Toronto Raptors 83, Cleveland Cavaliers 90

Depending on your Raptor beliefs you can look at this one in a few different ways: 1) All in all a good effort by the Raps, too much Lebron in the end 2) Jose sat for way too long in the third/fourth quarter during which time Cleveland went +6, 3) Cleveland owned us on the boards 51-35 as expected and rightfully deserved to win, 4) If we don’t shoot 39%, Bosh doesn’t go 7/18 and Bargnani shows a horse’s ass worth of talent, maybe we get a shot at a win, 5) We should’ve doubled Lebron more, especially in the fourth and made someone else beat us. All 5 points are valid ones, now it simply depends on which one you want to give more weight to and assign as reasons for the loss.

Lebron James has owned us in the fourth quarter of practically every game and yet we continue to use single coverage leaving Parker, Delfino and even Calderon out to dry. In the one fourth quarter possession that we doubled Lebron before he penetrated the lane, we managed to stop Cleveland. All other times, Lebron ended up scoring on a dunk or a wide-open jumper. Maybe an adjustment and a change in philosophy was in order on the part of Sam to increase the chances of us pulling one out in the fourth. Instead we did nothing to make Lebron’s life difficult and he stuffed it right down our throats just like old times.

Our best stretch of play came in the third quarter where Calderon and Bosh were playing with great synergy and the Raptors were moving on offense, collapsing on defense and attacking the boards. Although Bosh wasn’t close to being his best, it was made up by Calderon terrorizing Delonte West and finding shooters for clean looks. Watching Jose play in the third, every Raptors fan must’ve been praying for him to continue at the outset of the fourth quarter and carry this team to a win on a night where Bosh was struggling and Bargnani simply sucked. No such luck, Sam intervened and although TJ wasn’t as bad as he’s been of late, he was a big time liability on defense and hit-and-miss on offense. By the time Jose was brought back, he’d been sitting for 25 minutes of real time and was cold. Game over.

The Cavs have what it takes to neutralize Bosh, Anderson Varejao gives Bosh fits and Joe Smith matches up very well against him, that’s what gives even more importance to the play of Andrea Bargnani. From what I’ve been led to believe, he’s supposed to have the quickness to take the likes of Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas right to the rim and either get those guys in foul trouble and/or score by being aggressive. But what we saw on the court was a timid Andrea that all but once looked to be more than happy staying on the perimeter and acting like there was a wall of radiation constructed approximately 20 feet from the rim. Of course Sam yanked him after two early and silly fouls but we can’t continue to blame Sam for his troubles, Bargnani’s the reason why Bargnani’s struggling. This is basketball, not rocket science: take advantage of the weaknesses of the players that are guarding you, the man simply doesn’t do that.

Sam’s out-of-timeout play with :46 seconds left might’ve been the joke of the season. Let’s give the struggling Chris Bosh a fading away while moving laterally with a hand in his face. Talk about having no clue on how to get a score when you need one. Even though this game was close throughout the fourth quarter, we never really had a chance of winning it. It’s because there was a prevalent feeling that when it came down to it, Cleveland would go to Lebron and we wouldn’t be able to stop him, and when it came time for us to score, we’d end up taking a low percentage shot and Cleveland would clean up the boards. Not shockingly, that’s exactly what happened. And a lot of credit needs to be given to Cleveland because they are the better team: more size, more athleticism, better rebounding, more scorers and most of all, they have a true superstar. So maybe we should all be thankful that we were in this game for so long. Even if we had managed to sneak this one out through some sheer luck or a player or two going hot, one thing is for sure: we can’t beat Cleveland in a 7-game series, whoever thinks that is drastically overvaluing our talent and coaching.

Rasho Nesterovic has been solid, he defended Big Z much better than Andrea, was aggressive around the rim and was sticking his jumper. It’s a pity he probably won’t be back with the Raptors because he brings a lot to this team and can be a valuable asset in a playoff series. Jamario Moon’s 10 rebounds were impressive but we need more than 4 points from our starting SF spot. Moon’s ill-advised 18 footer with 1:05 left in a 5 point game is a classic example of our offense suffering under Sam, there is just no way he should be taking that shot. You might be able to forgive that play because he was open, however he continues to bail out defenses by showing no desire to take his man off the bounce and draw contact. In one sense he’s totally wasting his athleticism on offense because the only time we see it is on defense and on rare put-back dunks.

So the Raptors lose a big statement game. Nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t happened before, nothing that should be remotely shocking. Given the talent and coaching on this team, I think the 6th seed is a fair result for the season. I don’t think we’re any better or any worse.

Liners:

  • To observe just how stagnant the Raptors offense is, just focus on the red shirts on a play. Don’t pay any attention to what’s going on, don’t look at the ball, don’t look at the defense, just notice the red jerseys and their movement. You’ll be alarmed. I thought about going into another tirade about how weak and unorganized we are on offense but it’s all already been said.
  • Damon Jones’ two threes should never have happened. When will Sam understand, don’t help off a shooter! How simple is this concept, instead of providing help from the wings, bring it from the paint OR double early so you won’t have to make such decisions. I would’ve just liked to see us trap Lebron early and force him to give up the ball, if he catches it again with seconds left on the shot clock, fine, but at least make him give it up and prevent him from doing exactly what he wants to do.
  • It’s very hard to like Lebron. The guy is an arrogant c*nt. I’d say I prefer Kobe over him.
  • We’ve been seeing more Kapono of late which I think is a good thing. Who’s he taking minutes away from? Delfino and Moon – both inconsistent and streaky players that can’t be relied upon to provide any offensive spark. I think this is a good time to give Kapono some burn and get his legs and shot ready for the playoffs. For us to have a shot at winning a series, we need outside shooting more than anything and he’s the guy to provide that.
  • It’s a real shame that we don’t know what the outcome of this game would’ve been if Jose Calderon had started the fourth quarter in the same way he was playing in the third. Sam Mitchell has probably taken away the Raptors chances of a win at least 7-10 times this season based on bad fourth quarter substitutions. If the idea is to give Calderon a breather, burn a timeout right after the fourth quarter starts and that should be enough. No reason to sit him for half an hour. All Sam’s substitutions are mechanical and lacking any real thought or strategy.
  • As with the previous Cleveland games, I would’ve liked to see Joey Graham guard Lebron James and see how far he gets. He’s supposed to be a good physical defender, why not give him a shot? It’s not like we got something to lose, Lebron was finding seams in our defense all throughout the fourth quarter going for wide-open dunks off the pick ‘n roll. It’s sad when your defense breaks down at the 3-pt line and nobody from the weakside steps in.
  • Chris Bosh looked rusty and his jumper wasn’t working. Before we start deriding him for settling for jumpers and not showing up, let’s remember he’s coming off an injury and is clearly finding his offensive and defensive rhythm.
  • The second/third quarter stretch where both teams couldn’t buy a hoop was our chance to pull away a little but unfortunately Bosh and Kapono missed some pretty good looks which could’ve easily put us up 8 or 9.
  • The camera focusing on Jose Calderon on the fourth quarter was really weird. Yeah, we get it, even you think he should be playing.

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