Raptors Fall Short of Rockets, 112-109

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DAVID J. PHILLIP / THE ASSOCIATED PRESSThe Houston Rockets were desperate for a win. Clinging to the 8th seed in the western conference, and coming off of three straight losses, J.B. Bickerstaff’s dysfunctional unit was in danger of entering a freefall that could have prematurely ended their season.
After a trip to the western conference finals last year, the Rockets have been somewhat terrible this year, with inconsistent defense, turnover-prone offense and a disgruntled Dwight Howard who’s scoring has dropped to the lowest it’s been since his second year in the league. And with the Raptors coming into town, the Rockets saw an opportunity to get back on track.
The Raptors played a mostly terrible first quarter, but responded with a strong second quarter fuelled by Norman Powell and Luis Scola’s 3 point barrage to close the quarter on a 14-0 run and go up 4. The second half was controlled by Houston as they limited the Raptors’ offense significantly holding both Lowry and DeRozan to under 20 points each and 31% shooting combined. Lowry, who struggled mightily going 4/19 from the field, showed clear signs of frustration throughout the night. His backcourt running mate was even worse at times, but really, you couldn’t blame either of these guys as the whistles were unpredictable, and somewhat unfair down the stretch. DeMar, Bismack, and Lowry all got clearly hacked throughout the contest and the Raptors continued to miss those calls. Both DeMar and Kyle (on his 30th birthday, last night) were ejected within just 2 minutes of each other following some weird officiating by the referees.

Lowry, who seemed to be walking away after his conversation with the official and without anything left to say, was promptly tossed after Beverley’s comments to the official, presumably saying that Lowry should be tossed. Fouls certainly went Houston’s way for the majority of the night, as the Raps took 26 free throws as compared to the Rockets 35. However, Toronto still scored more from the line dropping 18, as Houston’s bigs (Howard and Capela) were a major writeoff from the charity stripe leading to 11 of the 19 free-throw misses for Houston.
It was mostly the stifling defense of Patrick Beverley that was responsible for Lowry’s awful night, getting into his grill, talking trash, and making Lowry work at the defensive end constantly moving and draining open 3’s (Beverley went 5-7 from deep). This was no different than the meeting a few weeks ago at the ACC, when Beverley’s tough defense confused Lowry and Joseph, especially in the second half of that ball game. And tonight, when it counted, Lowry time seemed to have been stopped by Patrick Beverley. About as annoying as it gets for Raptors fans.
Notables of the Night
– Defensive slippage: While the Raptors attacked on defense in the second and third quarters holding Houston to 25 points in each of those frames and 16 turnovers overall, Houston still shot 52% from the field and over 54% from 3, thanks to lights out shooting from Beverley and Harden who combined for 8 of the Rockets 12 3’s. Houston turned the ball over, but when they could get into their offense, especially in the second, they shot at a tremendously high clip.
– Offensive lulls: While it may seem silly that we’re pointing out the Raptors’ struggles both offensively and defensively, last night’s loss was frustrating for both reasons. As a team that we’ve come to expect as a top-10 team both offensively and defensively, a consistent effort on both ends of the floor is required for 48 minutes, and generally leads to wins for this team. The offense was simply not clicking well enough for Toronto last night, shooting 42% from the field and from 3. The only reason the Rockets didn’t blow the Raptors out of the water with those numbers was because of their turnovers, many of which were of the unforced variety (the Rockets tend to turn the ball over, and average over 16 a game). Missing 8 free throws (6 from your top 2 guys) doesn’t help either.
– Norman Powell: Not that Powell necessarily had the best shooting game (5/13 from the field), but the UCLA rookie has shown a clear ability to play in the NBA and seems to have found his footing in keeping himself aware and active on the court at all times. The nerves seem to have reduced a tad, and Powell has been able to capitalize on his looks from deep as well (3-6 from 3 last night). If he keeps this up, he could find some minutes even after DeMarre Carroll’s return.
– James Harden: Harden was simply magnificent for the Rockets with trouble-double numbers of 32 points on 11/22 shooting, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Harden was simply not going to be denied going 7/10 from the free throw line off of attacking movements to the basket, as well as 3-7 from 3 when the defense laid back just a tad. The Raps should be counting their blessings they don’t have to face this Houston team in the first round.
Lookahead
The Raps play tonight in New Orleans to wrap up this mini 3-game road trip. Anthony Davis has been shut down for the season after recently undergoing knee surgery, meaning the Pelicans will add yet another to their list of injuries, that seems to be growing by the day. Davis joins Jrue Holiday, Ryan  Anderson, Norris Cole, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Quicky Pondexter, and Bryce Dejean-Jones on the injury list for New Orleans that has clearly given up their season and is looking toward next year. It’s a dangerous team nonetheless for the Raps who need at least 1 win on these 3 road games to feel good about themselves going back home to take on OKC on Tuesday. Tip time tonight is 7 pm.
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