Part of me didn’t even want the Raptors to make that run in the fourth because it doesn’t mean a thing. We got outplayed for three quarters and were down 24 when the Pacers decided to bring out the salami and cheese and decided to take things a little easy. The Raptors had never looked capable of making a run but opportunity knocked and they obliged, Chris Bosh led a furious fourth quarter rally which caught the Pacers (who lead the NBA in blowing 10 point plus leads) off-guard and it looked like we were going to complete the comeback until the curse of Jason Kapono was realized and Bosh made a crucial defensive mistake as Mike Dunleavy coaxed him into a foul behind the arc in a one-point game. Game over, thanks for proving to us that you were actually capable of a better effort for the first three quarters but for whatever reason didn’t show it.
Alarm bells should be going off in Colangelo’s head after seen the Raptors’ effort and focus over the last two games. This is a do-or-die stretch for the team, if we fall a couple more games under .500 the season is over, and if we pull off a string of wins the season could be salvaged. In these crucial times the team is struggling to find the motivation to pull themselves together and put forth an honest 48-minute effort. With the result we’re down early and playing from behind the entire game and when we finally make the obligatory run, there’s not enough left in the tank to finish off anything. This team hasn’t shown the commitment, passion, effort, mental strength or desire to win anything. Talking the talk in post-practice scrums and acknowledging your mistakes in post-game interviews is getting old, at some point they’ll have to put their words into action and it hurts me to acknowledge that it’s just not going to happen. Why? Because if they were able to do it, they would’ve already done it. Colangelo has to be dense not to know that this current team isn’t going anywhere and I would be shocked if this roster is kept intact, maybe the players are already aware of this and are playing like a group that knows that major changes are coming.
Let’s start with some technical stuff. The pick ‘n roll defense was so bad that Indiana was daring us to stop it by running it over and over again with the same result: open layup for the pick-setter as the hedging was too tight or the rotation late. It appears that the personnel on the floor don’t know what the plan is to defend the simplest play in basketball; after the pick is set and we’re in danger of giving up dribble-penetration to the ball-handler, the pick-setter’s man will hedge. At this point one of two things should happen: somebody needs to rotate to the pick-setter because the ball-handler is being momentarily double-teamed OR the hedge man should not be aggressive in his defense and make it a priority to get back to his man. We’re not doing either and making the decision for the ball-handler simple: bounce pass to pick-setter for a clear lane to the rim. Our inability to defend this play and the Pacers’ recognition of that was their bread and butter. Watching Jeff Foster and Troy Murphy stroll to the rim as Bosh, Bargnani and O’Neal took turns helplessly watching them was comical.
Dribble penetration is old news around these parts and it’s not even a story when Jarret Jack (great porn name insists the drunk at Philthy’s), T.J Ford or Mike Dunleavy are doing it, but when Rasho Nesterovic drives the lane against Bargnani and kicks it out to Troy Murphy for a three (4:41 3rd), it starts to get a little ridiculous. That play right there was indicative of what the level of our man-defense was. The help defense was no better either as we didn’t pick up a single charge and blocked zero shots. So with both facets of defense ranging between horrible and terrible our offense needed to make up for it. Andrea Bargnani had his first off-night in some time, Bosh only had 8 first half points which put the Raptors in a big hole early.
The game started off harmlessly enough with the Raptors attacking and getting 8 points in the paint and building a 10-5 lead. This lead to a Pacers timeout and they responded with a 13-3 run which was the beginning of the downfall. Jack isn’t a special player but he’s quick enough to get past Will Solomon, force the help defender to take a couple steps towards him and make an intelligent pass to a perimeter player who is moving without the ball. You don’t need to play complex basketball to beat the Raptors, there isn’t an offense in the league that can’t crack the Raptors’ defense within three passes off a screen. We might survive the first screen action but if the other team’s got secondary movement on the weak side, you can forget about Parker or Kapono staying on par.
The Pacers led by Danny Granger went on a crucial 11-3 run early in the second quarter. Joey Graham made the mistake of wandering away from Granger to help on Rasho (insert joke) and Granger made him pay with a three. Now that he had made a jumper Joey tightened up on him but instead of settling for more jumpers, Granger decided to test Joey’s lateral quickness and the latter couldn’t cope. He fouled Granger twice for 4 FTs. In this stretch the Raptors committed four turnovers, two of them were the customary O’Neal offensive fouls (the drunk at Philthy’s really wants me start writing his name as O’kneel). Granger had 14 second quarter points to keep the Pacers’ offense chugging along, the Raptors on the other hand committed 9 turnovers in the frame and were somewhat lucky to be down only 14.
Yet another Pacers spurt opened up the third quarter, this one an 8-3 run which started by Jeff Foster looking like John Stockton on the pick ‘n roll and was capped off by Troy Murphy becoming a double-team threat and kicking it out to Granger for another three which stretched the lead to 19. Granger might’ve been 8-24 but he scored in key stretches that decided this game. Since we weren’t getting good PG play from Roko or Will, we labored on offense and reverted to just giving the ball to Bargnani at the top of the key and expecting him to create. That might be a good idea for a few plays here and there but its hardly a sustainable strategy. The rest of the third quarter saw us play more of that sad pick ‘n roll defense which finally drove Triano mad and he played his last card – have Parker play the PG. The results weren’t immediate as T.J Ford’s eyes lit up and he schooled Parker on two jumpers to finish off the quarter and extended the lead to 24. Before we talk about the fourth, I will digress and talk about Bargnani and O’Neal.
Bargnani had a so-so game going 5-14, he still mixed his game up with a good proportion of drives to jumpers but I thought that we didn’t give him enough touches. He showed an ability to drive against Foster, McRoberts and even Dunleavy, but still wasn’t sought out in the offense as much as he should be. He got the ball a few times late in the shot clock where he was forced to execute one-on-one moves with the clock ticking down and ended up taking forced jumpers with sagging help (Moon, Ukic and Solomon’s man) nearby. He was called for three traveling violations which killed his rhythm and threw him off, a couple of them were very sketchy calls. We have nobody on this team that is capable of creating a shot for any of his teammates. Unless Bosh is doubled early in the post and the pass is obvious to him, there’s simply no way any one of our wing players can get open looks. Jamario Moon and Will Solomon might think that they’ve “tricked” the defense into leaving them open but the chaps should realize it’s not a coincidence that the defender has never fought through a screen set for them. Kapono is a one-trick pony who has difficulties performing that one trick and Anthony Parker is hit-and-miss, mostly miss.
O’Neal returned to the lineup to a smattering of boos which drowned out the three guys that were cheering of him (RR is investigating whether they were paid). He looked bad, committed a couple offensive fouls, an offensive goaltending and took a couple paint-jumpers that left a a full Spalding imprint on the glass. 7 rebounds in 17 minutes sounds pretty nice but his impact on the game was zero. After Thursday’s practice Triano said that he’d like to play O’Neal, Bargnani and Bosh together as much as possible, I think that’s not going to work for a multitude of reasons. #1) Bargnani needs the paint to be open when he catches the ball at the top of the key, #2) It forces Bargnani to defend the SF, #3) It’s turned out that O’Neal rarely commands a double team so any possession where he’s posting up will not result in a clean look for somebody else (Bosh, Bargnani), sad to say but he’s become a black hole, #4) O’Neal being in the painted area means that his man is easily able to help out on Bosh drives. In the second quarter stretch the Big 3 played tonight they were -2 and the offense looked stagnant.
On to the fourth quarter. The Pacers thought the game was over and put out a lineup containing Brandon Rush and Josh McRoberts. Bosh took full advantage and led the Raptors on an 11-0 run; Parker was able to negate their pick ‘n roll by going under the screen conceding TJ the jumper which threw off their perimeter oriented offense. The Raptors hit the glass hard and got 10 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Pacers 24-6 in the quarter. Bargnani’s 6 points including a big three all helped to cut the lead to 100-95 with 2:35 left but Kapono committed a classic Kapono travel (faked a shot and took a step without dribbling the ball) to waste a possession and more importantly, time. Bosh FTs and a clutch Anthony Parker jumper cut the lead to one but then Bosh stepped out to challenge Dunleavy’s three and committed a very stupid foul which put a damper on his otherwise respectable night. With the deficit only 4 with 46 seconds left, supersub Kapono committed an even more classic travel and Danny Granger iced the game with a three.
I was nervous the second Kapono was brought into the game, usually its only because of his defense but lately he’s been committing traveling violations more often than he’s hitting threes. Leo Rautins keeps calling him a “smart” and “crafty” player which is ridiculous. He’s a player that doesn’t know what’s good for him, usually his pump fake is unnecessary because the defender is flying at him from at least 6 feet away which means all he’s doing is giving the defense more time to get into position. Even if he does have to shot-fake there’s no reason for him to move his feet, especially, and this is key, especially when he’s not even getting behind the arc!! Insanity! Signing him was a mistake then and keeping him on the team is a mistake now. He just doesn’t get that all we need him to do is catch the ball and if the shot is there, shoot the ball. If it’s not, pass it along buddy.
- We have too many people who are unable to guard their position to be an overall good defensive team.
- Best Lineup: Graham, Parker, Bargnani, Bosh and Moon. +12 in the early fourth quarter blitz.
- Worst Lineup: Graham, Kapono, Ukic, Bosh and O’Neal. -5 in the early second quarter.
- Stat of the game: Raptors AST/TO – 17:20, Pacers AST/TO – 28:10.
- Side-effect of O’Neal returning: DNPCD for Voskuhl and Hump.
- Anthony Parker’s flailing defense for the first three quarters was bad but his point-guard play in the fourth was good. He didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t panic and made good passes out of pressure situations.
- Roko and Will’s combined +/-? -26. Yikes!
- It’s time to seriously consider tanking, up next we have Phoenix at home and then trips to Detroit and Atlanta. We could easily be 12 games under .500 and not have a hope in hell of getting the 6th spot.
When Danny Granger pushed Bosh with both hands, he rasied his arms up and avoided a technical like he didn’t want any part of it. Smart move. Now who instead would’ve liked to see him shove his skinny ass back? If not that, then at least don’t apologize to Granger!?!?
Best part about this game was the great crowd at Philthy’s. Thanks for coming out.