It had to happen, it just sucks that it happened at home against a depleted Pistons team. The 3-0 start had given the team a lot of confidence heading into this one and as Jermaine O’Neal pointed out pre-game, it was an early measuring stick of where the Raptors stand relative to the Eastern conference elite. We got our answer and it turns out we got some work to do. We didn’t learn anything that we didn’t already know about the team as the only major difference between this and the first three games was that the fourth-quarter shots that were going in earlier were hitting front-rim, and as expected our offense didn’t have a Plan B. You can only ride Chris Bosh so much and for so long, at some point there needs to be a second and third scoring option. Although Calderon’s spark in the fourth quarter gave some hope, it was too late in the game to start making defensive stands for the first time all night.
I talked to Matt Devlin after and we spoke extensively about the game and what went wrong. I’ve also played the casual talk we had before the interview began just because he came off as just a very disappointed fan. Very friendly man, hopefully we can have him on again so I can grill him a little harder. In this interview he openly talks openly about the need for another wing player that can create his own shot, Jose Calderon’s emergence, O’Neal expectations, key plays tonight including Will Solomon’s mistakes and other things. This audio here is actually of good quality.[audio:http://raptorsrepublic.com/blog/audio/2008-11-05-MattDevlinInterview.mp3]
Chris Bosh has an easy time scoring against Aamir Johnson and a difficult time scoring against Rasheed Wallace which makes it imperative for Jermaine O’Neal to stay in the game so he can matchup with Wallace so Johnson can be left at Bosh’s mercy. So when O’Neal was hampered by foul trouble in the second quarter it was only natural that Bosh, and thus the Raptors offense, slowed down. This was also the period where Tayshaun Prince started catching fire against Jamario Moon and Raptor-killer Jason Maxiell wreaked some hustle-havoc. The Raptors offense in this stretch went into a funk by becoming stagnant and resorting to 1-on-1 moves that lacked aggression or a finishing touch. The end result of the quarter was an 8 point deficit which later ballooned to 16 and against a tough Detroit defense, that lead is near insurmountable.
The player of the game was Tayshaun Prince who finished with 27/9/8 on 10-13 shooting and made a mockery of Jamario Moon’s attempt at playing defense. This was an all-night thing and there wasn’t a single Raptor who could slow him down, Prince gave Moon nightmares and even prompted Mitchell to use Bargnani on him in hopes of matching his length but the result was an embarrassing dunk off a simple fake that left Bargnani turned inside-out. We had no answer for him and since he’s good enough to pick out players who are spaced out perfectly on the floor and are always moving without the ball, our defense needed to be alert and intense for us to compete. But Jermaine O’Neal took the wrong night off and failed to ever enforce himself on the defensive end and finished with 3/3/3 – that’s 3 points, 3 turnovers and 3 rebounds. Not a good game for O’Neal who continued to miss his share of layups and mid-range jumpers which I still contend will return to him in December.
With O’Neal having a bad game and glued to the bench, the Raptors interior defense was nowhere as good as it’s been and the aggressive Pistons took full advantage. The game was lost in the paint and on the break, the Pistons had a 46-32 points-in-the-paint advantage and an 11-0 fast break edge. The Raptors dug themselves the 16 point hole by allowing Detroit to run on the break in the second and third quarters while never looking to push when they got the rebound. The rebounding margin was only -5 but more importantly we were -8 in second chance points so although you could point to a variety of things that went wrong, you could also break it down by saying that if we had taken care of our glass and maybe even edged out Detroit, this game could’ve been ours. As I said, O’Neal picked a bad night to be off. Almost every Detroit possession started off with some sort of dribble penetration, whether it be to the heart of the paint or the top of the key, they first looked to attack and incite soft help from the Raptors who were always late in rotating to the man on the weak-side, Jamario Moon being the most guilty party.
Interesting strategy used by Sam Mitchell in leaving Jason Kapono out there in the fourth quarter; Kapono got torched by Walter Hermann who got a couple key rebounds over him and also got scored on by Richard Hamilton. Now you could say that Jamario Moon or Joey Graham should’ve been in there instead and you probably would’ve been right because Kapono was giving us nothing on offense all night and was a liability on defense. Then again, Moon wasn’t any better either and I can see why Mitchell put his faith in Kapono; a couple threes would’ve changed the entire complexion of this game. However, after Kapono showed the inability to defend anyone and was clamped down by Hermann, I think he should’ve been pulled. As mentioned in the Matt Devlin interview, there were a couple key moments in this game, the biggest one being an Anthony Parker missed three (insert reference to how he’s not clutch) which would’ve given the Raptors their first lead since the first quarter. Throw in an ill-advised Will Solomon jumper and a costly carry in a four point game early in the fourth quarter and you’ve got one too many mental mistakes to beat a team like the Pistons.
After the game Sam Mitchell flat out said that we couldn’t guard their wings:
“We just didn’t play well. I don’t think they did anything necessarily, we just couldn’t guard their twos and threes…Rip and Tayshaun, they just kicked our butts,”
Moon and Parker combined for 14 points while Prince and Hamilton went off for 49. You just cannot overcome such domination in the backcourt but let’s not analyze too much. Bottom line is that the opposing team’s small forward burned our small forward to win the game. Is that anything surprising? No, Moon held his own in the first three games and got killed today. Given the lineup we got, 3 out of 4 ain’t bad and we could’ve even overcome that except we never got that third scorer. Bosh and Calderon’s 26 and 24 were vital for us to stay in the game but we needed a third scorer to step up in the fourth quarter and that never happened. Andrea Bargnani’s 12 points on 5-6 shooting started off in the second quarter but got interrupted by foul trouble until the third. He also played some solid defense on Wallace for a couple possessions and was a key figure in our third quarter run. However, in the fourth quarter the last meaningful points scored by anyone other than Bosh or Calderon came at 7:22 via Anthony Parker. After that the Pistons covered Kapono and Parker like white on rice and that forced the Raptors back into the simplistic pick ‘n roll or 1-on-1 moves and eventually this happened:
1:30 92-88 Chris Bosh misses 20-foot jumper
It’s a simple missed jumper but its the same jumper that went in during the last three games. What’s your take? Are you willing to live with this sort of fourth quarter offense? I think in the long run we’ll be losing more than winning if this trend continues. Keep in mind though that this here is Detroit and if you’re part of the almost 50% of people that would be satisfied with a 1st round win and a hard-fought 2nd round, you shouldn’t care because we don’t need to beat teams like Detroit to achieve that. In my personal opinion the offense has a lot of the same issues as last year and needs to be fine-tuned for the fourth quarter but as Matt pointed out, we won’t be able to do that until we have a consistent wing scorer who can create his own shot. Simple as that. For now, take what you get. I know it sucks losing to a “real” team but it’ll be mid-season before this Raptors team reaches its peak. The Detroit team’s been together for years now, give the Raptors till December.
Once again, thanks to Matt Devlin for taking out some time to speak with us. Big thanks to all the people that joined us for the Live Blog making it fun and funny. We rolled out a little feature called the Line-O-Meter yesterday, do check it out. There’s also the Roll Call which is becoming very popular and there are pictures and videos somewhere under Multimedia.