Lewenberg: Raptors end losing skid in convincing fashion

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Josh Lewenberg
3/7/2013 1:48:08 AM
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Without much more than pride on the line, the Raptors played with an abundance of it in a long overdue victory Wednesday evening.

It wasn't pretty but it didn't need to be as the Raptors (24-38) finally snapped their losing streak at five games, holding the Phoenix Suns (21-40) to an opponent season-low in a 98-71 victory at US Airways Center.

Led by its second unit, Toronto's balanced attack - including six players scoring in double figures - was too much for a Suns team that came into the contest having won three straight.

Despite its recent success, Phoenix came out flat at home and never led after holding a brief 2-0 advantage minutes into the game. The Suns lost centre Marcin Gortat to a right foot injury late in the first quarter, a crucial moment and likely turning point in the game.

DeMar DeRozan paced the Raptors with 15 points and six rebounds in the win. Coming off a career outing in Monday's loss to the Warriors, Amir Johnson scored 14 off the bench while Sebastian Telfair chipped in 13 points and seven assists against his former club. 

Fast Breaking Points

- No Mercy

Over the past week and a half the Raptors have been beaten down in every way possible. They've been defeated mentally and physically by elite opponents and bottom feeders alike. In 10 days they've gone from a playoff dark horse to the NBA's equivalent of the walking dead. On Wednesday, the Suns became their punching bag (not the first time Phoenix has played that role this season unfortunately). After a competitive first quarter, the game got out of hand in a hurry. Although the Raptors' second unit deserves a great deal of credit (discussed below), Gortat's injury signified a turning point on the night and sucked the life - whatever life they had left - right out the Suns.

The Polish centre, one of Phoenix's few standout talents, was causing problems for Toronto early on. The primary reason why the Suns were able to hang around in the first quarter, Gortat shredded the Raptors' defence on the pick and roll and their offence immediately went dormant without him.

If the Suns had been even remotely efficient they would have had a chance to cut into their deficit when the Raptors got complacent in the third quarter. However, Phoenix was anything but efficient and credit the Raptors for recognizing that and putting their foot on the Suns' throat very early in the fourth quarter. Their lead was never truly in danger.

The Stat: The two teams combined for 50 turnovers with Toronto scoring 39 points off of the Suns' 29 miscues. 

The Stat II: 27 points is the Raptors' second-largest margin of victory this season (they won by 35 in Orlando on Dec. 29)

- Bassy and the Bench Brigade

Offensively, the Raptors got off to a passable start but the concern, once again, was on the other end where Toronto's defence allowed the Suns to shoot 52 per cent in the opening quarter. That's when Toronto's second unit - a group that has been underwhelming of late - took over the game on both ends of the floor. Led by Telfair, a former member of the Suns, the Raptors' reserves scored all but one of the team's 26 second-quarter points. Their most impressive work was logged defensively, holding Phoenix to 40 per cent and forcing a game-changing nine turnovers in the frame.

Both Alan Anderson and rookie Terrence Ross scored 10 off the bench. After being held scoreless in each of his last three games, Ross reached double figures for the first time since Jan. 28 and doubled his scoring total from his previous seven contests combined.

Telfair, who was playing in his second game since being acquired by Toronto at the deadline, made his presence felt early and quickly scored his first Raptors points. A nine-year vet, his maturity and ability to manage the game were apparent immediately. He brought energy, dove on the floor and on two occasions he made up for his own turnover with crafty steals on subsequent possessions. 

Although John Lucas III - the incumbent backup point guard - has undeniable value as a situational volume scorer in this league, Telfair's superior defence, decision making, and explosiveness seems to be a better fit with the second unit. Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors gave up an asset for his services - a conditional/protected second-round pick - so it would only make sense to give him some burn down the stretch of this season to see if and how he fits into their future plans. One way or another, they will need to find a relatively cheap backup point guard during the summer and Telfair could very well fit the bill. Now's the time to find out. 

The Stat: The Toronto bench outscored Phoenix's reserves 54-32.

Notables

Sweeping the season series with Phoenix, the Raptors have now defeated the Suns in three straight meetings for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Suns during their previous visit to Phoenix, a 99-96 victory in January of last year. ... Rudy Gay had just five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes and Andrea Bargnani scored nine in his third consecutive start for Toronto. Neither forward played in the fourth quarter as the team maintained a sizeable lead. ... Marcus Morris led the Suns in scoring with 12 off the bench, the only Phoenix player to score in double figures. ... X-rays on Gortat's foot were negative, he has an MRI scheduled for Thursday. ... Suns center and former Raptor Jermaine O'Neal missed the game attending to personal matters.

Up Next

Toronto will visit Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers (31-31) at 10:30pm et on TSN2 Friday, the final stop on a four-game road trip before heading back to Canada for a Sunday evening date with the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-40). The Raptors took the first game of the season series with the Lakers, defeating them 108-103 at home in January.

Kyle Lowry Jonas Valanciunas (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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