Spurs too much for Raptors

Spurs guard Cory Joseph shoots over Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan at the Air Canada Centre in...

Spurs guard Cory Joseph shoots over Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 15, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:03 AM ET

TORONTO - The Raptors must lead the league in close, but no cigar outcomes.

Buzzer-beating losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks were recent examples and Wednesday’s defeat to San Antonio, 113-106, was another air-tight, winnable affair.

Lucky to be down 10 at the half despite allowing the Spurs to shoot 56.8%, Toronto fought back to square the game in the third quarter, before Tony Parker helped the Spurs regain their cushion.

Despite being hounded at times by Anthony Carter, Parker made one tough shot after another and finished with 34 points and 14 assists.

DeMar DeRozan led the charge out of the break, an emphatic reverse dunk highlighting the push to tie.

The Raptors were outworking the Spurs in the third quarter, which doesn’t happen very often.

With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili having off nights, it was left to the sublime Parker to right the Spurs’ ship and he did, bolting into the lane repeatedly as San Antonio built its bulge back up to nine points.

“He’s so slithery and so quick and now he’s gotten a little strength with it,” marvelled head coach Dwane Casey, who said Parker was one of his favourite players.

But again, Toronto rallied, giving the perennial contenders and winners of nine straight all they could handle, particularly DeRozan, who had 29 and Jose Calderon, who ended up with 16.

“We’ve got to compete the way we did in the third quarter for all four quarters and that’s what we’re striving for,” Casey said.

Casey knows what the Raptors are up against and believes the close losses, despite always being considered underdogs, will help the franchise down the line.

“My hat is off to our guys because I think they competed and any basketball person … in seeing who we have in the floor, talked about how we competed (in the past four close losses),” Casey said. “That’s important to me, to the organization going forward. It’s going to help us once we get our program on the right spot. We want to continue this culture of playing hard, competing and putting yourself in position to win. What we have to do is execute.”

That the team usually manages to keep contests close, despite being severely undermanned 90% of the time on the talent and/or depth front says a lot about the job Casey is doing.

M.A.S.H. UNIT

Toronto’s injury situation went from bad to worse pre-game, when it was announced that Linas Kleiza would not play, due to the aftermath of a collision suffered against the Knicks.

Kleiza hurt his ankle, the major source of discomfort, as well as his non-surgically repaired knee. Jerryd Bayless also was unable to return from his ankle problem.

“If anybody’s ready for a 10-day, we’re looking for bodies,” joked Casey to a group of reporters pre-game.

“I’m not really good at math … but if you take out (Andrea) Bargnani, Bayless and Kleiza’s offensive punch, it really takes a lot of what little scoring punch we do have. Somebody’s got to step up and take up some of the slack.”

Rasual Butler and Carter, who both gave solid minutes, took Casey’s challenge.

PICK YOUR POISON

Something had to give in order to slow down Parker and it ended up being open shots for Brazilian centre Tiago Splitter.

As Ed Davis hedged to provide resistance to the Frenchman, Splitter repeatedly found himself untouched down low during crucial fourth quarter minutes.

It is pick your poison with the Spurs, and the Raptors were willing to let Splitter, not the Big Three, hurt them … The Spurs hit 23-of-25 from the line, the Raptors 9-of-14 ... Parker is impressed with Jeremy Lin: “You have to respect him by now, he’s been playing good basketball and I’m happy for him,” Parker said. “It’s almost like you want to cheer for him, you want him to make every shot. His story is like a movie.”

JOSEPH COMES HOME

Cory Joseph became the third GTA native to suit up against the Raptors.

He has the right attitude about his spotty playing time so far.

“It’s an adjustment, but I know it’s bigger than me,” said the Pickering native.

“It’s a team thing. Just have to stay ready.”

Joseph checked in late in the first half to a good ovation that was about as loud as the one his friend Tristan Thompson got when he was in town with Cleveland last month.

He played three scoreless minutes.

Parker empathizes with the rookie.

“When you’re a point guard and you have a coach like Pop, you need practice time and you need to know all the plays and right now we never practise, we just rest, play, rest, play,” Parker said. “He’s talented, we just have to be patient with him.”

Sorting through a pile of tickets in the dressing room, Joseph said the last time he played in Canada before heading to prep school in the U.S. was when Pickering Collegiate won OFSAA in 2008.

This scribe covered that game, though the focus clearly was on older brother Devoe (who hit the game-winner in the dying seconds) while the achievement of a tenth grade Cory starting on the provincial champs was mostly overlooked.


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