The Tpronto Raptors haven’t made life easy for themselves, showing a nasty habit of falling behind, unable to summon the necessary defensive edge, but seemingly able to step up when it matters most.
Once again, the Raptors were forced to overcome a half-time disadvantage, once again were able to dig themselves out of the hole by playing just enough defence and getting timely shotmaking from Kyle Lowry.
The Raptors would defeat the Brooklyn Nets, 116-112, but this was not pretty and head coach Dwane Casey pulled no punches when he addressed the media post-game.
“We were not sharp whatsoever,” began Casey, whose team improved to 54-19. “We didn’t deserve to win that game. We found a way down the stretch. That’s not playoff basketball, that’s not winning basketball. So many mental mistakes. We’re like in a fog.
“If we’re serious about winning, we’ll need to get some focus with everybody, one through 15.”
For a variety of reasons, the focus has been lacking.
The NBA is a grind, the marathon season taking a toll and the Raptors have played a lot over the past three weeks.
That’s no excuse for the many mental breakdowns that took place.
Casey is right when he talks about focus and how being locked in from the opening tap is what is required come playoff time.
No one can get inside the players’ heads, but boredom does settle in when you’re basically waiting for the playoffs to begin.
Maybe there is a mental switch that will go off, one day, or maybe the Raptors will have more games such as Friday when they trail at halftime and are forced to come back from a deficit that went as high as 14 points.
Much like Tuesday’s game in Orlando, the Raptors likely lose Friday if the opponent was better, which isn’t to take away from how the Nets battled.
Brooklyn missed 12 free throws and the Raptors were slightly better, missing eight.
It’s an embarrassment how two professional basketball teams would combine to miss 20 free throws on one night.
In Orlando, Toronto’s defence held the Magic to 10 fourth-quarter points. Against Brooklyn, the defence yielded 21 in the final period.
Lowry needed only 11 shots from the field to pour in a game-high 25 points, one of three Raptors to reach the 20-point plateau.
He was joined by Jonas Valanciunas with 23 and DeMar DeRozan with 21.
Valanciuns and DeRozan combined for six turnovers.
Nothing came easy for the Raptors and that included how the game would end, Toronto turning the ball over in a one-possession game with 31.8 seconds remaining.
The Nets were then called for a five-second violation when they couldn’t inbound the ball.
Brooklyn turned into a foul game and the end took forever to play out.
Casey has often referred to the dog days of the NBA, stretches when focus is an issue.
“You see it all through. I don’t think we’re the only ones, I think you see it throughout the league,” said Casey. “I don’t know if you’re comfortable. Like I’ve said before, there’s probably three times a season that you have the lack of focus or the letdown. For whatever reason, I don’t know.
“Right before Christmas, right before all-star break and right now, where the playoffs are there but they’re not there. You can’t see the end of it but all these games are important if we want to maintain home court and we do.
“Getting that focus is the age-old thing. We went through it in Dallas, we went through it in Seattle, so it’s not anything that’s new to our team. It’s an NBA phenomenon.”
The offensive-minded theme from Wednesday night’s tip in Cleveland carried over into the ACC with the Raptors and Nets shooting the lights out from all areas on the floor in the opening quarter.
Toronto produced 11 assists on 13 makes, while Brooklyn made close to 60 per cent of its shots in leading 32-31.
Even though a lot of shots were being attempted and points were scored in bunches, it was not a particularly compelling game with very little intensity.
The half ended with Brooklyn leading, 64-59.
Brooklyn made close to 57 per cent of its shots.
Veteran C.J. Miles missed his second straight game because of a stomach flu.
The loudest cheers were reserved for Charles Oakley and Kevin Willis, former Raptors who played during an era when the NBA was much tougher and not as perimeter-dominated as it is today.
Both sat courtside and were introduced during a first-half timeout. When the second half began, Oakley and Willis were nowhere to be found.
And no one could blame them.
Casey was asked if his team needed to be taken to the woodshed.
“That doesn’t work with my kids most of the time,” he said. “Again, it’s a teaching moment and our guys are experienced enough. They know.”