Lewenberg: Raptors succumb to the will of Kobe in OT loss

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Josh Lewenberg
3/9/2013 10:13:27 AM
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Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Kobe Bryant is on a mission, he's proven that, and his Lakers are not to be toyed with right now.

The Raptors (24-39) had Bryant and company in their crosshairs -- up by 11 early in the fourth quarter -- before letting the Lakers (32-31) slip through their fingers, ultimately suffering a familiar fate in a 118-116 heartbreaking overtime defeat at Staples Center Friday.

Two days after engineering a 25-point comeback win over the Hornets, Bryant -- 41 points, 12 assists -- forced overtime with a game-tying three at the end of regulation and scored the go-ahead field goal on a dunk towards the end of the extra period to vault the Lakers within a 1/2 game of Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Mired by poor execution, questionable personnel decisions, and an abysmal performance from Rudy Gay, the Raptors -- who led from the midway point of the first quarter up until the end of regulation -- fell apart down the stretch and fell pray to the surging Lakers, winners of their last five games at home. Toronto has now lost 10 straight meetings with the Lakers in Los Angeles dating back to 2001.

Gay, one of six Toronto players to score in double digits, needed 26 shots to accumulate his 17 points. DeMar DeRozan, a southern California native, had a team-high 28 points on 12-of-18 shooting, Alan Anderson scored 17 off the bench and Kyle Lowry poured in 15 to go along with his 10 assists.

Fast Breaking Points

- Déjà Vu

The Raptors have seen a variation of this narrative countless times before so the unfavourable result shouldn't come as much of a surprise. No strangers to the fourth-quarter collapse themselves, they had the benefit of watching the Hornets fall apart on Wednesday and should have learned from those mistakes. In fact, the Raps held off a Kobe-led surge late in their 108-103 victory over the Lakers earlier this season. The trick, if you can call it that, is to squash the run before it snowballs, something Toronto was unable to do on Friday for a number of reasons. 

Once the momentum began to turn, the Raptors quickly got away from what was working for them early on. DeRozan, who was having one of his best and most efficient outings of the season, was an afterthought down the stretch as the team repeatedly ran isolations for Gay, who was having one of his worst outings (more on Gay to follow). DeRozan did not attempt a shot in the final four minutes of regulation and took just two in overtime. 

Toronto turned the ball over five times in the fourth (three of those miscues belonged to Gay) and completely abandoned the up-tempo style of play that had the Lakers reeling in the first half.
 
The Stat: After recording 15 fast-break points in the first half, the Raptors were held to just two in the second, failing to score on the break in the final quarter or overtime period.

- Rough Night for Rudy

Slowed by back pain throughout the road trip, Gay actually looked far more agile in the first half. He was active on defence, running the floor, and getting to the rim with the explosiveness he has lacked since hurting his back last week. 5-for-11, 12 points with just one turnovers at halftime, Gay was on the verge of putting together a bounce-back performance following a rough outing in Phoenix Wednesday. However, his game completely fell off a cliff in the second half, coinciding with the hard fall he took early in the third frame. Settling for long, contested jumpers he forced his game at the expense of teammates (DeRozan and Lowry for example) that were playing much better. Gay shot a combined 0-for-8 in the fourth quarter and overtime, attempting a final off-balanced heave at the end of both periods.

It was clearly not his night, something that became increasingly more apparent as the game went on, yet he continued to shoulder the offensive load down the stretch, ultimately hurting his team.

- Rotation Roulette

Once again, Dwane Casey's late-game rotation deserves some dissection, specifically the use (or lack thereof) of rookie Jonas Valanciunas. In just less than 17 minutes, Valanciunas had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, grabbing six boards and blocking a shot while more than holding his own against Dwight Howard, the league's most intimidating low-post presence. After picking up his fourth foul seven minutes into the third quarter he was pulled, presumably to preserve him for late in the game as he was playing well at the time. However, he never re-entered as Casey opted to use Amir Johnson as the lone big in a small lineup down the stretch (note: the Lakers did the same, surrounding Howard with four perimeter players). Once Johnson fouled out in overtime, Aaron Gray was brought in for the final two minutes despite being outplayed by Howard earlier, including the majority of a second-quarter run that saw the Lakers' centre score half of his 24 points. 

Notables

With the loss, Toronto splits the season series with the Lakers, falling to 2-14 against them at the Staples Centre in franchise history. The Raptors last defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles on Dec. 28, 2001 and have never won consecutive meetings in the series. ... Andrea Bargnani re-injured his right elbow in the first quarter and did not return to the game. He missed 26 contests earlier this season after sustaining the original injury in Portland on Dec. 10. ... The Raptors shot 74 per cent and had 37 points after the first 12 minutes, the most they've scored in any quarter this season. ... Lakers point guard Steve Nash scored a season-high 22 despite being held to just two assists.

Up Next

The Raptors finally return home following a four-game, six-day road trip taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-41) at the Air Canada Centre, 6:00pm et Sunday evening. Toronto will be looking for a season-series split with the Cavs, having dropped two of the first three meetings.

Kobe Bryant (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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