Offense chokes in the fourth as Raptors exit NBA playoffs

Toronto Raptors 92, Orlando Magic 102

As I watched the final two minutes tick away on mute I realized that this was my least favorite Raptors team ever. Yes, even worse than that third year crew that went 16-66. It’s probably because with that team there were no expectations or hype, just a hope to improve and to maybe build something worthwhile. Even as they trudged their way across double digit losing streaks, it was still more enjoyable to watch because they desperately wanted to break out of their losing, they wanted to get to the next level. They knew they had issues and fought hard to overcome them, our pseudo star Damon Stoudamire took every shot in the clutch, he made some and missed many but never shied away from the challenge. He was feisty, fiery and never backed down. Despite the losing, you knew we’d come out and compete, we’d probably lose but you knew we’d be upset about it. You felt an attachment to those guys, with this team, I felt nothing.

The Magic basically won this series by running the same play 250 times – the drive ‘n kick. The actors in the play changed but that was the gist of it. It was with ease that they got into the paint and passed to waiting shooters as we helpless watched them launch uncontested jumpers hoping they’d miss. There was never a defensive adjustment made to remedy this problem, we talked about it in the pre-game and post-game press conferences but the coaches and players were never able to deliver where it mattered the most – on the floor. The success Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglo, Rashard Lewis and even Keyon Dooling had against our perimeter defense was the primary reason we lost. Our late close-outs on corner-snipers Keith Bogans and Maurice Evans were always a result of either late recovery or unnecessary and half-thought double teams.

To make matters worse, it seemed like every time the Magic missed, Dwight Howard got the rebound and slammed one so hard that it made the Raptors shrink. Tonight was a great example – 16 offensive rebounds for the Magic on their way to a resounding 55-37 drubbing. Wow! I never quite understood why we played ‘small ball’, to me that was one of the reasons why we struggled. Rasho Nesterovic is the Raptor most capable of troubling Dwight Howard and was never put to use. Instead we went with the pathetic Bargnani who couldn’t give us anything on either end of the floor, or with Bosh who spent so much energy on defense that his offense was shot. We watched Howard get deep post positioning against Bosh and Bargnani as Rasho simply withered away on the bench, victim of a scheme that only on the surface appears to work.

It took us five games before Dwight Howard picked up five defensive fouls in a game. Before the series began a common fan’s perception was that the Raptors could get Dwight Howard out of the game early by forcing him to defend Bosh or Bargnani who possess better lateral quicks than the Magic beast. That never happened, Bargnani never bothered to take anything other than a 21+ footer and Chris Bosh settled for jumpers too early and too often to bother Howard. The result was that the foul-prone Howard stayed in the game far too long and had a huge impact by crashing the offensive glass, blocking shots, pinning Bosh for low-post scores and drawing doubles that were easy to break. In other words, the underlying theme of the series was the complete domination of Chris Bosh at the hands of Dwight Howard.

The use of the bench was questionable. I’ve already touched on what Rasho could’ve brought us but the two other pieces that were never used were Kris Humphries and Joey Graham. Anthony Parker who had a miserable series couldn’t ever close-out Bogans, Turkoglo or Evans and had trouble staying with Hedo in one-on-one situations. Rashard Lewis broke down Chris Bosh at will and posted up Delfino without breaking a sweat. Yet we never saw Sam Mitchell give the stronger and more athletic Joey Graham a chance against Lewis or Hedo. I’m not saying he would’ve shut them down but there’s no way he could’ve been as bad as Parker or Delfino on the perimeter. At least give him a shot and see what you can get, no?

You can make a case that if Kris Humphries had gotten Andrea Bargnani’s minutes this series would’ve been longer. At least Humphries plays hard, grabs rebounds and can hit a mid-range jumper. Bargnani did nothing, he was about as useless as tits on a nun. With the rebounding differential as bad as it’s been you’d think we’d do what we can to rectify that problem but Sam Mitchell chose to play ‘small ball’ and opted to get out-rebounded in exchange for I don’t even know what. Asking Chris Bosh to defend Dwight Howard over a series might be one of the most ridiculous things Mitchell will ever do. It would’ve been better to waste Primoz Brezec’s 6 fouls before we asked our primary offensive weapon to also guard their best player.

Finally we get to Sam Mitchell who practically handed the Magic a 2-0 series lead by putting out a starting lineup that had NEVER played together and asked the struggling Bargnani to play a position he had NEVER played in his life. A stupider move has never been made and will never be made in the NBA playoffs. Mitchell was unable to tweak the Raptors offense to account for Lewis’ defense on Bosh and wasn’t able to counter the pressure the Magic applied on our point guards. On defense he wasn’t able to devise a plan for Dwight Howard who ate us alive and couldn’t get a lineup out that could neutralize the weakness we were having at the point of attack which resulted in those deadly Magic threes. The Raptors played Game 1 the same way they played Game 5. There wasn’t a thing we did differently. Contrast this to the Magic who made various adjustments, from pressuring Raptor PGs to hard-doubles on Bosh, from fixing their Game 3 pick ‘n roll issues to switching in Game 4, establishing Howard in the post, focusing on Lewis/Hedo driving, PG penetration etc. Whenever they had a problem, they fixed it. The Raptors never bothered, they just hoped the Magic would miss.

There was one play tonight which showed just how unprepared and thoughtless the Raptors defense is. In the third quarter Carlos Delfino doubled Dwight Howard 12ft from the rim only to leave his man Keith Bogans wide open. Howard made an easy pass to Bogans for a three. That play told me that the Raptors have zero idea on how to double team and when to double team – a problem that was obvious in Game 1. What is the need to double team Howard that far out? Absolutely none. It’s sad to see that the Raptors still hadn’t grasped this simple concept this late in the series.

When you suffer a series loss such as this you have to question and evaluate a few things and on the top of the list is Chris Bosh. His late fourth quarter disappearing acts became the norm in the series. A lot of the problems with our clutch offense has to do with dumping the ball to Bosh and 4 guys watching him operate against Howard who forces him to take a low-percentage shot which has zero chance of being rebounded. Even so, its ultimately Bosh’s responsibility to be aggressive and not settle for mid-range jumpers, fadeaways and other such nonsense. The incentive to draw fouls on Howard should be more than enough for Bosh to immediately take Howard to the rim instead of dancing around and stepping back for 16 footers. I’m tired of Chuck and Leo continuing to praise Bosh’s mid-range game which is mediocre at best and far from being reliable. What I’m trying to get at is Bosh was passive in the late fourth quarter and failed to deliver in the clutch. I appreciate his defensive effort but it needed to be said.

Carlos Delfino’s late fourth quarter chuck tonight was equally as bad as his two late chucks in Game 4. When you have no discipline in your offense players feel like its up to them to “make a play” and it just so happened that Carlos felt a calling from God to make it happen. Unfortunately, he failed. TJ Ford tried to take the game over singlehandedly yet again and got suckered into one-on-one play against Jameer Nelson. Nelson wisely took advantage of the roaming Ford and hit his fair share of wide open jumpers – still haven’t figured out what Nelson needs to do for us to finally figure out that he can convert open looks. Calderon was no better in the series, he failed to turn the corner off of screens and never had the opportunity to take it to the rim because of Van Gundy’s middle-heavy defense – aka Howard. His best contribution in the series had to be his outside shooting which is welcome but he’s far more dangerous when he’s a threat to drive – the Magic did a great job of taking that away from him.

Andrea Bargnani is sick. He is allergic to rebounding, if you see him get a few rebounds in the box score its always because they fell right in his lap. He didn’t get a contested rebound all series and was never even a minute factor in any of the games. There were too many occasions where he was caught watching the play instead of being a part of it. I’m not sure what his summer school entails but I’m guessing a lot of it will have to do with technical matters such as footwork and shooting. What he really needs is somebody to inject him with some passion and intensity, I doubt that’s going to happen, if he’s as bad as this next year, we need to ship his ass out by the trading deadline or next summer. None of this 5-year plan bullshit.

So the Raptors keep the game close and choke in the fourth quarter as the Magic continue to drain threes and Dwight Howard continues to eat us alive on the boards and the paint. Nothing new to speak of here. The season is over and its one of the most disappointing ones ever. This was a failed season, we regressed from last year because the scouting reports caught up with us and we never addressed our needs from the end of last season – defense and rebounding. Bryan Colangelo has another chance to address those exact same needs this summer, maybe last year’s playoff blinded him a little but this year there is no doubt – he needs to fix this team. Status quo is not good.

Sam Mitchell needs to be relieved of his duties and a smarter and more disciplined coach needs to be brought in. Mitchell needs a lot of talent around him to be successful, we don’t have that. We need a coach who can help the players because we don’t have the players that can help the coach.

Thanks for reading the blog this year. I’ve enjoyed writing every post and appreciate every comment from all the posters. I’ll let you guys know what the off-season plans, I got some ideas and it should be fun. Either way, the posts will be flowing.

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