Not exactly a smooth offensive move.
Hornets 99, Raptors 91

No surprises here, the Raptors lose to the Hornets as Bosh gets outplayed and we allow way too much dribble-penetration that sets up clean looks for their on-the-mark shooters. The Raptors still haven’t gotten a quality win this year and their next chance will come against Dallas on Wednesday. You can’t point to too many tactical things that went wrong in this game, it was a matter of them having better, more talented and athletic players than us. There’s no magical scheme that we could’ve executed to pull us through, we counted on Chris Bosh to have a big game, Jason Kapono to hit his jumpers and another role player or two like Bargnani or Graham to provide some offensive punch. When none of those things happen you’re hard-pressed to keep the game close, let alone win it.

I’m starting to think that Chris Bosh has a ways to go before he becomes as good as David West. West brings a physical presence which is mixed with high enough skill that makes you want to both fear him and respect him. He has no trouble driving in on Bosh from 16 feet out and finishing with ease by creating space using his shoulders. His pump-fakes and finishes are timed precisely around his defender leaving their feet and the icing on a cake is a soft jumper that is only used if the defense is sagging. It’s the second game in a row in Toronto that West has outplayed Bosh and led the Hornets to a win. Chris Bosh has failed to bring the “power” in the power forward and West is a great example of what’s missing from Bosh’s game. Relying on flirty little fadeaways in a big game like this only adds to fuel to the fire that he’s tailor made to face the weaker sisters of the NBA. Here’s a stat that’ll make your stomach turn: Chris Bosh took 17 shots today, of those 16 were jumpers. That’s ridiculous. Sure, he was 13-15 from the line but that doesn’t come close to making up for going 6-17 from the field.

Chris Bosh has yet to make the players around him better, let me give an example. Whenever he catches the ball in a face-up position, the defense will show a double-team, they won’t double but will make it clear that if he puts it on the floor, help will come. Bosh’s reaction to this situation is to wait for 4-5 seconds and think about whether to 1) shoot, 2) execute blow-by move and get fouled or 3) pass out. #1 is bailing out the defense, #2 has already become much less effective since you wasted valuable seconds off the clock and allowed the defense to get set and #3 is a good option but only if you attract the double further. Passing out of a weak-double team is of little value to anyone, Jose might drain a three off of it but the defense will gladly live with that because they’re hardly shaken up. Swinging the ball out of a weak double-team is not what a superstar does, if that’s his idea of “doing his job” on offense he’s greatly mistaken. He needs to either finish consistently for the defense to want to take the ball out of his hands completely or he needs to create better shots for his perimeter players by operating closer to the rim. Status quo is no good, not against good set defenses.

There are moments in the game where you can see what a player’s ability is. When ex-Raptor Sean Marks was guarding Bosh he faced him up and tried to blow-by him and got soundly rejected. This happened because everybody in the building including Marks new exactly what Bosh was trying to do and predicted the play correctly. I would love to see Bosh develop a post-up game like West and punish these fringe NBA players into submission when the opposing coach insults you by having them guard you. Over the years Bosh has made a concerned effort to develop his jumper but his post-up game has barely seen any improvement since his rookie year. And no, posting up a player and then fading to get your shot off is not a post-up move. His wiry frame is designed for the blow-by but unless its mix and matched with a legitimate post-up game he’ll always struggle against good defensive teams that recognize the fact that underneath all the hype there just might be a one or two trick pony. And also, you’re not a three point shooter. Get that in your head.

The Raptors started off displaying the same defensive energy that they had shown against New Jersey and it helped keep the game close. We never had the Hornets shackled by any means but we were throwing Chris Paul different enough looks that took him time to adjust to. The soft help was there even before they set their high screen, the on-the-ball defense was tighter and we challenged him to drive into the paint where a defender was waiting, at times we switched on the screen leaving Moon to guard him. It took him until late in the second quarter to realize that the remedy to everything the Raptors were throwing at him was simply to get past whoever was guarding him right into the paint and then just wait to pick out shooters. Under Triano the Raptors have become a team that likes to switch often, help often and recover fast. When the “recover fast” part of that equation isn’t working it means your defense will have holes and that’s the primary reason the Hornets got the win. Chris Paul felt the same way:

We noticed early in the game that when I was getting in the lane they were collapsing and wouldn’t let me get to the basket. That’s why our team is built for that. We have some great shooters. When those guys start knocking down shots, then when we get in the lane they don’t know whether to help. You’ve got to give up a layup to me, or a 3 to those shooters.

It was an 8-point game at the start of the fourth quarter and the Raptors needed to make an immediate run to get to within striking distance. They had not shown an ability to get stops in the third quarter so there weren’t great expectations. Roko Ukic started the fourth and had a horrid stretch where he took a bad shot, turned the ball over and couldn’t get any sort of offense out of the unit. The Raptors failed to score on the first five possessions of the quarter. New Orleans didn’t either and that’s what makes this key stretch of the game a lost opportunity. If we had managed to slice that lead down to 3 or 4, it would’ve been tight all the way till the end because after the 9:00 minute mark of the quarter, both teams got in the business of trading baskets.

Despite Posey and Butler burnings us for threes and David West carving us out inside, we were still within striking distance thanks to Calderon and O’Neal’s great and Bosh’s sputtering offense. We needed a lift from the wing spot but it never came, Jason Kapono was covered well throughout the game and it’s reflected in his 3-14 shooting. The Hornets were basically playing zone against Moon and Graham and they aren’t exactly zone-busters. Parker was struggling (as usual) from the field and the trio combined for a 5-18 shooting performance. Throw in Kapono and Bargnani in there and you’re wing shooting percentage is 26% (10-39). To overcome that you’d need big offensive games from your power players and Jose delivered to a degree, Bosh didn’t and O’Neal would’ve but never got a proper chance.

The Raptors didn’t look enough for Jermaine O’Neal, he was 7-10 for 19 points and deserved twice the touches he got. He was the only Raptor committed to working around the basket but our wings often made selfish plays instead of dumping the ball down low and working inside-out. Parker, Moon and Kapono all looked off O’Neal at different times in the game in favor of jacking up low-percentage shots. This is forgivable if you’re Jason Kapono and you’re shooting till you’re blue in the face but Moon and Parker have to recognize who the hot hand is. Without Tyson Chandler the PF/C matchup tilted in our favor but we didn’t take enough advantage.

I don’t know what to say about Andrea Bargnani. We can’t keep on calling him a shooter who’s in a funk, he’s missing from every angle on the court and in every which way: left, right, long and short. Long and short are somewhat tolerable but when you see his shot graze the west end of the rim it induces mild vomiting. Jacking up 7 shots in 11 minutes is all Triano could tolerate, I think Bargnani’s still thinking he’s the #1 pick who everyone believes in and is going to be the future of the Raptors when in fact he’s closer to being out of the NBA than in it when his contract runs out. Can’t say anything positive about him except that he’s hustling on defense, then again, Hump does that too.

Jose Calderon had a nice and tight game against the best point guard in the league. Jose had 22 points and 7 assists and made Chris Paul work on defense, something which is a necessity when trying to slow him down. The Raptors strategy was similar to that deployed against NJ – protect the paint and recover inside-out to the shooters. Devin Harris managed to beat Calderon to the paint but couldn’t find the outlet pass to his shooters because the Raptors were swarming around him, Chris Paul has the ability to do that. I lost track of how many times it appeared that we had him cornered in the paint with nowhere to go but he ended up making a play. New Orleans spacing was perfect and our recovery defense was not as good as it was in New Jersey, Jason Kapono, Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker got hung up too many times and let James Posey and Rasual Butler drain a total of 10 threes. When you already have Chris Paul and David West to deal with you can’t let the role players have career games.

Allow me to deviate from the recap and talk about the difference between an assist and an assist. Jose Calderon is great at recognizing when the defense is sagging off a shooter and zipping the ball right in their hands, that’s how he gets a big chunk of his assists. His play doesn’t break the concentration of 4 defensive players who scramble to cope with what Jose’s doing, the amount of effort a set defense has to exert when trying to stop Calderon is minimal. Contrast this with Chris Paul who has enough one-on-one weapons (crossover, hesitation, blow-by quickness) to break his man down and has no trouble getting into the paint and attracting multiple defenders. He also has the ability to throw a great pass out of the paint to anywhere on the court and create a clean look for a shooter. Calderon and Paul’s assist might appear the same in the box-score, but one of them had a much higher impact on the defense.

The sobering stat of the night is the Raptors netting 2 fastbreak points, just not good enough against a half-court defense that can shut you down with athleticism, size and reach. The Hornets defense also forces us into 40% shooting. Generally speaking, we had good offensive movement, a wider variety of sets and tried to play as a team, but to quote the great Sam Mitchell, We just didn’t make enough shats! For one night, that statement actually holds true.

The Raptors signed the unemployed Jake Voshkul to a contract, he was originally drafted by Colangelo in Phoenix so we can see that the love affair hasn’t ended. This move is going to have the same impact as if we’d resigned Primoz Brezec. Jack Armstrong on Raptors TV called the “Raptors big man depth” their greatest strength and says the signing strengthens it further, I don’t know if he’s been paying attention to Bargnani’s play of late or our rebounding numbers but that’s totally wrong! Unless this signing is a precursor to shipping out Humphries as part of a package to get some real players in here, it’s totally pointless. I’d rather give the minutes to Hump – injured or otherwise.

Let’s try to beat NJ again and feel good about ourselves until the Wednesday test.

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