Taking a break from my long awaited second part of my series on Bryan Colangelo’s three major flaws (it’s coming very soon- be patient), I wanted to look at the Raptors struggles to close out games. One game after seemingly getting the monkey off their back with the first game winning buzzer beater by a Raptor since T.J. Ford hit one back in 2006, Kyrie Irving shoves a dagger in the hearts of the Raptors and their fans by hitting a come from behind game winning three at the end of a game that the Raptors lead most of the way.
It’s no surprise that the Raptors have lost a lot of close games this year. And had trouble keeping leads. There are some that have taken it as a positive sign that the Raptors have been even in all those games, even going as far as to say that the Raptors record would be much different had some of those heartbreakers turned out differently. That’s definitely true.
And one could argue the fact that with the Raptors being in so many close games as a sign that the team is actually fairly close to being that playoff team Bryan Colangelo seemed to think they were.
The problem with that theory is that it doesn’t take into account that one of the main differences between good teams and bad teams in the NBA is how they execute in the last few minutes of games. And there is one main reason why good teams execute and bad teams don’t. And that’s because good teams have players that can do it and the bad teams don’t.
Any player can make a big shot or big play once in a while. DeMar DeRozan, after an NBA career of poor play in the clutch, hits a gamewinner. There are fewer players that can do it consistently. Robert Horry made a career and won seven Championship rings based on the fact that he would come up big when it counted.
The thing about Horry is, while he did come up big in clutch moments, it was very rarely the case that he was given the ball and asked to create something out of nothing when the entire defense is keyed to stop you.
In the game against Cleveland, every Raptor player knew it was Kyrie Irving that was going to create the last play. Whether he drove, dished or shot, you knew he was going to be the one responsible for giving the Cavs the chance to win. The fact that he could win the game despite everyone knowing it was going to be him is one of the things that makes him an elite player.
The Raptors simply don’t have a player like that. DeRozan did it against Orlando, but anyone who has watched the Raptors, over the last four year, knows that was really an anomaly.
Alan Anderson has come up big in clutch situations before, but he simply doesn’t have the talent to be able to be asked to put the team on his back in the closing moments, as we saw in overtime against the Miami Heat.
Kyle Lowry is the Raptor who can best create his own shot, and is probably wants the ball the most at the end of a close game, and wouldn’t think twice about hoisting up a game winning three like the one Irving hit against the Raptors. The problem with Lowry is that his decision making is lacking, especially late in games, when he’ll hoist up bad shots and try to do too much. Ironically, that attitude is one of the things that made Bryan Colangelo want to trade for Lowry. He wanted a PG with guts and tenacity. Unfortunately those same qualities can have a downside.
Lowry is a good player. Sometimes he can be a very good player. Unfortunately, he’s not an elite player, and sometimes he looks like he plays with the belief he is.
What I’m saying is that the reason the Raptors lose so many close games and have trouble when it counts is pretty simple. And while better coaching, at the end of games, and more experience would definitely help, it isn’t going to ultimately solve the problem and turn the Raptors from a bad team into a good team.
Only one thing will do that. And it’s the one thing the Raptors don’t have.