Raptors lose a heartbreaker

Toronto Raptors' Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa look dejected after losing to the Utah Jazz....

Toronto Raptors' Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa look dejected after losing to the Utah Jazz. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:23 PM ET

TORONTO - They saved the best until the very end, the game being decided at the buzzer.

And when it sounded, after the officials huddled to review the play, the Jazz had staged a comeback that shouldn’t have been produced had the Raptors been more judicious with the ball and had they played more attention on defence.

Entertainment wise, it didn’t get any better as the end was dripping with suspense, the teams exchanging clutch three-balls until Al Jefferson’s put-back on a driving Devin Harris would seal the deal, sending the visiting Jazz to its 96-94 win.

At one point in the final quarter, the Raptors trailed by as many 14 points.

But when Utah went with a zone following a timeout, the Raptors simply didn’t know how to attack, how to move the ball and more importantly how to keep possession.

This loss will hurt and it should hurt because the Raptors lost this one as much as Utah won it.

DeMar DeRozan had to work hard, too hard actually, to get his 17 points when it was time for DeRozan to step up for ailing Andrea Bargnani.

A costly DeRozan turnover loomed large, but it was somewhat compensated when Leandro Barbosa drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 94-94.

But Toronto went 1-of-11 when Utah went with a zone and Jefferson’s game-high 34 points were huge.

Depleted and thin well before the opening tip, the Raptors roster became even more depleted and thinner when Amir Johnson turned an ankle in the opening quarter.

Johnson was taken to the locker room and would never return, his status for Friday’s visit by the Indiana Pacers likely to be updated on Thursday.

Johnson is as tough as they come, a player who has a habit of bouncing back from any injury, which speaks to how tender the ankle must have felt after Johnson landed awkwardly while attacking the rim to retrieve an errant shot.

Johnson’s namesake, James Johnson, who has been given extended minutes as Toronto’s starting small forward, didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, either, picking up quick fouls or providing little resistance in containing C.J. Miles, who moved very well away from the ball.

With no Bargnani and no Alexis Ajinca and no Amir Johnson, the Raptors had no choice but to trot out some rather unorthodox looks.

In one stretch, Reggie Evans, who hadn’t played in more than three months, was on the court with Julian Wright, Sonny Weems, Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless.

Give credit to the Raptors for at least playing with energy, even when some questionable calls went against them or when some questionable decision making at both ends of the floor worked against them.

Utah wasn’t at full strength, forced to start rookie Jeremy Evans at power forward in the wake of injuries to Paul Millsap (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back).

Ronnie Price (toe) was inactive, while Francisco Elson (ankle) and Mehmet Okur (back) continue to nurse ailments.

At least the game’s pace was quick in light of so many undersized bigs forced to play out of position, helping create some moments of competitive play.

But no one should ever confuse these teams as playoff worthy because they are not.

For the Raptors, Wednesday night was their first game back following a back-to-back set against New Jersey in London, England.

For Utah, it was the Jazz’s first game since a Monday meltdown in Manhattan against the Knicks, who torched their visitors by scoring 40 first-quarter points.

As is the case when two bad teams meet, it comes down to limiting turnovers and making the very best of each possession.

That’s why it was inexcusable for Bayless to foul Harris just as the first half buzzer was about to expire, why Evans shouldn’t have attempted a bounce pass to Davis when the spacing was so poor and why Calderon shouldn’t have bothered to post up Harris, a sequence that led to an offensive foul.

True to his word, head coach Jay Triano continues to reward good play with minutes.

Bayless’ braincramp notwithstanding, it was the first-year Raptors point guard, playing a few possessions with Calderon, who would ignite the Raptors in the third quarter with his defence, fearlessness and leadership.

Toronto’s 2-3 zone disrupted the Jazz, who would trail 78-70 going into the final quarter.


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