Houston Rockets 112 – Raptors 109: grounded

Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates with guard Jason Terry (31) after a play against the Toronto Raptors in the second half at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 112-109. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates with guard Jason Terry (31) after a play against the Toronto Raptors in the second half at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 112-109. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Raptors couldn’t defeat both the Rockets and the referees. Strange game, disappointing outcome.

First Half

The Raptors started flat against the Rox, who were using an unexpected weapon to put up some points. Patrick Beverley, an unheralded point guard, found the range from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard wasn’t hurting the Raptors, and Norman Powell was doing a decent job keeping James Harden from blowing up. But Beverley’s makes, and a bunch of Raptors misses, produced a sinking feeling among the Toronto faithful. The first quarter felt like a carry-over from that hot mess of a game in Boston.

Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) dunks the ball in front of Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) dunks the ball in front of Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Mercifully the pain was about to end. Toronto’s defense produced a slew of turnovers, and Raptors shot-making returned with a vengeance. Powell was doing more than defend; he added two more 3-balls to the one he hit in the miserable first quarter. Luis Scola was finding lots of space to put up, and hit, corner 3s. The Raptors enjoyed a 15-0 run midway through Q2, scored 37 points in total, and went into the dressing room with a four-point cushion.

Bismack Biyombo blocked two shots by Rockets guards, grabbed 3 boards, and was an absurd plus_18 at the half. Jonas Valanciunas was minus_14.

Second Half

The Rockets were quick to erase the Raptors slim lead, but the visitors battled back, and the score seesawed throughout Q3. The Raptors intentionally fouled nerve-racked centre Clint Capela, and the tactic worked as the young man bricked 6 of 8 free throws. Not much was working against James Harden, whose jumper at the buzzer pushed the Rox ahead by a point.

In Q4, things got ugly. Houston went on a 12-2 run early to seize a lead they would never relinquish. The Raptors didn’t quit, but their strange slump at the charity stripe continued and thwarted their efforts. Worse was to come.

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The Rockets, led by Beverley, are a chippy bunch, yet weren’t being disciplined by the referees. So what do your children do if they aren’t reined in? Behave worse! The Raptors finally cracked. DeMar DeRozan got a double technical and was ejected for vehemently complaining about non-calls. With 25 seconds to play, a strange incident involving Beverley seemingly repeating Lowry’s words about shabby refereeing led to his ejection (Lowry already had been T-ed up in Q1, so the second T meant banishment).

Toronto’s scoring chances had already been blunted by a severe lack of interior play. The Raptors seemed too content to pass around the perimeter, even though Houston had gone small and was doubling the ball. Despite poor shooting from both our All-Stars, they represented our best chance to get back in the game. Terrence Ross had been scratched due to a thumb injury, so the Raptors distance shooting was already compromised. The Rockets wobbled at the end, but their margin was large enough to withstand their mistakes.

In Sum…

Harden was the prime bringer of ruin to the Raptors; he had a triple-double of 32 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds. Howard used to be a star, but has slipped dramatically. He made one basket, and missed all 5 of his free throws. Jonas Valanciunas dominated the boards, pulling down 18, though he missed some easy shots. Lowry missed shots both easy and hard, making 4 of 19, and missing 5 of 9 from the stripe. Is the elbow problem which kept him out of the Boston game still an issue?

Norman Powell continued his excellent season, scoring 13 points and displayed his athleticism and defensive chops. If he can limit his ball-handling errors, and more consistently hit his open looks, we’ll have a player.

On to New Orleans, and a chance to stop this mini-slump.