Even with Andrea Bargnani in the lineup this season, winning basketball games has been an iffy proposition for the Toronto Raptors.
Without him, as was the case Friday night against the Indiana Pacers – fugetaboutit!
With the seven-footer sidelined for goodness knows how long with a strained left calf muscle, the Raptors (4-8) started strong but ultimately faded, allowing the Pacers (8-3) to steal away with a 95-90 victory.
For the Raptors, it was their third consecutive NBA loss.
Although the Raptors led by as many as 16 in the opening half, the score was knotted at 65-65 heading into the final quarter of a sloppy but nevertheless engaging contest at the Air Canada Centre.
It came down to the final few frantic moments where Amir Johnson gave the Raptors hope when he received a kind bounce off the iron for a basket that knotted the score at 90-90 with 32.7 seconds left.
Johnson was fouled by Roy Hibbert on the play but missed his free throw which would have given the Raptors the lead.
The Raptors only made 20 of their 32 free throw attempts in the game.
On their next possession, Indiana’s David West was fouled and he made the first of his two free throws to give the Pacers a one-point advantage.
Although West muffed his second try, Tyler Hansbrough came down with a critical offensive rebound for Indiana and was fouled and he made both free throws to increase Indiana’s lead to 93-90.
Toronto’s chances evaporated when Raptor centre Jamaal Magloire was sent to the line with 13.9 seconds left and he missed both his free throws, including an embarrassing air-ball on his initial attempt.
In Bargnani’s absence the Raptors were counting on DeMar DeRozan to come to life at the offensive end, where he had been a non-factor for Toronto the previous three games.
DeRozan was hot early, soaring for 14 points in the opening quarter where the Raptors took advantage of a surprisingly inept Indiana outfit that connected on just 28.6 per cent (6-of-21) of its shots.
DeRozan cooled off after that, finishing with a game-high 23 points.
The Raptors would extend their lead to as many as 16 points – 40-24 – with less than seven minutes left in the second quarter before the Pacers began to find their footing, forcing turnovers of their own while trimming Toronto’s lead to five by the half.
Indiana managed to come back despite the antics of starting forward Danny Granger, who was clearly put off by his team’s meagre first-half showing.
Granger was already saddled with one technical in the first quarter for arguing a non-call when he went up and blocked a shot delivered by Ed Davis, Bargnani’s replacement in the starting lineup, with less than a minute left in the first half.
Davis was sent sprawling to the floor on the play and Granger then proceeded to stand over the Toronto player, staring defiantly into his face for a couple of seconds.
Granger was handed his second technical for taunting, which meant an automatic ejection.
Before the game the Raptors confirmed that Bargnani, their leading scorer and rebounder who limped out of Wednesday’s game against Sacramento with a strained left calf, would not be able to play.
Although the team is classifying Bargnani’s status as day-to-day it is anticipated he will be sidelined for at least the next couple of games.
“It’s a big loss right now,” Raptors guard Leandro Barbosa said earlier in the day following shoot-around. “He’s been playing like an all-star.”
“Big shoes to fill,” added Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who has also been impressed with Bargnani’s renewed defensive intensity.
Davis wasn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut in place of Bargnani, going 2-for-8 from the floor and finishing with six points while corralling 10 rebounds.
Bargnani is averaging 22.5 points per game through the first three weeks of the abbreviated NBA season, which amounts to roughly 25 per cent of the Raptors offence, and his absence was a factor.