Arsenalist

The Toronto Raptors Blog with an Arsenal touch

Posts Tagged ‘andrea bargnani’

Offense chokes in the fourth as Raptors exit NBA playoffs

Posted by Arsenalist on April 29, 2008

Toronto Raptors 92, Orlando Magic 102

As I watched the final two minutes tick away on mute I realized that this was my least favorite Raptors team ever. Yes, even worse than that third year crew that went 16-66. It’s probably because with that team there were no expectations or hype, just a hope to improve and to maybe build something worthwhile. Even as they trudged their way across double digit losing streaks, it was still more enjoyable to watch because they desperately wanted to break out of their losing, they wanted to get to the next level. They knew they had issues and fought hard to overcome them, our pseudo star Damon Stoudamire took every shot in the clutch, he made some and missed many but never shied away from the challenge. He was feisty, fiery and never backed down. Despite the losing, you knew we’d come out and compete, we’d probably lose but you knew we’d be upset about it. You felt an attachment to those guys, with this team, I felt nothing.

The Magic basically won this series by running the same play 250 times – the drive ‘n kick. The actors in the play changed but that was the gist of it. It was with ease that they got into the paint and passed to waiting shooters as we helpless watched them launch uncontested jumpers hoping they’d miss. There was never a defensive adjustment made to remedy this problem, we talked about it in the pre-game and post-game press conferences but the coaches and players were never able to deliver where it mattered the most – on the floor. The success Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglo, Rashard Lewis and even Keyon Dooling had against our perimeter defense was the primary reason we lost. Our late close-outs on corner-snipers Keith Bogans and Maurice Evans were always a result of either late recovery or unnecessary and half-thought double teams.

To make matters worse, it seemed like every time the Magic missed, Dwight Howard got the rebound and slammed one so hard that it made the Raptors shrink. Tonight was a great example – 16 offensive rebounds for the Magic on their way to a resounding 55-37 drubbing. Wow! I never quite understood why we played ‘small ball’, to me that was one of the reasons why we struggled. Rasho Nesterovic is the Raptor most capable of troubling Dwight Howard and was never put to use. Instead we went with the pathetic Bargnani who couldn’t give us anything on either end of the floor, or with Bosh who spent so much energy on defense that his offense was shot. We watched Howard get deep post positioning against Bosh and Bargnani as Rasho simply withered away on the bench, victim of a scheme that only on the surface appears to work.

It took us five games before Dwight Howard picked up five defensive fouls in a game. Before the series began a common fan’s perception was that the Raptors could get Dwight Howard out of the game early by forcing him to defend Bosh or Bargnani who possess better lateral quicks than the Magic beast. That never happened, Bargnani never bothered to take anything other than a 21+ footer and Chris Bosh settled for jumpers too early and too often to bother Howard. The result was that the foul-prone Howard stayed in the game far too long and had a huge impact by crashing the offensive glass, blocking shots, pinning Bosh for low-post scores and drawing doubles that were easy to break. In other words, the underlying theme of the series was the complete domination of Chris Bosh at the hands of Dwight Howard.

The use of the bench was questionable. I’ve already touched on what Rasho could’ve brought us but the two other pieces that were never used were Kris Humphries and Joey Graham. Anthony Parker who had a miserable series couldn’t ever close-out Bogans, Turkoglo or Evans and had trouble staying with Hedo in one-on-one situations. Rashard Lewis broke down Chris Bosh at will and posted up Delfino without breaking a sweat. Yet we never saw Sam Mitchell give the stronger and more athletic Joey Graham a chance against Lewis or Hedo. I’m not saying he would’ve shut them down but there’s no way he could’ve been as bad as Parker or Delfino on the perimeter. At least give him a shot and see what you can get, no?

You can make a case that if Kris Humphries had gotten Andrea Bargnani’s minutes this series would’ve been longer. At least Humphries plays hard, grabs rebounds and can hit a mid-range jumper. Bargnani did nothing, he was about as useless as tits on a nun. With the rebounding differential as bad as it’s been you’d think we’d do what we can to rectify that problem but Sam Mitchell chose to play ‘small ball’ and opted to get out-rebounded in exchange for I don’t even know what. Asking Chris Bosh to defend Dwight Howard over a series might be one of the most ridiculous things Mitchell will ever do. It would’ve been better to waste Primoz Brezec’s 6 fouls before we asked our primary offensive weapon to also guard their best player.

Finally we get to Sam Mitchell who practically handed the Magic a 2-0 series lead by putting out a starting lineup that had NEVER played together and asked the struggling Bargnani to play a position he had NEVER played in his life. A stupider move has never been made and will never be made in the NBA playoffs. Mitchell was unable to tweak the Raptors offense to account for Lewis’ defense on Bosh and wasn’t able to counter the pressure the Magic applied on our point guards. On defense he wasn’t able to devise a plan for Dwight Howard who ate us alive and couldn’t get a lineup out that could neutralize the weakness we were having at the point of attack which resulted in those deadly Magic threes. The Raptors played Game 1 the same way they played Game 5. There wasn’t a thing we did differently. Contrast this to the Magic who made various adjustments, from pressuring Raptor PGs to hard-doubles on Bosh, from fixing their Game 3 pick ‘n roll issues to switching in Game 4, establishing Howard in the post, focusing on Lewis/Hedo driving, PG penetration etc. Whenever they had a problem, they fixed it. The Raptors never bothered, they just hoped the Magic would miss.

There was one play tonight which showed just how unprepared and thoughtless the Raptors defense is. In the third quarter Carlos Delfino doubled Dwight Howard 12ft from the rim only to leave his man Keith Bogans wide open. Howard made an easy pass to Bogans for a three. That play told me that the Raptors have zero idea on how to double team and when to double team – a problem that was obvious in Game 1. What is the need to double team Howard that far out? Absolutely none. It’s sad to see that the Raptors still hadn’t grasped this simple concept this late in the series.

When you suffer a series loss such as this you have to question and evaluate a few things and on the top of the list is Chris Bosh. His late fourth quarter disappearing acts became the norm in the series. A lot of the problems with our clutch offense has to do with dumping the ball to Bosh and 4 guys watching him operate against Howard who forces him to take a low-percentage shot which has zero chance of being rebounded. Even so, its ultimately Bosh’s responsibility to be aggressive and not settle for mid-range jumpers, fadeaways and other such nonsense. The incentive to draw fouls on Howard should be more than enough for Bosh to immediately take Howard to the rim instead of dancing around and stepping back for 16 footers. I’m tired of Chuck and Leo continuing to praise Bosh’s mid-range game which is mediocre at best and far from being reliable. What I’m trying to get at is Bosh was passive in the late fourth quarter and failed to deliver in the clutch. I appreciate his defensive effort but it needed to be said.

Carlos Delfino’s late fourth quarter chuck tonight was equally as bad as his two late chucks in Game 4. When you have no discipline in your offense players feel like its up to them to “make a play” and it just so happened that Carlos felt a calling from God to make it happen. Unfortunately, he failed. TJ Ford tried to take the game over singlehandedly yet again and got suckered into one-on-one play against Jameer Nelson. Nelson wisely took advantage of the roaming Ford and hit his fair share of wide open jumpers – still haven’t figured out what Nelson needs to do for us to finally figure out that he can convert open looks. Calderon was no better in the series, he failed to turn the corner off of screens and never had the opportunity to take it to the rim because of Van Gundy’s middle-heavy defense – aka Howard. His best contribution in the series had to be his outside shooting which is welcome but he’s far more dangerous when he’s a threat to drive – the Magic did a great job of taking that away from him.

Andrea Bargnani is sick. He is allergic to rebounding, if you see him get a few rebounds in the box score its always because they fell right in his lap. He didn’t get a contested rebound all series and was never even a minute factor in any of the games. There were too many occasions where he was caught watching the play instead of being a part of it. I’m not sure what his summer school entails but I’m guessing a lot of it will have to do with technical matters such as footwork and shooting. What he really needs is somebody to inject him with some passion and intensity, I doubt that’s going to happen, if he’s as bad as this next year, we need to ship his ass out by the trading deadline or next summer. None of this 5-year plan bullshit.

So the Raptors keep the game close and choke in the fourth quarter as the Magic continue to drain threes and Dwight Howard continues to eat us alive on the boards and the paint. Nothing new to speak of here. The season is over and its one of the most disappointing ones ever. This was a failed season, we regressed from last year because the scouting reports caught up with us and we never addressed our needs from the end of last season – defense and rebounding. Bryan Colangelo has another chance to address those exact same needs this summer, maybe last year’s playoff blinded him a little but this year there is no doubt – he needs to fix this team. Status quo is not good.

Sam Mitchell needs to be relieved of his duties and a smarter and more disciplined coach needs to be brought in. Mitchell needs a lot of talent around him to be successful, we don’t have that. We need a coach who can help the players because we don’t have the players that can help the coach.

Thanks for reading the blog this year. I’ve enjoyed writing every post and appreciate every comment from all the posters. I’ll let you guys know what the off-season plans, I got some ideas and it should be fun. Either way, the posts will be flowing.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 77 Comments »

Game 2 Preview: A chance to right some wrongs

Posted by Arsenalist on April 22, 2008

A tough one to swallow that Game 1, but if anything came out of it, it was that we did outscore the Magic 77-71 in the final three quarters and did something right. Needless to stay a better first quarter and a strong-minded defensive effort is required tonight in Orlando. The Game 1 fallout has included claims that Sam Mitchell is on the hot seat if the Raptors don’t show something of substance before the post-season is over. I’m sure it doesn’t help when your All-Star starts openly questioning a failed unorthodox strategy of creating mismatches that backfired in the very first quarter.

Bryan Colangelo is clearly upset at the way the team performed in Game 1 but directed his wrath towards the officiating crew who ignored potential Howard goaltends and let Keyon Dooling suffocate Calderon into frustration. This is an instance where the Magic need to be given credit for playing aggressive and seeing what they can get away with, if the Raptors would’ve played Dooling-type defense on their guards, the officials would’ve allowed it. To the aggressor goes the advantage and that’s the lesson learned from Game 1.

The Raptors regroup for Game 2 with an emphasis on defense, more specifically defending the pick ‘n roll without compromising coverage on outside shooters. Andrea Bargnani had some trouble defending the high screen ‘n roll and both Jose Calderon and TJ Ford allowed excessive guard penetration which wiped out any chance of a defensive stand. Although Bargnani’s starting Game 2 (insane since he’s never ever played the 3 before), I’m hoping for Jamario Moon to see more playing time against Hedo Turkoglo, Bargnani’s size does no good on defense because Turkoglu can easily blow past him. However, the shorter but quicker Moon can use his athletic ability and reach to bother Turkoglu as long as he’s disciplined and aware of the numerous fakes the Turk uses.

Chris Bosh must exploit Rashard Lewis better than he did in Game 1, Lewis was fronting Bosh and pushing him out of his comfort zone and forcing him into tough situations which would always yield a low percentage shot. Chris Bosh by his own admission acknowledged this and looks to be ready for Lewis in Game 2. Lewis is an extremely tough matchup for Bosh because he matches his quickness and length, if Bosh had a more refined post-up game, he could’ve exploited Lewis far more easily but as it is, its going to be up to sheer positioning and effort that Bosh might outplay Lewis.

The other question even the Magic media is wondering is whether the shooting in Game 1 was just one of those lucky nights and something that can’t be produced with any sort of consistency. Probably not, 9/11 3FG is something sick and hard to repeat but the Raptors can’t look at it that way. They need to be aware that in the final three quarters the Magic were getting open looks and simply missing them. At the end of the day the Magic ended up shooting a not-so-insane 45% from three which can be easily reproduced. We need to keep them between 20-30% for us to have a shot.

Dealing with Dwight Howard can be tricky but excessive double teaming and cheating off your man to fake a double is something that will never work, the Magic are too athletic and too good of a shooting team to be played like that. Rasho can slow down Dwight Howard as long as he avoids giving up deep positioning, and even if he does, a double should only come if it can result in Howard being put under pressure, not just for the sake of doubling. The best strategy for the Raptors is to let Howard beat you and get his points rather than let everybody on the Magic heat up. Offensively, we need to go at Howard a bit more, create Bosh on Howard matchups through screen ‘n rolls and try to pick up fouls on him – something he’s very susceptible to.

If we play to our strengths and show some passion and intensity on defense, there’s every chance that we come back to Toronto with home-court advantage.

Let’s go you Raptors!!!!

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 102 Comments »

End this season already

Posted by Arsenalist on April 6, 2008

I miss The Oak.
I miss The Oak.
Big it up for eastcoastrapsfan for stepping up and doing a great job covering what appeared to be two unwatchable games that were the lowest points of the season. I’d like to think it can’t get any worse but Charlie Villanueva has yet to explode against his old team and there couldn’t be a sweeter time to do it than Wednesday. There are two things that make this stretch the Raptors are in even more unbearable 1) These are very important games that shouldn’t be hard to get motivated for and instead of stepping up and playing at a higher level, the team has malfunctioned and has once again shown how flawed it is at its core and 2) The opposition isn’t exactly great.

Barring something unforeseen and entirely out-of-the-blue, this Raptors team is headed for a one and done in the post-season. If that is to be the case, I’m hoping it’s a very humiliating series where this team is ripped apart in every game starting from tipoff to final buzzer. There shouldn’t be any doubts or questions about what the flaws of this team are, what the talent level on it is, how hard working the players are, how bad the coaching is, how suspect the preparation is and how watered down the on-court product is. The last thing I want is a first-round exit where we win two or three games and give false hope to the fans and management that this group might be more than a .500 team in a weak East. That’s one school of thought. The other is that we somehow win a playoff round (facing Orlando or whoever) and build on it in the off-season replacing key components instead of blowing the whole thing up. Fine, this might be a legitimate roadmap and something that I still subscribe to but what the previous fortnight has shown me is that instead of requiring maybe a legit 3 and a rebounder, we need a legit 3, a real rebounder, a better shooting guard, a better coach, another decent 3 and maybe something else.

We’re a jump shooting team and Dave Feschuk correctly summarized the reason for the NJ loss in a single sentence:

“..their jump-shot-heavy offense couldn’t produce the preferable haul of long-range swishes”

We can talk about our defense for eons at a time but the heavy reliance of our offense on outside jumpers is too much. The always crucial Points in the Paint stat has always been against us and over the last three years there’s been nothing done to remedy that. Yeah we average 100.24 which is good for 13th in the league but what gets masqueraded is that we get into long stretches where we’re comfortable trading baskets with teams that know very well that when it comes down to it in the fourth quarter, they’ll be able to get a stop and we won’t. We lack a clutch performer, Chris Bosh is a power forward and that’s probably the last position player you want originating your offense in the clutch, it’s not a shock that the fourth quarter is usually his worst. I respect Chris Bosh for playing hard on both ends but his clutch game focuses on trying to get fouled rather than trying to score – not a good #1 strategy. In another Feschuk article, he’s absolving Sam Mitchell and blaming the fourth quarter blues on Bosh:

…if your $13 million all-star can’t stick an elbow in a smaller man’s eye and score at a game’s biggest moments, in a league in which the best player on the floor so often prevails, you’ve got bigger problems than the contents of the clipboard.

Harsh but warranted criticism. However, Sam Mitchell gets a big fat F on his coaching this season regardless of how well Bosh has done in the clutch. His failure to establish a consistent rotation, develop Bargnani (yes, he takes some blame for that), handle the TJ Ford situation and tighten up his X’s and O’s have no doubt proven that the Coach of the Year awards don’t mean shit. His post-game analysis of things has become mundane and it always boils down to making shots and just playing “better”. Sure, he doesn’t have much to work with but its not like he’s helped improve one area of this team from opening day. Even Sam Vincent’s ahead of Mitchell at this point.

As I’m typing this Kevin Durant just hit a deeeep bomb to tie the game in overtime at 135.

The question is how do the Raptors salvage the rest of the season and the playoffs. What can they do that might make this campaign a relative success and not a drastic reverse from last season? Winning a playoff round is looking more and more unlikely, the development of Andrea Bargnani (arguably our core piece) has been a huge disappointment, our successful PG combo from last year has been a source of more disruption than production, our bench has declined (especially defensively) and generally speaking there hasn’t been a single area where we’ve improved from last year. The answer of course I don’t have (maybe we need a hero?) But I know that even if we do somehow manage to fluke some playoff success by some sheer stroke of luck, it’s going to be a hollow victory because the knowing supporter is well aware of the problems that this team has.

We have five games left and even if we win all five, it won’t mean a damn thing aside from getting some soon to be squashed momentum on our side. I want Atlanta to catch us so we can drop to 8th and face Boston, at least Bosh will get an up-close look at greatness when he faces Kevin Garnett and take something away from the experience. If we face Detroit they’ll just put on a technical marvel of how to dismantle a team broken at the nucleus – if you think the Raptors have issues shooting the ball right now, wait till Billups, Wallace and Co. get done clamping down on Parker, Bosh and Forderon.

Let’s look past the technical issues, the thing to be most questioned about this team is its mental toughness and willingness to fight. There have been very few occasions where this team has played playoff intensity basketball or shown a determined grit and desire to make a consistent defensive stand. Never have we stood up for a teammate after a hard foul, rarely have we shown a willingness to win a game in the paint and play tenacious physical basketball in the trenches, almost never to be found is that deep confidence that even the hated Vince Carter displayed late in the fourth quarter. The swagger and killer instinct hasn’t been there all year and it’s left up to the smallest guys on the court to rev up a team whose heart seems to be missing.

There are times when one thinks back to Charles Oakley and even Antonio Davis (like him or hate him) and realizes that those types of players bought intangibles to a team that are almost a necessity to any rebuilding project. It’s that touch that we miss right now. Say what you will about Glen Grunwald but when he saw a problem, he tried to fix it. It may have gotten him in trouble once in a while but at least he acted and built a pretty damn good team at one point – it was Lenny that couldn’t figure his end out.

This summer is looming large for the Raptors, we need to take a long hard look at Andrea Bargnani and see what we have in him, if it’s just a continuation of status quo, we need to dump him right after bumping up his trade value. The TJ/Jose thing is a mess and someone needs to go (TJ has some great value, I sincerely believe that), summer signings and trades (note the plural) are almost a must if we plan on finishing anything above than 4th in the Atlantic. Our scouts (taking Final Four off) need to look at the draft and see if there are any sleepers that can help this team right now, we don’t need any more Joey Grahams or Jamario Moons, we need some players that can take the pressure off of Bosh. In other words, we have a lot of work to do and Bryan Colangelo and Maurizio Gherardini better not have any vacations planned.

One might even say that the summer has already started.

Posted in premiership, Raptors, Sports, tfc | Tagged: , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Sam Mitchell triggers Ford-led 4th quarter meltdown as Raptors end miserable swing

Posted by Arsenalist on March 17, 2008

Toronto Raptors 79, Utah Jazz 96

The Raptors led by Jose Calderon had just finished a third quarter which had rescued this game from getting out of hand. The Raptors had slowed the tempo and the scoreboard down in the third quarter winning it 27-18 by playing gritty paint defense and by riding Jose Calderon’s hot shooting. A 9 point halftime deficit had been entirely erased and with the fourth quarter set to go, the Raptors were smelling a San Antonio like upset. That’s when Sam Mitchell tried to get too smart for his own good. He inserted the volatile and struggling TJ Ford who went 1-4, turned the ball over twice, got himself into a one-on-one contest with Ronnie Price and the official, picked up two technicals and was sent packing. Add it all up and a 65-65 game had turned into an 81-69 ball game with 6:58 to go and Utah had the momentum with the crowd fully in to it. Game over. The crazy part might be that if it hadn’t been for the technicals, Ford would have continued to play the PG while Calderon and his hot hand cooled off on the bench. Mind boggling stuff, how many times has this happened already?

Utah was off today, they were back from an Eastern swing and their malaise allowed the Raptors to stick around at the end of the first quarter. Sloan went to the bench in the second and as is a Raptors custom, an relative no-name player (Price) scored 4 times his season average to pull the Jazz ahead at the half. In the third quarter our defense picked up and Rasho/Moon/Parker came up with blocks and strips near the rim to contain Utah which was excellent as usual moving without the ball. The third quarter belonged to Calderon who had 9, more than canceling out the brilliant Deron Williams’ 8 to bring us back in the game. Only two other Jazz scored field goals in the period and the Raptors had the momentum and the right defensive attitude going into the deciding quarter. Then TJ Ford happened and this game got out of hand making the final score very unreflective of the actual proceedings. Seriously, take the fourth quarter stats out of it and things are pretty even across the board. If we had just buckled down and played the fourth like we did the rest of the game, this one was going to stay close and would’ve been there for the taking late on.

According to Sekeres, Calderon and Ford were complaining all night to Sam Mitchell about the officials, it just so happened that TJ was fragile enough to explode:

Mitchell said that both Ford and Jose Calderon were complaining that the Jazz guards were riding them with their bodies throughout the game, cutting off penetration with physical contact. Mitchell and the point guards talked to the officials several times during the game about the tactic, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. When Ford was called for an offensive foul on a play where he felt body-riding was taking place, it was more combustible than gasoline near a bonfire.

We were without our best player on this swing but even then there is plenty of reason to be disappointed in our play. It doesn’t say much about the defensive depth of this squad when opponents have no issue shooting 50% against us simply because one player is missing. Is our offense so broken that if Chris Bosh isn’t there, we can’t put three consecutive decent possessions together? Can the severely stagnant nature of our offense be blamed on Bosh not playing? If PGs are meeting with zero resistance on both options of the pick ‘n roll, is not having a Bosh a good excuse? Sure, I can understand if rebounding is suffering and we’re not getting points in the paint with the same ease, but to continually point to Bosh not being there as the source/excuse of our poor play is a fallacy. It’s scary to watch this team without Bosh because you realize just how easy we are to defend and how horribly coached we are on offense.

I’m sure Bryan Colangelo is watching this team and seeing the limitations of our players, the pedantic nature of our coach and the inner turmoil that is on the verge of exploding. He’d be not doing his job if he weren’t to shuffle at least 3 players out of the current lineup: one of TJ/Jose, upgrade Moon/Graham, upgrade Hump and do something with Bargnani because he’s playing flat out awful. Bargnani went 2-11 which immediately reminded me of jeff’s comment from last night. I’m not sure what needs to happen for him to get back to becoming an average NBA player but I would think not relying solely on the perimeter shot is something that’s topping the list. Number 2 would be fighting for an advantageous position and establishing your 7-foot frame in a way where the PG is forced to pass you the ball. Just watching Rasho do his thing tonight should be motivation enough for him but who knows. Bargnani’s game is constricted, rusty and forced, there is nothing fluid or confident about his play over the last month and he’s basically taking the same bad shots over and over again just hoping they go in.

This nightmare is over and we need to get back home and start winning some meaningful games. Miami is a win and I’ll gladly take it but after that we have three massive games coming up which if we win, will give this team a huge boost of confidence which it so desperately needs. This trip has undoubtedly given every Raptor player and coach a first hand look at just how vulnerable we are and how fine the line between us being a good team and a lottery team really is. After Miami, we get Cleveland away and then Denver and Detroit at home. If we manage to win two of those three games, it’ll do a lot towards grabbing some momentum for the final stretch. I’m not worried about Washington catching us, I almost want them to, it’s Philadelphia that is of concern. Philly is a game back and playing well, if they catch us it’ll pit us against Detroit in the playoffs which will be no fun.

If you’re looking for something positive to take out of this roadtrip, we played better defense against Sacramento and Utah. They still shot 48% and 55% respectively but there were stretches where we played well and contained them by collapsing in the paint, contesting mid-range jumpers and fighting for rebounds. It’s not much but at this point the Raptors need to take whatever positive there is and build on it. The negativity of this roadtrip and the losing can kill the will of this team if they’re not too careful and that’s why the upcoming 4 games are so crucial, even more so than the roadtrip.

Go Raptors Go.

Liners:

  • What can one say about TJ Ford? (PG Interview) He needs a shrink to help him cope with the complexities of taking a back seat. Mitchell obviously hasn’t done a good enough job of harnessing his competitive spirit, emotion or style of play. He has all the attributes of being a fiery, energetic guard that can be a positive catalyst for this team but the channeling of his emotion and fury has all been incorrect. Doug Smith tends to think that way also.
  • This is the lowest point of the season and we need to show up with energy, emotion and a plan over the next week to get back into playoff mode.
  • Sam Mitchell has a COY award while Jerry Sloan doesn’t. Something doesn’t feel right. The players come and go but the Jazz continue to play solid and sound basketball. There’s a reason Kris Humphries isn’t on that team, you think Sloan would tolerate missed defensive assignments and going into Jordan-mode?
  • I don’t remember Utah doubling a single Raptor at any time in the game. This has to be a first.
  • Rasho Nesterovic (13/12) has been instrumental in preventing us from getting dominated on the boards. We played the right way on defense today, at least the interior kind. We won the rebounding battle 38-36 and didn’t let Kirilenko or Boozer get off. The perimeter D was leaky as ever, Calderon was slow to fight through screens and Ford was brutal and impatient.
  • Jason Kapono is showing some signs of life and willing to force his shot. That’s much better than him preserving his FG percentage and only looking for wide open shots. I’d rather him hoist up 11 shots than Bargnani any day, at least his have a shot of going in.
  • I like the St. Patricks day uniforms, check Dinosty, he’ll probably have some nice pics.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 42 Comments »

TJ Ford ball hogs in the fourth to kill any chance the Raptors might’ve had

Posted by Arsenalist on March 4, 2008

Toronto Raptors 87, Orlando Magic 102

Rarely are there instances where you can definitively blame a loss on one player but last night the horrid stretch of play by TJ Ford in the fourth quarter undoubtedly killed any shot that the Raptors might have had. Missing Chris Bosh is a lot to overcome against Dwight Howard and the Magic, but the Raptors managed to do that by getting their big gun in foul trouble and making him an essential non-factor for the better part of the game. After surviving the first half thanks to Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker’s hot shooting and after a battling effort in the third quarter, we managed to stay in this one going into the fourth. That’s where Ford took over for the worse.

Now you can look at perennial non-factor and Harry Rosen mannequin Andrea Bargnani’s 2-11 FG and 6 points and surmise that perhaps if a better effort had been put out, the Raptors would’ve handled the Magic rather easily. But his performances have been so inconsistent and the excuses surrounding his play have been so many that we’ve all come to accept him being an inconsequential piece of the Raptors season. To expect anything positive out of him over more than a 1-game stretch is asking too much so let’s leave him on the side. The focus of my anger is Ford. Consider this stretch starting the fourth quarter:

11:27	T.J. Ford makes 14-foot jumper	70-73	 
11:11	Kris Humphries shooting foul (Dwight Howard draws the foul)	70-73	 
11:11	T.J. Ford defensive rebound	70-74	 
10:57	T.J. Ford makes 14-foot jumper	72-74	 
10:42	Jason Kapono defensive rebound	72-74	 
10:33	T.J. Ford bad pass	72-74	 
10:00	T.J. Ford misses 12-foot jumper	72-77	 
9:48	Jason Kapono shooting foul (Dwight Howard draws the foul)	72-77	 
9:36	T.J. Ford misses driving layup	72-78	 
9:15	Toronto full timeout
9:06	T.J. Ford misses 11-foot jumper	72-80	 
8:52	T.J. Ford bad pass (Rashard Lewis steals)	72-80	 
8:45	T.J. Ford makes layup	74-80	 
8:17	T.J. Ford bad pass (Dwight Howard steals)	74-80	 
7:54	T.J. Ford makes 26-foot three point jumper	77-83	 
7:16	T.J. Ford makes 18-foot jumper	79-85	 
6:58	Jamario Moon personal foul (Dwight Howard draws the foul)	79-85	 
6:28	T.J. Ford lost ball (Carlos Arroyo steals)	79-87	 
6:11	Toronto 20 Sec. timeout
5:58	T.J. Ford makes free throw 1 of 2	80-89	 
5:58	T.J. Ford makes free throw 2 of 2

Our starting point guard just tried to do a Michael Jordan impersonation and simply ball-hogged for the first 6:30 of the fourth quarter not allowing any Raptor to take a shot in that span. Sam Mitchell had nailed Calderon to the bench despite him having great success against Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo on almost every possession. Instead of Calderon, Ford started the fourth quarter and practically shot the Raptors out of this game. A 5 point deficit was increased to 11 and to make matters worse 6:30 crucial minutes were shaved off the clock. Two questions: Why didn’t Calderon start the fourth? Why wasn’t TJ yanked after he obviously made the game about him and Carlos Arroyo by looking past his teammates? I’m not saying we would’ve won the game if Calderon had the reigns in the fourth, I’m saying we would’ve had a much better shot at it.

It’s hard to look past the Ford fiasco but let’s move on. Rasho Nesterovic had a very good game, nothing spectacular but he held his position against Howard, hit the glass and got some contested rebounds, he was unfortunate to get called for some fouls and had a couple non-calls go against his way on the other end. However, in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance, Rasho was nowhere to be found guarding Howard who found himself covered by Andrea Bargnani. Howard proceeded to torch Bargnani for 6 straight points where the defense was so bad that even a Grade 8 coach would’ve had a meltdown. The number one rule of defense is to stay between your man and the the basket which Bargnani forgot twice, on the other play Howard eluded him quite easily on the baseline for a hook shot which should’ve been sealed off. That little stretch combined with Ford’s theatrics was the TSN turning point.

I need to give credit to Anthony Parker for playing with his heart on his sleeve, you can tell that this guy wants to win and is looking to compete. 19 points and a team-leading 9 rebounds is no joke for a 2-guard who along with Calderon were the two people who really showed up to play. You never know what you’re going to get on offense with Delfino, today he laid an egg doing 1-7 FG for 4 points but you can look past that because he did manage to snatch 9 rebounds. That’s more than you can say about our starting small forward who on any other team would’ve been benched for his lack of production. No offense to Moon but bad perimeter shooters who struggle to defend and rarely slash to the rim are dime a dozen in the D-League. Perhaps Colangelo should take another peek in the cesspool of D-League talent and see if he can find himself a hungry SF who’s willing to fight it out in the NBA and doesn’t get too comfortable just because the coach seems to have blind faith in him.

The Magic weren’t playing well and the Raptors were staying in the game by taking advantage of Orlando turnovers, cleaning the boards (47-41) and answering back every Orlando run with a few shots of their own. The failing perimeter defense failed again but not to the degree it did against Charlotte or Indiana, or maybe that only appears the case because the Magic only made 8 of their 23 threes. They did shoot 52% and Turkoglu and Lewis proved to be deadly from the perimeter and by going to the rim. Again, with no Bosh in there it’s super-easy for any semi-athletic swingman to drive the lane and take a shit on us. Our perimeter rotations have been poor for three years in a row and our interior rotations have been non-existent. The only reason it’s not glaringly evident more often is because Bosh hides a lot of our problems.

Why am I so pissed off? We weren’t expecting a win here anyway but as we always say, the way you lose matters more than the loss itself.

Miami tomorrow, winnable? Hmmm.

Liners:

* Don’t tell Leo Rautins that Jason Kapono is struggling. He’s not having any of it, No sirree, Bob!. Kapono’s crafty see, he leans in for jumpers and goes 1-4 FG, that’s not struggling, that’s him being multi-dimensional. WTF Leo? We’re not idiots, we can see through your lame ass shit excuses which try to portray Kapono as a half-decent signing and try to ignore the obvious fact that he’s as useless as an appendix.

* Rashard Lewis was begging Sam Mitchell to put Jamario Moon on him so he could show rookie just exactly how you back someone into the post, create space and lay the ball in.

* Do we have any plays? I can’t seem to remember seeing one, everything is freestyling based on whatever pops in your mind. I know ripping on Sam about his X’s and O’s is getting old but the guy doesn’t have any X’s and O’s. Fuck, I’ll even settle for a strategy or a method or a gameplan, anything at this point. Dwight Howard getting in foul trouble was totally unplanned, it just so worked out that the guy picked a few fouls up helping our cause.

* Primoz Brezec gets into the game in the 1st quarter after being chained to the bench until the 3rd against Charlotte? Somebody please explain this to me, really, please explain this to me. How do these subs work? Based on gut feeling?

* Sam should’ve seen that TJ had made this game about himself and was being a detriment to this team and taken him out early in the fourth.

* We lose the season series 2-1, not that it matters. We’ll probably end up playing Orlando in the 3-6 matchup.

Posted in nba, Raptors | Tagged: , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

“If your team sucks, it may as well be in Miami”

Posted by Arsenalist on February 5, 2008

Toronto Raptors 114, Miami Heat 82

That’s Charles Barkley’s take on the Heat. It’s also what’s keeping Riley from jumping off the nearest bridge. In all the years of watching Riley coach, this is the first one where he seems calm and serene even when his team’s getting pounded to the tune of 40 points. Maybe it’s old age. Maybe he’s just resigned to the inevitability of watching his squad embarrass themselves on a nightly basis and willing to live with the legitimate excuse of injury. Either way, Pat Riley seems like he just doesn’t care anymore. From his point of view, signing Shaq to a ridiculous deal which has put a financial straight-jacket on club already paid off with a ring and that excuses the team to stink it up for the next three years. I’d take the deal if it was presented to me, let the Raptors win a championship this year and miss the playoffs for the next three years? I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Anyway, getting to the Raps. We could do no wrong, you can try hard and even then you won’t find a negative thing to say. The game was practically over with the Raptors up 30-8 which meant that TJ Ford could make his return pressure-free. TJ looked good out there, he was quick, showed great vision by laying a nice pass off to Kapono for a layup and then almost taking Humphries’ head of with a bullet pass that was right on the money. Any questions about his explosiveness were answered when he drove baseline and threw it down with authority. Apparently the man to thank for TJ being in-shape and in good spirits is ex-Cavalier coach John Lucas, who has been closely working with TJ for six hours a day. A side-note on John Lucas is that he’s a great communicator and relates to NBA players very well. Another side-note which allegedly got him fired from Cleveland was that the reason he was so well-liked was because he shares crack stories. Either way, I’m glad to have him working with the Raptors because whatever he’s doing with TJ is working. Forderon is back and no matter how some people spin it, that’s a great thing.

Going back to Pat Riley, he hates to even think that his team might’ve quit on him:

”I hate to even think those thoughts, I’ve been around 40 years, I’m proud of the road I’ve taken, and I don’t have any of that in me. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’ve been good at making sure there isn’t any of that in my teams, either. We have to do some evaluation here.”

What’d you think of the first quarter Riles?

“Too quick, too efficient, too ready, too good. That was Toronto in the first quarter. An absolute clinic.”

Thanks, I agree. Duane Wade, any thoughts?

‘We [stunk] more the past couple of games than we have all season. Bad basketball. Terrible basketball. Maybe the season is getting away. I’m trying. I’ve said all I can say, doing all I can do. I’ve talked to guys. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know the formula.”

Sam Mitchell can’t believe his eyes:

“It would be hard for us to play much better”

We’ve seen the Raptors blow leads very often but after going up by 20 early there wasn’t even a remote chance that Miami could make a comeback. They just didnt’ have the personnel. We never let the intensity down on defense even when we were up by 30, call it lessons learned from past experiences. This is the closest thing to a perfect game that the Raptors have played this season. Our starters shot 69% with Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Parker having solid and effortless offensive performances. Chris Bosh’s facials on Alexander Johnson and Dorell Wright punctuated the dominance of the night and another smooth and unforced performance by Andrea Bargnani gave more weight to the argument that he’s out of his mid-season slide. Bargnani once again was one of the two top-scorers on the team, something we all expected to happen from the beginning of the year. Better late than never.

There’s a few obvious things that he’s doing that are helping his game and even though all the readers know this, it’s worth repeating:

  • He’s taking his time after catching the ball at the arc. There’s no immediate and rushed offensive move being made, he’s analyzing who’s playing him, how he’s being guarded and then making a decision.
  • When he catches the ball in a position of advantage, he immediately goes to work. That baseline reverse dunk was a prime example of that. Two weeks ago he would’ve caught that ball, allowed the defense to get set, and then jab-stepped a shot that was too hard.
  • He’s playing loosely. There’s not a tightness in his game, he appears more relaxed when receiving the ball after setting a screen and evaluates what the defense has put at his disposal. One might say he even looks athletic. As Jack Armstrong alluded to about fifteen times, he’s reduced his speed and his playing at a controlled pace.
  • He’s looking to setup his teammates. When a player is in a funk he generally focuses on just getting himself off. Bargnani’s court-awareness over the last few games has been exceptional, whether it be making an extra pass on the perimeter to zipping one in to the low-post, he’s looking to pass when there’s an advantage to be gained.
  • He’s hitting the mid-range jumper. More than the three, it’s the 18 footer that makes him dangerous. Threes are easy to defend because the defense can just crowd you, but once you put the doubt of the drive in the defender and hit the mid-range jumper then the defense is in a catch-22. I can’t explain how and why, but Bargnani’s starting to make that jumper, we’ll attribute it to confidence.

Feel free to add your own.

Let’s put things in perspective though, we’re not as good as we looked today and we’re not as bad as were against the Lakers. Somewhere in there is a middle ground which the Raptors need to find. We’re not going to shoot as well as we did today but we can play with the same amount of defensive intensity which will give us a chance against the better teams and more importantly, in the playoffs. Our rebounding problems were overcome by our hot shooting but it should be noted that Miami, the league’s worst rebounding team, outmanned us 37-31.

There’s no point celebrating a win over a depleted and sun-tanned Miami team too much. Let’s leave it at this: The Raptors didn’t play down to the level of their opposition, played with a high level of enthusiasm and intensity and never allowed Miami to gain any momentum. Offensively, we were brilliant, we moved the ball end-to-end, when they played zone, we broke it in half by driving the ball after quick passes and never game Miami a chance.

You’ve heard of a quarterback controversy, well now we have a PG “controversy”. Sorry to sound like a drama queen but Sam Mitchell will have a little trouble telling Jose Calderon that he’s coming off the bench again. Jose won’t mind and he’ll be a total professional but Sam will know that the “benching” is undeserved. Jose’s been awesome for us while TJ’s been out, he’s been hitting his jumper with machine-like accuracy and his jumper coming off a high-screen opens up many offensive options for us. I think there’ll be a transition period where you’ll see the Raptors struggle a little once TJ returns to the lineup, we just need to be patient during that time and allow TJ to learn the reigns once more. After all, a QB doesn’t lose his job to injury and neither does a PG.

We don’t play till Friday so there’s plenty of time to feel good about this one.

Liners:

* If I’m a Heat fan watching this game on Leage Pass, I’m thinking the Toronto announcers are a bunch of assholes by the way they were gloating about and bringing out all kinds of Italian dishes and sausages. Pretty classless I would think.

* How many time did Chuck say “It’s all good” today? 15? 20?

* Ricky Davis is so NOT a Riley-player. I was surprised when Riley acquired him and am even more shocked that he’s still in Miami.

* I’m not sure that even with Mourning, Shaq and Haslem healthy, the Heat are anymore than a 7th seed heading for a first-round exit. Wade is wasting some of the best years of his career, it’s a shame.

* Jamario Moon resisted the chance to shoot the ball which is always a good option. He’s best when he’s keyed in on defense and not even thinking about his offense. The ball he snatched away from Ricky Davis’ attempted pass was classic Moon.

* The way we beat the zone today was great to watch. Riley didn’t dare try it again.

* Parker and Bosh making fun of Delfino’s arm movement after he hits a three was hilarious.

* Ford’s return hopefully means that this is the last we see of Darrick Murray Martin.

* Anthony Parker is the Top Rap.

Till tomorrow.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 23 Comments »

No Sunday game, let’s conservatively predict February

Posted by Arsenalist on February 3, 2008

There’s no Sunday game which means we won’t be hearing how teams hate playing us at the ACC so early because it’s 2AM or something ridiculous their time. Of course they end up kicking our ass thus poking a huge hole in the theory that we have some sort of advantage on Sundays. The Raps will be checking out the Super Bowl; A while back Chris Bosh hinted that he might fly to Atlanta to be on the Best Damn Sports Show and catch the game with “the guys” but I doubt he’s the type who’ll truly enjoy shooting the shit with John Salley and his hormones. I remember a few years ago somebody asked Chris what he likes to do in his spare time and he answered something like, “I like going to websites and seeing how their made, they’re pretty neat”. Bear in mind that I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea, he goes to websites and does a “View Source” on them just to check out the HTML. My kind of guy.

While we’re all hard at work trying to erase the Laker memories, there’s something that might help, it’s our February schedule. If you thought January was easy, then February is a piece of cake. The Laker game was easily the toughest of the month and from here on in, games get easy and winnable, let’s run through them and assign a reasonable result.

  1. Feb 1 LA: Kobe, L
  2. Feb 4 @Mia: Miami’s goal is to not get blown out by 30, if they only lose by 15 it counts as a moral victory.
  3. Feb 8 LAC: We beat them on their home floor, there’s no reason we can’t repeat the feat at home.
  4. Feb 10 @Min: Worst team in the league.
  5. Feb 11 SA: The Spurs will be without Tony Parker but even then you have to bet against the Raptors here. Plus it’s a back-to-back.
  6. Feb 13 NJ: Jason Kidd might not even be on the team by then and even if he is, this is a very winnable game.
  7. Feb 20 Orl: We lost to them last time after Sam took out the hot-shooting Calderon for the ice-cold Ford with 3 minutes left. Game over. Let’s say Orlando wins this one after Howard snatches 16 offensive rebounds.
  8. Feb 22 @NY: Knicks aren’t playing thaaat bad, they did win a couple games a few weeks ago. They should be counted on sneaking one of these two games as the Raptors are fully capable of having a letdown.
  9. Feb 24 NY: See above.
  10. Feb 25 @Ind: Indiana’s coming on of late and I thought we were a little lucky to eek out a win in Indiana last time. I see the Raptors dropping one of the two games.
  11. Feb 27 Min: This is a win, if it’s not, heads need to roll.
  12. Feb 29 Ind: See above.

So speaking really conservatively, in the worst case we’ll go 7-5 this month which would put us at 7 games over .500 at 32-25 and possibly on our way of repeating last year’s win total. However, if we manage to sweep Indiana and New York, we’ll be at 34-23 needing to go 14-11 from there on out to eclipse last year’s win total. What I’m trying to hammer home is that barring further injury and steady improvement we’re going to have a pretty good regular season when it’s all said and done. So despite consistently losing to the better teams in the league, at the end of the regular season we’ll be considered one of the better teams in the league. Ironic, eh?

With the deadline approaching it’s no secret that we’re in need of a rebounder worse than Stromile Swift is of a college education. Opponent offensive rebounding along with perimeter defense has been a consistent reason of why we’re losing games. While it’s hard to address the latter, rebounding help is available and teams such as Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia and possibly Golden State can be convinced to give up a part. Of course when you’re looking for quality in a barter, you have to give up quality….wait…you don’t, Memphis just made us look like we won the Vince Carter deal. Seriously though, if we have any hopes of winning a playoff round, we need to upgrade our rebounding or we’re in troubling if we’re facing Cleveland, Washington or Orlando – three likely opponents. I think winning a playoff series or two is the measure of success for this season, otherwise it’ll be all for naught.

Andrea Bargnani kicked off Black History Month celebrations in style against the Lakers with a 28 point performance which came on the heels of a good Washington showing. Bargnani’s looking like someone who just might’ve turned the corner and is playing somewhat like the player we though he was. I’m looking forward to a couple games this month where he’s the dominant player on the floor, it’s happened once this season against the Celtics (in the first half) and given the soft schedule, this is the ideal time for him to flex his muscles. Nobody wants to see 1-9 FG performances from him because it just makes your blood boil, or in some peoples cases, brings out the greatest analogies, my favorite was commenter PsychicSpy referring to Bargnani as having “the demeanor of a waiter”, simply gold. Check it out. On an unrelated note, the event I’m most looking forward to on All-Star weekend is Andrea’s appearance in the rookie/sophomore game. He’ll stand out like Zan Tabak in an NBA team.

Hoops Hype is having some sort of a thing where you get to ask Dee Brown a question by emailing hoopshype@hoopshype.com. I have a question, when his one-legged ass was hauled off the bench by Butch Carter late in the playoffs against the Knicks, did he know he was going to jack up a shot before the ball was even inbounded. It always irked me. Who’s Hoops Hype going to ask next to answer email? Rick Brunson? Sweet Pea Daniels? Carlos Rogers? Janero Pargo? Joe Wolf? Danny Schayes? Judd Buechler? Matt Maloney? Armon Gilliam? Blane Harrington?

Till tomorrow.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

Why did Washington bother making the trip?

Posted by Arsenalist on January 30, 2008

Washington Wizards 83, Toronto Raptors 122

Before the game I was thinking that the only way I would’ve even been remotely pleased by the outcome of this game would’ve been if we managed to crushed them by 30. But even after beating them by 39 I still couldn’t shake of Tuesday night’s loss in Washington. How can we have such a letdown and simply give away a game? How can the team that got completely outplayed on defense come back and put such a thumping on the same opponent less than 24 hours later? I don’t know the answers to these question but I can take a guess: Washington had nothing left from last night’s game and were content with the series split and merely showed up today as a formality. This game wouldn’t even happen if forfeits were allowed in the NBA. The Raptors realized that they had given one up then night before and turned it on to a degree which convinced me that they were coasting on Tuesday, something that doesn’t sit well with me.

Washington offered very little resistance on defense and got out-rebounded 36-38 to a Raptors team that had very few lapses when it came to defensive rebounding. The message from the night before was received well (I mean, c’mon) and we played with an intensity and emotion that’s often found lacking. Of course hitting 13-18 3FG always helps but forcing 16 turnovers through aggressive defense while taking care of the ball (7 TO) were the keys to the win. There were no easy baskets for Washington, Antawn Jamison wasn’t allowed 10 seconds to setup his move, Stevenson was held in check, Blatche wasn’t allowed easy paths to the rim and overall we did a solid job defensively. The offense naturally flowed with all 12 players scoring (yes, that includes Maceo Baston) and Kapono and Delfino were among the many to get hot from outside. Game over in the third quarter.

Andrea Bargnani had a better game than he did against Boston. He hit his first couple shots and then felt comfortable with his game and looked to drive (albeit, somewhat awkwardly) when Blatche was giving him space. If I’m Washington I’d force him to finish the play rather than help and allow a pass but that’s a different matter. Now three rebounds isn’t exactly stellar but you focus on the bright spots with him and today he managed to pour in 19 almost exclusively through jumpers. Bargnani played aggressive and managed to stay out of foul trouble but that’s no sign that he’s turned the corner. Chances are that he’ll revert back to 2-11 for 3 rebounds against the Lakers. I’m on the fence with Bargnani, I don’t think he was the right choice for the #1 pick and as of now he has an outside shot at being a good solid NBA player with a close to 0% chance of being a superstar that Colangelo was hoping. At the same time the Raptors shouldn’t look to trade him (not that they are) because his value is simply too low at this point, I think you stick with him and hopefully he improves to the point where he’s a valuable contributor to the team. Unless you’re offered someone like Gasol, you don’t even bother listening. We got to bite the bullet on this one.

We’re fifth in the conference behind BOS, DET, ORL and CLE. Cleveland just lost Anderson Varejao for four weeks and already have Pavlovic out, this will no doubt hit them in the standings. Washington’s about to go on their western swing and we should expect them to drop off over the next couple weeks. I think the Raptors have a chance to leapfrog Cleveland and inch closer to Orlando who are the division leaders (and likely winners). If the Raptors manage to get a better record than Orlando which is possible given Orlando’s tougher schedule, we’ll finish third and have a shot at possibly playing a beatable team. But in the more likely case that we finish fourth, it would probably mean a first round matchup against a healthy Washington or a healthy Cleveland. With the team as it is right now, I don’t like our chances in either series. Bryan Colangelo has to recognize this and acquire obvious help in the rebounding and defense department. TJ’s close to practicing with the team so the Damon rumour is just that. I’ve always felt that the goal for this year is to win a playoff series or two, something which the team as it is can’t do. Thanks to E-H-1-5 for correcting me on the playoff seedings.

Jason Kapono was looking to get himself off (no, not that way) by looking for his shots. I’m not sure that’s the best way to go about trying to get yourself out of a funk because against a normal team on a normal night that strategy can backfire fast. You can’t discount how much TJ Ford meant to Kapono, he got him many an open shot and if you look closely, the timing of Kapono’s slump is closely related to TJ’s injury. Ideally, we need another player, preferably an attacking 3 who can create shots for Kapono who would play at the 2 spot. Or Sam can get creative like Butch used to do with Dell Curry. Rasho Nesterovic needs more minutes, anytime he gets extended minutes he’s shown that he can play well and hold is own. If the Raptors are looking for defense, he’s the man you take over Bargnani. He’s far from the answer to our rebounding woes but he clogs up enough space to make things uncomfortable and can finish around the rim. TJ Ford is somebody who knows how to play with Rasho, the latter is often the recipient of dump passes from Ford after he’s penetrated the defense resulting in easy scores. We miss TJ, we really do.

One-Liners:

* Chuck, I implore you to drop the Salami and Cheese nonsense and focus more on calling the game. I counted at least four times today where you completely screwed up and said something that was just not true. More focus on game, less focus on stupid shit.

* DeShawn Stevenson’s turning into a player. He can shoot, drive to the rim and plays aggressive. If I’m the Wiz, I’m locking this guy up long-term, he’s learned good lessons in the Jazz system and is about as sound as you can get.

* I’m not sure what Washington sees in Oleksiy Pecherov, he seems to be what Bargnani would be in the worst-case.

* Carlos Delfino might be the most inconsistent Raptor after Morris Peterson. You can’t rely on his scoring and you just hope that he doesn’t falter defensively when his shot’s not hitting. Like many other Raptors, his game is a little too perimeter oriented. The difference is that he has the ability to drive and create, or in other words, play the PG for a few minutes a game. I’m surprised we don’t see this more often given the success he had handling the ball early in the year.

* What can you say about Calderon? I could write a 3000 word post about how much he’s meant to our offense and it wouldn’t do justice. Yeah, I know defense is another matter but Calderon deserves huge props so far this year.

* I told you not to rip on Anthony Parker about Tuesday’s performance, his shots just didn’t drop that night. Shit happens.

* The loss from the night before overshadowed this win, can’t really get excited.

* The All-Star reserves are announced, Bosh will probably be in and despite Hollinger’s efforts I think Billups will get the nod over Calderon, simply because of reputation.

Raps win in a blowout. Till tomorrow.

Posted in nba, Raptors | Tagged: , , | 23 Comments »

Down goes Boston! Down goes Boston!

Posted by Arsenalist on January 23, 2008

jose calderon toronto raptors boston celtics chris bosh

Toronto Raptors 114, Boston Celtics 112

What a game! The Raptors take out Boston in a clutch and tense affair which put a premium on the proverbial ice in the veins. Jose Calderon’s two clutch free throws followed by a decisive drive to the rim for a three point-play put the Raptors up by two. Off an offensive rebound, Raptor killer Ray Allen had a wide-open, albeit fading away jumper rim out to give the Raptors a win that’ll reverberate around the association.

For a moment it looked like conceding 16 offensive rebounds and giving up 26 points on 19 turnovers would be too much for the Raps to overcome but 58% shooting compensated for all that and then some. When those outside shots are falling at close to 60% we can beat the ’86 Celtics no problem, let alone this bunch. Chris Bosh was doubled every time he caught the ball but still managed to match Kevin Garnett’s output and when it counted in the fourth quarter, KG couldn’t stop Bosh. Andrea Bargnani, yes Andrea “Popeye” Bargnani showed up and showed up big. He singlehandedly kept us in the game in the first quarter by scoring, rebounding and passing like the player we thought he was. The best moment for me came at halftime when Leo Rautins interviewed him and asked about his first half performance:

“I’ve played very bad for one month. I don’t want to talk about myself.”

At least he seems to know just how bad he’s been of late, maybe, just maybe this game might bring him out of his HUGE slump and he might become a contributor and in some peoples’ eyes increase his trade value. Now even bringing this point up after a game like this makes me a party-pooper but if we were openly discussing it yesterday, there’s no reason not to do so today, right? Such are highs and lows of an NBA season that the goat of one game is the hero of the next. Let’s focus on what he did right today: he sealed of his man from the boards, on more than one occasion it was against KG that Bargnani timed his rebound jumps to perfection not allowing even a remote chance of an offensive rebound. On offense, he sold his shot fake, drove, and then pulled up for a jumper, then he took his time with an open three and drained it. On the other end, he kept his arms straight up and played defense with his feet instead of his hands. Instead of blindly taking the first shot, he looked for other options and created wide open threes three times. He drove to the rim, and when the defense challenged, he reversed it for the And1. In short, he played with confidence and was fundamentally solid which is where it must start with him. Even his offensive foul looked good.

As well as Bargnani played, the game ball goes to Jose Calderon and his 24 points and 14 assists. Jose’s outside jumper is soon going to be classified in the “deadly” category if it hasn’t already, when he has his feet set it’s a no-doubter and when coming off a screen where the PG goes under, he’ll drain it without hesitation, just ask Rondo. Anthony Parker’s efficient night of 8-12 FG offset a lot of things, one of them being Ray Allen. Allen went 7-16 for 19 points but had to work hard to get them, Parker was making him play defense and that naturally took away from Allen’s game. Besides the turnovers the main complaint against the guards today was letting Rajan Rondo and Tony Allen drive to the rim too easily, play your percentages and make them beat you from the outside, they can’t.

The +/- stat can be very misleading but sometimes it tells the entire story for a player and tonight Juan Dixon’s -13 was entirely indicative of what he brought to the floor. If there’s a game that you want Dixon sealed to the bench, it’s tonight. Boston made no secret of going at Dixon at every opportunity and always got points, Sam was smart to use him as little as possible and only because Calderon’s heart would’ve popped out of his mouth if he didn’t get a break. Personally, I would’ve given Graham a run today and see how he’d fare against Tony Allen who scored 14 straight on us. The rumor that Colangelo’s after Stoudamire might sound like good news but if he’s acquired it’ll throws a wrench at our point guard situation. I don’t even want to speculate what’s going to happen when TJ comes back (presumably after the All-Star break) and Damon’s demoted to 3rd string PG. Actually, since I think that would be a pretty shitty and unavoidable situation, it only makes sense that Colangelo won’t be going after Stoudamire.

I was calling for Humphries to get off the bench all game long, surely we could’ve use his hustle and muscle when we were having trouble grabbing boards, no? It’s one of those, “I’m glad we won so we won’t have to talk about it” decisions. The pessimist might say that this was a fluky win and we can’t possibly shoot 58% against Boston again, to which I’d say that we can’t also possibly commit 15 unforced turnovers. We saw some anomalies on both sides but in the end they evened out. There is a silver lining in the turnovers though, did you notice Jose trying to force the issue a few times and end up getting easy scores for Rasho, Bosh and Parker? One of the chief complaints against Jose is that he’s too conservative and doesn’t drive and kick, today he showed that if he wants, he can break down a good defensive guard like Rondo and create for his mates. His penetration set up more than a few open jumpers off the second pass, yeah, his inside-outside pass got picked off a couple times, but overall it was very effective.

Scalabrine’s three which put the Celtics up by 7 at the start of the fourth looked to be a turning point which would see Boston pull away. But Bosh, Parker and Delfino were huge to open the fourth while Calderon rested for four minutes. At first it appeared that Sam had made a mistake in benching Calderon to open the quarter and there’s no doubt if we’d lost, that would’ve been brought up in bolded font. However the aforementioned trio scored every single Raptor point until 30 seconds left in the game which is when Calderon took over. Even when the Celtics turned up their defensive intensity, the Raptors always had an answer which silenced the crowd and inched this game closer to being one of the best played between the two clubs.

Doc Rivers, you surprised by the shooting?

“Fifty-eight percent from the floor; 71 percent from the 3; 100 percent from the foul line. At least the foul line wasn’t guarded. Half the guys in our league couldn’t shoot 15-for-21 if they were in a gym by themselves, It was almost like we didn’t believe they would shoot another one.”

Yeah, I know Doc, sucks when the other team’s lighting you up, eh?

One-Liners:

* Anybody tired of watching Jamario Moon shoot jumpers yet?

* Carlos Delfino hovers so close to the border of being a chucker that sometimes we’re just forced to admit that the man looks for his shot first at all times. His baseline fadeaway and pull-up three was unacceptable, luckily, those are the only two shots he forced.

* Anthony Parker: There’s no reason to be unsatisfied with his play, I thought that the Doug Smith C grade was very harsh. He’s basically producing the same as last year, if you look at his PER, they’re almost identical. Yes, he has bad games but he doesn’t get stuck in ruts and continues to try to make the right plays on the court.

* Our rotations were brutal and we got carved out too easily once Pierce and Allen got into the lane.

* Chris Bosh took a backseat tonight and had a quiet 23/7 which was overshadowed by some turnovers where he tried to make passes which he’s never done before. He made three very tough jumpers which probably should’ve been drives but came up big for us in the fourth with key hoops and FTs. For the first time in a long time, the potentially great balance that this Raptors team has was displayed on the court.

* If Ray Allen would’ve hit that jumper this entire post would’ve been about defensive rebounding.

* So Bargnani’s ordering spinach salad’s with with Swirsky and Maurizio Gherardini (according to Chuck, he is God incarnated as man ) while Bosh and Moon are probably zoning out to Madden ’08. The company we keep.

* What does this win mean? It says Game 1 could’ve gone either way, in Game 2 we didn’t have our big guns, you guys beat us fair and square in Game 3 and we won Game 4. I think it gives the Raptors a true sense of belief that they can compete with Boston.

* Best defense in the NBA you say? 114 points I say. Fuckin ‘eh.

Later. Try the trivia, it took me a while to come up with the questions. Feed.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments »

Note to Colangelo: F**k pride!

Posted by Arsenalist on January 22, 2008

First of all, I have to give props to Raps Fan for actually doing a video podcast and revealing his mug on the internet. See, I could never do that, I was stepped on as a child and have the disfigurements to prove it. You may hear my high-pitch voice in the podcasts but my Quasimodo looks will never be revealed.

On to matters, I was going to write a deep post about how Colangelo might have fumbled by taking Bargnani as the #1 pick and I started my post like this:

I’m in favor of having a camera entirely focused on Colangelo and Gherardini any time Bargnani is in the game. I’m positive that with every error he commits and every fundamental thing he does wrong, there’ll be a look of slight disgust on Colangelo’s face while Gherardini will force himself to keep a straight face and pretend that this was all supposed to happen. Yes, it was all supposed to happen this way. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback with the draft and rip players who didn’t pan out while blasting their GMs for their selection, but this isn’t one of those cases. This is a case of a GM (and his influential friend) reaching out into a pool of talent from where there has only been one truly great player to come out. Now that would’ve been an acceptable choice if 2006 wouldn’t have been one of the better draft years of recent memory and there wasn’t any surefire talent available locally. But there was, and the Raptors said, “Naaaah, not good enough”.

After writing so much I realized that there was nothing I could say that hadn’t already been said or that the people that read this blog wouldn’t already know, so I stopped right there. But I may as well conclude my thoughts by saying that we did choose a project over a sure thing and are suffering the growing pains as warned by Bryan Colangelo as soon as the pick was made. But I don’t imagine that the needed “patience” Colangelo had called for would be of such extreme levels. Let’s look at Bargnani’s box scores over the last few games, if you have a weak heart, don’t click on the link.

Games like these don’t call for patience, they call for forbearance and submission. Now if you bring up this sensitive subject up with Colangelo he’s bound to attribute these struggles to a young European player coming in to the moshpit that is the NBA and having expected trouble in adjusting. But deep down even he must know that things aren’t going according to plan. No matter what he tells Bob McCowan and the media, he must know that this was not supposed to happen. Even Maurizio Gherardini, the architect of the Raptors (somebody remind me how great he is again), couldn’t have expected Andrea Bargnani to struggle so badly that even the staunchest of supporters are now raising an eyebrow at the selection.

I’m positive that the Raptors aren’t going to trade him, not this year, not the next. The reason isn’t even basketball related, the Raptors brass might be willing to give Andrea all the time in the world to find his game wherever that might be. Even if they’ve come to realize that his ceiling was vastly overestimated and that his fundamentals aren’t where they should be, they’re willing to stick through their pick and the reason is pride. And as Ving Rhames put it in Pulp Fiction:

“That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck Pride!”

And that’s exactly what Bryan Colangelo needs to do, he needs to fuck pride and do what’s best for this team. And this unpaid blogger and hardcore fan is saying that it might be time to salvage what’s left of the remains and see how we can increase Bargnani’s value and deal him for something worthwhile. It’s an avenue that needs to be explored. Perhaps it might just be a change of scenery that does the trick for him, maybe he needs a coach like Pat Riley who’ll make him run 100 suicides after every scrimmage where he doesn’t grab 10 rebounds. Whatever it is that will get him out of his funk isn’t happening in Toronto, we’ve tried everything that we can to get him out of his slump and nothing seems to work. These thoughts of him playing the 3 so he can utilize his “quickness” is bullshit, he will get eaten alive on defense and still won’t be able to grab boards because he’ll be playing against more agile players who on top of everything else, play harder than him.

At this point in the season, I don’t even give a shit if he plays well or not as long as he rides the pine if he’s hurting the team. If he’s going to stink things up I want him playing 10 minutes, not 25. Kudos to Sam Mitchell and his quick yank and don’t give me this shit about volume minutes.

Enough about Bargnani!

I always read Michael Grange and Doug Smith‘s blog hoping to find some insight into the Raptors’ player relationships, team camaraderie, what players think of other players in the league and other such insights that only people with media credentials have access to. And although Grange’s blog is pretty good, I’ve always been disappointed with both of them when it comes to providing some interesting insights. For example the Forderon debate, what do players think of it? What really is Sam Mitchell’s day-to-day relationship with Bargnani? Seeing how they sit courtside, the least they could do is tell us what some of the strategies Sam talked about on the sidelines? What was somebody’s reaction when they were taken out of the game? What does Maceo Baston think of himself? You know, shit that we as fan can’t see for ourselves. Anybody can come up with lame ratings.

We have two huge games coming up with Washington right after we play Boston and Milwaukee and judging by the way they manhandled Dallas, I’ll be very thankful to come out 1-1. This team might be better without Arenas (I know, stupid thing to say), the ball is moving through everybody’s hands and usually ending up with either Butler, Stevenson and Jamison, all fine scorers. The Raptors will have trouble against the trio’s athleticism and the size of Brendan Haywood (who we passed over for Michael Bradley when trying to address the inside-presence need, go figure). Assuming we actually go 2-2 in the final three games of the month (an optimistic assumption) we’ll come out 7-6. I know, it’s disappointing.

It’s hard for me to get excited about the dunk contest because the best dunker of the century is still healthy and sitting on the sidelines. This will be the first dunk contest I’ll actually tune into since the VC days and the reason is of course Jamario Moon. If you look at his competition so far, I’d actually say that he’s got a pretty good shot of winning this thing, the primary competition might come from a motivated Gerald Green who’s still bitter about Rob Babcock passing him over. Twice.

I’ll be missing Friday’s game because I’m off to New York for the weekend (not my decision). If one of you would be kind enough to do a guest post for the blog, just email me by filling out this form. Although I can’t pay you, I will be thankful.

Later. Feed.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »