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Kobe’s fadeaway is the most unstoppable shot in basketball.
Lakers 115, Raptors 107

Let’s examine the checklist: Played hard. Check. Attacked the rim. Check. Get the W. Not so check but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. In a season mired with disappointments and letdowns a hard fought loss to the Lakers seems like a highlight. This one was circled as a L when the schedule came out so to see the Raptors hang tooth and nail with the Lakers down to the final possessions was something that bordered on enjoyment. In the end though, it’s another loss, but if the team plays like the way they did today they just might be able to make something of the easier March and April schedule. Chances are however that the form, enthusiasm and aggressiveness we say today will entirely disappear by the weekend when we play the Hornets and Grizzlies. That’s life as a Raptors fan, you just don’t know what you have in this team and the only thing you can count on is a great deal of inconsistency.

Let’s sum this game up in a short paragraph for those of you pressed for time. The Raptors played hard on defense and defended the Lakers to the best of their ability. Our offense was running inside-out for the most part and we got great offensive and defensive games from Jermaine O’Neal and Joey Graham to keep us in it till late in the fourth. Unfortunately, clutch scoring is a big issue with this team and the 20 points we scored in the fourth was the lowest total of any quarter. We lost it 30-20 as Kobe Bryant scored six crucial points off of jumpers to ice the game. Chris Bosh left the game in the fourth with a strained knee and didn’t have much of a say in this one. On to the recap.

Jermaine O’Neal got the start for the second game in a row and the frontline of Bosh, Bargnani and O’Neal was deployed against Odom, Walton and Gasol. This evened out the size advantage the Lakers usually have in the frontcourt. Jose Calderon didn’t play because of that damned hamstring which refuses to come back to 100%, this switched Parker to the point and gave Joey the Kobe assignment. I thought the matchups were set nicely for us, Graham’s physical presence will always do more to bother Kobe than Moon’s nervy defense or Parker’s straight-up containment techniques. Last time we faced them we were -18 on the boards so O’Neal’s inclusion made sense and paid off, we finished the game -5.

The Raptors came out of the gates as crisp as you’ll ever see them. Bargnani flashed to the paint on the very first possession and caught a pass from Bosh to drain the mid-range jumper. Joey Graham was looking to go baseline every time and got two scores beating the help which was late and not expecting this kind of behavior from a player they just heard of. Jermaine O’Neal (22 pts, 9 reb, 9 blk) started off on the perimeter by clicking his outside jumper for two scores. The movement without the ball was purposeful and Parker ran the point in an unspectacular but smart fashion, passing the ball early in the clock and letting Joey and JO make decisions in the half-court set. This was very much unlike Calderon who has a tendency to hang on the ball a little too long. He pushed the ball after made and missed baskets to set our possession up, whether it be running a high screen, posting up O’Neal or Bargnani or even swinging it to the wing. Parker’s size and ability to cover ground against the aging Fisher was key in preventing dribble penetration as he held him to only 2 assists.

The zone we saw against Clevleland was thankfully ditched in favor of man-coverage and we came out with tangible energy that the crowd could appreciate. It also helped that O’Neal and Bosh were hitting the glass and keeping the Lakers to one shot. Graham’s man-defense on Kobe was tight as can be, he forced him into four misses by giving him enough space thus tempting him to shoot while recovering in time to contest his jumper. He stayed with him on his drives and was very smart in not falling for the head-fakes while not fouling. Kobe got his points through three deep threes which I’d concede to him any day, they were 26-footers for **** sakes! Funny thing to note: Jamario Moon switched on Kobe for one possession and Kobe made a poster out of him by head-faking him at the three-point line to drive and finish on a reverse. Moon = FAIL, I don’t care what his seasonal +/- says.

The second quarter belonged to O’Neal who was feeling it. He had 11 second quarter points and worked in tandem with Joey Graham and Jamario Moon for two beautiful scores off hard cuts. Later in the game he also found a cutting Bargnani who couldn’t finish, proving once again that if you move without the ball he can make the pass. He was giving Gasol nightmares in the lane by backing him up and hitting that 8-foot fadeaway that usually always rims out. Kobe was quiet after his first quarter explosion from downtown but that was mostly because he wasn’t looking for his shot. Instead, the Lakers were running the triangle with Odom, Farmar and Vujacic and challenging the Raptors to keep up with the continuous movement on the strong side.

After winning the first quarter 31-26, we held even at 32 in this one. It was our worst defensive quarter and a lot had to do with us conceding 9 offensive rebounds. The Lakers triangle was giving them the switches they desired and they drove and kick with some success, Vujacic and Fisher nailing big jumpers. Odom gives Bosh a more refined taste of his own medicine and had 7 points in a quarter where he finished in traffic, drove baseline for a score and extended on a drive against Bosh. The Lakers got some run-out opportunities off turnovers but all their scoring was negated by O’Neal, Graham and Bosh’s play. They finished with a 19-11 edge in fastbreak points.

So here we are up 5 against the Lakers. Bosh and Bargnani have been relatively quiet and we’ve basically ridden O’Neal and Graham intensity and aggressiveness to this lead. At halftime Joey was asked what the key to the second was, he said:

We have to keep up the intensity.

True dat. Playing hard, attacking the basket and committing themselves on the defensive end had gotten them this far and if we could replicate that effort and match it with intelligent offensive play we’d be right in this one. And we were.

Although we extended the lead to 9 early in the third quarter I didn’t like the fact that we started the quarter with a no-movement Bosh 21-foot miss and were taking way too many jumpers (shot chart) than the recommended dosage. The Lakers on the other hand had decided to test our post-defense and decided to use Gasol as the weapon of choice. They used the triangle as an intermediary set to allow Gasol to get into the post and execute tin-canned moves against O’Neal, Bargnani and Bosh. Gasol scored 12 straight Laker points and made the Raptor bigs look very ordinary. We have serious trouble getting O’Neal and Bosh the rock in a good position, I’m not saying either one will do wonders with it but it’s disappointing to see passive fronting by someone like Odom being successful against Bosh. In this little stretch we saw just how easily the Lakers manage to provide Gasol with good position whereas Bosh is denied the same. The difference – simply enough – is that the Lakers set solid hard screens to free up their big men while we innocently try to time the entry-pass which inevitably get picked off at least a couple times a game.

Bosh was giving us nothing on offense and had been a liability on the boards after that first quarter so it was left to others to step up. Parker became our primary offensive threat as he used high screens to get into the elbow areas and knock down his patented jumpers. His nine third quarter points along with Bargnani’s six prevented the Raptors from going into the offensive funk that they usually get into when they take this many jumpers. Bargnani didn’t have a great shooting night (8-19) but did manage to claw his way to 9 rebounds and they weren’t the “fell into his lap” variety, he actually went there and got them. His January numbers are better but I’ll settle for his February ones too.

Going into the fourth we were up two and had reason to feel confident except for one thing: Aside from that first quarter stretch when the rest of the Lakers were getting D’d up by the Raps and Kobe went off from three-point land, he hadn’t really looked for his shot. When he had done so, Joey Graham had been up to the task but you would have to think that eventually his effectiveness would wear off given the greatness of Kobe.

Bosh had tweaked his knee in the third quarter and never looked to exert himself 100% after that, early in the fourth we went to him again but he settled for a 17 footer and was then brought back to the bench and then to the locker room. His night was over and it wasn’t soon enough, he was a total non-factor in the second half and watching him play defense was aggravating. With him out we went to offensive-by-committee and it worked out quite well. The Lakers who had obviously never read a scouting report on Ukic went under the screens set for him and Roko drove it to the rim for two layups (should’ve had a third but he blew a wide open layup).

We continued to feed O’Neal in the post who got us two scores but should’ve had at least two more – he blew a dunk and a layup which proved to be costly. He did however end up with 9 blocks on the night, I counted at least 4 in that fourth quarter, most of them against Josh Powell who rued getting out of bed today. The best part of this game was when he blocked Powell for the second time in 30 seconds and then talked some smack as the poor bastard lay on the floor. Haven’t seen nearly enough of that this year from any of the Raptors. Say what you will about O’Neal but he remains the only Raptor to play with true emotion and that counts for something in my book.

Want to hear a crazy Bargnani story? He hit a three pointer at the 10:38 mark of the fourth quarter and never took a shot after that. I can’t explain this, maybe you can. I’ll just say that I’m very curious to know how he performs in clutch situations but am not sure if we’ll ever see designated play calls for him. We basically turn him into a pure three-point shooter in the fourth quarter instead of running our offense through him. The quick post-ups that Parker was initiating for him earlier weren’t happening anymore and he was resigned to catching the ball at the arc and passing it up in the face of congested spacing and tight-checking.

So back to the game, it’s a late game in the fourth quarter when one of the key plays of the game happened. Jordan Farmar was harmlessly bringing the ball up the court against Anthony Parker only to spot Jamario Moon cheating on Sasha Vujacic for whatever reason. What followed was a simple pass to the left-corner for a wide open three – 4 point Laker lead with 5:56 left. Kobe, who had come in at the 7:01 mark was relatively quiet until he drained two long jumpers over contested Graham defense. No complaints about the defense, those are the shots you want Kobe to take.

Kobe’s points stretched the lead to six and after that the Raptors came up empty on 5 straight possessions. We didn’t give O’Neal enough touches and had very poor spacing which resulted in low shot-clock situations with the ball in Parker’s hands. He earned us a lifeline by hitting a late one-on-one Billups-type three which cut the lead to 4, Joey Graham followed with a stop on Kobe and a driving score in transition which had the lead down to 1. Now we needed a stop against Kobe but he’s not going to miss in the clutch twice – Black Mamba pulled back on Joey from 20 feet and nailed on with 23 seconds left to make it a two possession game. That’s all she wrote.

One-Liners:

  • Jose Calderon not being there helped us on the defensive end in terms of dribble-penetration but hurt us late in the game when we couldn’t get our offense set and forced bad shots due to poor spacing and confusion.
  • Jason Kapono is a fraud.
  • The Lakers were throwing very different look at JO who was their primary concern. He was played straight-up at first, doubled in the third and then straight-up again in the fourth.
  • I always talk about Graham flashing in the paint, catching the ball and making an immediate move. We saw a ton of that tonight and it worked out well, hopefully Triano can continue with that play call a little more.
  • What is up with Anthony Parker slapping Jermaine O’Neal’s ass every time? I’m pretty sure I saw some incidental penetration at one point.
  • Phil Jackson was sitting in some sort of an executive chair which gave him an air of significance. An explanation here.
  • Best Lineup: Graham, Parker, Bargnani, Moon and O’Neal going +4 to finish off the first half. Worst Lineup: The same five going -5 in that fourth quarter stretch where we couldn’t score. Source.
  • The Lakers had 20 second chance points, that second quarter was brutal.
  • Joey Graham had a career-high 24 points. The Raptors are 5-21 all-time against the Lakers.
  • We went -10 in the fourth quarter after going +5, 0 and -3 in the first three.
  • We are now 19-32, a season-worst 13 games under .500 and have lost 4 straight. The Lakers have won 4 straight.

Thanks for reading and check back later for our interview with Jack Armstrong where we’ll try to ask him as many of your questions.