Toronto Raptors 79, Utah Jazz 96

The Raptors led by Jose Calderon had just finished a third quarter which had rescued this game from getting out of hand. The Raptors had slowed the tempo and the scoreboard down in the third quarter winning it 27-18 by playing gritty paint defense and by riding Jose Calderon’s hot shooting. A 9 point halftime deficit had been entirely erased and with the fourth quarter set to go, the Raptors were smelling a San Antonio like upset. That’s when Sam Mitchell tried to get too smart for his own good. He inserted the volatile and struggling TJ Ford who went 1-4, turned the ball over twice, got himself into a one-on-one contest with Ronnie Price and the official, picked up two technicals and was sent packing. Add it all up and a 65-65 game had turned into an 81-69 ball game with 6:58 to go and Utah had the momentum with the crowd fully in to it. Game over. The crazy part might be that if it hadn’t been for the technicals, Ford would have continued to play the PG while Calderon and his hot hand cooled off on the bench. Mind boggling stuff, how many times has this happened already?

Utah was off today, they were back from an Eastern swing and their malaise allowed the Raptors to stick around at the end of the first quarter. Sloan went to the bench in the second and as is a Raptors custom, an relative no-name player (Price) scored 4 times his season average to pull the Jazz ahead at the half. In the third quarter our defense picked up and Rasho/Moon/Parker came up with blocks and strips near the rim to contain Utah which was excellent as usual moving without the ball. The third quarter belonged to Calderon who had 9, more than canceling out the brilliant Deron Williams’ 8 to bring us back in the game. Only two other Jazz scored field goals in the period and the Raptors had the momentum and the right defensive attitude going into the deciding quarter. Then TJ Ford happened and this game got out of hand making the final score very unreflective of the actual proceedings. Seriously, take the fourth quarter stats out of it and things are pretty even across the board. If we had just buckled down and played the fourth like we did the rest of the game, this one was going to stay close and would’ve been there for the taking late on.

According to Sekeres, Calderon and Ford were complaining all night to Sam Mitchell about the officials, it just so happened that TJ was fragile enough to explode:

Mitchell said that both Ford and Jose Calderon were complaining that the Jazz guards were riding them with their bodies throughout the game, cutting off penetration with physical contact. Mitchell and the point guards talked to the officials several times during the game about the tactic, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. When Ford was called for an offensive foul on a play where he felt body-riding was taking place, it was more combustible than gasoline near a bonfire.

We were without our best player on this swing but even then there is plenty of reason to be disappointed in our play. It doesn’t say much about the defensive depth of this squad when opponents have no issue shooting 50% against us simply because one player is missing. Is our offense so broken that if Chris Bosh isn’t there, we can’t put three consecutive decent possessions together? Can the severely stagnant nature of our offense be blamed on Bosh not playing? If PGs are meeting with zero resistance on both options of the pick ‘n roll, is not having a Bosh a good excuse? Sure, I can understand if rebounding is suffering and we’re not getting points in the paint with the same ease, but to continually point to Bosh not being there as the source/excuse of our poor play is a fallacy. It’s scary to watch this team without Bosh because you realize just how easy we are to defend and how horribly coached we are on offense.

I’m sure Bryan Colangelo is watching this team and seeing the limitations of our players, the pedantic nature of our coach and the inner turmoil that is on the verge of exploding. He’d be not doing his job if he weren’t to shuffle at least 3 players out of the current lineup: one of TJ/Jose, upgrade Moon/Graham, upgrade Hump and do something with Bargnani because he’s playing flat out awful. Bargnani went 2-11 which immediately reminded me of jeff’s comment from last night. I’m not sure what needs to happen for him to get back to becoming an average NBA player but I would think not relying solely on the perimeter shot is something that’s topping the list. Number 2 would be fighting for an advantageous position and establishing your 7-foot frame in a way where the PG is forced to pass you the ball. Just watching Rasho do his thing tonight should be motivation enough for him but who knows. Bargnani’s game is constricted, rusty and forced, there is nothing fluid or confident about his play over the last month and he’s basically taking the same bad shots over and over again just hoping they go in.

This nightmare is over and we need to get back home and start winning some meaningful games. Miami is a win and I’ll gladly take it but after that we have three massive games coming up which if we win, will give this team a huge boost of confidence which it so desperately needs. This trip has undoubtedly given every Raptor player and coach a first hand look at just how vulnerable we are and how fine the line between us being a good team and a lottery team really is. After Miami, we get Cleveland away and then Denver and Detroit at home. If we manage to win two of those three games, it’ll do a lot towards grabbing some momentum for the final stretch. I’m not worried about Washington catching us, I almost want them to, it’s Philadelphia that is of concern. Philly is a game back and playing well, if they catch us it’ll pit us against Detroit in the playoffs which will be no fun.

If you’re looking for something positive to take out of this roadtrip, we played better defense against Sacramento and Utah. They still shot 48% and 55% respectively but there were stretches where we played well and contained them by collapsing in the paint, contesting mid-range jumpers and fighting for rebounds. It’s not much but at this point the Raptors need to take whatever positive there is and build on it. The negativity of this roadtrip and the losing can kill the will of this team if they’re not too careful and that’s why the upcoming 4 games are so crucial, even more so than the roadtrip.

Go Raptors Go.

Liners:

  • What can one say about TJ Ford? (PG Interview) He needs a shrink to help him cope with the complexities of taking a back seat. Mitchell obviously hasn’t done a good enough job of harnessing his competitive spirit, emotion or style of play. He has all the attributes of being a fiery, energetic guard that can be a positive catalyst for this team but the channeling of his emotion and fury has all been incorrect. Doug Smith tends to think that way also.
  • This is the lowest point of the season and we need to show up with energy, emotion and a plan over the next week to get back into playoff mode.
  • Sam Mitchell has a COY award while Jerry Sloan doesn’t. Something doesn’t feel right. The players come and go but the Jazz continue to play solid and sound basketball. There’s a reason Kris Humphries isn’t on that team, you think Sloan would tolerate missed defensive assignments and going into Jordan-mode?
  • I don’t remember Utah doubling a single Raptor at any time in the game. This has to be a first.
  • Rasho Nesterovic (13/12) has been instrumental in preventing us from getting dominated on the boards. We played the right way on defense today, at least the interior kind. We won the rebounding battle 38-36 and didn’t let Kirilenko or Boozer get off. The perimeter D was leaky as ever, Calderon was slow to fight through screens and Ford was brutal and impatient.
  • Jason Kapono is showing some signs of life and willing to force his shot. That’s much better than him preserving his FG percentage and only looking for wide open shots. I’d rather him hoist up 11 shots than Bargnani any day, at least his have a shot of going in.
  • I like the St. Patricks day uniforms, check Dinosty, he’ll probably have some nice pics.