Is effort too much to ask?

Calderon overplayed Rondo all afternoon and got burned.
Celtics 118, Raptors 103

Silly me, I was thinking that with the crowd ready to explode behind them the Raptors would come out with energy, passion and a killer-instinct against the Champs. I figured they’d be looking to erase NJ from their memory and do whatever it takes to match the C*ntics in every category, especially effort. Nobody expected them to win this game, all we wanted was an honest effort and maybe a game plan. Turns out everybody took the afternoon off leaving me to wonder which team is supposed to have trouble getting up for these early starts. This game was over after the first 5 minutes. That was all you needed to see to know that Boston had come out to play and had a single goal in mind: put rest to any talk that the Raptors had any shot at contending with them in any capacity this season. If there were any good feelings after the game in Boston where we played them tight, they were all washed away and instead we saw the glaring weaknesses of the team: Horrendous defense, poor offensive execution, lack of strategy, sub-par personnel and most importantly a lack of effort and intensity.

Jose Calderon’s defense is beyond terrible. He doesn’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with anyone and to top it off he insists on playing PGs tight. I think his idea of good defense is playing tight defense which is so not what you want to do against Rondo. In the last two games he’s been up against Devin Harris and Rajon Rondo who are both weak shooters. Instead of making them take jumpers by laying off he’s begging them to drive past them. In the pre-game post I specifically pointed out that we could not afford to let Rajon Rondo penetrate the paint, and if anything it should be Calderon that should take advantage of Rondo off the high pick. Rondo was killing Calderon off the bounce and all 15 of his points were either layups or FTs:

Here’s Rondo’s Field Goal Selection: Layups: 6-8, Jumpers: 0-3. Again, this isn’t surprising by any means and yet we haven’t been able to convey to Jose of how to play Rondo. I figure if Sam Mitchell commands Jose by saying, “Jose, play at least 5 feet off of Rondo and go under the screens when he’s got the ball”, he’ll listen. Whoever is to blame one thing is for sure, this wasn’t a point emphasized in our game-plan (if we had one). Note to Sam: Tune in to for some pre-game tips, they might help out.

The major difference between the Celtics and Raptors is that they are entirely committed to playing team defense and take it as an insult if their man scores. They seem to enjoy the act, not just go through the motions like us. Even late in the fourth quarter after we had gotten our pizza, they were still closing out Bargnani and forcing him to drive. If only Anthony Parker would figure out such simple defensive concepts we’d be in much better shape. Parker got torched early by Ray Allen after he decided to pinch on Garnett post-ups by leaving Allen open. The disease of leaving the other team’s best-shooters to help when helping is not necessary is still rampant amongst the Raptors. Anthony Parker is the worst at this, not only doesn’t he use common sense when defending, he’s also caught trailing screens and is habitually late on close-outs. It was a nightmare game for him where he let Allen get 21 on 12 shots by playing defense that should make a best-selling basketball training video called “How not to defend a shooter”. Don’t get fooled by his 14 points. He was 2-9 in the first three quarters and padded his stats in a meaningless fourth quarter. After his good game in Miami I said that we should brace ourselves for at least four bad games by Parker, 2 down, 2 to go.

Chris Bosh had 24 points, I’m not sure how many came when Garnett was guarding him but it couldn’t be more than 6. There’s no doubt about it, Bosh hates playing against Garnett because KG is all over him. He’s denying him the ball on the perimeter, fronting him in the post and forcing him out of his comfort zone which is a face-up game where he has the option to go right, left or shoot the ball. We had serious trouble getting Bosh the ball in the post, I counted at least 4 times where the idea was to get Bosh the ball but fierce ball-denial by KG forced the Raptors to try a couple different angles without success. Again, we should’ve been expecting this kind of defense from Boston and should’ve factored simple things like entry-passes into our game plan. We never even tried setting a screen on KG to free up Bosh for that half a second so he could catch the ball in the post. It’s simple things like this that are missing from the Raptors and when you throw in the lack of effort you have to wonder what exactly they do in practice.

After the game Doc Rivers pointed out that he counted at least 20 times that the Celtics passed up a jumper for a layup. Our defense was so bad that the Celtics had multiple easy scoring options on the same possession. We’re a “two-pass team” as in it takes two good passes to carve us open. Rondo got the first pass after penetrating the paint and kicking out to a big or a wing who at that point found someone else who was wide open because our rotations were in shambles. With Jermaine O’Neal not in there the interior defense suffered so much that Rivers was surprised that his set pieces were generating so many easy layups for the likes of Baby Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe. Their big men didn’t take a single bad shot all game and got their points off of Rondo and Tony Allen dribble penetration and simple East-West ball movement which thoroughly confused the Raptors who were basically playing illegal defense all game long – not here or there. Parker’s not covering Allen nor his he providing a valuable double, a Rondo blow-by leaves Jose frozen at the three-point line, Moon’s biting on pump-fakes so often that he’s forced to play recovery defense which means fouling (4 in 20 minutes). Forget about the desire or commitment to defense, we don’t even know how to play defense. 62% shooting by the Celtics and a 48-22 humiliation in points-in-the-paint tells you all you need to know about our defense. Take some pride fellas, take some pride.

This article here rings true to me. We have demonstrated zero defensive discipline and keep making fundamental mistakes over and over again. We never seem to have a plan of how to defend a team, its like we’re being thrown out there and asked to figure things out for ourselves. The execution has been lacking all year, I’m wondering if there ever is any instruction behind it.

Sam Mitchell’s saying that the past two games have been exceptions to their otherwise solid defense. I don’t know if I agree, our perimeter D has been questionable all year, its just that having O’Neal makes things look rosier than they are. I think not mentioning the lack of defensive effort is being false to himself and the fans. I understand though, admitting that his team isn’t showing up for big games is the death knell of a coach.

“The past two games have been bad so we have to go back and break down the tape, go about things and tighten it up. We are just making a lot of mental errors. We are rotating to guys and left Ray Allen open a few times. We just had a bad game. We know we have it in us, but we just have to go back to the drawing board and review everything on the defensive end. Up until the New Jersey and Boston game our defence had been pretty good, we just have to get it back.”

Full Interview.

Jason Kapono’s stat line:

12	0-0	0-0	0-0	0	0	1	1	1	0	2	0

Jason Kapono’s salary: $5,784,480

Something off? Yeah, I know. Either Sam is a terrible coach and can’t find a way to get the greatest three point shooter in NBA history a shot OR Jason Kapono is being covered to such a degree that he’s in danger of being suffocated. Which one is it? It’s a little bit of both but more of the first. This is inexcusable production from Kapono and should be brought up in every post-game press conference. Sam’s not entirely to blame, our offense is definitely a mess but its exactly in these types of messes that a gunner like Kapono can thrive if only there was somebody looking out for him. That somebody used to be TJ Ford who had the ability to penetrate, attract and kick-out for Kapono. It’s no surprise that Kapono’s decline in numbers coincided with TJ’s injury last year. Since then we haven’t been able to feed him his shots because the defense doesn’t have a reason to leave him. A lot of the blame should go to Calderon who has failed to break his man down and create for Kapono. He seems content on using the high pick to pass the ball back to Bosh who launches a jumper and notches an assist for him in the process. Seriously, look at some of the assists/hockey-assists Devin Harris and Rajon Rondo have had, ask yourself how many times Calderon has been able to create like that?

Here’s something you missed if you weren’t at the game: Bryan Colangelo was watching the game from the tunnel in the third quarter and saw Rondo go coast-to-coast for a three point play and put his hands up in disgust and just walked inside. He’s had enough of this team. We’re last place in the division and have a brutal schedule coming up. I can’t help but think this is the time when something is going to happen, I don’t know what it is but Colangelo has to see the flaws in the roster, the lack of effort or game plan and the problems with his own acquisitions. The problems with this team can’t be fixed overnight, Jose can’t learn to defend in a day and Parker isn’t going to suddenly start scoring in bunches. Jason Kapono isn’t going to up his shot volume out of the blue and Jamario Moon will not become a lockdown defender.

Colangelo’s cornered himself in a pretty tight hole and he’s got to figure out two things 1) How to keep Bosh happy? and 2) How to stay competitive in a tough Eastern conference. Judging by the body language of Bosh today he’s not happy with any of what’s going on, especially the guard play which is putting a lot of pressure on the big men. The fans booing also wasn’t a good sign but it was fully deserved, not sure if sulking is the right response but it’s understood. After all when you see Pierce, Cassell and Garnett practicing their golf swings in the fourth quarter its an insult to the team and the fans. Check out his PG interview, he’s shocked. Even Kevin Garnett offered words of sympathy for Bosh and took a swipe at the Raptors brass:

“I don’t know the situation here or what he’s going through but tonight he looked pretty frustrated. When you’re a good player and trying to be better, trying to be one of the premiers in this league, trying to set your mark, you want the help around you. He has to make a decision on whether he wants to be here.”

Thanks to KG for dropping a hint to Colangelo on Bosh’s behalf. Much appreciated. At his moment in time the Raptors are looking like a severely flawed team which nobody would want a part of. The starting guards cannot guard their position and don’t provide nearly enough offense to make up for it. The center is injured and the small forward is learning to play a new position. That leave Chris Bosh as the only reliable cog in the starting lineup. The bench features an overpaid shooter, three scrubs, a brand spanking new European rookie and Hump. This is far from a threatening squad and as talked about in preseason, for us to be good a lot of things needed to happen perfectly:

  • We stay healthy
  • Unheard of second unit provides consistency
  • O’Neal plays 70+ games
  • Two of Humphries, Bargnani and Kapono have career years
  • High level team-defense and rebounding
  • Consistent effort and quality of play (no bombing 1st quarters at home against the Clippers)
  • Great coaching.

So far we’re shooting blanks.

It’s awfully hard to look at positives in a game like this but it should be said that Roko Ukic had a pleasant game. He was the only Raptor that was aggressive on defense and it netted him two steals and five points early in the fourth quarter. That said he also had 5 turnovers of the very silly kind, stepping on end-lines, dribbling off his feet etc. He’s definitely more comfortable with the ball than Solomon and we’re much better off just baptizing him by fire and giving him the backup PG minutes so he can get some experience, tighten his handle, figure out where his points will come from and get used to the NBA speed of defenses. I haven’t been to Raptors practices but they honestly can’t be that great, the best way to teach Roko the NBA is by giving him PT. Humphries was the other Raptor that brought the effort and hustle. He had 11 efficient points and showed good rebounding technique, unfortunately we can’t be relying on our scrubs to win this game but maybe the starters can take a page from them when it comes to effort and desire.

Andrea Bargnani had moderate success driving past Paul Pierce and was doing a great job of keeping him in front of him while contesting his jumper. He picked up a couple very questionable fouls that sent him to the bench and effectively destroyed his early rhythm. When he came back in the third quarter he was playing the 4 and I entertained the idea of having him as the primary ball-handler in the half-court set because he was the only Raptor looking to drive ‘n kick against his man. His three assists are legit and he could’ve had more. Bargnani’s settling in nicely at the SF and his defense is becoming less and less of a concern. Still would’ve liked to see the Raptors go to him more in the post early.

I get into my seat in the 300 level and the first thing I see is Jermaine O’Neal limping after an early rebound and I’m thinking why is he playing if its hurting him. Then I see him go for another rebound and come down funny and I’m screaming, take him out!. He was obviously not ready to go and I just hope he didn’t aggravate his injury further. We got two off days coming up and if he had skipped this game he would’ve gotten 5 full days of rest with the option of extending it to a week with the Bobcats coming to town on Wednesday. Very stupid decision by the Raptors for letting him dress up.

It’s never a good sign when the fans are more into the game than the players. We got rocked and the disappointing thing about this loss is that we didn’t want to compete. We just showed up to get slaughtered and that’s what happened. Don’t worry though, we’ll beat the Bobcats and that’ll restore some unfounded optimism until we head out West and get inevitably crushed. This loss hurt more than the Nets one because we at least competed on Friday. Repercussions are sure to follow.

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