Quickley's brilliance not enough as Raptors fight hard but fall to Durant, Phoenix Suns

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The Raptors got burned badly in the Valley of the Sun early, but surprisingly not by Phoenix’s megastars, but rather by the NBA leader in three-point percentage, Grayson Allen. And though Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal eventually heated up too, a short-handed group of Raptors dug deep to hang with a Western Conference power deep into Thursday’s game.

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Though the Suns prevailed 120-113, Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic had to like his team’s performance in the final three quarters of the game (giving up 39 points in the first and Allen’s explosion was not ideal).

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The visitors consistently stayed within single digits, even getting within three points of the Suns before Durant went to work. Immanuel Quickley was spectacular for the Raptors, handing out 18 assists (tied for sixth-most ever by a Raptor), scoring 21 points and coming a rebound shy of a triple-double. Quickley got into the paint at will and got help in the form of 30 from Gary Trent Jr. and 23 from former New York Knicks teammate RJ Barrett. But Durant had 35, Allen 26, Beal 20. The Suns had a significant size advantage and controlled the glass and shot 51.2% from the field.

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Allen was in Larry Bird mode in that first quarter, nailing 7-of-8 treys to begin the game, before the Raptors decided it was probably a good idea to stick tight to a guy shooting 47.1% from beyond the arc who was coming off an eight made treys performance.

Toronto tightened up considerably on Allen the rest of the way, with Quickley turning in probably his best two-way effort as a Raptor, combining an outstanding offensive outing with some stifling defence against Allen following Allen’s initial flurry.

The game marked the start of a four-game road trip for the Raptors, losers of 3-of-4 heading in, including a franchise-worst 41-point loss to New Orleans on Thursday. This one started out way worse than that Pelicans game had, but instead of a blowout, Toronto fought all the way through and restored some pride at least.

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Already missing top player Scottie Barnes, starting centre Jakob Poeltl and reserve Bruce Brown, the Raptors at least got some good news in the availability of young wing Ochai Agbaji, who had been dealing with a sore knee.

Raptors Suns Basketball
Toronto Raptors guard RJ Barrett (9) tries to steal the ball from Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Thursday, March. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Agbaji didn’t do a lot, but the team needed his 24 minutes.

Devin Booker did not play. The star guard sits just behind Durant in scoring and leads the Suns in assists per game.

The fact that Toronto’s most recent opponents New Orleans and Phoenix are barely ahead of the play-in pack speaks to the difference in quality between the Western and Eastern conferences. Either team would be fighting for second in the conference behind Boston if they played in the East.

Phoenix is one of the best shooting teams in the NBA, but also ranks 12th in defensive efficiency this season.

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Durant, Booker and Beal have played together in only 23 games.

Phoenix led 67-53 at the half, but a strong Toronto third quarter made it interesting, with the Suns up by only seven.

Chris Boucher was called on to inject some energy and provided it. You have to give the veteran forward credit for his professionalism. He looked like someone who had been playing a lot, not one benched for nearly every Raptors game in February and March.

Durant played his 30th regular season game against the Raptors. In the previous 29 he’d averaged 26.1 points per game, seventh amongst all players.

Beal sits 15th on that list at 23.1 per game.

The trip continues in Portland on Saturday night. Portland has the NBA’s fifth-worst record, Toronto the league’s seventh-worst. Don’t expect it to be must-see television.


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