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Lewenberg: Heads held high after hard-fought loss to Spurs

Josh Lewenberg
12/24/2013 10:19:32 AM
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SAN ANTONIO - As members of the media waited outside the visitor's locker room at AT&T Center, Dwane Casey addressed his players behind closed doors, a standard post-game procedure, win or lose.

After Monday's hard-fought loss, the wait seemed longer than usual.

Getting set to go their separate ways for a short Christmas break, the Raptors' coach credited his team for their effort on a seemingly impossible three-game road trip, urging them to build on that success when they get back to work at the end of the week.

"It was a good trip," Casey said after their 112-99 loss to the Spurs capped off a 2-1 stretch in four days, highlighted by impressive wins in Dallas and Oklahoma City. "I told the guys it was a good start. We're just getting started to where we want to go."

Playing in the second night of a back-to-back and coming off their most physically and mentally taxing victory of the campaign - a 104-98 win over the league-best Thunder Sunday - the Raptors simply ran out of gas in San Antonio, facing an unforgiving terror of a team.

"We missed some good looks, some of it was fatigue, some of it was legs, some of it was their good defence getting into us," Casey said. "We knew that coming in, that it was going to be a battle.

"And that's our next step, to be mentally tough, to fight through fatigue, to fight through back-to-backs and try to do the same things we did [Sunday] night."

The final score is not indicative of how closely matched this game turned out to be. In fact, the 13-point margin of victory was San Antonio's largest lead of the contest. Although the home team maintained control for most of the night, the Raptors kept pace and refused to roll over or look ahead to their upcoming two-day vacation.

"We are a team that has to be scrappy," Amir Johnson acknowledged, scoring just seven points and grabbing eight rebounds in a match-up with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. "Against teams like [the Spurs] we have to play with the physicality just like we did in Dallas and OKC. We have to be the team that pushes the tempo. We can't relax and that's what we have been doing these past couple of weeks. We fight but unfortunately we came up short tonight."

Although Duncan had a quiet nine points and 12 boards, the other two-thirds of San Antonio's vintage big three controlled the tempo of the game. Tony Parker led all scorers with 26 to go along with eight assists, while Manu Ginobili added 18 points of the Spurs' bench. San Antonio's second unit - one of the best in the association - contributed 52 points, giving the Spurs 48-minutes worth of high-level production. The Raptors couldn't keep up.

The Spurs out-rebounded Toronto by 10 and grabbed 16 offensive boards. They held a 16-point advantage in the paint, dished out 27 assists and recorded a season-high 24 second chance points.

"It's always tough playing in a back-to-back, especially against two of the best teams in the West," said DeMar DeRozan. "We understood that coming in but we were in the game. They hit a couple big time threes that pushed the lead up for them and made it tough for us to keep it within arm's length but we fought."

DeRozan - who had already face a pair of tough wing defenders in Shawn Marion and Thabo Sefolosha on the trip - struggled against Kawhi Leonard, scoring 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.

"He had a rough night but Kawhi Leonard is one of the top defenders in the league," Casey said of DeRozan. "They were double-teaming him in his post-ups so they weren't going to let him go."

Terrence Ross was the beneficiary of the added attention paid to DeRozan. The Raptors' sophomore made 10 of 16 attempts for 23 points, while Kyle Lowry also scored 23 and recorded a team-best nine assists.

Although a 2-1 record on this trip is nothing to scoff at - it's two wins more than most expected them to get - Casey's message has been received and his team is striving for more.

"I wish we would have got that last win," Johnson insisted. "The two wins is great but it would have been nice to finish with one more.

"We can't settle," he continued. "We played some tough teams (on the trip) and that is definitely a confidence boost but we want to keep going and keep the focus we have over this break. We are definitely not happy. We just have to keep working."

The Raptors' players and coaches will be excused for two days to spend Christmas with their family and friends before reconvening in New York City for practice on Boxing Day.

"It's coming at a great time," admitted DeRozan, who is among the league leaders in minutes played and could use the rest. "[It] just gives us a chance to refresh our minds and our bodies and understand what lies ahead after this Christmas break."

DeRozan and Johnson are each spending their time off in Toronto with their daughters, both of whom will be celebrating their first Christmas.

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