TORONTO — DeMarre Carroll sat at his locker room stall, on his padded chair, looking at the floor. He was draped in a towel, despondent about the Raptors’ most recent loss, one of their most disappointing defeats of the year. There was more to the vacant look than that, though.
Carroll has been battling injuries — first plantar fasciitis, and now a knee contusion that he cannot quite kick — all season long. That injury limited him to just 24 minutes, while Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, exactly the type of physical wing player that Carroll is supposed to be defending, went off against the Raptors. In one of the most memorable performances against the Raptors in franchise history, Butler broke Michael Jordan’s Bulls record by scoring 40 points in the second half, 42 in total in Chicago’s 115-113 win. Had Carroll been healthy and capable of playing 30 or more minutes, that number probably would not have been quite so high.
“Like I said, I don’t want to speak too much,” Carroll said, a not-so-subtle hint that he did not want to reveal precisely how much his injury is limiting him. “I’m not all of the way there. He did what he’s supposed to do when a guy’s not all of the way there. I’ll see him again. It’s no big deal.”
A few feet away from Carroll, DeMar DeRozan looked nearly as glum, maybe even setting a new mark for how long it can possibly take to put on a pair of socks. His mind was clearly elsewhere. Understandably, it was hard to believe what just happened.
“It was amazing,” DeRozan said. “Give him credit (when) you score 40 points in the half.”
Of everything that happened in Sunday’s wild game, Butler’s explosion was probably the easiest to live with from a Raptors perspective. Sure, there were some adjustments that could have been made, and that they were not might have swung the game. Given Carroll’s restrictions, Raptors coach Dwane Casey could have used James Johnson, bulkier and stronger than most of Toronto’s non-Carroll options, instead of leaving him on the bench. Alternatively, the Raptors could have double teamed Butler whenever he touched the ball, forcing him to pass, although that was awfully tough with the collection of capable shooters that were on the floor with Butler.
However, most of this is correctable, and it is just one loss, no matter how dispiriting. A fully healthy Carroll would help on that front, as would Butler playing at a level short of superhuman. There is no reason that the Raptors could not be prepared, and well equipped to deal with such a situation again the next time it arises.
“He was getting a lot of picks,” Carroll said, analyzing how Butler found his success. “When he is going downhill, he’s a very physical player. He’s kind of like Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry likes to be physical. He likes to go downhill and throw his body into you and score. And Jimmy, he’s just like that. He’s 6-5 or whatever, 220 or 230 (pounds), and he does the same thing that Kyle does. I think we should have done a better job of making him shoot more jumpers, maybe going up on him underneath the screen.”
Counter-intuitively, the bigger issues might have happened on the other end of the floor — strange given that the Bulls scored 67 points in the second half, and the Raptors scored 113 in total. It was just that when the game got tight down the stretch, the Raptors reverted to a worryingly familiar form.
The Raptors’ last four possessions featured no passes, beyond inbound passes and some looks to simply get Lowry or DeRozan the ball, of any consequence. With 41 seconds left, Lowry hit a nearly impossible fade-away jumper off of no movement. After Butler hit the decisive three-pointer with 31 seconds left — a shot Carroll could only laugh at when asked about it — Lowry was given the ball in the backcourt, raced toward the rim and took a heavily contested layup that hit the side of the backboard. On the next possession, DeRozan forayed into the paint and missed another floater. And finally, DeRozan missed a three-pointer as time expired, although the clock dictated that decision.
The second and third of those plays could have yielded fouls, but they so often do not in crunch time. There was precious little methodology in those final moments, and that is disturbing, given the way their offence fell apart in the post-season last year.
“Officials are not going to call anything at that time of the game, and I don’t know if we created enough contact to expect the foul,” Raptors coach Casey said.
“We were just trying to be aggressive, at least try to get to the basket and get a call, but we didn’t get,” DeRozan added.
Butler will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so: It was an epic performance. However, almost by definition, it was something that could not be repeated. If you were looking for a reason why a bunch of fans and observers will be skeptical about the Raptors until the playoffs, they provided it on Sunday night, and they did so when they had the ball.