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Toronto Raptors 108, LA Lakers 117

It’s fitting that it was Derek Fisher that sealed this one with a wide open three pointer with under a minute left as the Raptors defense was busy playing musical chairs. It was the 634th time a Laker shooter was left unattended at the arc leading many observers (just me really) to point out that we were entirely unprepared for what the Lakers were running and had trouble adjusting to them up until the very last play of the game. It’d be easy to point to TJ Ford and Jose Calderon as the primary culprits of leaving Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar so wide open that even an open Kobe was passing up shots. But the problem isn’t as simple as Ford and Calderon being lazy, the problem is that we were unprepared.

The triangle offense has been around for a long time and it’s a system that is founded on off-the-ball movement while a post-player or a player in the middle searches for options. One of the mistakes we committed so often tonight was showing weak-doubles to this central player (Gasol, Kobe, Turiaf) allowing him to pick off shooters who had managed to get themselves wide open though the simplest of movements. What compounded the problem was that Sam chose to help off of Derek Fisher’s man, thus leaving an already open shooter even more wide open. We still haven’t learned that using Ford or Calderon as the second guy in a double-team is defensive suicide because they’re simply too weak defensively to recover. TJ Ford’s greatest strength as a defender is to stay in front of his man and that’s what we should’ve been focusing on, not inventing introverted ways of utilizing players.

Mitchell sees the problem but is helpless in fixing it:

“We were trying to get to the three-point shooters but they made some threes on us. We kept them off the free-throw line, we didn’t turn the ball over, we did a lot of good things but they made some threes.”

LA’s a good perimeter shooting team but they haven’t gotten threes this wide open all season, so you can’t just attribute it to them making their shots. We didn’t do enough to recover from our half thought-out double teams and our guards were simply struggling to find where their man was, let alone cover him. The Globe is seeing this game from a very simplistic viewpoint and attributing Kobe staying off the line to some sort of game plan. Aside from Parker stopping him by playing phenomenal one-on-one defense on about four possessions, an injured Kobe did exactly what he wanted to do when he got the ball. Yeah, our bigs played well and Parker carried this team for stretches but what good does it all do when you allow LA to shoot a season high 15 threes and an overall 54% FG? We should be questioning what we didn’t do to win the game rather than patting ourselves on the back for a job half done.

Anthony Parker deserves a garbage bag full of kudos for his play. His tough defense on the great Kobe Bryant and 21 crucial points kept the Raptors in the game and he singlehandedly held the fort down with this three triples in the third quarter. Rasho had another great offensive game and did his best to contain the crafty Gasol while displaying his uncanny ability to finish softly around the rim. It’s TJ Ford’s 28 points that you have to look at with a raised eyebrow, many (most) of them came through one-on-one offense where there was no semblance of a set play but a desire to simply score. One point of view might be that he needed to do what he did because Bargnani was shot-shy and Parker became the focal point of the Laker defense. But at some point you have to calm your team down, set a play, break down the defense and create for a teammate. Aside from a couple scores off drop-passes to Kapono and Moon, and a blown layup by Humphries, TJ did little of that. Depending on what side of the fence you’re sitting, you can view this as a damn good game by TJ or a lost opportunity to create for his teammates in a big setting.

Sam’s Surprise Sub of the Night goes to Joey Graham who hadn’t played since 10,000 BC but managed to find himself in the thick of things with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. What did he do? Immediately turned the ball over twice. Nice. Andrea Bargnani with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists but only 29 minutes, I thought Andrea’s production was directly proportional to the touches he got, if we had made more of an effort to feed him the ball, he easily could’ve had a 30 point night. Instead we saw TJ Ford jacking up shots, Delfino chucking and Kris Humphries shooting a 20 footer. Sam benching of Bargnani for the first 8:30 of the fourth quarter is confusing because he was playing decent basketball and was not a liability on either end.

Today was another display of how our offense is looser than a Thai whore. We don’t do a single thing that is of substance nor is there any great amount of planned movement, our scores come off our players making on-the-fly decisions based on whatever pops in their minds at that moment in time. We don’t actually dictate a damn thing, it’s all reactionary thinking lacking a proper plan. It was evident that save Gasol, Bargnani could take whoever he wanted in the post but we only saw that twice all game! TJ Ford can kill Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar one-on-one, draw interior help and find open people, we saw that twice all night! Jamario Moon passes up opportunities to drive on almost every possession without any word from Sam. So on, so forth.

We were right in this game thanks to our hot shooting and strong effort on the boards (40-36) but lost it because of our poor defensive rotations and not knowing how to react to the movement in the triangle offense, something that falls on the coach. Maybe Sam should’ve taken a good look at how the Lakers lost to Sacramento a night before and noticed how Sacramento was anticipating what the Lakers were about to do and getting to their defensive spots before even the Lakers got there. You can’t afford to be trailing players and plays when the opposition is that good, the Raptors paid the price for not doing their defensive homework. Although scoring wasn’t the main reason for the loss, down the stretch we were a one-man show with TJ Ford taking over and you knew sooner or later the well would go dry. And it did.

Warriors tomorrow. 0-1 so far, staring 0-2 in the face. The West is tough. It’s 2:06 AM and I”m off to bed.

Liners:

  • My respect for Anthony Parker is growing by leaps and bounds. A true competitor that plays beyond his seeming physical ability. A desire to win and compete like no other on this team.
  • Lamar Odom was giving Jamario Moon an education by using his superior physical strength and craftiness. He took Moon to the rim on several occasions making the rookie look silly at times. Odom’s 9-12 FG of 20 points were huge in this game, you expect Kobe to go off but you hope to contain Odom, or at least prevent him from shooting 75%. This one’s on you Jamario.
  • Jose Calderon’s jumper has left him and he’s become turnover prone, he’s doing some very un-Jose like things and I can’t figure out the reason. Maybe you know. He came out looking for his shot which wasn’t there and you immediately knew then that this was one source of offense that just wasn’t there tonight. We were in a hole early.
  • Carlos Delfino had a pathetic night. For a guy in a contract year, he should be performing above his norm but his entire offensive output is dependent on whether he makes his first 25-ft jumper. Today he didn’t and thus ended up 0-4 FG for 0 points. That’s probably why Joey Graham had to dust of his sneakers.
  • TJ Ford trying to dunk on Kobe was nice. Too bad Kobe got a piece of it.
  • One play I didn’t like: Hump blowing a layup setup by TJ Ford and the Lakers scoring on the ensuring possession for a four point swing in the fourth quarter.
  • More tomorrow when the papers come out….

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