Game 2 Heartbreak: Mitchell draws up middle-school play with :09 left

Toronto Raptors 103, Orlando Magic 104

Phil Jackson once said that a series hasn’t even started until a team loses a home game, so take some solace in knowing that we have what it takes to beat the Magic. Today was an extremely unlucky evening where we were any one of a rebound or a point away from winning the game, it’s just sad that Chris Bosh couldn’t hit the jumper and it’s much sadder that the quality of play coming out of a crucial timeout was lacking even the slightest thought or basketball sense.

Let’s absolve Chris Bosh of any blame in the Game 2 loss. He led the team in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and minutes. To use a cliche, he left everything he had out on the floor and gave it his best. At the end of the game there was nothing in his tank and he did all he could to rescue any kind of a return in Orlando. He missed a 20-footer which was taken on exhausted legs with the clock winding down, surely we could’ve come up with something better given the hot shooting of Jose Calderon, Jason Kapono or even Andrea Bargnani.

This one falls on Sam Mitchell. What is Mitchell’s job? His job is supposed to be to use his basketball intellect to our advantage in these situations by drawing up a play that is likely to create a good shot, not a 20 footer for a power forward who’s clearly winded after playing practically the entire game. Giving him the ball beyond the key and asking him to do a Kobe impersonation is unfair and setting him up to fail. When was the last time Amare Stoudamire, Dwight Howard or even the great Tim Duncan were given the ball on an isolation play 20 feet from the rim with 5 seconds left? If that’s the “play” you’re going to call, there’s not even a need for a timeout, just come out and freestyle like you’ve been doing all year, at least you’ll catch the defense somewhat off-guard. The lack of creativity displayed by Mitchell surpasses anything that he’s shown thus far in his Raptors tenure and he is directly responsible for not doing his job in giving the Raptors an opportunity to win this game. Here’s a quote from an Orlando Sentinel story which sums up the difference between the two teams:

The Magic, judging by their surprisingly easy Game 1 victory and their incredibly difficult 104-103 victory in Game 2 Tuesday night, are reading from the exact same page, doing what they have to do at the exact right time, buying into what their coach is diagramming almost exactly as he has drawn it up. In contrast, the Raptors aren’t reading from the same page. They are too often confused — as if their playbook is written in hieroglyphics. The players have second-guessed the coach, the coach has sparred with the media, the media has all but started a coaching search.”

It’s important to note that on the previous Bosh on Howard possession, Bosh was fouled by Howard and the officials swallowed their whistle, there was no reason to believe that wasn’t going to happen again. It doesn’t excuse Bosh from driving but does put a doubt in a players’ mind that if he does manage to draw contact, it will be of no avail. Needless to say he’s got the right to be pissed about the play.

Critics of Bosh may can say that he choked and failed to deliver in the clutch. Yes, his second half was much weaker than his first and he did have a chance to win the game and couldn’t hit the big shot. One can’t argue there. However, the focus of the entire Magic defense was on Bosh after the first half and that’s one of the main reasons why so many other Raptors got open looks. Bosh was simply exhausted because of his defensive duties on Dwight Howard and his stellar help defense on any Magic guard penetrating the lane, his rotations were always on time and if every Raptor big man had stepped up on the interior rotations like Bosh, we would’ve been in a comfortable lead rather than trying to claw one out.

Let’s get to the game itself. After the disastrous first quarter in Game 1, Sam Mitchell failed to learn his lesson and repeated the same mistake by starting Andrea Bargnani at the SF position – a position that he has never played in his life. Ever. So it’s not a surprise that his new role is a ‘tall order’ for him. The first quarter result was once again eerily similar. The Raptors defense was unable to contain Magic guard penetration or contain Howard who was left to get his points off the boards and through deep positioning. It wasn’t until the second quarter when a smaller lineup without Bargnani was able to whittle the Magic lead all the way down to two. Chris Bosh, TJ Ford and a reborn Jason Kapono (wherever its coming from, just don’t stop now) playing a huge part in the Raptor run keyed on by some aggressive pressure defense by TJ Ford on Jameer Nelson.

You could argue once again that it was entirely the poor start that cost us the game. Just like we had outscored the Magic 77-71 in the final three quarters on Sunday, we outscored them 85-69 in the final three quarters on Tuesday. We failed to make the proper adjustments between the two games and repeated the same mistakes all over again. The preparedness and intensity that the Raptors talked about coming out with prior to the game was nowhere to be found. What’s surprising is Mitchell not admitting his mistake in starting Bargnani and being stubborn enough to do it again to the detriment of the team. If he does this for a third game in a row, he no doubt is a moron.

An evenly played third quarter could’ve been much better for the Raptors hadn’t it been for two huge Jameer Nelson threes which prevented the Raptors from extending their modest five point lead. The Magic were living off second chance points and although Andrea Bargnani’s 9 points were much welcome, his 1 rebound output in 18 minutes borders on pathetic. However, nothing affects Andrea, he’s never worried or concerned and just takes everything in stride. Must be that bloody Caliper test. Jose Calderon, Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani’s points offset Howard’s big fourth quarter where he got help from two monster threes from Keith Bogans (left open by a late recovering Anthony Parker). That setup the flurry of activity in the final minute that you’re all too aware of.

Carlos Delfino’s missed free throw, Chris Bosh unable to save the ball with a one point lead, the Raptors unable to rebound after three Orlando misses, a horribly designed play with the game on the line were all factors in this loss. As a team it was hard for us to play much better, our bench outscored theirs 57-18 and held them to 43% shooting and 29% from three point range. We shot 46% and 38% from three-land yet we managed to lose. Anthony Parker had an absolutely miserable offensive game and was held scoreless, his defense on Turkoglu was tight but he left Keith Bogans wide open to hit two massive threes in the fourth quarter. On a side note Leo Rautins failed to mention even once how “clutch” and “big time” of a performer Anthony Parker is. Anyway, we were lucky that the Magic missed a lot of open threes giving our late-recovering, double-team happy defense a reprieve.

Almost all of Dwight Howard’s 7 offensive rebounds were a result of Chris Bosh helping out and nobody rotating to cover Howard. Nobody expects this problem to be fixed in the playoffs because this is a long-stemming issue that’s been there since two years. One would think Howard commands enough attention that Andrea Bargnani would care to come over and put a body on him as Bosh goes off to provide help. Will Jamario Moon ever realize that the reason he’s open is because teams want him to shoot? A 1-7 performance where he passed up at least five chances to attack the rim and instead either passed it off or took a bad shot; in a game where you lose by the narrowest or margins, all these things come into play. What if TJ Ford hadn’t gone 1-8 or hadn’t committed 4 turnovers? What if Bargnani had just one more rebound? What if our starting SG had more than 0 points? What if…..the list goes on.

There were stretches today where we played defense at a high intensity and were patient with our offense. Having Kapono on his game finishing off plays definitely opens up the floor and makes life easier for everybody, the same goes for Calderon’s outside shooting. The question is can our supporting cast replicate this effort in games 3 and 4 without suffering a letdown defensively and on the boards. I think if we play the same way we did today in the two home games and come out of the gates moderately well, we’ll be fine. There will be more changes for Game 3, hopefully one of them will be reverting back to our regular starting lineup.

The lasting memory from this game will be Bosh’s missed shot but underneath that image is the root of the Raptors problem – the inability to score in the clutch due to lack of creativity and movement, and that in my humble opinion falls on the coach. For me the memory will be of the Raptors unable to corral a rebound after countless Magic misses with less than a minute remaining and nursing a one point lead. That could’ve been the game right there.

The steaming pile of shit that is Dave Feshcuk disagrees with Phil Jackson’s idea of a home loss kickstarting a series and has already written off the Raptors. His article this morning has as much insight as a dog’s ass.

The psychological blow from this loss can be big but the Raptors have to realize that they’ve proved that they’re capable of winning in Orlando, it’s time to return to the Sea of Red and send this series back to Orlando all tied up. The odds are stacked against us – 94% of teams that go up 2-0 end up winning the series – but there’s no doubt about whether we can tie it up at 2-2 and go from there.

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