That’s 49 points in 75 minutes for Rudy Gay. A win and a loss against two of the NBA’s marquee clubs and a sense that one of the difficulties folks are having in analyzing his acquisition is it’s neither specifically for the present or the future. It’s both.
The immediate downside is that the Toronto Raptors have given Kyle Lowry the keys to the offence and that does not inspire confidence. Not yet, at least. The Miami Heat would have beaten the Raptors anyhow Sunday without Lowry’s ill-conceived pass with 2:25 left and the Raptors losing by seven – thrown from the far side of the court to nobody in particular except LeBron James, whose driving dunk made it 92-83 en route to a 100-85 win at the Air Canada Centre – and while it is true that Jose Calderon did not figure in the Raptors future, exiling him to Detroit by way of Memphis has left the Raptors exposed at the point with a game against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. The Raptors are on the extreme fringes of playoff consideration – equidistant between last place and eighth – and the Celtics currently hold down the last playoff spot with seven more wins.
Playing without Landry Fields, whose back spasms required a hospital visit, the Raptors cause was not helped when Lowry and Amir Johnson found themselves in foul trouble – Johnson’s third came with 58 seconds left in the first half, Lowry picked up two (including his fourth) within a 57-second span less than four minutes into the second half. Gay finished with 29 points on 11-for-23 from the field and DeMar DeRozan had 27 points, including 14-for-14 from the line. “We have to play a near-perfect game, 90 to 95 per cent, to play against them,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “I thought we did that until we got into foul trouble.”
Gay is a wonderful athletic talent who played with one of the NBA’s best defensive outfits in Memphis but there remain questions about whether he and Lowry on the court at the same time can give Casey the type of defence he fancies. The Raptors had no answer for James/Chris Bosh/Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter, and Casey was not happy with his team’s defensive rotation. Bosh had 13 fourth-quarter points in finishing with 28 while James had nine of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter and played the role of facilitator as much as scorer. He also had some nice words for the new-look Raptors. “He’s another athletic wing,” James said. “They put a lot of pressure on your defence when they’re in attack mode.”
Eleven-year veteran Shane Battier viewed it a little differently. He said the addition of Gay gave the Raptors a player who can “make and take a tough shot.” Do not under-estimate athleticism, he added. “You need togetherness and chemistry – that’s all good stuff,” Battier said. “But it’s talent that makes a big winner.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whom was guaranteed the head-coaching job for the NBA’s Eastern Conference all-stars with the win, will probably get a nice text message from Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo for this assessment: “I’ll tell you what: they’ve done a nice job with this team,” said Spoelstra. “They’ve built an identity. They have a good, young core built for the future but also the time could be now. They still have plenty of time to put it together. What they do is pressure you with that athleticism. We don’t face many teams that can match us athletically and, arguably, beat us at times at certain positions.
“It’s not only those two [DeRozan and Gay]. They could field their own roster of dunk participants. But they’re players as well, not just athletes.”
Establishing an identity seems little comfort in a season that was supposed to be about making the playoffs. But let’s see what Colangelo’s follow-up act is heading into the trade deadline. Can he once again service both the present and future, and will that be enough to save his job?