Toronto Raptors 102, Indiana Pacers 98

Sometimes a win can overshadow many things that went wrong in a game and such was the case last night. This was a little too close to being a L for one’s liking. The Pacers sans Jermain O’Neal and Jamal Tinsley frustrated the Raptors by putting up a fight and took the lead midway through the fourth quarter at which point it looked like this might be a New York repeat. A couple Delfino deep bombs restored some order, but the offense went dead after that giving the Pacers a chance to tie it up with 19 seconds left. Fortunately for us Jim O’Brien’s playbook appears to be paper thin and all they could muster was a Kareem Rush one-on-one contested three. Game over. Thank God.

Not the ideal follow-up to the NY win; getting bailed out by Delfino’s deep threes isn’t something you want to rely on but at the same time it’s good to see him knock them down. TJ Ford’s close to returning to his pre-injury form and becoming the nightmare that he is for slower guards that are forced to give him space. If he’s matched up with a guy the same size such as Travis Diener, what usually follows is an infliction of speed combined with hesitation that will leave the defense on its heels. TJ’s 16 points and 7 assists were essential on a night where the reliable Jose Calderon laid an egg in the assist column, something that will never happen again. Ever. It’s only a matter of time before TJ gets the starting job, has a bad game and the Forderon debate begins anew. The starters were in the habit of creating a hole (1st and 3rd quarters) only for the bench to come back and restore sanity (2nd and 4th quarters). We outscored their bench 55-24 (Marquis Daniels had 20) with Delfino leading the way with 6 threes and a career high 23 points. Check the box score, it’s all there.

Time for a post game quote, it’s always good to hear some sort of praise from the opposing coach:

“It’s hard for anybody in the NBA to match bench for bench. That’s a formidable group, and it speaks to their depth that those players come off the bench.” – Jim O’Brien

Depth is one of our strong suits, no doubt about that. But come playoff team when the rotations are shortened and roles become well-defined, I’m not sure how much our depth will help us. We’ll see I suppose.

Although the Raptors are a defensively challenged team they go into these hounding defensive sequences where they pressure the ball handler, trap on the baseline, collapse on the big men and actually come out to make the rotations. The second quarter and some stretches in the fourth were great examples of this. However, it’s hard to maintain that sort of a defensive effort across four quarters because of the sheer toll aggressive defense takes on the body. That’s why you see a Jekyll and Hyde effect with the Raptors defense. We’re a middle of the pack defensive team (11th out of 30 D-Rating) with some gaping holes on the perimeter which will undoubtedly come back to bite us. Jamario Moon’s defensive game has regressed, he’s falling for simple up-fakes, isn’t following the scouting reports and is too concerned with providing help. Murphy, Granger and Dunleavy all took turns undressing Moon on simple moves. It didn’t come back to bite us but a case could’ve been made that Joey Graham deserved to get some run based on Moon’s poor effort. Sam is by his own admission an “equal opportunity hater” and Moon definitely deserved some hate today.

Anthony Parker tries to do his best to contain his man but he’s a sucker for help defense, maybe that’s how he was coached overseas for all these years and it’s in his nature to help off his man on another wing player. However, in the NBA once the perimeter man is beaten, it’s up to the 4/5′s to contend with the man that just penetrated the heart of the defense. Parker’s always guilty of leaving his man to provide help which ends up amounting to nothing because by leaving his man he’s made him the easiest pass for the penetrator. Thus we see Parker always late getting back and wildly flailing his arms at his man as a three is being drained. I’m disappointed in Sam Mitchell’s inability to instill a defensive mindset and philosophy in this team over his tenure, the offense is very simplistic so you’d think that the majority of the work the coaches might do would be on the defensive end but frankly speaking, I don’t think we’ve improved at all.

The frustration with Bargnani continues: 2/5 on 1-5 FG. Even though I’m a traditional center guy I’m willing to go with the “new age” center theme on this one but it has to be done the right way. It’s great that Bargnani is a 7-footer that can shoot but he might be taking it to another extreme. 35% of his field goal attempts are threes! That is an insanely high amount, to put that in perspective, 38% of Parker’s FGAs are threes and only 28% of Jason Kapono’s shots are threes. Does a “new age” center mean that he’ll be living on the perimeter? Because I thought a 7-footer center meant he’ll be beating his man off the dribble and out-quicking him in the post for easy scores, not settling for deep bombs. To further extend my late night analysis, I looked at Dirk Nowitzki’s shot selection (chosen for obvious reasons) in his first two years and only 25% of his shots were threes, gradually he moved his game further in and currently only 21% of his shots are threes. My point? Threes are nice but I doubt Colangelo brought him here to be a 7-foot Kapono, he needs to move his game inside.

Primoz Brezec got his first DNPCD. The guy must be wondering what he did wrong in the NY game to warrant a benching. Instead Kris Humphries got the call (well, for 7 minutes) and played well in getting his 5 points. With Kapono getting 23 minutes and Bargnani staying out of foul trouble, the Raptors big men reserves only netted 11 minutes. This was also the first game since TJ’s injury where Ford got more playing time than Calderon which is a telling stat because this wasn’t a blowout and every possession meant something. Sam opting to go with the in-rhythm Ford means he’s confident in TJ’s ability to run this team again and the “ease back TJ” period seems to be over.

It’s hard to end this post without a mention of Chris Bosh’s seemingly routine night: 24 points, 10 rebounds. He didn’t have a pretty night, got stripped at least three times (5 TOs) and took some questionable shots that’ll make anybody grimace. Chris Bosh is very obviously choosing spots where he can be aggressive and where he can ease back. This is a perfectly normal strategy for the regular season, I’m hoping (praying?) that come playoff time he’s not mulling over shoot or drive decisions, it should be pretty obvious when a player of Troy Murphy’s quickness is covering you.

Unlike Washington and New York, we avoided a letdown in Indiana. It should be a super-easy win on Wednesday against the T’Wolves before we get a chance to sweep Indiana at home on Friday. Check the schedule, look at March and shit in your pants.

Liners:

* Hard to believe Rob Babock passed on Danny Granger. Twice.

* Indiana was one well-designed play away from taking this game to overtime. We’ve got to start the halves much better against them on Friday.

* Kareem Rush and his brother Jaron Rush used to play at Pembrooke High School in Kansas City, MO. I used to go to O’Hara High School in Kansas City at the same time. These guys used to come in and put on a show. Jaron was clearly the better player but he got hooked on drugs, took money from agents and ended up ruining his shot at the NBA. He’s trying to find HS coaching jobs now, kinda sad.

* Leo Rautins making excuses for Jason Kapono? Stop trying to convince us that Jason Kapono is anything more than a strictly one-dimensional player just because he cut to the rim and had a layup. It’s insulting our intelligence.

* Does Chuck Swirsky know anything about basketball? His reasoning for the West being stronger made no sense, he somehow managed to give Bryan Colangelo credit in why the west was stacked. Apparently he’s also a proponent of the Top 16 teams making the playoffs regardless of conference. Might want to think that through Chuck. Pain to listen to.

* “He sure blabs a lot” – That’s my wife’s (who knows nothing about basketball) take on Chuck Swirsky. Bang on really.

* Carlos Delfino is the Top Rap.

Thanks for reading. Later.

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