Arsenalist

The Toronto Raptors Blog with an Arsenal touch

Posts Tagged ‘Rashard Lewis’

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 »