This is one of those games that becomes news only if you lose. It wasn’t easy and there were moments of doubt from start to finish but the Raptors managed to hang on and beat the Kings in the most boring close game you’ll ever see. Jermaine O’Neal’s 36 points on 15-19 shooting was the chief reason for the Raptors improving their road swing to 2-2 as he carried the load in ever quarter as Chris Bosh struggled with early and late foul trouble. At the end of the day it was a game the Raptors were supposed to win, the Kings had lost 16 of 19 and the only chance they had in this game was if their wing players exploded. They did to some degree but we had enough counter-punch to make up for Salmons’ 20, Jackson’s 17 as Jose Calderon chipped in with 16 and Bargnani came off the bench to give us a lift with 14.
Here’s O’Neal’s scoring distribution by quarter: 6, 10, 11 and 9. Any time we needed a score we went down to him in the low-post and he delivered with a smart move against Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes. Miller played slightly better defense but O’Neal was too tough for him and executed spin moves, drop-steps, fadeaways and drives for scores. You know all those layups that O’Neal usually misses that make you want to tear your hair out? He was making those today. He’s had 24, 23 and 36 in his last three games and his offensive game is coming along nicely. How many times did Rasho do that for you? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Tonight it’s the Blazers and Pryzbilla who he dropped 24 and 8 on the last time we faced them. Let’s see how he responds in a back-to-back situation after playing 40 minutes.
Bosh looked rather disinterested in this game and picked up three first half fouls and had to go to the bench. He came back in the third and picked up another silly foul and had to sit again. Then he comes back midway through the fourth and Beno Udrih got him on a mismatch and faked him into his fifth. Maybe it’s the sight of Mikki Moore that makes him play poorly but we can’t have this kind of a meaningless performance from him tonight, he’s going to be facing Aldridge who got the better of him last time and we’ll need Bosh to defend and produce for us. I don’t think I saw him break a sweat today, his most aggressive quarter was the first when he scored 8 points and played all 12 minutes, after that he only played 14 minutes.
Bargnani spelled O’Neal in the first quarter and Triano ran a play for him where he got the ball on a switch against Jackson for a dunk. On the next possession he caught the ball in the paint in the front of the basket and got fouled, that setup his outside jumper and he nailed a left wing three for a quick 7 points. The Kings were getting good play from John Salmons who was driving by Moon, Parker and Kapono and finding Kings cutting from the weakside who the Raptors were forced to help on. He either went up for the shot, found the cutter (usually Miller) who either drove and got fouled or kicked out for a three. The Kings won the second quarter 30-21 as the Raptors compounded the perimeter defense issues by turning the ball over 13 times in the half, one of them a Solomon classic where he lost it out of bounds under no pressure. We were down 5 at the half but safe in the knowledge that if we just take care of the ball, continue feeding O’Neal and deal with Bobby Jackson, Bobby Brown and John Salmons just a little bit better, we’d be alright.
The Raptors went on a 16-3 run to start the second half in which Calderon finally decided to take advantage of Beno Udrih and scored 8 points. Bobby Brown’s quickness caused him trouble and Udrih got a couple scores on him but overall Jose had a good defensive game with 7 rebounds. He looked to push the issue on the break and was aggressive in taking the baseline any time it was offered by Udrih, he only had 7 assists but could have had a lot more. He found shooters after driving to the paint but they couldn’t apply the finishing touch which made his assist distribution look rather modest: Bosh 2, O’Neal 2 Bargnani/Kapono with one each. He often ends up with high assist numbers but I’d take today’s low-assist, higher-impact game any day over those. It’s common knowledge that dribble-penetration can throw off even the best set defenses so when Calderon drives against the Kings’ defense forcing Miller or Hawes to leave O’Neal, the domino effect results in better offensive rebounding positioning for the Raptors and we took advantage by getting 17 second-chance points compared to the 12 by the Kings. That’s the second highest total all season.
Bargnani returned in the third quarter and once again went inside for two FTs, hid a mid-range jumper and then moved back to the three-point line for a three. His second 7-point spell came late in the third as the Raptors went with a lineup of Solomon, Graham, Parker, Bargnani and Humphries who bumped the Raptors lead from 2 to 5 between 2:04 of the third quarter to 7:45 in the fourth quarter. The stretch also included a wicked baseline drive and dunk by Joey Graham on John Salmons. A nice contribution by the bench allowed O’Neal and Calderon to catch a break and when they did come back, Calderon looked for O’Neal and he delivered. Humphries got in the game because of Bosh’s foul trouble and quickly showed what we’ve been missing and not missing – a nice drive to the rim for a foul followed by two missed free throws. A jam off an offensive rebound followed by an 18 foot jumper as he looked off O’Neal. Yup, that’s Hump – the best move Colangelo’s made since he got here. One more note on Bargnani – 0 rebounds.
The Raptors committed only 3 second-half turnovers and although they didn’t tighten their wing defense on Brown or Salmons, they did provide better paint defense forcing the Kings into their second and sometimes third options. Sacramento stayed in the game by hitting 8 of 20 threes and continually going to the line (21-26) and there were times where the Raptors didn’t look like they could stop the Kings without fouling. But as bad teams often do, the Kings went through small cold spells in the fourth quarter and didn’t have the defense to fall back on, or should I say, didn’t have an answer for O’Neal. The Raptors shooting a blistering 55% for the game also helped.
In terms of the game that’s all there’s to talk about but you can’t help feel a little uneasy that we were only able to squeak by the lowly Kings despite shooting a high percentage and being +5 on the boards. Bobby Brown and John Salmons exploited us on the perimeter and we again saw how even mild dribble-penetration can carve us open and set up shooters. I’m tired of beating the “bad perimeter defense” drum but its a constant in every Raptors game and deserves a mention, we can’t afford to defend the perimeter the way we’re doing and continually channel everything into the paint. That’s a strategy that can work in stretches at best, not through games on end. Next we face Brandon Roy who had a relatively bad game the last time we played them, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon will face the challenge of guarding him and if their man-defense is as soft as it was today we’re in trouble.
One small note about Jack Armstrong. How annoying? He’s gone from the most enjoyable analyst to a boring apologist who’s getting more and more caught up in schtick than ever before. C’mon Jack, don’t do this to us, we already suffered through Chuck Swirsky and still haven’t rid ourselves of Leo Rautins. Et tu Jack?
This was no quality win but Portland tonight? Oh yeah, if we get that one it’ll be reason to celebrate.
If you want more from this game (don’t know why you would) there’s always the infamous Roll Call as AltRaps returns and also the live blog. You can also grab the RSS feed and follow Raptors Republic on Twitter for game updates, latest web articles and more. There’s also the free ticket thingy.
Update: Here’s the Portland Opening Tip.