The Toronto Raptors’ Achilles heel so far this season has been their inability to play consistently for 48 minutes.
Toronto was an impressive 11-6 in January but their schedule is littered with examples of the team not playing consistently for four quarters.
Against the Brooklyn Nets they nearly choked away a nine point lead late in the fourth quarter after letting the Nets go on a 12-2 run. It took a last second steal and bucket by Patrick Patterson to steal a win back from the clutches of the Nets.
Another big collapse came against Los Angeles last weekend when they raced out to a 50-31 lead only to see it evaporate and the game end in a tough loss.
There were games against Dallas (15 points) and Charlotte (11 points) where anemic first quarters created huge deficits that were too tough to climb out of. They were lucky to steal a win against Dallas but the hole they dug against Charlotte was too large to overcome.
If that trend continues it will result in the team enduring some painful growing pains and probably a quick and embarrassing ouster from the playoffs.
“It’s difficult because the only way you learn is through experience,” Casey admitted to me before the game against Orlando. “I can threaten them but I can’t hit them. Guys just need to learn through experience.
“Again, we are doing much better. Our starts have been fantastic. I thought our start against Brooklyn was fantastic and the couple of starts before that game had been good. We’ve had that focus so we just don’t want to let it creep up again.”
Toronto started the game against Orlando perfectly as they raced to a 19-9 lead before Orlando called timeout. They were swinging the ball to open teammates, hitting open looks and forcing Orlando into bad shots. The only time they let up was in the third quarter when Orlando crept to within eight points at 61-53. Toronto was quick to squash that rally and coast to an easy win.
In the first half against Denver this weekend neither team wanted to play defense and it resulted in a high scoring first half. Toronto came out inspired in the third quarter and applied defensive pressure which resulted in a 26-17 advantage in the quarter.
The fourth quarter started out strong only to see Toronto unable to make a field goal for six minutes and barely put the ball in the basket over the last seven minutes of play. They limped to the end of the game – fatigue from playing in Denver? – and only scored 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Playing against a talented Portland Trail Blazers squad this weekend they dug themselves into too deep of a hole so that a fun fourth quarter rally couldn’t help them steal a road win.
Toronto shouldn’t think they are good enough to east into a road game (Portland jumped out to a 35-19 advantage) and then steal a road win against one of the top teams in the NBA.
Tired legs from a game in Denver the night before isn’t a valid excuse either.
Against playoff caliber teams Toronto can’t coast for a quarter or start games slowly. If they do, they will be quickly ushered out of the playoffs in April.