Déjà vu: Raptors offense stalls when it counts

Toronto Raptors 100, Denver Nuggets 109

Déjà vu. Just like in Cleveland, in a tight game coming out of a timeout with 2:09 left, Jamario Moon finds himself open from 25 feet and clangs a jumper, Denver scores on the ensuing possession and a Bosh turnover combined with an Iverson three puts this one to bed. Offense/defense substitutions seem to be a foreign concept in the world of Sam Mitchell, how can we not have learned our lesson from the Cleveland game and still allow Jamario Moon (our worst perimeter shooter) to take the crucial fourth quarter shot. What’s even more shocking is that this is coming out of a timeout. A timeout where Elliote Friedman reported that Sam’s plan was to go to Bosh, which they did but on the first pass out of the weak double, Jamario clangs a jumper, tainting his otherwise commendable afternoon.

In the first quarter things were looking bright, we had slowed the tempo down to a crawl and both teams were getting their points out of the half-court set. This favors us even though they are the better half-court team. We don’t have the personnel or talent to run with them so our best bet was to play half-court basketball and limit their fast-break points, which we did. Andrea Bargnani caught fire in the first quarter but there was no way he could sustain 7/8FG type shooting and he naturally regressed into score 0 for the remaining three quarters. Did the Raptors stop looking for him? Was he demanding enough of the ball past the first quarter? Was Mitchell benching him insane? All questions for debate but the fact is he missed his final 6 shots and wasn’t a factor for the rest of the game. How he’ll play against Detroit is anyone’s guess, he’s the most inconsistent Raptor and this game was a microcosm of the entire season.

We shot 50%, played them even on the boards (41-41) and only had 11 turnovers, so where did we lose this game? Failure of Bosh to score or create down the stretch, inability of our offense to score against a set Denver defense and the defense on Iverson and Anthony in the fourth quarter. Jamario Moon was hampering Carmelo Anthony and causing him trouble all afternoon but Anthony had shown time and time again that he had the ability to beat Moon inside and out. With no double team or help in sight, it’s no surprise that Carmelo went 4/6FG for 9 points in the fourth. The one time the Raptors applied pressure, they helped through Iverson’s man who calmly drained a dagger three. On the other end, Bosh disappointed with key turnovers, bad offensive decisions and didn’t look confident with any of his offensive moves. His “wait time” when he catches the ball in the post seemed exceedingly long (even for him) and allowed the Denver defense to easily anticipate whatever was going on in his head.

Sam Mitchell’s strategy of putting Parker on Iverson was working, he was giving him trouble with his size while Calderon was washing out Anthony Carter. Later on when George Karl put in JR Smith, Parker was forced to guard Smith while TJ Ford had to contend with Iverson, which made things smoother for Iverson and he started to heat up. He’s a tough guard without the support of the officials for anybody but the Raptors can’t say that they did anything to contend with him beyond deploying single-coverage in the form of Parker. The help defense wasn’t there and the perimeter rotations late as usual. Actually, they’re not perimeter rotations because “rotations” only apply when we’re doubling and players need to rotate over, these are more like “close outs”. We had trouble closing out even when not doubling!

You need to be determined, willing to fight through screens, get help from your motivated teammates to stop a player like Iverson, we’re just not that good defensively. The only play where we frustrated Iverson was when he drove by Parker but found a waiting Calderon to take the charge. That was the kind of committed defense that can slow down a player of Iverson’s caliber. We needed more plays like those and less of Iverson going East-West for floaters and jumpers. After the game Bosh called his team out:

“The thing that bothers me in the end of the games is (we’re) just too hesitant. If I give up the ball, guys just have to go ahead and rely on their talent. I think we hesitate too much and think about it too much. We just have to play basketball down the stretch because we don’t worry about it in the first three quarters, so why worry about it in the fourth?”

7 of our 9 players scored in double figures and the other two (Kapono and Delfino) were held scoreless. The Raptors offense has never been a problem, until of course it comes time to score late in the game. That’s when NBA defenses dig in, the opposing coach marks out a weak spot on your team, a play-specific strategy is deployed to contain your best player and the stakes are raised. That’s when the Raptors struggle. And that’s exactly the area where we need to score if we want to be more than first-round fodder for Detroit or even Orlando. Most recently, this deficiency has been highlighted against Golden State, Utah, Cleveland and today against Denver.

Can we score consistently in the clutch? No. Reason? Lack of ball movement, lack of plays, lack of a second scorer. I know it sounds simplistic and redundant, but either we don’t have the plays to utilize the talent on the floor OR we don’t have the talent on the floor. Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, one thing is clear either way: We need to find a real second scorer so that we’re far less predictable in the clutch.

Taking a step back and looking at the Denver lineup and comparing it to ours, we’re lucky to be in this game. We played well enough (by our standards) and stayed close in the fourth quarter. When the other team has two possible Hall of Famers, the NBA’s second best rebounder, and the second best offense in the league, all a team like the Raptors can do is hope they shoot a high percentage and that the other team goes cold in the fourth. They didn’t, and we lost. To win a game like this, something special is needed on the part of the players and coaching staff, something that tilts the balance in our favor. Be it applying specific pressure, taking advantage of a matchup, hiding a weakness, feeding the hot hand, calling a good play, at some point we needed to do something to contain Iverson/Anthony and get a tough score on the other end. Too much to ask.

Coming back from the West coast swing the belief was that if we had taken 2 of 3 from Cleveland, Denver or Detroit, our confidence would be back and we’d start putting a legitimate run together. After losing two telling games and Detroit coming up, it looks like we’re about to go 0-3. Sure, we’ll beat NY after that, but what does that really mean?


  • Chuck and Leo are ripping on JR Smith only to watch him score 14 first half points.
  • The best Raptor on the evening was Rasho Nesterovic (ignore his +/-, that’s a bullshit stat) who recognized his advantage against Najera and Camby to score 10 efficient points on 5-7FG. The crafty veteran is playing as well as ever and maybe needed to have a bigger say in the game.
  • Chris Bosh missed a triple double by an assist but did not look good in his offensive moves. He looked very shaky against the laterally-challenged Kenyon Martin and his moves were too slow to develop, the shots too predictable and was hoping for the foul more than anything. It’s likely the lag from the injury but even so, not a very fluid game by Bosh.
  • The freestyling nature of the Sam Mitchell offense was in full effect today. We weren’t even efficient in running our trademark pick ‘n roll, Ford or Calderon often opting to look elsewhere after the initial screen. Even the reliable Anthony Parker looked confused running the final pick ‘n roll (coming out of a timeout) and turned the ball over. Mitchell’s offense is a bloody mess. The worst part is that I do think we have the players which might be able to handle a more complicated and structured offense but their intelligence is just being wasted away here.
  • TJ Ford appears to be back to his normal medication free ways. I like the way he played and ran the offense, unfortunately we lost. The PG duo was solid: 28 points, 10 assists and 1 turnover.
  • Jamario Moon is tied for second most FG attempts on the team (only 2 behind Bosh). Is there something wrong with this?
  • Carlos Delfino: Do we bring him back? I can see his value on defense and in a well-rounded system he might be a good 10-12 pt scorer off the bench. But does that warrant a re-sign?
  • At least the fans got their pizza.
  • PodCast tomorrow!

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