Raptors don’t know why, but traditionally play better when backs against wall

Raptors need to end slow-start tendency

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors led the NBA this season in comeback victories, but nobody has an explanation for the team’s slow starts.

“You ever have an old (Buick) Regal?” DeMar DeRozan said. “You’ve got to start it up and sit there for a while before you pull off and you go on a little road trip.

“But once you get going, your car feels like a 2016 Lexus or something. I think that’s just kind of our problem. I don’t know. It’s something that we have to be better with.”

Trailing 1-0 to Milwaukee in their best-of-seven opening-round playoff series, the Raptors will look to hit the ground running when they host the Bucks in what DeRozan called a must-win Game 2 on Tuesday.

(DeRozan never owned a Regal. “Hell no,” he laughed, when queried. “But I knew people who did.”)

Slow starts was a theme of Monday’s post-practice session with the media. Whether it’s rebounding from a loss or rallying from a slow start, the Raptors have traditionally been good when playing from behind.

“That’s our biggest mystery,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey, who turned 60 on Monday. “I’ve always said it’s a hard way to live.

“I like it because it means we do have fight, but let’s start that fight in the first quarter. We’ve had it in stretches but we’ve lived by being down and coming back. (But) it’s taxing. It’s hard on your body. It’s not a great way to live, to be always fighting back, scratching, coming back.”

Casey said the team has studied its first-quarter conundrum. The Raptors have looked at the stats, the rotations, the match-ups, the various groups of players on the court.

“We’ve done everything and there is no consistent statistic or number or group,” Casey said. “It’s just kind of been our DNA. Slow starts and hard finishes.”

Casey compared it to his days as an assistant in Dallas, where Josh Howard was one of the Mavericks’ best first-quarter players and Dirk Nowitzki was a notoriously slow starter.

“Some guys it takes a little longer to get their bones going and bodies moving,” he said. “It’s fortunate and unfortunate.

“It’s fortunate that we do have the grit and the grime to fight back, but sometimes it jumps up and bites you in the behind.”

DeRozan, who led Toronto with 27 points — 12 more points than he’d ever scored in an opening game of the first round — said the Raptors need to play with a sense of urgency they didn’t show in Saturday’s stunning 97-83 loss.

“It’s something that we can’t feel our way into,” DeRozan said. “We can’t wait for a team to hit us, whatever it may be.

“We’ve got to have an automatic start and get out as soon as that ball goes up.”

Serge Ibaka, who was acquired by the Raptors in a deal with Orlando at February’s trade deadline, has seen the tendency for slow starts in the two months he’s been in Toronto. He also has no answer. 

“Honestly, I don’t know why because what I saw from guys, every time before the game, everybody is ready, everybody is motivated,” said Ibaka. “Like even today, people are here earlier, working hard to get ready for tomorrow and then when it comes to the game, those kind of things happen.

“Even for myself, sometimes I ask myself why.”

Ibaka, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in Game 1, sat out Monday’s practice with a sprained ankle suffered Saturday night. But he said he should be good to go Tuesday.

DeRozan was also asked about his back-court mate Kyle Lowry, who had just four points on Saturday. Lowry responded the next morning by saying he’ll have to be more aggressive and “force more shots” come Game 2.

“It’s just him figuring it out,” DeRozan said. “One thing, Kyle’s mind works at 1,000 miles per hour.

“Once he settles down, he’s going to figure it out. . . when to make the right pass, when to take the shot, when to be aggressive. Whether it’s in spurts, being aggressive scoring, or whether it’s in spurts getting everybody involved, he going to mellow down, calm down, and get that part of it together.”

The series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 on Saturday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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