Killer instinct needed

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

It was a bad sign, but perhaps it was more a sign of the times with the Raptors than anything else.

Wednesday night began a stretch of three games against three opponents with nothing to play for except padding individual stats.

For the Raptors, Wednesday night amounted to the beginning of what shaped up to be a time of locking down defensively and getting touches offensively.

Alarmingly, the Raptors failed to impose their will when the circumstances demanded it against a vulnerable and beaten foe.

Shockingly, when the situation called for quick close-outs and movement on offence, instead open looks were yielded and the ball got stagnant. For stretches on Wednesday night, it was difficult to discern which team had more at stake.

Credit the visiting L.A. Clippers, who couldn’t make shots a night earlier in a blowout loss in Milwaukee and who didn’t arrive into Toronto until 2 a.m.

They were worthy of praise because the Clippers were playing hard, were denying penetration and were knocking down shots when looks were presented.

There was resistance when many thought the Clippers would capitulate.

The word urgency has been tossed around more times than Andrea Bargnani heaves perimeter shots.

No playoff spot has been assured, but it’s incumbent on the Raptors to bring a mentality to each tip and on each possession as though it is the post-season.

Maybe it simply isn’t in them to play with that necessary urgency and desperation required at this time of the season.

Maybe when Bryan Colangelo begins what is now becoming an annual cleansing of his roster more of an onus will be placed on mental toughness.

Maybe when all is said and done with these Raptors, Colangelo will conclude that more has to be demanded of his players.

If only the Raptors played with the passion Colangelo has exuded during the team’s recent free-fall.

Here’s a guy who is supremely competitive and must be privately fuming at how the Raptors go about their business.

Three heartbreaking losses was followed by a gritty win on Monday in Charlotte, where the Raptors weren’t exactly clinical in their late-game execution but they made plays nonetheless and showed character.

They had to show more against the Clippers, but they came out for the opening tap as though the outcome was already guaranteed.

Playing to the level of their opponent is not a good sign, a habit that has surfaced on previous occasions.

It can’t be accepted and nor can it be tolerated, not when there’s so much at stake.

A win, as coaches and players are used to saying, is acceptable by any means.

The win did give the Raptors a two-game cushion on the Bulls, an edge that is more like three games given the tie-breaker in Toronto’s favour.

In a market desperate for playoff action, fans will embrace the post-season, even it means a meeting with Cleveland and an inevitable one and done scenario.

What will make losing tolerable will be measured in the Raptors’ competitive spirit, assuming they make the playoffs.

That’s why Wednesday marked an important beginning, a time when the Raptors should have been more serious in their approach, especially defensively.

You just knew the Clippers couldn’t sustain their level of play, that shots weren’t going to drop and making stops was going to be difficult.

Rasual Butler was able to make two straight three-pointers from the exact same spot on the floor when no Raptor bothered to put a hand in his face as L.A. would begin the second quarter on a 9-2 run.

Teams pining for the post-season and looking to make that playoff push don’t take teams for granted, they don’t take possessions off and they don’t wait until the second half to seize control.

It’s officially April and the playoffs have unofficially begun for the Raptors.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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