For most of the game my emotions ranged somewhere between “hating Will Solomon” to “despising Will Solomon”. Towards the end they went from “feeling sorry for Bosh” to “thank heavens we extended that 3-point streak” and finally ended with the usual “good ‘ol Raptors blow it” feeling. It started nicely enough with Jermaine O’Neal dominating Dwight Howard. A couple blocks and a couple scores from O’Neal later you think to yourself that maybe we got the answer for Dwight Howard right here. Trouble is that whatever good O’Neal’s early play did was handed right back by Solomon’s early turnovers and inability to stop Nelson’s dribble penetration. Sound familiar?
Let me give an example, we were shooting 65% at one point in the second quarter and were only up by 5. The Magic at this point were shooting 38 percent. You knew that the percentages would eventually even out and that’s when you rued the early turnovers and felt that we shouldv’e been up by at least 15 if we had a backup PG who could go a full minute without a turnover. But hey, it wouldn’t have mattered. The Raptors have made it a business of opening double-digit first half leads only to fold late in the second quarter and unravel in the third and this wasn’t much different. Check the box.
So what went wrong. Let’s start with dribble penetration, the point of attack for the Magic wasn’t Hedo going at Bargnani, it was Jameer Nelson going at Will Solomon. Solomon continued to make a serious mistake all game long which went uncorrected by Mitchell: on every Magic high screen he either ended up trailing Nelson or getting caught behind the screen on the wrong side of the pick allowing Nelson free space to shoot, pass or drive. Once you allow that much space to even a slightly above average PG like Jameer Nelson he’ll gladly go 9-13 for 20 points. See, Mario Chalmers hasn’t learned to do that yet. To make matters worse Solomon failed to make a single entry pass into the post to any one of Bargnani, O’Neal or Bosh which meant our offense always started outside-in rather than the other way around. We failed to fully capitalize on the Magic’s slow start and a lot of it has to do with Solomon’s play. BTW, if you didn’t watch the game this hilarious play right here sums up Solomon’s night. Matt Devlin’s reaction is priceless. Bosh on the turnovers:
“That’s what did us in, we have to take care of the ball. I think if we do that we get a few more shots and you convert those turnovers into points that would not be much of a lead at all. We have cherish that ball, cherish every possession.”
Blaming the loss on Will is unfair. Let’s face it: he sucks. And to ask anything much of a player of that caliber is unfair. The question to ask is what happened to Bargnani and Parker? Bargnani went 2-9 for 5 points and 3 rebounds and Parker goes 2-6 with 4 points. Parker also went to bed safe in the knowledge that he got outplayed by JJ Redick. Yes, JJ F***ing Reddick. Bargnani was never given the ball in a position where he could slash to the rim like he did against Miami nor was he ever given a single post-up opportunity. Granted, Jose Calderon not being there considerably affects the ball movement but there needs to be a game-plan to get people the ball in good positions. I’m used to seeing Parker suck so it doesn’t bother me too much, but seeing Bargnani take only 2 first half shots stinks of a crappy game plan and one that doesn’t build on his success two days earlier. The fear coming into the game was whether Bargnani was going to be exploited by Hedo. That didn’t happen at all because the Magic were busy killing us at the PG spot to bother with that matchup, why we never looked to get him involved in the game is a mystery. Having said that, getting only three rebounds is pathetic and if you got an open look from four feet, you take the shot, not chicken out.
It’s hard to overcome 21 turnovers on any given night but when you’re also -11 on the break it means that you’re turning the ball over and not getting back on defense. In a game where the margin was 7 points heading into the final minute (that’s when Sam inexplicably mailed it in), those are all the stats you need to see. Hedo Turkoglu didn’t do his scoring damage till the fourth quarter (6-9 FG), before that he was driving past Moon and Parker and setting up Lewis and Redick for open jumpers. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t much different than the playoffs, the Magic knew that anytime they needed to get a good shot, all that was required was a drive to the paint off an isolation or a pick ‘n roll and suddenly the options opened up. Sam Mitchell talks about keeping the offense simple, maybe he should take note of Stan Van Gundy, that man keeps the offense brain dead – drive ‘n kick was their #1 play followed by working off of Howard doubles. They had a simple second-half plan and it worked nicely, we came into the game thinking Bargnani was going to replicate his Heat performance and Solomon was once again going to rack up 11 assists. Hey Sam, if something works for one game it doesn’t mean its going to magically work the next. Aside from Bosh, Bargnani is the only other matchup we could’ve exploited but never even ran a single damn play for him. It’s sad and speaks loudly about our game preparation. After the game Mitchell blamed the turnovers for the loss and if you like hearing the shats excuse, here it is again:
“They made shots, they made 3-point shots. They shot 47% from 3, they made shots in the second half..Chris took 16 shots, we got 80 shots for the game, Jermaine took 12, that’s a lot of shots for the game…..It’s just tough for us right now. We have two guys who are trying to learn in the NBA. You just have to shake it off. I know for myself if I had a tough game I would want to play as soon as possible so (tonight) he gets a chance to go out and play. Obviously you can’t turn the ball over 24 times. It’s hard to overcome 24 turnovers. Anybody who has ever watched even one game knows you can’t turn the ball over 24 times.”
Full Interview. It’s easy to pick out a stat and blame it as the reason for the loss. Unfortunately none of the reporters in the post-game press conference asked him about Kapono’s lack of involvement in the offense, Andrea Bargnani’s touches, the matchups that were left unexploited, being too cautious with player fouls and the stagnant offense which looked to give the ball to Bosh and get out of his way.
The Magic didn’t play all that great, they had 17 turnovers, got off to a slow start and didn’t get a dominant game from Dwight Howard. The difference is that they’re a deep team and have players who can step up (Lewis, Hedo and Nelson all with 22) and a coach that recognizes how to get his players off. If Van Gundy can get Lewis, Turkoglu and Nelson open looks, why can’t Sam Mitchell generate a single clean look for Jason Kapono. As AltRaps says, the man is a chicken running around in circles and doesn’t have a clue in the world of how he’s supposed to get his shots. So he ends up running the full semi-circle, catching the ball with the defense right up on him (I mean, why would they leave him) and either does a head-fake and pointless drive or launches a prayer that sometimes gets answered. Poor guy, you have to feel for him, but not as much as you feel for Bosh. More on him later. Our entire second half offense consisted of either giving it to Bosh and letting him do his thing or having Roko or Will waste 16 seconds off the clock by dribbling pointlessly and either throwing up a low-percentage jumper or passing it out to a wing player who really didn’t want the ball because he had no idea what to do with it. I’ve been saying it for two years now. Our fourth quarter offense is predictable, boring and most of all stoppable. It’s almost exclusively high pick ‘n roll except today nobody even rolled. Ukic used Bosh as the screener but CB4 didn’t even bother following through with the play and just waited for Ukic to give him the ball back so he could do his thing. Complete disarray. I counted one real cut to the rim all game long and that was by Bargnani on the first play of the game.
40 points, 18 rebounds and 14-19 FG. What more do you want? Bosh refused to lay down and played hard until the final minute when he was taken out. The look on his face cried for help from somebody, anybody, but nobody answered his call or followed his lead. Partly because he’s playing at an intensity level far above anybody else on the team save Jermaine O’Neal and remains the only true threat in our offense. The toughness he displayed today was admirable and if only one of Parker or Bargnani had shown up with the same zeal as him we would’ve won this game. I can’t say enough about Bosh’s performance, his point total equaled Howard and Lewis’ combined and he had one more rebound than both of them put together. He basically outplayed two of their best players single-handedly, its just that nobody helped him.
Jermaine O’Neal set a nice tone for us early but as soon as he went to the bench the defense took a hit. A very strong double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds for the big man who’s starting to show signs of regaining his offensive touch. Today he hit a couple mid-range jumpers and got scores off offensive rebounds, his turnovers are still a problem and he’s got to figure out how to stay in the game longer. I thought he should’ve matched up with Dwight Howard on every play of the game, who cares if he has three fouls, keep him in there? If SVG can afford to keep Dwight Howard in the game with five fouls what’s stopping Sam Mitchell from keeping O’Neal in with four in the third quarter? I’m not saying Sam’s the reason we lost because at the end of the day the GM puts the team together and the GM’s given us a backup PG by the name of Will Solomon. Did Colangelo honestly think that this position wasn’t as big a problem as the SF? Especially after losing Carlos Delfino (who could play the point) and knowing that this is Jose’s first season as an NBA starting guard.
Some more stats to throw at you: Orlando shoots 46% while we go 2-14 from threes. The highest paid bench player in the league plays 31 minute and has 7 points and three turnovers. We go +6 on the boards but that’s not nearly enough to make up for the -11 fastbreak points and 21 turnovers. I don’t know how this game would’ve turned out if Jose Calderon was playing, I know we wouldn’t have had 21 turnovers and woud’ve been able to get the ball in the post more easily and wouldn’t have to wait till late in the fourth quarter for our first three. It’s a bad loss, Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal’s strong games are wasted because nobody else stepped up and we suffered a big letdown at PG. I’d still put an asterisk next to it because of Jose not playing.
Thanks to everybody who showed up in the Live Chat, we’ll do it again tonight. We also selected our first Rap of the Day. Try to have a nice day after this bummer of a game.