Arsenalist

The Toronto Raptors Blog with an Arsenal touch

Posts Tagged ‘orlando magic’

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 »

Just win, baby!

Posted by Arsenalist on April 28, 2008

For all practical purposes this series is over, the chance of a Raptors series win is 1.69% since only 2 out of 118 teams have come back to win after taking a a 3-1 deficit on the road. I can also guarantee you that those two teams didn’t have a defense that could be broken down by a simple pump-fake at the three point line, nor did they get cold feet with less than 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter. However, it is what it is, the Raptors in a truly “must win” game. It’ll be a chance to see if this team finally leaves it all on the floor and plays with that passion, grittiness and intensity that’s been lacking all season. Desperate times call for desperate measures so if nothing else we’ll see which of these Raptors desperately wants to win.

Jamario Moon is good to go so the Raptors will be putting out the same lineup that’s kept them in it for two games in a row. The deciding factors will be the same as they have been all series, preventing their G/F’s from breaking us down and picking out shooters along with closing out said shooters when the defense does collapse. Boxing out Dwight Howard should be a no-brainer and a given but given how poorly the Raptors have covered him on the defensive boards in this series, it’s probably a good idea that Sam Mitchell make this priority #1 on the old blackboard. I think at this point in the series both teams know what they need to do to win and its a question of execution.

In the same article linked above Chris Bosh is quoted as saying:

“We can’t rely on three-pointers, that doesn’t get you [far] in the playoffs. We know that.”

It’s a nice enough thought but the three-pointer is what this team is built on, if they’re going in we’ll have a shot at winning but if we’re shooting them at less than 30%, we’re going to lose. Plain and simple. It’s not as if though we have any wing players that can drive the ball effectively if the chucks aren’t falling. Anthony Parker needs three screens to get anywhere, Delfino can drive but will he choose to is a different matter and Jamario Moon’s taken it to the rim once all series. Asking these guys to play inside-out is like asking a pitcher to play the DH. So the Raptors better hope their threes are falling because they don’t have anything else to fall back on.

To bust out a cliche from the old cliche vault, we got to take it one game at a time. Sam Mitchell expects to bring the series back to Toronto but doesn’t specify exactly how he might do that. He’s basically optimistic because he believes that the Magic’s lead in the series is mostly attributable to a few key shots. The man does have a point there but isn’t every NBA game decided by a few key shots. There’s nothing that’ll make me believe that we’re going to be the team that’s going to hit those “key shots”.

If you’re made it this far into the post you obviously think the Raptors have some chance of winning this game. Here’s your reward for being a loyal Raptors fan.

Apparently you can’t get Bill Simmons to watch the Raptors-Magic series:

I love hoops as much as anyone and still can’t bring myself to watch the Magic-Raptors series. It’s like the NIT of the NBA playoffs. Does the winner even matter? They should call it “The NBA-TV Invitational” and give the winner a trophy that’s sculpted into the shape of Rick Kamla’s face.

Haha funny-man. Now go fuck yourself. I hope pray that the Atlanta Hawks swallow a barrel full of Red Bull and beat his Celtics, it would almost make up for the Raptors. One man’s misery is another man’s joy and right now my joy is any man’s misery.

What are the chances we win the PG matchup in Game 5? You’d have to think Jose’s not going to stink it up again and will play with that Spanish passion that he only reserves for his wife (left). TJ Ford had a great game 4 which means he might just end up going 2-11 tonight, hopefully he can make life a little harder for Jameer Nelson and force Nelson to have a Game 3 type evening. I’m going to skip talking about Hedo/Lewis because we simply don’t have an answer for them. We can however neutralize Howard’s influence on the boards if we decide to take him seriously. While Rasho or Bargnani are on the floor all they should be concerned with is boxing out Howard – nothing else! I don’t care if Bargnani has 0 points and Rasho has 6 fouls, just KEEP. HOWARD. OFF. THE. GLASS. Please!

If we had given Andrea Bargnani’s minutes to Kris Humphries, this might’ve been a different series. Just consider Game 2 where a single rebound was the difference between 1-1 and 0-2. How many rebounds did Bargnani have in that game? 1.

It goes without saying that either Chris Bosh needs to have a monster evening or the bench must go for 45+. If one of the two don’t happen we’re doomed. I think Kapono will carry his weight, its going to be up to Carlos to have one of those nights where you might even entertain the thought of bringing him back next year. We haven’t seen much of Humphries, maybe he can give us something against Marcin Gortat (who scares the living shit out of Bosh)? Joey Graham might have an offensive arsenal that rivals Hoffa but he can still play some defense, I implore Sam to put him on Hedo or Rashard and see how far he gets. If they score on him, yank him but at least give him a shot. The man has the physical strength to fend off Hedo/Lewis, just test him out, he could be useful.

Realistically speaking, we got too many defensive problems and not enough fourth quarter offense to beat the Magic on the road. It’ll almost take a couple career nights from the Raptors or a seriously pathetic game from Orlando for us to win this one, but stranger things have happened. Haven’t they? I don’t know, its just another cliche I suppose.

Let’s just dig in on defense, try to move without the ball and knock down our perimeter jumpers and hopefully we can eek out a win and go from there. Who knows, maybe the Magic will come out complacent and cough one up at home. It’s too late to talk about technicalities and strategies, just win, baby!

Posted in Raptors, Sports, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

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 »

Series hinges on pivotal Game 4

Posted by Arsenalist on April 26, 2008

The good feelings after Game 3 should be wearing off by now and the stark reality should be setting in. If we don’t win pivotal Game 4, this series is practically over. A repeat performance is very much needed and there’s little reason to believe that it can’t happen. The Magic will no doubt come out with a higher level of defensive pressure and crisper offensive sets, the Raptors must match the early intensity and send the message that Game 3 was no fluke and if anything, they’re the ones that should be up 2-1 in the series hadn’t it been for some questionable calls in Game 2.

The Raptors PG tandem is getting some high praise from Stan Van Gundy and its not a shock that if they play as well as they did in Game 3, a victory this afternoon is almost a surety:

“That’s as good as a pick-and-roll game game as there is in this league, this side of Steve Nash. When you put shooters around them, that’s going to cause difficulties. The thing with Calderon that’s so impressive, he and Nash are the best at delivering the ball on target so that guys never have to reach. His delivery is incredible.”

Keeping the Orlando swingmen and point guards from penetrating and finding shooters has been a focal point in the series and Chris Bosh thinks the Raptors did a good job of preventing any breakdowns on Thursday night. I however beg to differ some, the Magic got a lot of clean looks on Thursday night, a fair share of them were semi-contested but Bogans, Evans and Lewis did miss some pretty wide open shots. My fear is that these guys are due for a breakout game because it’s never been the same since the first quarter of Game 1 for them. The Raptors need to continue to improve their close-outs on Bogans and Evans, these two corner snipers are liable to hurt us the most. You already know how I feel about Rashard Lewis’ potential impact in any given game.

Stan Van Gundy’s priority is to fix the issues the Magic were having with the Raptors pick ‘n roll which he admits “chewed us up”. Jameer Nelson’s acknowledged that he played like a statue and offered zero resistance to Forderon and vows to play better (I don’t think he will). Knowing Van Gundy, he’s probably lost a lung yelling at the Magic over game tape and has prepared them well enough that the pick ‘n roll won’t be as easy as it was in Game 3. There’s also some talk of Tukoglu and Lewis operating closer to the basket when the outside jumper isn’t falling, this is bad news for the Raptors. With the exception of Jamario Moon we don’t have anybody at a wing position that has a chance of staying with Hedo or Lewis in the post. Hopefully they’ll get a little lazy and stay on the perimeter.

A word about the Magic’s inexperience. If they lose Game 4, the psychological effect of blowing a 2-0 lead can’t be overlooked. The Raptors have controlled 75% of the play in the series and the Magic know that they were lucky to eek out Game 2. If we can pull out a convincing win on Saturday it can go a long way towards demolishing the psyche of the inexperienced Magic who’ll have to play Game 5 under the intense pressure of possibly playing their last home game. The Magic have shown that they are susceptible to lackadaisical play, inconsistent defense and settling for jumpers, if we put the pedal on the gas, they can crumble. Remind you of any one?

Jason Kapono’s play has been too good to be true, I keep expecting him to hit a wall and go 0-4 but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down and the Magic have yet to find an answer for him. Andrea Bargnani needs to take the same initiative Kapono’s been taking in getting his shots up, I’m not advocating Andrea jack it up ala Delfino but he needs to be a little more selfish early in the shot clock and see if he can drive ‘n kick or even challenge Howard’s lateral quicknesses, something that hasn’t happened all series long. The Magic will be looking to come out aggressive and we should take advantage of this; in Bargnani we have the weapon to saddle Howard with 2 early fouls and send him to the bench, the question is do we take the initiative to do it.

Checking out the Magic RealGM board we notice that those guys are getting a little feisty. They’re blaming the Game 3 loss on the referees and Howard being called for illegal screens. Some are also calling for some very bad things to happen to Violet Palmer. She’s a very mediocre referee who loves making momentum changing calls and probably shouldn’t be calling playoff games, but that comment took it too far. The longer this series goes on, the more the Magic fans and media appear to be irritable little c*nts. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than seeing us win after being down 0-2. Wait wait wait. There is something that can give me more satisfaction.

There’s some high praise for the Sea of Red from Yahoo sports blog where Kelly Dwyer (don’t know him/her) ranks the crowd with some legendary audiences:

The Air Canada Centre on Thursday night was the most invigorating batch of supporters I’ve seen since Chicago and/or New York’s 1990s heyday. Not only were they on top of the game, anticipating the action and working the visiting team, but they were starting chants and cheers without the aid of a giant Jumbotron, or the prodding of a patronizing PA man. It was exhilarating to watch.

Kudos to the fans, I really can’t remember the last time a crowd affected a game in such a direct manner.

Caught some NBA tonight, Philly made Detroit look really bad and as we type the Spurs are laying a smackdown on the Suns in Phoenix Seven Seconds or Less style. I don’t like Mike D’Antoni too much so it’s not a bad result but I do feel bad for Steve Nash, he was really counting on Shaq to have a big impact. Could this be Steve Kerr’s last stop as an NBA GM?

The people over at Raptors Shot Caller emailed me a couple times and asked me to do a post for them. If it floats your boat, go for it. I tried signing up for it and chose the username “Arsenalist” but it kept saying “Your display name contains words identified as being potentially offensive to some people.” WTF? Don’t believe me? Go try signing up with it yourself.

One final note, if you guys have regular NBA sites/blogs you visit, do link them here. I don’t mind filling up my RSS reader. If you had taken my picks against the spread before Game 2 and 3 you would’ve made some money, but if you didn’t, here’s your chance. The Raptors are laying 3, this game will be close but not buzzer-beater close because in the end FTs are going to kick in and the Raptors will hold on to even this series up. Take the Raps.

Here’s hoping for a Game 4 win. Let’s go you Raptors!!!

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

Game 1: Horrible defense, lack of plan kills off Raptors

Posted by Arsenalist on April 20, 2008

Toronto Raptors 100, Orlando Magic 114

The Magic came out with a plan. The Raptors came out with nothing. In addition to said nothing they also came out with a defensive attitude so complacent that instead of setting a tone for the series in the first quarter, they allowed the Magic to dominate and establish a lead they weren’t going to relinquish no matter how well the Raptors would’ve played the rest of the way. A 43 point first quarter where the Magic hit 9 uncontested threes made you wonder exactly what the “strategy” and “things” Mitchell had planned leading up to Game 1. We didn’t do a single thing differently on defense than when we had played the Heat in the second last game of the regular season. So when the reporters were asking Mitchell questions like “What are you plans for Dwight Howard?” and Mitchell responded by saying that he had some things planned and couldn’t give away secrets, he was really bullshitting. He had nothing planned.

Let’s talk about what the Magic wanted to do offensively and did: establish Howard inside by getting deep positioning, force the Raptors to play transition defense, drive ‘n kick using Turkoglu/Lewis/Nelson and hit open outside threes. That they executed with 100% efficiency. On defense, they forced the Raptors to go into Howard, put the athletic Lewis on Bosh giving him fits once again, pressure our point guards into making quick decisions and giving the ball up, played a weak zone that tempted Bosh, Ford, Calderon to attempt outside jumpers and finally they cleaned up the glass. Once again, job well done to the Magic. Very well executed game plan helped by some unbelievable outside shooting that buried the Raptors early.

The first quarter defense was the worst it has been all season which is alarming. This is the first game of the NBA playoffs and elements such as preparedness and effort simply have no excuse to be lacking. Forget about the “plan” for Dwight Howard, we didn’t even have a plan to contain the drives of Turkoglu/Lewis/Nelson who went past TJ Ford with a help of a screen, drew in the entire defense and kicked out to open shooters. I lost count how many times the interior defense parted like the red sea as their guards drove the lane, our PGs can’t expect the help defense to be there, you are the frontline of defense and you have to make a hard effort to get through the screen and stay in front of your man – just like their PGs were doing. The Magic got dribble penetration anytime they wanted and it was one of the core reasons why we lost. The point guard spot was to be our main advantage in this series but they were neutralized by the aggressive defense of Keyon Dooling and the superb play of Jameer Nelson. Once again, credit to the Magic for having a plan to neutralize an area where they were supposedly at a disadvantage. In short, Jameer Nelson: 24/7, 7-13 FG, Forderon: 14, 14, 4-20 FG. Pwn3d.

Any chance the Raptors have in this series is predicated on Chris Bosh canceling out Dwight Howard. It might be a tall task but any expert who picked the Raptors in this one is counting on Bosh/Howard to be a wash. When Howard goes off for 25/22, 8-13 FG and 5 blocks and Bosh counters with a hard fought 21/6, 4-11 FG, we’re already in a hole. Before we start bashing Bosh for not “stepping up”, let it be noted that he was the hardest working Raptor on the floor, played aggressively and did his level best to keep the Raps in the game. Unfortunately, he’s being asked to produce in one-on-one situations against a quicker Lewis without any help from Sam Mitchell or any other Raptor. You can’t give him the ball at the top of the key and expect scores. On the other hand, one can blame Bosh for not getting inside position on Lewis early in the game and making himself a real factor. Pick whoever you want to blame, I’d say its 50/50.

Sam Mitchell should attend Double Teaming 101 where the first thing they teach you is that you do not double from the strong side off of a shooter thus leaving him open. This is a problem that’s plagued the Raptors all season and it continues in the playoffs. The second rule they teach you is that if your guard just got beat, send help from the interior instead of the strong side wing player. See, if you send it off the wing player on the strong side, all the PG needs to do is make an unobstructed pass to an open shooter, if you bring it off the weak interior, he’ll have to go through your PF/C which is harder. Kapish? Of course this will only work if your interior rotations are tight but that’s another issue. Come on Sam, this is basic shit that we need fixed, we’re not asking for too much when we say to correctly double a player and make life harder instead of easier for him.

After the game Mitchell dropped a quote outlining the drive ‘n kick problems.

“The threes they got were draw and kicks, they sucked us in and kicked the ball to a shooter. We have to work on keeping our man in front of us so we don’t open ourselves to those type of situations.”

It’s this late in the year and we still haven’t addressed one of the most basic problems any team has when guarding PGs. It’s not like he’s tackling a complex issue here, its good ‘ol drive ‘n kick that we haven’t figured out in late April.

There was a lot of talk about X-Factors before the series. Jason Kapono found his touch and was the reason we got within 5, kudos to Calderon for looking out for him. So with the lead down to 5 in the fourth quarter, Sam Mitchell didn’t get Bosh off the bench and the Magic countered with some great plays coming out of a timeout to go on a 10-0 run. Game Over. WTF Sam? You are exactly where you wanted to be, your team just got hot and cut the lead to 5, what are you waiting for? Howard’s already in the game, why not bring Bosh? Huh? Mind boggling.

Aside from Kapono’s 18 point injection, Andrea Bargnani starred in yet another flop performance, 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2-8 FG. He was inexplicably inserted into the starting lineup and was a big failure. He couldn’t guard Turkoglu who made him look silly and couldn’t give us a thing on offense. Typical Bargnani really. I don’t understand why Sam Mitchell went with a brand new starting lineup, isn’t continuity the thing you’re looking for going into the playoffs. Why start experimenting now? This was a case where Mitchell tried to use Bargnani’s size as an advantage over Hedo/Rashard only to forget that Bargnani doesn’t know how to use his size. He sort of outcoached himself. Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon were non-factors, but it’s strange how Moon only got 5 minutes in a game where defense was our #1 problem and seeing how he’s our best defender, something doesn’t make sense.

The Raptors were down by 20 after the first, down by 13 going into the half, down by 10 going into the fourth. Playing from behind takes a toll on you and even if we had completed the come-back, the chances of us pulling out a win would’ve been very low given that the tank would’ve been running on empty. We weren’t playing Miami where we can just flip a switch and take the lead, these are the playoffs and we need to be well aware of that and come out with a sense of urgency, aggression and passion and avoid getting down early. You can’t decide when to play defense, that’s suicide and unfortunately a habit that the Raptors have to get rid off if they want to win more than a game in this series.

Here’s Bryan Colangelo’s thoughts on the game:

The phrases “defensively soft” and “need to pick up the intensity” come up which are no-brainers. He’s also complaining way too much about the officiating. Howard might’ve gotten away with a goaltend or two but to single out Keyon Dooling’s pressure defense on our guards and call it a foul while implying that’s one of the reasons we lost is a cop-out. There’s mention of our inability to defend the high screen ‘n roll, a problem that we’ve been having all year. Let’s face it, the chances of us fixing a problem so core at this point in the year are very low. There’s no magic formula (pardon the pathetic pun) that will make us a better defensive team overnight, it’ll have to come down to effort if we hope to close out shooters and fight through screens.

Chris Bosh’s comments about failed strategies and deviating from what’s been working might be interpreted as calling out Sam Mitchell:

Bosh, obviously a very frustrated team captain, said that the reason why the Raptors started Game 1 so poorly — falling behind by 20 points after the first quarter — was because the players were “confused” and “shell-shocked” and the point guards “didn’t know what to run at times.”

“We were trying to implement too many things and we’re not doing the things that got us here”.

Interpret as you wish.

Give the game ball to Dwight Howard for dominating the paint, outplaying Bosh, being a defensive presence and getting key offensive rebounds in the fourth. The Raptors have work to do before Tuesday.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , | 40 Comments »

There’s no favorite in this series

Posted by Arsenalist on April 18, 2008

If there’s a series where nobody has any clue which way its going to go, it has to be the Raptors vs. Magic. At best one can say that it might go 7 games given the makeup and recent history of the two teams. Orlando has lost 7 of the last 9 against us but did finish well above us in the standings. However, the highly similar structure of the two teams (PF + shooters) makes this one too close to call. The Raptors clear cut advantage lies in the point guard position but it’s anybody’s guess how well we’ll be utilizing that.

The series schedule came out on Thursday and everybody was wrong about the start time, it ends up being a 12:30PM start time in Orlando (good seats still available). It’s a one day break between the first 5 games which means any between-game adjustments need to be made in a shoot around or a light practice, this does favor the Raptors as it gives less time for Stan van Gundy to study and analyze game tape and then implement tweaks. I suppose having two plays had its advantages in terms of simplifying the complexity of any adjustments you might’ve made.

The Raptors going into this series as underdogs is nothing new, as much as we’d like to think nobody’s picking us to win and how that should motivate us, we need to realize we were also underdogs last year against New Jersey and that didn’t exactly help us. If anything we’re less of an underdog this year than last year so I really don’t know what all this talk is about.

Jose Calderon ended up winning the Assist to Turnover title while Jason Kapono won the 3-point FG title (so freaking skewed given his play and lack of 3s). Lang Whitaker voted in Jose third on the Sixth Man of the Year ballot only to realize he’s not eligible for the award. ESPN’s Scoop Jackson did a heartwarming piece on the Jose Calderon and TJ Ford saga that made me want to give both of them big hugs. Seriously though, lets see the Toronto media spit out an objective article like that, instead we get shit like this.

Good news for Jack Armstrong fans (myself included), he’s likely to be back with MLSE in some capacity (most likely play-by-play), the shrewd Irish drunk has made an excellent career move by hiring Gord Kirke as his agent. One thing this tells me is that Jack really wants to work in Toronto. Jack is the voice of objectivity and accurate analysis in the Toronto basketball media and to top things off he’s by far the funniest personality on air. No grown man can get away with yelling out Hello! when a half-naked cheerleader appears on screen.

Here’s some reasons why you should be pumped about this series:

  • It’s the NBA Playoffs and we’re in it. 5 years ago we would’ve killed to be in the playoffs and now that we’re here, how can you NOT get excited?
  • We have a chance to go into the second around which we haven’t done since Philly.
  • We’re going to see which players on our team have the ability to “step up”. The playoffs separate the men from the boys and we have a chance to see who the keepers on this team are. Is Delfino worth it? Can Kapono deliver in the playoffs? Can Bosh handle Howard in the clutch?
  • Purple Fever (now in Red) is back at the ACC. We’re the only Toronto team in the post-season and have plenty of support.
  • We’ll be on national TV in the states and its an opportunity to make a mark.
  • Sure, the Raptors season has been a disappointment but we have a chance to fix some shit and go into the summer with a good feeling.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »