After we beat Atlanta even the optimist amongst us would’ve pointed at this game as being our best shot at getting our next win, so let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Indiana is currently in the basement of the Central Division and has the 2nd worst record in the Eastern Conference. If there’s ever been a game that we “should” win, it was this one right here. We snap a five game losing streak where we lost to teams that were a level above us and we do so against a team that is a level below us. That’s not dwelling on the negative, that’s just stating how things are. Now, considering how badly we’ve been playing and what our effort level have has been over the last week or so, we should be happy that we won and even more happy that we won comfortably. The other reason to cheer is the sense of alertness and readiness amongst the players last night which resulted in better transition and perimeter defense. What a shock?
I got some late great tickets to this game (Sec. 113, somewhat behind the basket near the Raptors bench) and I got to say its much easier to analyze the game when watching it on TV or sitting above the action with an unobstructed view. But still, I’ll try.
Kapono got the start as Parker was rested due to an ankle injury, Bargnani was replaced in the starting lineup by Moon and this must be at least the 7th or 8th time that he’s been shuffled in and out of the lineup in hopes of getting the team out of a funk. Whatever works, I don’t think it makes a big difference either way, he ends up playing the same amount of minutes and his production either way is very comparable. It’s not like getting benched motivates him or having to start fires him up. Triano was asked about the Moon for Bargnani switch and he said this:
We were a little lethargic in chasing the ball against Cleveland and Jamario was one of the guys who was tracking the ball.
So Bargnani got benched for not hitting the glass. I thought it was a good move strategy-wise since we needed somebody to check Danny Granger and since Parker was out, the job would’ve fallen to Bargnani who would’ve struggled. The strategy worked, Granger was woeful in the first half and finished 9-25. Lot of his jumpers were fairly clean looks setup by TJ Ford that just didn’t go down for him, but you have to give Moon, Graham and even Kapono credit for being cognizant of the Pacers main threat and not leaving him open. Bargnani on the other hand was invisible. 0-4, 0 points, 3 turnovers and 4 rebounds. He never got in any sort of rhythm, he picked up early fouls, missed wide open three-pointers and turned the ball over, now I don’t care what he scored on the Caliper test, a start like that affects you and can throw off your evening. He hasn’t responded well to the coaching change because his role isn’t well-defined, natural thinking leads you to believe that he should be taking his game closer to the rim and contributing on the boards but his skill-set tells you otherwise. Jay Triano’s got to figure out what he wants from Bargnani and set him up to produce. This isn’t your usual #1 pick, this one you’ll have to spoon feed for a long time to come. Get used to it.
The star of the night was Jason Kapono as he repeated his performance from last year against Indiana. He was schooling Marquis Daniels then and he’s doing it now. Since Triano has taken over Kapono’s FGA’s have been 8, 10, 6 and 16 for an average of 10.0. Under Sam Mitchell he averaged 6.17. That is a significant increase leading me to believe that the order from Triano is clear: you got to shoot to score. Kapono’s now launching them when when he’s semi-covered and last night he attempted 7 three pointers, his prior season high was 4. It’s widely accepted that we’ve hired him to shoot the three and when he starts dribbling and getting all Reggie on us, it’s annoying. But when he’s got his floater going it works like a charm. It’s probably not a viable strategy against good teams because they’ll encourage those kind of shots but against Indiana where their bigs are busy dealing with Bosh and O’Neal, why not?
The TJ/Jose matchup didn’t live up to the billing, TJ didn’t try to take the game over and Jose was his usual conservative self so there wasn’t any excitement to speak of. Maybe TJ was trying to show his responsible side to the Raptor fans but a responsible TJ is a bad TJ, his game is to play at 120mph and if he’s not doing that he’s out of his element. A fish out of water if you will. I’ll easily give the win to Jose on points, he did a good job of pushing the ball and finding Kapono, Graham and Jermaine O’Neal early in the shot-clock, these scores aren’t registered as fastbreak points but they have the same impact: catch the defense unprepared and get good position to shoot or make a move. Calderon’s assist distribution looked like this:
- Kapono: 6
- Moon: 4
- Bosh: 3
- Graham: 1.
They’re hardly your traditional put-it-on-a-plate type assists and that’s the weird part about them, these scores aren’t spawned of drive ‘n kicks at all, they’re coming from intelligent ball-distribution from beyond the top of the three-point line. It works great against teams that aren’t pressuring the perimeter and not offsetting screens but against a buckled down defense that’s checking tight, it’s not nearly as effective.
We won every single quarter in this game and never let Indiana gather any momentum, a lot of it has to do with our defense that did an excellent job of closing out Granger, collapsing on Daniels forcing him shoot a low percentage and collectively rebounding the ball. Throw in Jermaine O’Neal overcoming two early fouls to post a near double-double of 10-9 and 3 blocks and you got your defensive bases covered well enough for Indiana to shoot 34.7% for the game. If you can hold any team to that kind of a shooting percentage you’ll win the game. Our defense got better as the game went along, the first quarter was more Indiana missing shots than us stopping them but from that point onwards the majority of the credit has to be given to the Raptors defense, not Indiana’s failings.
We took control with an 11-0 second quarter run, rode Moon, JO and Kapono in the third for +6 and finally finished off the Pacers with a 9-0 run in the fourth. The only pure one-on-one moves today were executed by Bosh and JO in the post, other than that almost all of our offense came off of good ball movement and good recognition by Jose. The ball movement is undoubtedly better under Triano, he’s trying to get Kapono and Graham to try to slash as much as they can, if not East-West, then North-South. Slashing doesn’t always mean taking your man off the dribble and finishing with skill, if Graham can continue to fight for post-position and Calderon manages to find him early, that’s good enough. If Kapono’s man is sticking tightly to him when he doesn’t have the ball, that’s an ideal time to make a run towards the hoop and have O’Neal or Bosh find you as your defender is trailing you. It happened a couple times against Cleveland and it happened again tonight. The options that open up when you move without the ball are truly amazing.
Chris Bosh’s 21 were spread out enough to not be noticeable. He started off well but then faded into anonymity before picking it up in the fourth. 21/10 are great numbers and we needed all of it but let’s see him do it against a good team. Not playing down his game, just waiting for him to face high-caliber defenses before anointing him a MVP candidate. His defense was very suspect, he let Troy Murphy get 20/20 on him and those kind of numbers for Bosh’s man are only acceptable when they’re playing the Magic. If this game would’ve gone south in the fourth quarter all we’d talk about is Murphy’s game.
Joey Graham continued his strong play by taking it to the rim every conceivable chance he got, he took a couple step-backs late on when the game was out of reach but that’s about it. Triano has shown a lot of faith in him and Joey’s responding to the opportunity provided. He’s displaying the ability to stay composed when he’s got the ball in a post-up situation, he’s angling his body properly, avoiding the offensive foul and finishing cleverly by avoiding the blocked shot. Jamario Moon’s hit-and-miss and today he was a hit, will he do it again against the Nets? I don’t know, but let’s see him put back-to-back good games before we even dedicate a paragraph to him. Good coverage on Granger though, also made him play some D which definitely took away from his offense.
This team needs to shed a lot of bad habits that it learned under Sam Mitchell and the feel around Triano’s talk is that he understands it’s going to take some time and wants the players to buy into what he’s selling:
We’re slowly getting there…at least we had a system tonight guys got rewarded for it and hopefully it translates to them wanting to buy into it more. We’ve been taking steps in the right direction, we had good intensity throughout the whole game.
And to the silly media folk who keep asking him about being Canadian, give it a rest, will ya?
We got a revenge mission coming up against NJ in the swamp. A divisional game against a team that we should be ahead of in the standings, at least on paper. What value would the Indiana win have if we go ahead and drop a stinker in NJ?