Lewenberg: Undermanned Raptors succumb to Spurs

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Josh Lewenberg, TSN.ca
12/11/2013 1:48:20 AM
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TORONTO - For 12 minutes we got a glimpse of what the Raptors could become without Rudy Gay at the forefront of the offence.

In the subsequent 36 minutes, reality hit hard. The Raptors saw both sides of the post-Gay coin in 48 minutes of basketball.

"There's no excuses in this league but I'm going to chalk this one [up] to travel. We ran out of gas," Dwane Casey said following a 116-103 loss to the Spurs, his team's second game without Gay and first since the seven-player deal with Sacramento was finalized.

"I thought we competed in the first quarter and we ran out of gas as the game went on."

Offensively, the Raptors were brilliant in the opening period on Tuesday. Jonas Valanciunas - who figures to become more of a focal point after the trade - was exceptional, the ball was moving and all five players on the floor were moving without it. Guys were passing up good shots to get even better ones for their teammates. It was a sight to behold.

Then, almost immediately, the narrative did a complete 180.

The Raptors scored 36 points in the opening frame, shooting 63 per cent from the field.

They would go on to score 38 points combined over the second and third quarters, shooting 39 per cent the rest of the way.

With only 10 players in uniform after Monday's trade - a couple of them, Austin Daye and Dwight Buycks, hadn't played in nearly two weeks - the depleted Raptors were exposed by the Spurs, a well-oiled machine aided by one of the best second units in the association.

Toronto's newcomers - Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes - were not available and Tyler Hansbrough missed his second straight game with a left shoulder sprain.

Through three quarters - before Toronto's reserves padded the score in garbage time - San Antonio's bench held a 40-8 advantage over the Raptors' subs. Despite a strong start for the first unit, which included Terrence Ross making his first start of the season, the Raptors were cooked. And for all the well-deserved criticism of Gay's early-season struggles, his absence meant one less scorer capable of getting hot and bailing them out when things went south in a hurry.

"I was really happy and proud how our guys executed in the first quarter, kind of a carry-over from the LA game," said Casey, his team coming off an impressive wire-to-wire victory over the Lakers, using only eight players on Sunday.

"I thought all of our starters were heavy legged because they played big minutes [tonight], they played big minutes in LA."

That seemed to be the case for Valanciunas, who scored 10 points going a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the first quarter before hitting just one of his three attempts and scoring four points over the remainder of the game.

"It is what it is. It's a business," said Kyle Lowry, a popular phrase in the Raptors locker room Tuesday. "We were down a couple guys and we have a couple guys coming in. You can make all the excuses but I don't want to make any excuses. We just lost tonight."

For the second straight contest, sans Gay, there was a more cohesive flow to the team's offence. With 23 on the night - nine coming in the first quarter - the Raptors reached the 20-assist benchmark for the first time in seven games and only the fourth time in 20 games to begin the season.

"I did like the ball movement," Casey said. "I'm really going on the first quarter when we were fresh, humming and in sync more, so to speak."

As per usual, the drop-off was most significant when Lowry went to the bench. Julyan Stone had a quiet night as the primary backup playing less than four minutes before exiting with a foot injury and Dwight Buycks took over in the second half. The addition of Vasquez, a clear upgrade as the backup point guard, will assure the team gets 48 minutes of above average play from the position.

"He fits in really well," Casey said of Vasquez, indicating the Venezuelan guard could even be paired with Lowry in the backcourt on occasion. "I think he fits. He's a pick-and-roll player. I envision him being a plus for us going forward, not only this year but in the future."

Reinforcements on the way

Salmons, Patterson and Hayes arrived in Toronto Tuesday evening and are scheduled for mandatory physicals Wednesday morning. The team hopes all three will have passed their medical exams in time to participate in practice later in the day.

Vasquez is in New York getting his visa sorted out and won't be available to practice in Toronto until Thursday, at the earliest.

All four are expected to be in uniform and play for their new team on Friday when the Raptors host the 76ers.

Hansbrough is still considered day-to-day nursing his shoulder injury but his absence isn't expected to be a lengthy one.

"I think once the pain goes does I'll get my flexibility back a little bit," he said Sunday in LA. "Flexibility isn't there because of the pain but once I get that back I should be fine."

Starting Ross

After Landry Fields shot 0-of-6 stepping into Gay's vacant starting small forward slot against the Lakers Sunday, Casey gave Ross his first start of the season and third of his career on Tuesday.

The sophomore guard got off to a strong start, knocking down a couple early three-pointers but seemed to drift in and out later in the game. On the night, Ross scored 14 points hitting four - all threes - of 13 shots and committing five turnovers.

"He's a young kid but that's the only way he's going to learn," Casey said of the 22-year-old. "I thought he did some good things, made some big shots when the ball swung around in rotation but again, you've got to be consistent and sustain it."

Casey would not commit to Ross as the team's permanent starter at the position moving forward.

"We'll see," he cautioned. "I talked to him before the game and let him know this is an opportunity, not [a] given. You've got to continue to produce and cut down on the mistakes to earn it, to keep it. We'll just see where that goes, I'm not sure yet."

Lowry battles (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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