Tell me if this sounds familiar: Raps get off to a good start and build an early lead, you get all excited and start thinking this could be the turning point of the season, by the end of the half they give most of it back and by the end of the third they’re staring at a deficit. The fourth is close but failed execution down the stretch costs us the game. We’ve already seen this against Boston, Orlando and New Jersey so it’s no surprise that we followed the same recipe for defeat on Sunday. The loss was enough to upset a strong stomach but at the same time its good to know that we were a defensive rebound or made basket from winning the game. After how bad things went down in Utah and Denver you have to try and look at this game as a positive even though it’s disappointing to see our superstar get outplayed, our starting PG get abused, our #1 pick lay an egg against his classmates and us fail to get a meaningful rebound.
Let’s talk about the final three plays. The Blazers have the ball down 2 and Parker’s defense on Roy forces him to take a tough shot and he misses, we can’t get the rebound. Then Steve Blake gets the ball on the right baseline and fires a jumper that is missed and we still can’t get the rebound. O’Neal should’ve gotten the first rebound but for whatever reason got his feet stuck to the floor. On their second shot he made the challenge which means Bosh should’ve gotten the board and he just got outhustled/outjumped because one of the three Blazers who attacked the board got the tap-out to Steve Blake. Their guards hit the glass and ours didn’t, all this combined for a -17 differential and us conceding 20 second chance points, most of which seem to come in the fourth. Blake then created space and nailed a step-back three in Calderon’s grill, there was a hint of an offensive foul but not really. We get the ball back down 1 and coming out of a timeout Bosh does a TJ impersonation, drives to his left and throws up a wild one much to the surprise of everyone in the arena. So what happened?
According to Triano, it was a good play which Portland broke up by impeding the progress of the player who was supposed to catch the ball. I’ve seen the play a dozen times and I don’t see it. Portland wasn’t denying the ball to anyone who wanted it, we could’ve even hit Parker in the corner or thrown the ball directly in the post to JO. The only person that was covered was Jason Kapono and he inbounded the ball, unless the play was as simplistic as a return pass to Kapono for a three, then yeah, Portland did its job. I think coming out of a timeout with a single-option play with the game on the line is rather lame, but hey, at least they got it inbounds. That sequence does not reflect well on Jay Triano but seeing how this is Game 2 for him, its hard to criticize given some of the good things we saw in this game. I think once the play failed early, Jose Calderon has to flash from the left corner and take charge instead of letting Bosh go one-on-one against a defender who has given him trouble all night.
The Raptors have to manufacture defensive intensity, it doesn’t come natural to them and we did a good job of doing that in the first quarter. Anthony Parker took Roy out of the game, Jose Calderon forced Steve Blake to stay in front of him and we were collapsing on their big men. For the first time all season I could honestly say that the Raptors were playing high-energy defense, naturally they got rewarded with a 16-point lead. Expecting the lead to stick is asking too much, we’re not used to playing high-level defense for 24, let alone 48 minutes a game and in the second quarter things started to normalize. Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy got the dribble-penetration that was being denied in the first quarter and Jose Calderon lost Steve Blake four times in the first half for a jumper from the exact same left-corner spot. Jermaine O’Neal was getting his scores against Pryzbilla and carrying the offensive load but it was Bosh being outplayed by LaMarcus Aldridge in the second and third quarter stretch that killed us.
Bosh and Aldridge are both face-up guys that rely on the 13-18 footer for their offense. I’d like to believe that Bosh is one better because of his quickness and if the jumper isn’t falling he’s got something to fall back on whereas Aldridge’s game isn’t there yet. You wouldn’t have known it. Aldridge was scoring through fadeaways, mid-range jumpers and on the break against Bosh who rarely tested Aldridge’s quickness and settled for the perimeter jumper and refused to adjust even when it didn’t drop. The sad part is that on the couple times he did drive, he got fouled once got a layup the other time. Hardly MVP play. It was much like the Utah game and his matchup against Millsap, his offense was neutralized too easily and he never made the defense make the tough decisions he himself had to make on the other end. This pattern of Bosh coming up short against good teams is becoming a cause for concern, maybe it has to do with the league-leading minutes Mitchell made him play, at least that’s what the experts had to say about it. My take is that if you’re fatigued and don’t have the energy/will-power/motivation to drive the ball, then you should be sitting on the bench until you’ve got your rest. Nobody wants to see our franchise player fade when Steve Blake’s checking him. Bosh needs to be more assertive. Period.
Will Solomon started the fourth quarter and helped the Blazers build a 10 point lead and it all seemed lost at that point. Joey Graham, Jermaine O’Neal, Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker lead an aggressive 17-2 run which gave us a 5 point lead with 3:41 left. Portland was forced to double O’Neal in that stretch and it ended up getting Calderon and Parker clean looks for three. That’s when our defensive rebounding fell apart and we couldn’t even rebound FT misses. Portland gets 6 late offensive rebounds to make up for the low-percentage shooting and Jose Calderon has a key turnover that gives Portland an extra possession and in a game like this, you can point to any number of such small plays as the difference. Take your pick.
Bargnani was a non-factor in the game, Triano ran a couple early plays for him but he failed to score and picked up two early fouls. He lost Outlaw on a three, went one-on-one a bit too much and took a horrible three pointer in the fourth quarter which was preceded by an equally horrible three from Bosh. He finished an embarrassing 1-6 for 5 points while his classmates, Roy and Aldridge, finished with 15 and 20. Perhaps it would’ve been a good idea to test his defense against Aldridge since Bosh was having no luck slowing him down, at least it would’ve given Bargnani an opportunity to contribute something to the game. I don’t know what the deal with Andrea is, I don’t know what system needs to be in place for him to be a consistent weapon rather than a constant unknown. Maybe he needs to play in a system where there are constant cuts to the rim so he can use his drive to get three steps past his man, draw a defender and dump off. You know, play the point-forward. I don’t think his rebounding will ever be there (you can’t teach that) and the best we can hope for is to cajole him into doing the right things on offense. It’s too early to say what Triano’s system will do for Bargnani but just like Bosh he needs to be more assertive and that doesn’t mean taking bad threes. We tend to analyze his play too much, he simply needs to get better at finishing against smaller players in the post and finishing his drives with power. Simple stuff that you don’t have to think too hard about.
In the live blog I made the following statement in the first quarter: Calderon’s not being exploited by Steve Blake because…well…he’s Steve Blake. Egg on my face indeed. Jose Calderon is fast becoming the king of putting up meaningless stats. He’s turning out to be the type of point guard that negates every good he does on offense by doing twice as many bads on defense. Either he’s got to contain Steve Blake to under 10 points or if he can’t do that, then he needs to score 30 against him. He’s supposed to be the superior guard and getting outplayed on a nightly basis is not acceptable. His defense is generally woeful but its not even the lack of lateral quicks that bugging me, its how he’s unaware of where his man is and is late in seeing who he has to rotate to. It’s one thing when you’re late on a rotation, its another when you realize too late that you have to rotate. It’s the latter that we saw in this game and it speaks of a mental issue rather than a physical one. It’s been six games since he pulled his hamstring, I’m pretty sure it’s OK now.
In a one-point game against a good team there will be positives. Our first quarter defense was refreshing, we cranked it up again in third and fourth quarter stretches but just aren’t in the habit of playing that way. Jermaine O’Neal was phenomenal after a 1-6 start. He ended up with 24 pts, 8 rebs and 6 blocks, aside from not getting that one rebound he had a great game and was the engine behind our fourth quarter run. Joey Graham’s aggressive play including some very hard-fought post-up scores and a thunderous dunk on Pryzbila served as another nail in Jamario Moon’s coffin. Jason Kapono looked to get his shots off and finished with 10 FGA including a three which he made while being covered tightly. We held them to only 2 fast-break points and won the PINP battle 34-24, we forced them into perimeter jumpers and held them to 44% shooting while shooting close to 50%. Not a bad overall effort, if only we had done something about the -17 rebounding, if only we had gotten some support from Bargnani or if Bosh had played smart against Aldridge this could’ve been a W. Calderon’s seeing some positives too:
I saw a big difference today, I think we were a completely different team. We played with more passion, we played with pride, we tried to help each other on defence and offence. It’s true we lost, but we played against the second best team in the West. I think if we keep playing this way we’re going to win a lot of games.
I get the feeling this team’s starting from scratch and is trying to forget everything Sam Mitchell taught them and learn some basic fundamental principles that were forgotten over the last four years. It’s true, you can’t teach a lot of the things that are needed for a team and its players to be good, but in this case it’s about reminding them that there is a strategy to things and not everything is as simple as taking and making shots. I’ve already seen improved defense, letting players play through their mistakes (Joey Graham), exploiting mismatches (JO v Pryzbilla), an active Kapono and much better ball movement. Portland’s defense tonight was nothing special, whenever we moved the ball we managed to get good shots, it’s only when we became stagnant and looked at Bosh to go one-on-one did we get in trouble. We need to iron out these kinks, get Bosh on the same page as the rest of the team and go from there. By the end of December we should have a good idea of what this team is capable of and at that point Colangelo needs to do his job and make an appropriate move.
The live blog covered the game in detail. If you missed it, it should fill you in. Raptors lose to the Blazers in heart-breaking fashion, Cleveland is next which should be a test for Bosh, let’s see how he handles going up against real MVP candidates. Hopefully he doesn’t fizzle out. We’ve lost 4 straight and realistically it’ll be 5 before things start to get somewhat better.
Here’s a Blazer blog’s take on the game.Follow @raptorsrepublic