The thing we feared finally happened, Orlando started hitting their threes. They were getting wide open looks for the fourth game in a row and it was only a matter of time before they started going in. That time came in the second half of Game 4 where the Magic went 7-12 from three after going 4-17 in the first half. That was the game right there. The Raptors failed to consistently match their defensive intensity from Game 3 in the second half and poor offensive games from Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker contributed to the sputtering offense. As much as Chris Bosh’s 39/15 are to be admired, his defense on Lewis and Howard was extremely suspect. The Raptors drop pivotal Game 4 and head back to Orlando facing a daunting task of stopping the Magic snipers.
In the pre-game post I had alluded to the advantage the Raptors might have in the Bargnani/Howard matchup and how Bargnani might have the ability to take advantage of Howard’s lack of lateral quickness to pick up some early fouls on him. Nothing remotely close to that happened as Andrea made his first jumper and after that went 0-6 with not a single shot attempt inside the paint. When you get 5 points and 2 rebounds from your starting center it’s going to be a rough night. Andrea’s offseason can’t start soon enough so he can learn some fundamentals of basketball including shooting, dribbling, footwork and decision-making.
The best Raptors defensive possession was the first one in the fourth quarter where for the first time in the game a hard, meaningful, fruitful double team was deployed followed by a quick recovery. Other than that our defense stuck to its same old template: Hedo/Lewis taking Bosh/Moon/Delfino of the dribble and drawing in Bosh/Rasho/Ford to kick out to Bogans/Evans/Lewis. That’s how they’ve won 3 games and there’s evidently nothing we can do to stop them, our defensive plan there is to hope they miss. It worked in Game 3 and almost worked in Game 2 but as the Raptors themselves will tell you that’s not a reliable defensive strategy. In addition to hitting their threes, their SFs mixed it up by attacking the paint forcing matchup nightmares for the Raptors. We looked helpless and this time there was nothing the crowd could do to make the Raptors find that defensive drive that’s been missing all season.
I’m a big fan of Chris Bosh’s intensity and hard work and without his 39/15 we’re in trouble, if you sense a ‘but’ coming you’re right. Rashard Lewis was taking him off the dribble at will and either scoring or kicking out to shooters for the swing sequence, that really hurt the Raptors. Bosh and Bargnani did an extremely poor job on Howard in the first quarter and literally never boxed him out allowing him to collect second chance points when the Magic were struggling. Bosh settling for jumpers with Jameer Nelson and Marcin Gortat on him didn’t help either. Fine, I’ll stop the Bosh criticism because for the most part he played well.
Let’s face it, for us to win tonight almost everything would’ve needed to go perfect as the Magic are the superior team. Hedo and Lewis are far superior players to Parker and Moon, Howard is a much bigger force than Bosh and Stan Van Gundy can outwit Sam Mitchell in his sleep. The only advantage we have is the point guard position and when Jameer Nelson plays that even, our chances of winning evaporate. TJ Ford’s 12/13 were much needed and his decisions on the break perfect, but once he went to the bench our offense labored with Calderon at the helm. Nobody predicted Jameer Nelson draining big fourth quarter shots but there’s no excuse for Calderon to leave him open on three straight possessions. The PG battle goes in favor of Orlando. Again.
The one technicality that I’d like to mention is the Raptors defense when there’s less than 6 seconds on the shot clock, instead of pressuring the ball and taking the shot away we encourage the offensive player to go one-on-one. I counted at least 5 instances in this game where a hard trap would’ve extinguished the Magic possession but since we allowed the player to make a one-on-one move, we ended giving up the score. The Magic deserve a lot of credit for spacing the floor, attacking the rim and playing intelligent basketball. They ended up with 18 turnovers but many of them were just results of aggressive basketball like establishing Howard inside, driving by our PGs and on the break.
Since 2 of our starters (Moon, Bargnani) gave us nothing on offense and a third starter didn’t do a damn thing till the fourth quarter (Parker), it meant that the bench needed to step up. However, only 1 man (Kapono) showed up, the other 3 key bench guys (Nesterovic, Calderon, Delfino) gave us a total of 9 points. The bench ended up scoring 21 which pales in comparison to the 41 from Game 3. Again, its hard to win when you’re getting sub-par performances from your starters and your bench.
We ran some very stagnant sets in the fourth quarter which resulted in Carlos Delfino taking two ill-advised shots and TJ Ford jacking one up. The age old problem of the Raptors being unable to score in the clutch reared its ugly head again. The nerves get a little tighter, the defense a little more aggressive and the officiating a little more loose, its situations like these where we need that elusive player that can create his own shot while setting up others, just like Hedo and Lewis. Bosh isn’t there yet and perhaps may never get there, he’s too tentative in the post and lacks a reliable finishing touch to be considered a great scorer. At least not yet. Of course it doesn’t help when Parker’s air-balling open threes set up by Bosh doubles but I’ve come to expect that of Anthony Parker. I know, its harsh.
If open threes in the second half was problem #1, rebounding was #1a. It was 42-34 in favor of the Magic who got crucial offensive rebounds in the third quarter leading to scores which kept them in the game, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis supplying the most demoralizing ones. You got the feeling that the Raptors needed to be up 10-15 going into the fourth to have a shot at this one because of our unreliable offense and the likelihood of a Magic run. So when we were up by only 1 heading into the fourth, the writing for a loss was on the wall.
Kudos to the Magic for recognizing their mistakes from Game 3, coming out aggressive and establishing their SFs in the paint. They talked about it pre-game and executed it to perfection. I’m not sure what Chuck Swirsky and Leo Rautins’ issue with Rashard Lewis is, every time he misses a shot, they’re on his case. The guy’s killing us, how can you not see that?
The officiating in this game was horrible once again, maybe the reason the NBA used to space out games is because of a lack of good refs. Both teams had legitimate complaints throughout the game, as a Raptors fan I counted at least 4 non-calls. I’m sure the Magic had their fair share too.
Game 5 is on Monday night and its going to take something special to win that. I’m not sure the Raptors have it in them.