Club under scrutiny. The Mitchell-haters must’ve almost been hoping for a Raptors loss which would’ve given them plenty of ammunition to come hard at the head coach – not that they won’t as things stand. A home win over the Bobcats doesn’t tell you much, not when your best player plays 45 minutes and has to pump in 39 for the squad to eek by a 4-9 team. After the self-reflection of the last couple days you expected the Raptors to come out with that defensive bang and put the ‘Cats away early and maybe try to turn the page on a season that so far hasn’t been going according to plan. That didn’t happen, but in the spirit of American thanksgiving lets just be happy that it wasn’t a loss and that we saw some greatness from Bosh and glimpses of Good Joey; hopefully we’ll see more of that in the real challenges that lay ahead.
Let’s start off with Bosh because without him we get blown out, check his stat line:
M FG 3FG FT OR TR A TO STL BLK PF PTS 45 15-20 0-0 9-10 2 11 0 1 1 2 3 39
That’s on 11-15 jump shooting. Dudley and Okafor can’t handle Bosh and he fully well knows it. They gave him space on the left elbow and he kept draining them over and over again. I know what you’re thinking, its Dudley and Okafor and not Kevin Garnett. It’s hard not to look at these performances without the context of the Celtics loss and say, Hey, do that against KG and then we’ll celebrate you, but that would be unfair because he was the sole reason why we got a W tonight. Everybody was struggling early on leaving him as the only option for offense and he delivered and kept us in the game against a Charlotte team that had come out to play. He started off 8-8 and made 14 of his first 15. Charlotte was the more active/aggressive team throughout the first half but luckily we had Bosh who countered all that with his scoring and defense. We can’t play him 45 minutes a night against a bottom-feeder, that’s just crazy and speaks to the lack of depth on the roster and the reliance on Bosh to get any sort of quality shot.
Jamario Moon replaced Jermaine O’Neal in the starting lineup which moved Bargnani to the PF and gave us the Alabama matchup of Moon/Wallace. Gerald must’ve realized that he’s been shutdown by his high-school rival the last two times and came out trying to up his trade value by slashing to the rim with great success. He got all 8 of his field goals in the first half and ended up with 23, give credt to Joey Graham for playing some stellar defense on him in the second half. But Joey did so much more than that. He comes off the bench and makes it a point of driving to the rim every time he catches the ball resulting in a couple big jams. He tests his quirky little jumper which lets him down a couple times and connects once but the important thing to note is that he came out aggressive. Very aggressive, so aggressive that you wonder why he doesn’t get the leeway and playing time that Jamario Moon is afforded. Cumulatively speaking they have the same offensive game with the only difference being that Moon gets his points on jumpers and Graham gets them by slashing, which one would you pick? Yeah, thought so.
Here’s a play which describes Bargnani’s defense: He’s being posted up by Dudley (I think) who gives him a pump-fake which he falls for but has the presence of mind to stay upright and not foul by bending his arms. The guy thinks he’s had him and takes the fadeaway which Bargnani still managed to block. It’s a minor play but it shows that, unlike last year, Bargnani’s thinking about his defense. Here’s another: he gets back on defense on the break and picks up a charge on Carroll. Terrific shit mate! His jumper wasn’t there today, he had many clean looks and missed them very badly but give him credit for making up for it by playing solid defense and hitting the glass (9 rebounds). Last year a bad offensive game from Bargnani was almost always accompanied by an equally miserable defensive performance, not so this year. His footwork on defense is impressive, instead of being lazy and just bumping the defender hoping the official won’t call the foul, he’s always on his toes and moving his feet to get in position. His pick ‘n roll defense was good too, the Bobcats like to run the pick ‘n roll and Bargnani was smart enough to deny Augustin and Felton the lane by getting into good position even before the pick was set. It’s good to see that the “deer in the headlights” look has gone away.
The Bobcats start two PGs which might sound like a nightmare for Jose Calderon but as mentioned, good defense by the pick-setter’s man helped alleviate some of the pressure off of Jose. That’s not saying he didn’t get his ankle twisted a couple times but it wasn’t nearly to the degree of Harris or Rondo. Aside from the man-defense the major complaint against Calderon is that he doesn’t drive the ball to create shots and hits an imaginary wall at the FT line. So its ironic that it was his drive to the rim on the left baseline which found Graham for a dunk to ice the game which garnered praise from Larry Brown:
We had a slip-up when Calderon drove and found Graham…but Calderon, he played as well as you can play, never takes a bad shot, gets everybody involved.
Parker and Moon gave us nothing on offense but at least Parker did a defensive job on Felton which warrants excusing his consistently bad offensive games. Its not great to see your starting SG with 5 points when he’s matched up with a guy who’s 5 inches shorter than him but I’m used to his offense now and am forced to commend his defensive effort. He did a catch a break since Jason Richardson was injured but still, credit where its due. Same can’t be said for Moon who is now officially my least favorite Raptor. He’s a lazy basketball player and it pisses me off to even look at his gum-chewing ass when he’s standing on the perimeter waiting for someone to pass him the ball so he can fake a drive (haha) and launch his ugly jumper. His jumper at 10:53 of the 3rd quarter might be the worst one he’s taken yet and did not reflect well on Mitchell as we had just come out of the half. This guy’s in a contract year and playing with Vince’s attitude the year after he signed his deal. Cut him, trade him, bench him. Just get him out of my face. Sam Mitchell commented on the guard defense:
Those two guards are quick and hard to handle, they can break you down. Jose, Anthony Parker and our guards did a good job of just keeping them in front and challenging their shots and keeping them out of the paint.
The defensive effort was better, not great, but better. We held them to 3-17 3-point shooting and they’re not all just missed shots as Larry Brown would have you believe. The jumpers were semi-contested and when their guards drove off the picks the help got there without fouling and cut the baseline cleanly. One simple thing we did was that we didn’t overplay players who hadn’t proven that they could shoot (Okafor, Felton, Morrison). It was almost like we had read the scouting reports, the only guy we didn’t have an answer for was Gerald Wallace who found his way to the rim whenever he wanted. Okafor got his points, Dudley was active on the boards and Augustin got his on Jose and you could even say that the reason we won the game (aside from Bosh) was because we didn’t let Raymond Felton go off (2-10). We didn’t get killed on the fastbreak, actually won that battle 11-10. Hey, in a 7-point game its the little things that win you the games.
The backup PG situation is starting to come into place and its not surprising that its Roko Ukic who’s emerging as the guy we’ll have to be nervous about for 7-10 minutes a game. Roko’s flaw is that he’s raw and inexperienced, Solomon’s fault is that he sucks. I’ll take inexperience over suck any day of the week. Roko ran the point for 7 minutes and didn’t turn the ball over which is great because he’s usually coughing it up like a first-time hydro smoker. Throw in a nice behind-the-back pass to Bosh on the break for a jam and you’re going to win yourself some fans. Note to Solomon: Airline flights back to Europe are cheaper in the winter so if you’re thinking about…you know….
It’s my blogging duty to point out a rumour started on a message board by an anonymous guy who claims to have insider connections. The deal had Kapono and Humphries going to Charlotte for Gerald Wallace, apparently the Bobcats were seriously considering it and then suddenly decided to ask for Bargnani at which point Colangelo told them to f*ck off. I’d do the same.
Sometimes you have to scale down the praise, statistics and meaning of the win based on the opposition and this was one of those nights. At the end of the day it was far from a reassuring win, but it was a positive performance by a team that’s searching for some consistency and momentum heading out to a Western trip that could get very messy. Do we win against a good team by relying so heavily on Bosh? Unlikely, but let this win serve as a building block for something, maybe even the return of Joey Graham back to respectability. A loss here and the shit hits the fan so we’ve avoided that for another couple days. Atlanta will be tough but its almost a mental must-win before the West.
There’s a new poll out which means results from the old one are official. Come out this Friday, Hawks/Raptors are always fun.