Series hinges on pivotal Game 4

The good feelings after Game 3 should be wearing off by now and the stark reality should be setting in. If we don’t win pivotal Game 4, this series is practically over. A repeat performance is very much needed and there’s little reason to believe that it can’t happen. The Magic will no doubt come out with a higher level of defensive pressure and crisper offensive sets, the Raptors must match the early intensity and send the message that Game 3 was no fluke and if anything, they’re the ones that should be up 2-1 in the series hadn’t it been for some questionable calls in Game 2.

The Raptors PG tandem is getting some high praise from Stan Van Gundy and its not a shock that if they play as well as they did in Game 3, a victory this afternoon is almost a surety:

“That’s as good as a pick-and-roll game game as there is in this league, this side of Steve Nash. When you put shooters around them, that’s going to cause difficulties. The thing with Calderon that’s so impressive, he and Nash are the best at delivering the ball on target so that guys never have to reach. His delivery is incredible.”

Keeping the Orlando swingmen and point guards from penetrating and finding shooters has been a focal point in the series and Chris Bosh thinks the Raptors did a good job of preventing any breakdowns on Thursday night. I however beg to differ some, the Magic got a lot of clean looks on Thursday night, a fair share of them were semi-contested but Bogans, Evans and Lewis did miss some pretty wide open shots. My fear is that these guys are due for a breakout game because it’s never been the same since the first quarter of Game 1 for them. The Raptors need to continue to improve their close-outs on Bogans and Evans, these two corner snipers are liable to hurt us the most. You already know how I feel about Rashard Lewis’ potential impact in any given game.

Stan Van Gundy’s priority is to fix the issues the Magic were having with the Raptors pick ‘n roll which he admits “chewed us up”. Jameer Nelson’s acknowledged that he played like a statue and offered zero resistance to Forderon and vows to play better (I don’t think he will). Knowing Van Gundy, he’s probably lost a lung yelling at the Magic over game tape and has prepared them well enough that the pick ‘n roll won’t be as easy as it was in Game 3. There’s also some talk of Tukoglu and Lewis operating closer to the basket when the outside jumper isn’t falling, this is bad news for the Raptors. With the exception of Jamario Moon we don’t have anybody at a wing position that has a chance of staying with Hedo or Lewis in the post. Hopefully they’ll get a little lazy and stay on the perimeter.

A word about the Magic’s inexperience. If they lose Game 4, the psychological effect of blowing a 2-0 lead can’t be overlooked. The Raptors have controlled 75% of the play in the series and the Magic know that they were lucky to eek out Game 2. If we can pull out a convincing win on Saturday it can go a long way towards demolishing the psyche of the inexperienced Magic who’ll have to play Game 5 under the intense pressure of possibly playing their last home game. The Magic have shown that they are susceptible to lackadaisical play, inconsistent defense and settling for jumpers, if we put the pedal on the gas, they can crumble. Remind you of any one?

Jason Kapono’s play has been too good to be true, I keep expecting him to hit a wall and go 0-4 but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down and the Magic have yet to find an answer for him. Andrea Bargnani needs to take the same initiative Kapono’s been taking in getting his shots up, I’m not advocating Andrea jack it up ala Delfino but he needs to be a little more selfish early in the shot clock and see if he can drive ‘n kick or even challenge Howard’s lateral quicknesses, something that hasn’t happened all series long. The Magic will be looking to come out aggressive and we should take advantage of this; in Bargnani we have the weapon to saddle Howard with 2 early fouls and send him to the bench, the question is do we take the initiative to do it.

Checking out the Magic RealGM board we notice that those guys are getting a little feisty. They’re blaming the Game 3 loss on the referees and Howard being called for illegal screens. Some are also calling for some very bad things to happen to Violet Palmer. She’s a very mediocre referee who loves making momentum changing calls and probably shouldn’t be calling playoff games, but that comment took it too far. The longer this series goes on, the more the Magic fans and media appear to be irritable little c*nts. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than seeing us win after being down 0-2. Wait wait wait. There is something that can give me more satisfaction.

There’s some high praise for the Sea of Red from Yahoo sports blog where Kelly Dwyer (don’t know him/her) ranks the crowd with some legendary audiences:

The Air Canada Centre on Thursday night was the most invigorating batch of supporters I’ve seen since Chicago and/or New York’s 1990s heyday. Not only were they on top of the game, anticipating the action and working the visiting team, but they were starting chants and cheers without the aid of a giant Jumbotron, or the prodding of a patronizing PA man. It was exhilarating to watch.

Kudos to the fans, I really can’t remember the last time a crowd affected a game in such a direct manner.

Caught some NBA tonight, Philly made Detroit look really bad and as we type the Spurs are laying a smackdown on the Suns in Phoenix Seven Seconds or Less style. I don’t like Mike D’Antoni too much so it’s not a bad result but I do feel bad for Steve Nash, he was really counting on Shaq to have a big impact. Could this be Steve Kerr’s last stop as an NBA GM?

The people over at Raptors Shot Caller emailed me a couple times and asked me to do a post for them. If it floats your boat, go for it. I tried signing up for it and chose the username “Arsenalist” but it kept saying “Your display name contains words identified as being potentially offensive to some people.” WTF? Don’t believe me? Go try signing up with it yourself.

One final note, if you guys have regular NBA sites/blogs you visit, do link them here. I don’t mind filling up my RSS reader. If you had taken my picks against the spread before Game 2 and 3 you would’ve made some money, but if you didn’t, here’s your chance. The Raptors are laying 3, this game will be close but not buzzer-beater close because in the end FTs are going to kick in and the Raptors will hold on to even this series up. Take the Raps.

Here’s hoping for a Game 4 win. Let’s go you Raptors!!!

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