Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan - teammates soon?
Sam Mitchell was out of answers for the Hawks
Toronto Raptors 92, Atlanta Hawks 110

You know it’s garbage time when the entire pub starts sarcastically chanting MVP, MVP as Joey Graham gets soundly rejected off the glass in a 24 point game. It’s one of those moments where you step back and start seeing the humour in these things, sure the atmosphere and the alcohol probably helps, but it doesn’t mean watching our wings try to guard Atlanta’s wasn’t utterly hilarious. When it becomes clear that there’s no way we can stop Marvin Williams, Flip Murray or Joe Johnson doing what they wanted to do and where they want it it to do it, it hardly matters if Bibby’s left open for 5 killer first-half threes. We can talk about the defensive problems we had all night but let’s sum this game up in a stat: scoring from the starting SG and SF spot. Against Detroit it was 49-14 and last night it was 31-8. You can’t win games with that kind of production from key positions. It doesn’t matter how “basketball-wise intelligent” your team is, you’ll get burned.

Once again our wings get owned on defense and don’t provide nearly enough offense to make up for it. To make matters worse we don’t play transition defense and get out-fastbreaked 18-3 (box) which means we’re not getting any easy points and are forced to make our half-court offense click against an Atlanta team which has great wingspan and an ability to disrupt even the best of players. Lack of defense might’ve lost us the game but let’s not forget that aside from that early Kapono outburst our offense was always sputtering and never came close to looking like it could get three consecutive scores. Chris Bosh was the only guy that looked remotely threatening and finished with 26/8 on 8-15 shooting. As you might’ve guessed most of it came through one-on-one play or a jump-shot after running a high pick ‘n roll. Almost any score we got came off of some sort of involvement from Chris Bosh, he’s our only double-team threat and thus it follows that he directly or indirectly generates most of our offense. To compound the offensive problems, Jose Calderon had a bad shooting night going 2-10. He did have 12 assists but when firepower is running low on the team, none of our two big-guns can afford to have bad games.

Atlanta defended us by using man-coverage on everyone except Chris Bosh. We on the other hand had to always be cognizant about helping on Williams, Bibby, and Johnson because their defenders couldn’t check them properly. If all you’re doing on defense is rotating off of doubles you’ll never stop anybody because your positioning will be in shambles. Just like how even the greatest corner-back can’t cover a wide-receiver for more than 12 seconds, asking our rotations to make up for the mess the initial penetration has created is asking too much. My point is that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of blaming late rotations, its the reason why the rotations had to be made that are the problems.

Chris Bosh looked visibly frustrated in this game. When garbage time arrived I caught a couple shots of him on the bench and he looked very dejected, more than he looked at any time last season. When it became clear that he was the only thing going, he tried very hard to win the game on his own but Atlanta’s help on him was always there. After his initial spin move there was always a guy waiting for him and anytime he attacked the rim, somebody stepped over to meet him. The technical he picked up was basically telling his teammates, They’re sending everybody over to help and I’m still managing to score while being fouled every time. Can someone please help me and try to elevate their game so I don’t have to do this alone? Even then he managed to shoot a high percentage and put up solid numbers; impressive game by Bosh who looks to be in mid-season form, unfortunately he’s the only one. Jermaine O’Neal’s scoring numbers were great (17pts, 7-10 FG) and he ended up with three blocks but the rebounding numbers were lacking. It doesn’t matter though, at the rate Moon, Calderon and Parker were getting abused on the perimeter, it wouldn’t have mattered if we had Bill Russel underneath the rim.

The most bizarre thing in this game was how we defended their pick ‘n roll. It was as if we were playing 3-on-5. Atlanta had a layup drill going in the first half whenever they ran the play with Bibby and one of Williams, Smith or Horford. It was almost like we plan to get beaten by the roller and plan for the help to get there instead of negating the initial pick by fighting through it. We have to understand that the help is the second line of defense, not the first. Just like they negative our high pick ‘n rolls, we need to do the same. Atlanta spaced the floor very well and ran isolations such as Johnson on Parker and Williams on Bagnani which were very effective. Bargnani played a few minutes at the SF position with O’Neal and Bosh but the results were not good. He couldn’t guard the quicker Williams and although he got good post-position at the other end, wasn’t able to convert nearly enough for Mitchell to continue giving the idea any more time.

Mike Bibby’s threes were daggers and Jose Calderon should’ve known better than to help when help wasn’t needed. There’s no excuse for not sticking to Bibby and making him the #1 priority when you’re on defense. Calderon got yelled at by Mitchell after the Hawks got an early transition opportunity and Calderon backed away from trying to make an attempt on the layup. You had a feeling that the Raptors weren’t prepared for the way the Hawks use their athleticism. On defense the Hawks were able to trap and recover as good as any team I’ve seen this year. The way you beat that is having options in your offense that react to certain situations. For example, if the high pick ‘n roll is nullified, you can’t just reset and run the same play with two different guys. There needs to be action away from the ball which uses the pick ‘n roll as a distraction to create shooting space for somebody on the weak-side. The movement or creativity in the offense isn’t there but before you shit on Sam Mitchell (and he does deserved to be shit on) also consider Parker and Moon’s talent level and ask yourself whether we should actually expect anything different. I don’t know.

Here’s my beef with Mitchell:

“There was just nothing we could do to stop them. We just couldn’t guard them tonight. Almost everybody was off. It happens.”

No, it does not happen. Mitchell should take responsibity for not having a plan to slow Atlanta down and can’t just write things off to “It Happens”. That excuse was somewhat acceptable against Detroit but we should’ve been better against Atlanta. Nobody’s expecting Moon and Parker to come out on top in this matchup but we are expecting them to provide some sort of resistance. I don’t want this team to accept failure by saying “It happens” because that’s loser talk. Pure and simple, he needs to be held accountable and we shouldn’t expect him to just throw his hands in the air and blurt out “It Happens”. I hate that.

If mild penetration followed by Bibby and Murray threes didn’t remind you of the Orlando series, then Maurice Evans firing from the corners surely must have. It showed me that our perimeter guys still can’t stay in front of their man and will allow their checks to create by penetrating 5-6 feet and dishing off to open shooters. Remember, there’s nothing Chris Bosh or Jermaine O’Neal can do when Joe Johnson drives to the point just outside the paint, draws help and kicks out to Calderon’s man. The play never got to Bosh or O’Neal so they never got a chance to be factors by altering or blocking shots, the only thing it did was draw Calderon, start the lazy defensive rotation and throw our rebound positioning off. Point-of-attack penetration has been a problem for the third straight year and we’ve done nothing about it.

So our nice little 3-0 start has come crashing down and we’re back to flirting with .500. It’s obviously early and there’s no need to hit the panic/panac button but there is serious work to be done on defense because if last night was any indication of how we’re going to handle that dreaded athletic wing player, we’re in for a long season. The ball’s in Sam Mitchell’s court, he’s got to make his pay cheque count for something by devising a scheme that hides our weaknesses against above-average opposition. Before the regular season began I said I’d give this team 10-20 games to find itself and work out the kinks of integrating a major new player and figuring out what to do with that sorry excuse of a bench, I’ll stay true to that.

Not much more analysis one can do, we got our ass kicked because we didn’t play transition/perimeter/man defense and allowed 62 points in the first half. Our simplistic offense couldn’t keep up with theirs and we suffered. The only reasons some of the numbers are close is because garbage time came early and we did some nice stat-padding.

Anybody catch the shot of the Atlanta scorekeeper? The man’s 96 years old, no wonder he keeps fucking up the clock. Thanks to everybody who showed up at Philthy’s last night, there were lots of people there, many probably showed up on their own but the ones that came because of us, special thanks to you. Nice chatting with some of you over some cold ones, too bad the Raptors let us down.