Who's going to step up for the Raps?

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:33 PM ET

OAKLAND — As the Raptors made their way to the Bay Area following yet another game that got away in the late minutes, the need for someone to step up in crunch time grows with each bitter setback.

The inroads made by Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan notwithstanding, eventually one of these two has to make plays that win games.

Moments that presented themselves in Phoenix late Wednesday night help define a player, they provide glimpses and unfortunately expose deficiencies.

As the franchise moved forward in the wake of Chris Bosh’s departure, it was felt more players would get more touches in late-game sequences, a time when opponents couldn’t just lock in on one player when a variety of options would be considered.

But as Toronto’s lost season draws to its merciful end, conclusions can be drawn and it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture.

What must be understood is that both Bargnani and DeRozan are merely pieces, best suited as second and third options.

And unless the Raptors can somehow acquire a bona fide go-to guy this off-season, there will be more crushing nights and more reflection on missed opportunities.

In the NBA, at the end of the day it’s a game of stars.

At the end of games, stars are asked to make plays.

What the Raptors don’t have is a star.

At times, players have stepped up and games have been more winnable, but all one requires is a glance at the standings and there in black and white for all to see is Toronto’s 20-51 record and third straight season without a playoff appearance, a fate that became official when Indiana beat Charlotte well before the Suns subdued the Raptors 114-106.

“This league has been about your main guys making plays down the stretch,” said head coach Jay Triano, who has somehow managed to keep his sanity. “I think that’s what has to happen.

“Yes, you have to execute. And yes, you have to be sound defensively, but it takes star players to step up and make good plays.”

In Phoenix, Bargnani would lead all scorers with 27, but when it mattered most he was able to get off five shots in the fourth quarter, making just one.

Bargnani played eight fourth-quarter minutes, but didn’t take a shot until four minutes remained.

He wasn’t even a factor on the glass, getting outrebounded by Steve Nash, who produced only one board.

When Phoenix went into a two-three zone, DeRozan tried to attack it by going strong to the rim, only to have his attempt rejected by Marcin Gortat.

When the Raptors needed their two best players to step up, neither could as Bargnani and DeRozan went a combined 3-of-10 from the field in the final period.

The Suns, who lost a heartbreaking triple-overtime thriller to the Lakers in L.A. the night before, would finish off the Raptors on a 17-3 run.

The need for a legitimate go-to guy is as obvious as the need for the Raptors to finish games off.

What was once again exposed in Phoenix was Toronto’s lack of basketball IQ, which has reared its ugly head far too often this season.

Energy-wise, there was a lot more in the tank that in the Mile High meltdown on Monday that came in the wake of Sunday’s unlikely win in Oklahoma City.

You admire Amir Johnson’s work ethic, but you question why he’d even attempt a turnaround jumper.

James Johnson can be a presence on defence when blow-bys aren’t allowed, but he shouldn’t be taking step-back jumpers until he develops a consistent stroke.

Toronto’s inexperience led to many three-point looks when players got caught inside trying to help when closing out on shooters was the right play.

Even when they made a hustle play, such as retrieving a loose ball, they threw it into their side of half court, which led to Phoenix baskets.

“What is that?” Triano asked. “You can’t say it’s a bad play because you’re chasing after a loose ball. It’s a good hustle play, but experience says don’t throw it in the backcourt.

“Find one of your teammates. Don’t save a ball when you don’t know where it’s going. The energy and effort were there, but the basketball smarts has to keep improving.”

At the end of the day, it’s one of many areas that require improvement.


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