TORONTO - Sports, like life, sometimes just isn’t fair.
The Raptors, minus two starters and a key reserve, dug incredibly deep and overcame some astoundingly suspect work by the officiating staff to throw several huge scares into a quality Utah Jazz team before falling 140-133 in triple overtime on Monday night.
It was one of the more thrilling contests the ACC has seen in recent years and the first triple-OT game for Toronto since 2001. But in the end, it’s a demoralizing loss for the 1-6 team.
The Raptors wasted what arguably was the finest performance of DeMar DeRozan’s career (37 points, eight rebounds, six assists), along with tremendous early work from Andrea Bargnani (though he faded later) and excellent overall efforts from Jose Calderon (20 points, 17 assists) and Amir Johnson (14 rebounds, good defence).
Al Jefferson nailed only the second three-pointer of his career (on 26 attempts) to force overtime, then nailed a tough shot in the post that led to the second and ended up with 24 points and 17 rebounds. The Raptors declined to foul Utah while up three — even though that’s what head coach Dwane Casey wanted them to do — leading to Jefferson’s first shot. Paul Millsap added a trio of dagger threes of his own as Raptors fans were left wondering “why us?” — the same as DeRozan, who said of Jefferson’s three, “Yeah, it WOULD come against us.”
He then added, “it’s definitely tough, especially going into three overtimes where a couple of times we had it ... it’s just frustrating.
“We’ve got to put this game behind us and move on to the next one. It’s tough (though), because everybody in here wants to win.”
Toronto had forced triple OT on a miracle three by John Lucas III, who entered the contest shooting just 8% from the field, but was outscored 15-8 in the decisive third extra frame.
Utah didn’t take its first lead of the contest until the first minute of the first overtime.
Things looked bleak for the Raptors after that, but the team kept pushing and eventually took the lead, when a sneaky Bargnani cut distracted the Jazz and freed up DeRozan for a monster slam.
However, Jefferson responded again with a great move in the post to tie the game and DeRozan could not hit a buzzer-beater, forcing more free time.
Way back in what seemed like the 20th Century, the Raptors looked great on offence early on, Bargnani was locked in, DeRozan was playing with considerable confidence and rookie Jonas Valanciunas was effective.
But there were some missed rotations defensively and Utah was pounding them on the boards, which kept the Jazz in the game.
Both teams were hot from outside, or from everywhere really.
Both teams were over 50% shooting for the first half and the Raptors only missed one of 14 free-throw attempts. Both teams hit half of their threes. None of those numbers were sustainable, except for Utah’s performance from deep, which stayed above 50% for the game.
Bargnani, DeRozan and Valanciunas each cracked double figures in the first half and Linas Kleiza provided the most surprising lift, dropping his first 17 points of the season in the second quarter.
DeRozan kept cooking in the third quarter, keeping the Raptors in front with 12 points.
It was the third time this season Toronto had taken a lead into the fourth quarter and the second time the lead didn’t stick.
Jefferson’s desperation three was the game’s key moment. It came after a Johnson tip-in had restored Toronto’s three-point lead and after Utah had missed a shot. Another offensive board led to the Jefferson shocker, which rattled around — “the ball wanted to tease me a bit before it dropped,” — Jefferson said.
With Johnson and Bargnani playing well and veteran Aaron Gray coming in late, Valanciunas rode the pine for the final three quarters, something Casey said, “you could second-guess, that’s fair.”
With a game in Indiana just hours away, the Raptors were forced to play DeRozan 60 minutes, Bargnani and Calderon nearly 50 apiece.
The referees missed a boatload of calls at both ends, but hurt Toronto more, sending Utah to the line 13 more times and failing to give DeRozan the benefit of the doubt on many drives.
Though Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields and Alan Anderson remained on the sidelines due to injury, awaiting test results, there was good news on Anderson.
Thought to be out for weeks after hurting his ankle against Philadelphia on Saturday, Anderson is feeling a lot better and is now listed as day-to-day.
None are expected to play in Indiana.