The NBA’s a game of matchups. If you can consistently exploit them you’ll come out on top, if you get exploited, then you’ll suffer. We’ve been doing a lot of the latter this season but tonight was one of those extremely rare nights, you know, like when the sun aligns with Jupiter, Mercury is eclipsing Venus and the third moon of Saturn is straddling Neptune. In other words, our best player had the rare pleasure of going up against two rookies that were about as outmatched as Jamario Moon when watching Hamlet. Marc Gasol’s a nice physical player that runs hard but he has a long way to go before he can defend anyone with the lateral quickness of Chris Bosh. When he was matched up with Bosh today, either straight-up or through persistent switching initiated by the Raptors, Iavaroni had decided to concede the jumper rather than encourage Bosh to drive. Smart strategy on most nights but Bosh had his jumper working from the get-go and went a ridiculous 11-13 on the night. Facing rookies is fun. Memphis’ plan wasn’t to all-out double and they tried to only send a man when Bosh put it on the floor which he rarely did and who can blame him, when the jumper’s working that well there’s no reason to do anything else.
The Grizzlies did stick around for the first half by going to Rudy Gay who scored 14 of his 22 in the half as neither Jamario Moon or Anthony Parker had any answer for him. A couple of his drives were exquisite sweeping moves finished off with the off-hand against a challenging defense. The first half was a saddening display of basketball by the Raptors, they lacked energy on offense and went through the motions half-heartedly. We got off to our usual hot start and built an 18-5 lead through jumpers but that got us hooked on the outside shot. The inside game was non-existent, Bosh could be excused because of his hot shooting but Parker, Moon, Solomon and Bargnani were strictly perimeter as the Raptors attempted only 5 first half shots inside the paint. There weren’t any hard cuts to the basket by Graham or Bargnani, Kyle Lowry’s defense wasn’t being tested and we were playing down to the level of the opposition. The only one being assertive was Bosh since rookies Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol were just too tempting not to abuse. Despite being up only three at the half, you still got the feeling that no matter what Mayo, Gasol and Gay were doing all the Raptors needed to do was shift the intensity to the next notch and the game would be ours.
The crowd didn’t care to wait that long, they let out a smattering of boos after Memphis came back to take the lead in the second quarter, I thought it was a bit early. I’m all for booing overpaid, underperforming athletes but this was the second quarter and we only had an 8 minute stretch of bad play. It’s not like the team tanked two quarters like they did against Dallas, we’ve been playing better in 2009 and the team’s shown some heart and determination in rebounding from their disastrous December. So what if we blew a 13 point lead and were suddenly down 1, that’s where you’re supposed to rally your team and not get on their ass for missing a couple shots. If this would’ve happened in December it might’ve been okay to lash out but not last night.
47-44 at halftime and the instructions were pretty obvious. A three point lead at home isn’t good enough, pick up the effort against a team that’s 14 games under. 500 and has lost 10 of their last 12. The simple message was received and Bargnani was the difference maker. With the game tied midway through the fourth the Raptors ran two pick ‘n rolls, one with Parker/Bargnani and the other with Solomon/Bargnani and on both plays the Memphis defense was terribly late in rotating back to Bargnani who knocked down two huge threes to open up a 6 point gap. Mayo (sore ribs) and Rudy tried to respond with threes but both went cold after those two Bargnani threes leaving Memphis without any legitimate scoring threat. Rudy only scored 2 points from that point on and Mayo only had 1 field goal. After that the lead went to 8 and then to 10, 14 and then it became silly. There’s not much analyzing to do here, Memphis is a young team that’s prone to being rattled and they got rattled as soon as the Raptors showed some intent in the third quarter. They needed a massive game from one of their young guns to keep pace and Rudy Gay looked like he was going to provide the punch early but he faded as the second half went along. Game over. Triano pointed Jamario Moon on the back:
In the second quarter Rudy Gay got it going and at the beginning of the third quarter … Jamario did a real nice job stepping up. When they took Gay out at the start of the fourth, that’s when Jamario got his rest. I thought he did a real good individual effort on him which you had to do.
Bosh had a nice game but it was against the two rookies, his stare-down into the camera at the end was perhaps the stupidest moment of the season. Let him come up big against Kevin Garnett in the next two games and then pull that kind of nonsense, I’ll even PVR it and play it back over and over again. Stupid. On that same note, we need to drop that Killer B’s nonsense right this moment, in fact, that’s the last time I’ll ever mention it in fear of encouraging it’s use. Hopefully Devlin and Co. can do the same. Bargnani. A solid offensive night against a team that lacks experience and doesn’t have an answer for his perimeter game, especially when they’re lazy in rotating. His confidence is somewhere between the stratosphere and the mesosphere which mean the jump shoot is flying in. He took every open shot he had and even got a friendly roll from the rim, and as we know that only happens to deserving folk. Perhaps the most telling of his threes was the one he took in transition in the fourth quarter, anyone who takes that shot is sure of himself and right now he’s playing with a plan in his mind which is completely different than how he was playing in 2008. He even took advantage of the couple post-up situations he had against Mayo by drawing the foul on one and dunking on the other. If 21 points on 8-14 shooting wasn’t good enough he threw in 8 rebounds and they weren’t Jamario Moon rebounds either, I remember a few contested ones where his feet needed to leave the ground. Chris Bosh dropped some simple but correct analysis:
We know one thing: Andrea will shoot it when he’s open. He made good shots, the defense didn’t rotate fast enough and he made them pay for it.
The Raptors are the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA, who’s the worst? Yup, the Grizzlies, so it’s no surprise that we won the boards 38-33 and the second-chance points 14-7. Our Achilles heel this season has been either rebounding or dribble-penetration and since rebounding got taken care of, the only thing left on the checklist was dribble penetration and once again we got to give credit to Will Solomon (4-8, 9 assists) for playing some good defense on Kyle Lowry and not allowing him to break us down and leave us scrambling. He did well against James in Washington and again tonight. Will’s grown on me the last few games and even though his ridiculous new haircut begs me to mock him further, his recent controlled play says otherwise. You can almost hear him thinking to himself while on the court: Don’t do something stupid, don’t do something stupid, no, no, no!! Don’t take this shot..pass it off..pass it off…eaasy..eaasy…aaaaah. I called up the Fan 590 again and dished out some praise for Will’s defense and pointed out how it’s better than Calderon’s as he’s not allowing penetration at the point-of-attack. Paul Jones became an apologist for Jose Calderon and gave me a lecture on how it’s really hard to contain dribble penetration and how only Rondo, Artest and a select few can do it. He never touched on Will’s play. Meh.
Parker came back down to earth with three points but that’s OK because he didn’t let his man have a career night, Mayo was 4-14 and Parker was his main checker. Up next for him is Ray Allen who’s going to be slightly tougher and more angrier as the Celtics continued their losing ways in Cleveland. A word on Mayo, Kevin McHale must be feeling like an idiot for letting this guy go, he had a couple of crossovers in this game which left Parker and Bargnani looking very ordinary. There’s talent on this Grizzlies team and if I’m a Memphis fan I’m thoroughly enjoying their exploits and growing pains. Memphis’ youth makes me a little jealous. Most well managed NBA teams are either contenders, on the cusp of contention or in the rebuilding phase, the Raptors are in none of those categories. We’re definitely not contenders, we don’t have the playoff history to say that we’re on the cusp of anything and we don’t have any certified young talent to develop.
Calderon tried to give it a go before the game but failed a fitness test and Jermaine O’Neal remains sidelined with a knee-flu which has shattered the surgically repaired part into a thousand pieces and they’re just not telling us. It’s a conspiracy. It’ll happen sooner or later and O’Neal will return and at that point asking Bargnani to go back to the bench would be ridiculous because we’ve finally managed to get this guy off his schnide and doing anything that might disrupt his flow would not be smart. Now, that leaves us with two options. Either we we bench O’Neal or shift Bargnani back to the SF, we know how well that worked out. Problem is that Jermaine O’Neal doesn’t strike me as a chap who’s willing to come off the bench, call it pride, ego, vanity or simply stupidity but he won’t. Maybe (and I’m speculating here) there’s even been discussion between him and Triano/Colangelo about his possible new role and he’s politely declined the offer and the club is trying to move him to avoid awkwardness. I mean, six games for a knee-brush? Either he’s made of glass or they’re not telling us something.
Here’s something new we might do every game:
Best 5-man unit: Bosh, Parker, Moon, Bargnani, Solomon. +7 to start the game
Worst 5-man unit: Kapono, Ukic Voskhuhl, Bosh, Moon. -3 to end the first quater.
Stat of the Game: Raptors shoot a season-high 55.6%
Some randomness: Last night Indiana took the Lakers down to the wire and down three with three seconds left had a complete malfunction where they couldn’t even get a shot off. That’s not the bad part, the sixth foul called on Danny Granger with less than a minute left had to be the weakest call an NBA official has made this year and it basically decided the outcome of the game since Granger wasn’t even there to attempt the final shot. I would’ve loved to see Granger pull a repeat of his Phoenix performance in LA but the official completely and unnecessarily ruined the drama. Sad.
The next two games will tell more about this team than what the last three have. Raps Fan was pinch-hitting for AltRaps in a Roll Call with an entirely new element.