Arsenalist

The Toronto Raptors Blog with an Arsenal touch

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bosh’

Eventually the Magic were going to make their threes

Posted by Arsenalist on April 26, 2008

Orlando Magic 106, Toronto Raptors 94

The thing we feared finally happened, Orlando started hitting their threes. They were getting wide open looks for the fourth game in a row and it was only a matter of time before they started going in. That time came in the second half of Game 4 where the Magic went 7-12 from three after going 4-17 in the first half. That was the game right there. The Raptors failed to consistently match their defensive intensity from Game 3 in the second half and poor offensive games from Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker contributed to the sputtering offense. As much as Chris Bosh’s 39/15 are to be admired, his defense on Lewis and Howard was extremely suspect. The Raptors drop pivotal Game 4 and head back to Orlando facing a daunting task of stopping the Magic snipers.

In the pre-game post I had alluded to the advantage the Raptors might have in the Bargnani/Howard matchup and how Bargnani might have the ability to take advantage of Howard’s lack of lateral quickness to pick up some early fouls on him. Nothing remotely close to that happened as Andrea made his first jumper and after that went 0-6 with not a single shot attempt inside the paint. When you get 5 points and 2 rebounds from your starting center it’s going to be a rough night. Andrea’s offseason can’t start soon enough so he can learn some fundamentals of basketball including shooting, dribbling, footwork and decision-making.

The best Raptors defensive possession was the first one in the fourth quarter where for the first time in the game a hard, meaningful, fruitful double team was deployed followed by a quick recovery. Other than that our defense stuck to its same old template: Hedo/Lewis taking Bosh/Moon/Delfino of the dribble and drawing in Bosh/Rasho/Ford to kick out to Bogans/Evans/Lewis. That’s how they’ve won 3 games and there’s evidently nothing we can do to stop them, our defensive plan there is to hope they miss. It worked in Game 3 and almost worked in Game 2 but as the Raptors themselves will tell you that’s not a reliable defensive strategy. In addition to hitting their threes, their SFs mixed it up by attacking the paint forcing matchup nightmares for the Raptors. We looked helpless and this time there was nothing the crowd could do to make the Raptors find that defensive drive that’s been missing all season.

I’m a big fan of Chris Bosh’s intensity and hard work and without his 39/15 we’re in trouble, if you sense a ‘but’ coming you’re right. Rashard Lewis was taking him off the dribble at will and either scoring or kicking out to shooters for the swing sequence, that really hurt the Raptors. Bosh and Bargnani did an extremely poor job on Howard in the first quarter and literally never boxed him out allowing him to collect second chance points when the Magic were struggling. Bosh settling for jumpers with Jameer Nelson and Marcin Gortat on him didn’t help either. Fine, I’ll stop the Bosh criticism because for the most part he played well.

Let’s face it, for us to win tonight almost everything would’ve needed to go perfect as the Magic are the superior team. Hedo and Lewis are far superior players to Parker and Moon, Howard is a much bigger force than Bosh and Stan Van Gundy can outwit Sam Mitchell in his sleep. The only advantage we have is the point guard position and when Jameer Nelson plays that even, our chances of winning evaporate. TJ Ford’s 12/13 were much needed and his decisions on the break perfect, but once he went to the bench our offense labored with Calderon at the helm. Nobody predicted Jameer Nelson draining big fourth quarter shots but there’s no excuse for Calderon to leave him open on three straight possessions. The PG battle goes in favor of Orlando. Again.

The one technicality that I’d like to mention is the Raptors defense when there’s less than 6 seconds on the shot clock, instead of pressuring the ball and taking the shot away we encourage the offensive player to go one-on-one. I counted at least 5 instances in this game where a hard trap would’ve extinguished the Magic possession but since we allowed the player to make a one-on-one move, we ended giving up the score. The Magic deserve a lot of credit for spacing the floor, attacking the rim and playing intelligent basketball. They ended up with 18 turnovers but many of them were just results of aggressive basketball like establishing Howard inside, driving by our PGs and on the break.

Since 2 of our starters (Moon, Bargnani) gave us nothing on offense and a third starter didn’t do a damn thing till the fourth quarter (Parker), it meant that the bench needed to step up. However, only 1 man (Kapono) showed up, the other 3 key bench guys (Nesterovic, Calderon, Delfino) gave us a total of 9 points. The bench ended up scoring 21 which pales in comparison to the 41 from Game 3. Again, its hard to win when you’re getting sub-par performances from your starters and your bench.

We ran some very stagnant sets in the fourth quarter which resulted in Carlos Delfino taking two ill-advised shots and TJ Ford jacking one up. The age old problem of the Raptors being unable to score in the clutch reared its ugly head again. The nerves get a little tighter, the defense a little more aggressive and the officiating a little more loose, its situations like these where we need that elusive player that can create his own shot while setting up others, just like Hedo and Lewis. Bosh isn’t there yet and perhaps may never get there, he’s too tentative in the post and lacks a reliable finishing touch to be considered a great scorer. At least not yet. Of course it doesn’t help when Parker’s air-balling open threes set up by Bosh doubles but I’ve come to expect that of Anthony Parker. I know, its harsh.

If open threes in the second half was problem #1, rebounding was #1a. It was 42-34 in favor of the Magic who got crucial offensive rebounds in the third quarter leading to scores which kept them in the game, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis supplying the most demoralizing ones. You got the feeling that the Raptors needed to be up 10-15 going into the fourth to have a shot at this one because of our unreliable offense and the likelihood of a Magic run. So when we were up by only 1 heading into the fourth, the writing for a loss was on the wall.

Kudos to the Magic for recognizing their mistakes from Game 3, coming out aggressive and establishing their SFs in the paint. They talked about it pre-game and executed it to perfection. I’m not sure what Chuck Swirsky and Leo Rautins’ issue with Rashard Lewis is, every time he misses a shot, they’re on his case. The guy’s killing us, how can you not see that?

The officiating in this game was horrible once again, maybe the reason the NBA used to space out games is because of a lack of good refs. Both teams had legitimate complaints throughout the game, as a Raptors fan I counted at least 4 non-calls. I’m sure the Magic had their fair share too.

Game 5 is on Monday night and its going to take something special to win that. I’m not sure the Raptors have it in them.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 35 Comments »

Game 3: Raptors fight past Magic but its only one game

Posted by Arsenalist on April 25, 2008

Sea of Red - Toronto Raptors

Orlando Magic 94, Toronto Raptors 108

Excellent performance, great win, but the job’s not yet done. Before we get carried away we need to realize that this game will mean little if we have a letdown on Saturday and head back to Orlando down 3-1. I’ll just say a few more words of caution before we get to the game. Much like in the series against Philadelphia, we managed to easily beat the Magic in our first home game, it’s an almost natural win. A team down 0-2 comes back home and wins behind a great crowd. You feel like you’re back in the series and let your guard down just a bit and in the next game you get stung by a bitter home loss. The Raptors suffered a letdown in that game with Iverson’s steal on Oakley followed by a deep 3 tilting the advantage in favor of Philly who stole back home-court advantage and tied the series at 2-2. The Raptors must ensure that they don’t repeat the same mistake, only this time they’d be facing a 3-1 hole.

On to the game, the Raptors finally came out with the energy that’s been missing from their 1st quarters and the “change” that Sam Mitchell made wasn’t really a change at all, it was one of the most familiar lineups the Raptors have played all season – Bargnani, Bosh, Moon, Ford and Parker. There was nothing complicated about the lineup and it was basically common sense more than anything. The excellent first quarter start proved once again how unnecessary the Game 1 and 2 adjustments really were, this team played the Magic tight in the regular season with a “traditional” lineup, there was never a need to make a change.

Jamario Moon’s insertion into the lineup yielded instant dividends as he led the Raptors rebounding effort with 10 on the way to outmanning the Magic 42-34 – a rare feat indeed. He didn’t take a single bad shot and always looked to pass when the Magic were daring him to shoot. Bargnani’s defense on Howard was fundamentally sound and forced Howard into taking a few uncomfortable looking shots, Howard still got his on the offensive glass but overall, he was well-contained by the Raptors and the whistle-happy officials. Howard might be a beast but there are weaknesses in his game that are there to exploit, he doesn’t have great footwork, is turnover prone and isn’t a great passer out of double teams. The pressure the Raptors put on him today showed that.

The Sea of Red at the ACC did their job, the energy of the crowd propelled the Raptors as they hit the offensive glass, knocked down their jumpers and were active on defense. Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Parker provided some early scoring and TJ Ford was instrumental in pressuring Nelson and not allowing the Magic guard to penetrate and find shooters. A 28-20 first quarter was something the Raptors desperately needed and it set the table up for a confident and energetic game. The Magic chipped away at the Raptor lead but TJ Ford singlehandedly went on an 11 point run against Carlos Arroyo late in the second quarter to push the lead to 21 at the half. What might get lost in the second quarter is Rasho Nesterovic’s 6-minute spell of Chris Bosh which allowed the latter to get some rest after looking sluggish early on.

Every Magic run was answered as Jose Calderon and TJ Ford picked out shooters to a tune of 49%. Aside from some brief stretches in the second half, the Raptors ball movement was crisp and effective. When we’re hitting our outside shots, everything opens up for us and it doesn’t even matter if Chris Bosh has 3 points at the half as long as he’s kicking out of the hard Magic doubles effectively. Jose Calderon’s recognition of when to shoot and when to pass is flawless, he made the Magic pay for doubling Bosh off of him by knocking the perimeter jumper and was ultra-quick in starting the swing sequences when he didn’t have a clean look. The best example of his court awareness was when he dribbled the ball across the right side of the court and through the paint while dragging the defense with him and then finding Bosh for a dunk in the paint. TJ Ford’s strong performance also meant Dave Feschuk hopping on the Ford bandwagon, all it takes is one game for this to flip. If Ford goes 2-10 in Game 4 he’ll go back to calling him a problem child. Wanker.

The Magic were still able to get guard penetration but it wasn’t as bad as the previous games, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis have shown that they can get by their man with relative ease and find Evans and Bogans at the corners, fortunately for us the Magic aren’t hitting their perimeter shots – 6-27 3FG for 22%. This is a scary stat because you get a feeling that they’ll eventually start knocking them down. The Raptors were better at contesting shots today but for us to even this series on Saturday we have to do a better job of keeping Lewis and Turkoglu at bay – and that means Chris Bosh must not bite on Lewis’ fakes and Parker/Moon should tempt Hedo to shoot.

The Player of the Game had to be the ACC crowd, they had a direct impact on the game and were very much responsible for Howard’s 3-8 FT performance. You could tell that the Haawwaard chant was getting to D12, not so much the Superman Sucks one. Howard ended up with 19/12 but it wasn’t the demoralizing type of performance that we saw in Games 1 and 2, he turned the ball over 5 times, wasn’t able to pass out of double teams and showed his frustration with the officials and his teammates.

Forderon’s 39/16 contribution was the difference in the game and the bench did its part outscoring the Magic reserves 42-24, this was how this series was envisioned if you’re a Raptors fan. Dominant point guard play, X-factor production, Bosh canceling out Howard and superior outside shooting from the Raptors – that’s how we can get back in the series and have a chance to win it. For the first time in quite some time you can honestly say that the Raptors played with a hunger and desire greater than the other team. We got to keep it going on Saturday otherwise its all for naught.

Apparently Jameer Nelson collapsed after the game because of back spasms, I think Forderon abused him a bit much today. Hopefully they don’t let up on the little bugger in Game 4.

I am at a complete loss to explain Jason Kapono’s performance. Another great game for him, 15 points on 6-10 shooting, its not like the Magic are leaving him wide open. He’s been able to run out on the break, find favorable positions to spot up from and keep the defense honest by dribble-driving. However, a lot of his success can be credited to Calderon who is looking for him on every opportunity. Jose’s recognition of “hot hands” is superb, he’ll almost always pass you the ball if you’ve made your previous shot. Delfino’s minutes were productive, he hit a big three, grabbed 6 rebounds and most importantly played Turkoglu and Bogans tight. Anthony Parker made up for his miserable Game 2 with 10 points and some very effective close-outs on Bogans/Evans and Lewis. Usually his shot contests are in vain but tonight he did more than just waive his arms as the shot was being released, he actually bothered the release.

Sam Mitchell did a good job of using his timeouts, usually he waits far too long before putting an end to runs. His timeout after Lewis opened the third quarter with two straight threes got the Raptors thinking straight once again. Complacency is almost natural when you get a 21 point lead and that’s even more true with this Raptors squad. We’ve blown big leads, small leads, fourth quarter leads, and all kinds of other leads, so it was a breath of fresh air to see us make a stand and answer every Magic run. As I said before, if we’re moving the ball crisply across the perimeter after Bosh double teams, we’re an entirely different team than the stagnant mess you see at times. I’m not saying we’re great, but we’re good enough to beat other defensively suspect teams like the Magic.

The guy that scares me the most on the Magic is Rashard Lewis, he can get by Bosh at will and is too big and lengthy for Moon, Parker or Delfino to guard. If he sets his mind to taking our SFs in the post, he can give us nightmares. He was 8-15 FG and 3-8 from three, that means when he was playing near the paint he was shooting 5-7. The more we can keep him on the perimeter, the better. I don’t know if the Magic know this but the biggest mismatch in their favor is Rashard Lewis against anybody on the Raptors. Here’s hoping they never figure that out.

Dime Mag’s got an interesting quote and take on Sam Mitchell “not caring” about what the media says:

…And then there was Sam Mitchell. When a reporter asked if he was gonna take credit for the Raps playing better after Games 1 and 2, Mitchell said, “No, I’m not going to take any credit, because I’d be scared to death if you actually gave me some. We’re not going to do that. You just keep on doing what you do; chopping me up, putting me in the meat grinder. And that’s fine, because I’m not going to read it anyway. It doesn’t bother me. That’s what I keep telling you guys. How can something bother you that you’re not conscious of? I don’t ever read what’s spoken about me or printed about me. I’m just going to coach the basketball team.” Really? That sounds a lot like someone who is VERY MUCH aware of and bothered by what’s written about him

Forderon is the Top Rap but since we can’t have two, I flipped a coin. A note to the clowns wearing white: you guys stand out like a sore thumb. WTF is your excuse for not taking the free T-Shirt they handed out? Another quick hit: Adnan Virk was hitting on Dwight Howard’s dad.

More later.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 28 Comments »

Game 3 Preview: Sea of Red looks to even series

Posted by Arsenalist on April 24, 2008

It’s do or die time, no exaggeration. If we lose Game 3, there won’t even be a point in continuing in the series and we may as well empty out the bench and get Maceo Baston some playoff experience in Game 4. The Raptors have their backs against the perennial wall but lucky for them they’ll be coming home to the cauldron that is the Sea of Red at the ACC. If the crowd and atmosphere can inspire them to play any form of consistent defense, they will have a chance to send this series back to Orlando all tied up. No, I’m not crazy.

It goes without saying that the difference between winning and losing in Game 2 couldn’t have been more than a hair’s breadth. Mitchell’s unimaginative play calling, questionable non-calls, missed FTs and a furious defensive sequence where we failed to keep possession did the Raptors in. If any of those one things go our way, we win the game. Let’s also not forget the horrible first quarter. It’s natural to feel hopeless but there is one singular reason to feel optimistic: we were in both games late in the fourth quarter despite giving up a massive spread early in the game. A simplistic line of thinking would be that if we have a better first quarter, we’ll be alright.

So to ensure a better start Sam Mitchell’s tweaking with the starting lineup yet again but is keeping it a secret. A logical change would be to insert either Moon or Rasho back in the lineup over Bargnani and replace TJ Ford with Jose Calderon. As impressive as TJ was in the second quarter of Game 2, Calderon was instrumental in the fourth quarter run and has done a better job of guarding the pesky Nelson. When playing against TJ, Nelson is shooting 9-14 (62%) for 28 of his points while against Calderon, he’s 4-9 (44%) for 14 of points. The better defensive performance is reason enough to make the switch. Here’s Michael Grange’s thoughts.

If Andrea Bargnani starts the game again, Sam Mitchell should be fired at the end of the first quarter. The experiment has failed and Sam should’ve accepted that after Game 1 to prevent articles like these that rip him to shreds. Game 2 should serve as further confirmation of the fact that Andrea Bargnani is not read to play the SF position and putting him in a situation where he’s bound to fail is detrimental to the team. Bargnani’s lone rebound performance in Game 2 is unacceptable and he must help out Chris Bosh in dealing with Dwight Howard. More specifically, he needs to make the rotations and box out Howard when Bosh goes off to help. It’s not so much Howard’s offensive moves and muscle that’s hurting us but his putbacks which are the source of second chance points after taxing defensive stands. Maybe Brezec can trouble him? Surely, he’s good for something. In other Bargnani news, Bryan Colangelo has an “extensive off-season program” planned for Bargani. We’ll analyze the results to death in September.

Are the Raptors problems a lack of preparation or a lack of execution? If you ask Doug Smith, he’ll swear its execution but that’s because he’s Sam Mitchell’s little pet. The truth of the matter is that execution has been a problem all year long and nobody will doubt that. However, looking closely at any Raptors offensive or defensive schemes, the underlying basketball philosophy is too simpleminded to be effective in a playoff series where preparation and adjustments are paramount. In other words, these Raptor players and coaches are not ready for the playoffs. Exonerating Mitchell by saying its a problem with team execution and not with what’s happening between games is ridiculous and the two first quarters beg to differ.

Jason Kapono’s been a breath of fresh air and has taken it upon himself to manufacture some shot attempts. One of Stan van Gundy’s concerns will be Kapono getting open looks and Sam Mitchell should expect life to be much more difficult for Kapono in Game 3. He’ll have to make some in-game adjustments to whatever SVG will have implemented in an attempt to contain Kapono or else the sharp-shooter will regress into his late-season form. Anthony Parker’s zero point performance could easily be seen as one of the prime reasons for the Game 2 loss, his defense on Turkoglu almost made up for it until he let Keith Bogans drain two wide open threes in the fourth. Parker tends to bounce back from bad games and I’m expecting him to step up and score somewhere between 15-18 points on Thursday night.

Looking forward to Jamario Moon realizing he can’t shoot and either passing the ball up or doing something that might draw some contact, it’s probably too much to ask this late in the season but a man can dream. His rebounding is always welcome but if he can manage to neutralize Hedo by 50% and/or completely take out Bogans’ outside shooting, he’d have done his job. The Raptors need to come out with an end-to-end defensive effort and sustain it for the entire game, it might be too much to ask but these are trying times. We’ve shown that we can score against the Magic, its obviously the defensive end that’s the issue. Rectify that and we’re in business, it starts with close-outs on Nelson, Bogans and Lewis and ends with crisp rotations inside the paint.

I’m watching the Lakers/Nuggets as I type this and Phil Jackson just reiterated the importance of preventing guard penetration by saying nothing else really matters if you’re letting the other team get to the paint and pick out scoring options. Sounds simple enough and if I’m whoever’s guarding Turkoglu, I concede the three until he makes at least a couple before challenging him to drive. He’s shown he can take it to the rim, it’s time we make him shoot some threes which he’s only 1-7 at and hopefully the ACC atmosphere can add some additional pressure.

On a betting note, I told you to take the Raptors +7 in Game 2 and if you did, you made some money. The Raptors are favoured in Game 3 and laying 4, take the Raptors to win this one for the crowd in the same way they won Game 3 against Philadelphia many moons ago.

More links tomorrow, got nothing to do until then, chew on this: Dwayne Wade and Star Jones are an item.

Let’s go you Raptors!

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 41 Comments »

Game 2 Heartbreak: Mitchell draws up middle-school play with :09 left

Posted by Arsenalist on April 23, 2008

Toronto Raptors 103, Orlando Magic 104

Phil Jackson once said that a series hasn’t even started until a team loses a home game, so take some solace in knowing that we have what it takes to beat the Magic. Today was an extremely unlucky evening where we were any one of a rebound or a point away from winning the game, it’s just sad that Chris Bosh couldn’t hit the jumper and it’s much sadder that the quality of play coming out of a crucial timeout was lacking even the slightest thought or basketball sense.

Let’s absolve Chris Bosh of any blame in the Game 2 loss. He led the team in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and minutes. To use a cliche, he left everything he had out on the floor and gave it his best. At the end of the game there was nothing in his tank and he did all he could to rescue any kind of a return in Orlando. He missed a 20-footer which was taken on exhausted legs with the clock winding down, surely we could’ve come up with something better given the hot shooting of Jose Calderon, Jason Kapono or even Andrea Bargnani.

This one falls on Sam Mitchell. What is Mitchell’s job? His job is supposed to be to use his basketball intellect to our advantage in these situations by drawing up a play that is likely to create a good shot, not a 20 footer for a power forward who’s clearly winded after playing practically the entire game. Giving him the ball beyond the key and asking him to do a Kobe impersonation is unfair and setting him up to fail. When was the last time Amare Stoudamire, Dwight Howard or even the great Tim Duncan were given the ball on an isolation play 20 feet from the rim with 5 seconds left? If that’s the “play” you’re going to call, there’s not even a need for a timeout, just come out and freestyle like you’ve been doing all year, at least you’ll catch the defense somewhat off-guard. The lack of creativity displayed by Mitchell surpasses anything that he’s shown thus far in his Raptors tenure and he is directly responsible for not doing his job in giving the Raptors an opportunity to win this game. Here’s a quote from an Orlando Sentinel story which sums up the difference between the two teams:

The Magic, judging by their surprisingly easy Game 1 victory and their incredibly difficult 104-103 victory in Game 2 Tuesday night, are reading from the exact same page, doing what they have to do at the exact right time, buying into what their coach is diagramming almost exactly as he has drawn it up. In contrast, the Raptors aren’t reading from the same page. They are too often confused — as if their playbook is written in hieroglyphics. The players have second-guessed the coach, the coach has sparred with the media, the media has all but started a coaching search.”

It’s important to note that on the previous Bosh on Howard possession, Bosh was fouled by Howard and the officials swallowed their whistle, there was no reason to believe that wasn’t going to happen again. It doesn’t excuse Bosh from driving but does put a doubt in a players’ mind that if he does manage to draw contact, it will be of no avail. Needless to say he’s got the right to be pissed about the play.

Critics of Bosh may can say that he choked and failed to deliver in the clutch. Yes, his second half was much weaker than his first and he did have a chance to win the game and couldn’t hit the big shot. One can’t argue there. However, the focus of the entire Magic defense was on Bosh after the first half and that’s one of the main reasons why so many other Raptors got open looks. Bosh was simply exhausted because of his defensive duties on Dwight Howard and his stellar help defense on any Magic guard penetrating the lane, his rotations were always on time and if every Raptor big man had stepped up on the interior rotations like Bosh, we would’ve been in a comfortable lead rather than trying to claw one out.

Let’s get to the game itself. After the disastrous first quarter in Game 1, Sam Mitchell failed to learn his lesson and repeated the same mistake by starting Andrea Bargnani at the SF position – a position that he has never played in his life. Ever. So it’s not a surprise that his new role is a ‘tall order’ for him. The first quarter result was once again eerily similar. The Raptors defense was unable to contain Magic guard penetration or contain Howard who was left to get his points off the boards and through deep positioning. It wasn’t until the second quarter when a smaller lineup without Bargnani was able to whittle the Magic lead all the way down to two. Chris Bosh, TJ Ford and a reborn Jason Kapono (wherever its coming from, just don’t stop now) playing a huge part in the Raptor run keyed on by some aggressive pressure defense by TJ Ford on Jameer Nelson.

You could argue once again that it was entirely the poor start that cost us the game. Just like we had outscored the Magic 77-71 in the final three quarters on Sunday, we outscored them 85-69 in the final three quarters on Tuesday. We failed to make the proper adjustments between the two games and repeated the same mistakes all over again. The preparedness and intensity that the Raptors talked about coming out with prior to the game was nowhere to be found. What’s surprising is Mitchell not admitting his mistake in starting Bargnani and being stubborn enough to do it again to the detriment of the team. If he does this for a third game in a row, he no doubt is a moron.

An evenly played third quarter could’ve been much better for the Raptors hadn’t it been for two huge Jameer Nelson threes which prevented the Raptors from extending their modest five point lead. The Magic were living off second chance points and although Andrea Bargnani’s 9 points were much welcome, his 1 rebound output in 18 minutes borders on pathetic. However, nothing affects Andrea, he’s never worried or concerned and just takes everything in stride. Must be that bloody Caliper test. Jose Calderon, Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani’s points offset Howard’s big fourth quarter where he got help from two monster threes from Keith Bogans (left open by a late recovering Anthony Parker). That setup the flurry of activity in the final minute that you’re all too aware of.

Carlos Delfino’s missed free throw, Chris Bosh unable to save the ball with a one point lead, the Raptors unable to rebound after three Orlando misses, a horribly designed play with the game on the line were all factors in this loss. As a team it was hard for us to play much better, our bench outscored theirs 57-18 and held them to 43% shooting and 29% from three point range. We shot 46% and 38% from three-land yet we managed to lose. Anthony Parker had an absolutely miserable offensive game and was held scoreless, his defense on Turkoglu was tight but he left Keith Bogans wide open to hit two massive threes in the fourth quarter. On a side note Leo Rautins failed to mention even once how “clutch” and “big time” of a performer Anthony Parker is. Anyway, we were lucky that the Magic missed a lot of open threes giving our late-recovering, double-team happy defense a reprieve.

Almost all of Dwight Howard’s 7 offensive rebounds were a result of Chris Bosh helping out and nobody rotating to cover Howard. Nobody expects this problem to be fixed in the playoffs because this is a long-stemming issue that’s been there since two years. One would think Howard commands enough attention that Andrea Bargnani would care to come over and put a body on him as Bosh goes off to provide help. Will Jamario Moon ever realize that the reason he’s open is because teams want him to shoot? A 1-7 performance where he passed up at least five chances to attack the rim and instead either passed it off or took a bad shot; in a game where you lose by the narrowest or margins, all these things come into play. What if TJ Ford hadn’t gone 1-8 or hadn’t committed 4 turnovers? What if Bargnani had just one more rebound? What if our starting SG had more than 0 points? What if…..the list goes on.

There were stretches today where we played defense at a high intensity and were patient with our offense. Having Kapono on his game finishing off plays definitely opens up the floor and makes life easier for everybody, the same goes for Calderon’s outside shooting. The question is can our supporting cast replicate this effort in games 3 and 4 without suffering a letdown defensively and on the boards. I think if we play the same way we did today in the two home games and come out of the gates moderately well, we’ll be fine. There will be more changes for Game 3, hopefully one of them will be reverting back to our regular starting lineup.

The lasting memory from this game will be Bosh’s missed shot but underneath that image is the root of the Raptors problem – the inability to score in the clutch due to lack of creativity and movement, and that in my humble opinion falls on the coach. For me the memory will be of the Raptors unable to corral a rebound after countless Magic misses with less than a minute remaining and nursing a one point lead. That could’ve been the game right there.

The steaming pile of shit that is Dave Feshcuk disagrees with Phil Jackson’s idea of a home loss kickstarting a series and has already written off the Raptors. His article this morning has as much insight as a dog’s ass.

The psychological blow from this loss can be big but the Raptors have to realize that they’ve proved that they’re capable of winning in Orlando, it’s time to return to the Sea of Red and send this series back to Orlando all tied up. The odds are stacked against us – 94% of teams that go up 2-0 end up winning the series – but there’s no doubt about whether we can tie it up at 2-2 and go from there.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 61 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 »

Raps beat Knicks – Beggars can’t be choosers

Posted by Arsenalist on March 28, 2008

NY Knicks 95, Toronto Raptors 103

Beggars can’t be choosers so we can’t be getting too picky about the type of wins we get as long as they’re wins. Despite missing Robinson, Marbury, Randolph and Curry, the Knicks put up a very commendable fight and if it weren’t for their bad FT shooting and blown gimme layups, this one might’ve been one of those “I don’t believe we just lost that” games for the Raptors. The sense of urgency that we expected to see in these final 12 games was only there for the first quarter and after going up big on the Knicks early, we shifted down a few gears and expected NY to fade. A trend far too disconcerting for anyone.

No matter how big or small the Raptor lead was there was a general feeling that it was a comfortable one, aside from Jamal Crawford, the Knicks didn’t have a firepower scorer that could propel them to a win. Crawford and Jared Jeffries did their best in cutting a 17 point deficit down to 3 in the second quarter but fortunately for the Raptors, that was the last of the big Knick runs. We had serious trouble putting them away because our offense couldn’t handle the zone and the pressure they were applying on Bosh (5 TOs). Our defense couldn’t contain the Knicks’ playground style of ball which consisted of one-on-one moves and jacking up the first chance at a shot. If the Knicks had been a little more patient or if Fred Jones didn’t suck, they’d have a lot more to say in this one.

Neither team played very well, the Raptors struggled stopping the Knicks and the Knicks never got into any sort of offensive rhythm. If the Raptors had played better defense and played with more intensity, there was no reason why the Knicks wouldn’t have been blown out of the water by the third quarter. This might cost us against New Orleans because Bosh ended up playing a game-high 47 minutes! Yup, our superstar needed to play 47 minutes against the second worst team in the East who happened to be missing 60% of their starting lineup. Yikes!

Chris Bosh (29/10/1) had his hands full with Jared Jeffries (21/10/3) who was running the break, hitting the glass and being very aggressive by attacking the rim. Bosh had a strong but quiet night, he spread his points across the game and seemed to come up with timely baskets whenever the Knicks were about to get too close for comfort. Isiah Thomas noticed it too:

“Toronto did a good job of keeping us at bay, whenever we tried to make a run, Bosh was there to answer it.”

Stick Rasho Nesterovic into any role and he’ll produce, tonight he was at his best and kept getting deep position on David Lee and Jeffries for scores around the hoop. The beautiful part about the 18/8 from Rasho is that they all come naturally, not a single shot is forced and not a single shot can be considered a bad shot. Needless to say his play has been superb, what does get lost in his performances is what he’s been able to do on the defensive end by throwing his wide load of a body around to block out players from getting offensive rebounds. Unless there’s a serious helter-skelter under the rim, you’ll never see his man pick up an offensive rebound.

It wasn’t pretty watching the Raptors trying to figure out NY’s zone defense nor was it any fun to watch us crumble when the ball was pressured. TJ Ford did a good job of figuring out what NY was doing and never forced it by going blindly at the heart of the zone but choosing to penetrate just enough so that zone would somewhat collapse on him in the paint and he’d pick out his options. A very controlled and impressive 10 point, 9 assist and 0 turnover performance from TJ which included an ankle-breaking move on Jared Jeffries made for Sportscenter (the ESPN kind, not the TSN garbage).

Andrea Bargnani tends to play pretty well against the trash of the NBA so it wasn’t surprising to see him put up a decent night of 12/4 in 22 minutes. It’s the sort of performance you can build on, maybe go to bed happy tonight that you hit a few shots, managed to get a nice dunk and weren’t manned-out on the boards. But he should be anxious to get back on the floor on Sunday so that he can build pressure on Sam to put him back in the starting lineup. I want the man to be ticked off that he’s coming off the bench and it should motivate him to play harder and smarter. A lot’s been made of the “internal competition” on the Raptors – Graham/Moon/Delfino and Ford/Calderon – but the most interesting one is the minutes battle between Rasho and Bargnani. Idealy speaking, Bargnani would play 35 productive minutes a game and in the process hone his skill-set and start becoming the next Nowitzki while the veteran Rasho spells him for 12-17 minutes a game. But it’s turning out quite differently coming down the final stretch with Rasho playing the bigger role and Bargnani being part of the supporting cast. A bit of an unexpected role reversal. On a somewhat related unrelated note, Barraketh on RealGM summed it up nicely:

The problem with Bargs is that he was picked too high. The man has huge flaws in his game, and though it’s possible that he will be able to overcome them and become a great player, it’s by no means a sure thing. If we were a team like Seattle, we could let him play through his mistakes. However, we’re a playoff team, and we need to win now as well as later. He was given his shot as a starter, he didn’t learn on the job fast enough to keep him there – guess what, that’s NBA for you! It’s absurd to say that he hasn’t been given a chance to succeed. From here on out he has to earn his minutes just like anyone else – by contributing on the floor. Hopefully he’ll train hard this offseason and come back a much improved player.

A very stupid moment occurred in the game where Chuck Swirsky was openly laughing at how the Knicks weren’t running any set plays but just going around “freelancing” as suggested by Jack Armstrong. Do they not see the hypocrisy in this or have they completely shut out the fact that we are one of the worst when it comes to freelancing on offense? Also, did anybody catch Swirsky saying Amare Stoudamire is neck and neck with Kevin Garnett when it comes to who’s more deserving of the MVP? I hope this guy doesn’t get an MVP vote. I can point to at least 4 other very homerish/questionable things uttered by the Swirsk, but lets not dwell on it.

Till Sunday.

Liners:

  • Phoenix spanked Philly so we’re back in the 6th spot. Big game on Sunday, Hornets lost to the Celtics so they’ll be looking to get back to winning ways.
  • I wonder where the Knicks would be if they fielded the same lineup they did tonight and didn’t have Randolph/Curry/Marbury. They’d probably win the same number of games but at least they’d be fun to watch and a lot cheaper.
  • Jason Kapono with 7 scoreless minutes. I’m trying to think of how this guy can have an impact on this team and right now I’m coming up blank.
  • Seeing Jamario Moon pass up a jumper to drive and dunk the ball in the first quarter was a welcome sign and Jack Armstrong very correctly pointed out that we need a lot more of that. But in typical Moon style, that was the last such play.
  • We played down to the level of our competition but we have good outside shooters and the 50% shooting bailed us out.
  • I disagree with Swirsky/Armstrong that David Lee is the one guy you’d pick up from the Knicks. It’s Jamal Crawford by a big margin.
  • After Charlotte, Detroit is the only +.500 team we’ll face and even they’ll be resting their starters.
  • CB4 = Top Rap.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

Raptors lose another “statement game” to Cleveland

Posted by Arsenalist on March 22, 2008

Toronto Raptors 83, Cleveland Cavaliers 90

Depending on your Raptor beliefs you can look at this one in a few different ways: 1) All in all a good effort by the Raps, too much Lebron in the end 2) Jose sat for way too long in the third/fourth quarter during which time Cleveland went +6, 3) Cleveland owned us on the boards 51-35 as expected and rightfully deserved to win, 4) If we don’t shoot 39%, Bosh doesn’t go 7/18 and Bargnani shows a horse’s ass worth of talent, maybe we get a shot at a win, 5) We should’ve doubled Lebron more, especially in the fourth and made someone else beat us. All 5 points are valid ones, now it simply depends on which one you want to give more weight to and assign as reasons for the loss.

Lebron James has owned us in the fourth quarter of practically every game and yet we continue to use single coverage leaving Parker, Delfino and even Calderon out to dry. In the one fourth quarter possession that we doubled Lebron before he penetrated the lane, we managed to stop Cleveland. All other times, Lebron ended up scoring on a dunk or a wide-open jumper. Maybe an adjustment and a change in philosophy was in order on the part of Sam to increase the chances of us pulling one out in the fourth. Instead we did nothing to make Lebron’s life difficult and he stuffed it right down our throats just like old times.

Our best stretch of play came in the third quarter where Calderon and Bosh were playing with great synergy and the Raptors were moving on offense, collapsing on defense and attacking the boards. Although Bosh wasn’t close to being his best, it was made up by Calderon terrorizing Delonte West and finding shooters for clean looks. Watching Jose play in the third, every Raptors fan must’ve been praying for him to continue at the outset of the fourth quarter and carry this team to a win on a night where Bosh was struggling and Bargnani simply sucked. No such luck, Sam intervened and although TJ wasn’t as bad as he’s been of late, he was a big time liability on defense and hit-and-miss on offense. By the time Jose was brought back, he’d been sitting for 25 minutes of real time and was cold. Game over.

The Cavs have what it takes to neutralize Bosh, Anderson Varejao gives Bosh fits and Joe Smith matches up very well against him, that’s what gives even more importance to the play of Andrea Bargnani. From what I’ve been led to believe, he’s supposed to have the quickness to take the likes of Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas right to the rim and either get those guys in foul trouble and/or score by being aggressive. But what we saw on the court was a timid Andrea that all but once looked to be more than happy staying on the perimeter and acting like there was a wall of radiation constructed approximately 20 feet from the rim. Of course Sam yanked him after two early and silly fouls but we can’t continue to blame Sam for his troubles, Bargnani’s the reason why Bargnani’s struggling. This is basketball, not rocket science: take advantage of the weaknesses of the players that are guarding you, the man simply doesn’t do that.

Sam’s out-of-timeout play with :46 seconds left might’ve been the joke of the season. Let’s give the struggling Chris Bosh a fading away while moving laterally with a hand in his face. Talk about having no clue on how to get a score when you need one. Even though this game was close throughout the fourth quarter, we never really had a chance of winning it. It’s because there was a prevalent feeling that when it came down to it, Cleveland would go to Lebron and we wouldn’t be able to stop him, and when it came time for us to score, we’d end up taking a low percentage shot and Cleveland would clean up the boards. Not shockingly, that’s exactly what happened. And a lot of credit needs to be given to Cleveland because they are the better team: more size, more athleticism, better rebounding, more scorers and most of all, they have a true superstar. So maybe we should all be thankful that we were in this game for so long. Even if we had managed to sneak this one out through some sheer luck or a player or two going hot, one thing is for sure: we can’t beat Cleveland in a 7-game series, whoever thinks that is drastically overvaluing our talent and coaching.

Rasho Nesterovic has been solid, he defended Big Z much better than Andrea, was aggressive around the rim and was sticking his jumper. It’s a pity he probably won’t be back with the Raptors because he brings a lot to this team and can be a valuable asset in a playoff series. Jamario Moon’s 10 rebounds were impressive but we need more than 4 points from our starting SF spot. Moon’s ill-advised 18 footer with 1:05 left in a 5 point game is a classic example of our offense suffering under Sam, there is just no way he should be taking that shot. You might be able to forgive that play because he was open, however he continues to bail out defenses by showing no desire to take his man off the bounce and draw contact. In one sense he’s totally wasting his athleticism on offense because the only time we see it is on defense and on rare put-back dunks.

So the Raptors lose a big statement game. Nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t happened before, nothing that should be remotely shocking. Given the talent and coaching on this team, I think the 6th seed is a fair result for the season. I don’t think we’re any better or any worse.

Liners:

  • To observe just how stagnant the Raptors offense is, just focus on the red shirts on a play. Don’t pay any attention to what’s going on, don’t look at the ball, don’t look at the defense, just notice the red jerseys and their movement. You’ll be alarmed. I thought about going into another tirade about how weak and unorganized we are on offense but it’s all already been said.
  • Damon Jones’ two threes should never have happened. When will Sam understand, don’t help off a shooter! How simple is this concept, instead of providing help from the wings, bring it from the paint OR double early so you won’t have to make such decisions. I would’ve just liked to see us trap Lebron early and force him to give up the ball, if he catches it again with seconds left on the shot clock, fine, but at least make him give it up and prevent him from doing exactly what he wants to do.
  • It’s very hard to like Lebron. The guy is an arrogant c*nt. I’d say I prefer Kobe over him.
  • We’ve been seeing more Kapono of late which I think is a good thing. Who’s he taking minutes away from? Delfino and Moon – both inconsistent and streaky players that can’t be relied upon to provide any offensive spark. I think this is a good time to give Kapono some burn and get his legs and shot ready for the playoffs. For us to have a shot at winning a series, we need outside shooting more than anything and he’s the guy to provide that.
  • It’s a real shame that we don’t know what the outcome of this game would’ve been if Jose Calderon had started the fourth quarter in the same way he was playing in the third. Sam Mitchell has probably taken away the Raptors chances of a win at least 7-10 times this season based on bad fourth quarter substitutions. If the idea is to give Calderon a breather, burn a timeout right after the fourth quarter starts and that should be enough. No reason to sit him for half an hour. All Sam’s substitutions are mechanical and lacking any real thought or strategy.
  • As with the previous Cleveland games, I would’ve liked to see Joey Graham guard Lebron James and see how far he gets. He’s supposed to be a good physical defender, why not give him a shot? It’s not like we got something to lose, Lebron was finding seams in our defense all throughout the fourth quarter going for wide-open dunks off the pick ‘n roll. It’s sad when your defense breaks down at the 3-pt line and nobody from the weakside steps in.
  • Chris Bosh looked rusty and his jumper wasn’t working. Before we start deriding him for settling for jumpers and not showing up, let’s remember he’s coming off an injury and is clearly finding his offensive and defensive rhythm.
  • The second/third quarter stretch where both teams couldn’t buy a hoop was our chance to pull away a little but unfortunately Bosh and Kapono missed some pretty good looks which could’ve easily put us up 8 or 9.
  • The camera focusing on Jose Calderon on the fourth quarter was really weird. Yeah, we get it, even you think he should be playing.

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Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 55 Comments »

Clueless 4th quarter stretch kills Raptors in Sacramento

Posted by Arsenalist on March 17, 2008

Toronto Raptors 100, Sacramento Kings 106

The first three quarters were marred by stretches of bad defense, spotty offense, turnovers and generally speaking, some low quality basketball on both ends. Both teams were thankful that the other hadn’t blown them out so the fourth quarter began with the Kings nursing a three point lead and the Raptors looking to salvage a win on this roadtrip before they get a lesson in Basketball 101 tomorrow in Utah. The game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter but the Raptors, not surprisingly, failed to execute down the stretch on both ends and the core flaws of this team were yet again exposed.

Let’s fast forward to the fourth quarter to the part where we’re intentionally fouling Sacramento to stretch the game. Who’s their best FT shooter? It’s Kevin Martin at 86.4%. Who do we allow to easily catch the ball four straight times and get fouled? Kevin Martin. There was zero ball denial being deployed and Martin iced the game going 6-8 and Sacramento grabbed the offensive rebound on his last missed FT (how fitting). The inbounds play where Delfino allowed Artest to walk right underneath the rim to catch and lay the ball in reminded me of Corliss Williamson in Game 5 of the Detroit series. It was that dumb and obvious. The Raptors weren’t even on the same page when it came to fouling, Mitchell wanted the Raptors to play defense with 34 seconds left but Jose Calderon didn’t get the memo and so began the fouling fiasco. Maybe it’s stretches like these that’s prompted TSN’s Tim Chisholm to openly rip Sam Mitchell:

Mitchell can (and does) blame the players all he wants, but his Raptors have become a purely reactive team because he coaches them that way. This is not a team that walks into a game knowing who they are and how they’re going to beat their opponent, they’re a team that looks to interrupt what their opponent does and hope that they fall apart like the Raptors do in similar circumstances. They never impose their will on their opponents, but rather try and counter every move their opponent makes against them, tacitly admitting that they can’t conceive of a plan to beat them in advance and giving all the psychological power that implies to the opponent.

Rasho Nesterovic’s soft hands and Jason Kapono’s outside shooting kept us in this game of runs where the first team to play defense was going to come out on top. Just like the Golden State fourth quarter, nobody played any real D, the Raptors just cooled off between the 2:40 and 1:04 marks of the quarter where Jamario Moon missed a three and Jose Calderon missed a jumper. On the other end in this same stretch Kevin Martin and Ron Artest got scores while Brad Miller hit 2 free throws. A 1 point game turned into a 7 point deficit and that’s all she wrote. Talk all you want about whether Jamario Moon is the guy to be taking threes in crunch time (and why Kapono was on the bench) but that’s a whole other topic. This paragraph is to let you know what key stretch cost us the game.

This blog is becoming pretty boring because I keep saying the same shit over and over again: Their guards got into the paint way too easily and created opportunities for everybody around them. 19, 17, 14, 32, 15. Those aren’t the lottery numbers, those are the point totals for Sacramento starters who were benefiting from PG penetration and the Raptors’ inability to fight through the pick part of the pick ‘n roll. For a team that runs the pick ‘n roll on eveerry siingllle plaaay the Raptors can’t defend it for shit, Jose Calderon is the worst when it comes to this. He firmly believes that going underneath on a shooter is a valid option as long as you flail an arm after the shot’s been taken. This is pretty basic stuff, almost man-you-ball basic. The rebounding was expectedly bad again, 50-36 is the final tally with Sacramento grabbing 5 key offensive boards in the crucial fourth quarter. Ho hum.

Looking at Mikki Moore (17/7) and his snake collection I can’t help but think that’s the type of guy this team needs. A banger, a banger that knows how to bang and rebound, and be angry and collect snakes. That’s what we need, a snake-collecting, mean, tattooed, angry, tough rebounder to set some things right. Plus he can hit the mid-range jumper better than Brezec, Hump and Bargnani. Yes, I said Bargnani. What did Sacramento get him for? 5.3M. We threw away four times that much on Jason Kapono who had his second great game of the year. Bryan Colangelo dropped the ball on this one, he knew Garbajosa had injury issues and didn’t address our interior defense need even after having an up-close view of Moore in the NJ series.

It’s becoming clear as my Dasani bottle that Jose Calderon and TJ Ford cannot coexist. I’m not being a drama queen nor am I a supporter of one over the other. They’re hampering each others games, Calderon hasn’t been the same since TJ got back and TJ hasn’t been the same since he’s been coming off the bench. Let’s face it, he’s over his injuries now so the deserving player should get the starting job and since TJ is our official starter, there’s no need for him to come off the bench anymore since you can’t really lose your job to injury. It’s not like the team is in some great rhythm that something might be disrupted if TJ starts. Maybe they can play better if they have well defined roles, like it was in the beginning of the season. What do you think?

Although they won’t admit it, the other is a distraction to them. More Ford to Calderon, than vice-versa. We need to get back to having a traditional PG setup and trade one of the two to address one of our many other needs. Which one do we trade? Do you really care? Is one of them that much better than the other?

This one hurt. Tomorrow in Utah will be very tough, Matthew Sekeres agrees.

Liners:

  • If Sacramento doesn’t commit 22 turnovers, this one might’ve not even been close.
  • Andrea Bargnani supporters, let’s hear it: 2-7 FG against a Kings team that doesn’t have a center. 37% shooting in the last five games? Why is he taking transition threes when he has the laterally challenged Brad Miller on him? Didn’t we draft him to blow by slower bigs? What gives? What are we waiting for? I thought this was the perfect opportunity for him to step up with Bosh being out? Huh? Anybody?
  • Sam Mitchell doubling Anthony Johnson with TJ Ford on him in the post is questionable. Johnson is not a great offensive player and even if he can score, why not let him make a shot before respecting his post-up game?
  • The Raptors need to get better at double-teaming. For starters, either do a hard double team or don’t do it at all. Poor Jose Calderon is often asked to provide temporary help on the post-up player which doesn’t bother him at all. All it does is pull Calderon out of place so his man can drift, catch a pass and make an open jumper.
  • Our close-outs on Kevin Martin, Ron Artest and Beno Udrih were very bad. We have to do a better job of keeping track of our man on the floor and must rotate briskly, quickly and with a purpose to shooters. I sound like a broken record but perimeter D and blow-bys are killing us.
  • Leo Rautins love Jason Kapono. Leo calling out TJ Ford as being the reason why Kapono missed clutch threes was asinine, Leo argued that Ford wasn’t finding Kapono on the floor and that cooled him off. Wrong! Only once did TJ not pass him the ball on the wing, that does not cool off the reigning 3-pt champ.
  • I want a job like Doug Smith. Sitting courtside, I promise you I’d report a helluva lot more than what he does.

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

Sunday *boilk* – Bosh return imminent + What’s a #1 pick?

Posted by Arsenalist on March 16, 2008

Good news, Chris Bosh is aiming for a Wednesday return against Miami. He’ll avoid the roadtrip and will likely give it a shot against a Miami team that wouldn’t shock anybody if they go winless the rest of the season. Yes, they’re that bad.

Some words of warning: Bosh’s return will naturally be followed by some sub-par performances as has been the case anytime he’s returned from any kind of injury, however small. He takes great care of his body and needs to be in complete agreement with it before he tries anything even moderately complex. So I wouldn’t be surprised that in the first few games he’ll be somewhat passive and rely on the jumper much more than the drive. It’s something we should be used to buy now. The good news is that we have about 20 games remaining which is enough time for him to regain the mid-season form he had been in before he went down.

The Kings got blown out last night in Phoenix (gave up 79 points in a half :) and the game was over at the half. Most of the Kings starters didn’t exert themselves too much so they should be fresh enough to give the Raptors all they can handle at home tonight. This is the only winnable game of the roadtrip and we’d be good to take advantage of it by showing up from the start and not getting down 20 early. The mental and physical energy required to come from behind takes too much toll to actually complete the comeback, even more so on the road. The Kings will be looking to split the back-to-back and will make this a very tough game for the Raptors. Kevin Martin is exactly the type of player that can give our guards fits by creating off the bounce and penetrating, let’s hope we learned a thing or two from the Denver experience. Taking some pride in the defense should be priority number one, over the last nine games we’ve give up close to 50% FG 7 times!

I’m sure Sam and the team are busy preparing for the game since according to Channing Frye there’s nothing to do in Sacramento.

Something has been made of the Raptors suing the Spanish Federation over non-payment of benjamins concerning Jorge Garbajosa. I’m with the Raptors on this one, it’s nothing personal, just business. If you agreed to a contract, you have to honor your end and if the Raptors feel they’re getting jipped, they got all the right in the world to sue. Of course all this wouldn’t have been an issue if Garbajosa wasn’t stupid enough to suit up in a meaningless tournament knowing the precarious situation his leg is in. I’d understand if Olympic qualification was dependent on the FIBA tournament but there was nothing of the sort on the line. Nothing. Zero. He’s created a lot of problems for all parties involved.

I’m a little sad to see our small forward situation, an area where we had a weakness at the end of last season and something that still hasn’t been addressed along with the rebounding. Jamario Moon, Joey Graham and Carlos Delfino are the 3 by committee and let’s face it, none of them is good enough to be a starter. Moon’s defense is so inconsistent that you don’t know what to expect from him on any given possession, Graham is plain bad and Delfino is about as consistent as Morris Peterson. Pickstar brought up a point in yesterday’s comments about benching Moon but the question to ask is, in favor of who? There is no clear cut winner in the battle for the three spot and Sam’s simply picked the guy who plays the best D among the three.

Can this team find within itself to get better defensively? Is it just a matter of effort and application or do we just not have the personnel to be good. We allow teams to shoot 46% against us, that’s 10th worst in the league and the 9 teams behind us are all missing the playoffs. What’s kept us afloat so far is our shooting which is at 46.7 FG%, 6th best in the NBA. Now mind you even that number is skewed because we’ve shot the ball really well in many of our losses where we tried to out-gun the opponent but failed to score in crucial fourth quarter stretches. Imagine if we were a decent defensive team, if our guards were able to keep their man in front of them and our rebounding wasn’t 4th worst in the league. We could actually be favored in a playoff matchup! My belief is that as it is right now, we cannot be a good defensive team for three reasons: 1) Our perimeter defense (especially the PG spot) is weak and we concede too many points because of blow-bys and 2) Lack of pure rebounders, once we get a stop, the possession should be over but it’s not. Aside from Bosh, we don’t have anyone who can consistently grab in-traffic rebounds which is key and 3) Interior defense, our rotations inside the paint are shot. This doesn’t get much ink but if you take notice you’ll see that Chris Bosh is the only player who knows how to rotate on defense, once the offense negotiates him, it’s a layup every time.

There’s a very good Raptors message board, Raptors Forum, that is slowly gaining popularity, sign up and join the discussion and help make it a solid board. RealGM has been disappointing of late, Exhibit A is this clown who’s first 17 posts all involve blindly bashing Jose every chance he gets. Tsk, tsk.

I emailed Chuck Swirsky and told him to stop calling every player taken in the first round as the “#1 Pick” because it’s confusing, see, they’re first round picks, not #1 picks. There’s only one #1 pick in any draft. It went something like this:

Me:

Hey Chuck,

Just want to let you know that you’re totally wrong about calling every first round draft pick a “Number 1 pick”. There’s only one Number 1 pick in the draft and that’s the first guy taken, everybody after that is a 1st rounder and NOT a Number 1 pick.

Chuck:

Its a matter of semantics most basketball fans understand when we call a player their first round pick

Me:

Well, I’ve been fan for a long time and have never heard that semantic. Every fan I speak to (in person or online) refers to them as a first round pick. Same goes for media outlets like ESPN, Sportsline, CNNSI, TNT etc. So you might want to be in line with what the general semantic is and not something that’s niche to a select few.

Chuck:

No reply.

Meh, thought I’d throw it in there. Reading his blog, it turns out that Deshawn Stevenson thinks Lebron James is overrated.

Till after the game.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »