws than the entire Magic squad (16-14), and missed only one. JV hit all 8 of his tries; indeed, without their aggressive takes, this would have been a loss, as Orlando made five more field goals than Toronto.
Orlando continued their impressive comeback in Q4, and tied the match at 78 on a Victor Oladipo 3-ball. The Raps, perhaps needing that walk-up call, pushed ahead by as much as 8, but the Magic wouldn’t go away. They had the ball, and a mere 3-point deficit, with 8 seconds to play, but the Raps forced a 5-second inbound violation. Two more DeRozan FTs, and the win, followed.
DD ended with 28 points, and JV had 20. Kyle Lowry managed 16 on a night of poor shooting, and also had more turnovers than assists. Orlando’s Dewayne Dedmon, trying desperately to stay in the big league, may have some skills, but they are being obscured by his sharp-elbowed, even thuggish approach to the game.
While there may be no such thing as a bad win, this was close. Why did Terrence Ross have 7 points after less than 7 minutes, and the same after 48? Why couldn’t the first unit exploit the huge advantage afforded them by the second? Most importantly: what the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on in the fourth quarter? Until recently, it was “ours”.
The Raptors don’t have a lot of time to figure out these questions. They are in Miami tonight, facing LeBron and the HEAT.