Scola does for them what JO was supposed to do for us.
Raptors 97, Rockets 107

Caught the 11PM replay of this one on Raptors TV as TSN2 blue-balled us again. The last time we played the Rockets they looked as bad as any NBA team can look, but that was probably because of Tracy McGrady and his cancerous presence. This time around the Rockets personified team work, hustle and discipline in taking care of the Raptors who didn’t play all that bad themselves. Good scoring games from Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani sprinkled some hope here and there but ultimately we went through one too many offensive droughts to make a W out of this one. Let that not surprise you, we’re a jump shooting team that can’t fall back on our defense when the offense goes down the toilet. We would’ve needed to out-gun the Rockets to win this one and shooting 43% isn’t going to cut it, especially when the other team shoots over 50% – something that’s happened twice in three games on this roadtrip which is thankfully over.

We’ve got trouble putting a complete game together. We have a good scoring quarter here and play some nice defense for a five minute stretch or so but when you look at our play from start to finish, there are dark stretches in there that negate anything positive we did during other times. The scoring droughts in the second and fourth quarters are examples of this darkness where we cough up a lead we’ve worked so hard to build or fall into a deficit which we’re too tired to fight out of. But again, that’s to be expected. As well as our offense was clicking at times today let’s not forget that we only had 30 points in the paint compared to Houston’s 60, you think that might have something to do with the field goal percentage? Take a look at both teams’ first quarter short chart and take a guess at the Raptors’ one.

Bargnani and Bosh started this game on absolute fire. Bargnani had a stretch where he made Yao look like he had wooden feet, he drained a couple threes on him and then took him to the hoop off the dribble for scores and dished off once to Bosh for a sweet assist. Yao had that look on his face that Bargnani gives to opposing 7-footers once every couple weeks or so. Bosh was getting his points almost exclusively through the jumper and since it was falling early he didn’t see a reason to mix it up. They forced the Rockets to play zone and then busted it! The good news was they had they had 24 of the Raptors’ first 26 points, the bad news is that we went to an offensive funk to end the first which meant our 12 point lead was sliced down to 6. Even though we had played well on offense it felt like we should’ve had more to show for it but for our defense. The Raps allowed Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks to get penetration which in Rockets speak means Scola and Landry get to pop-out to knock short jumpers or hit the offensive glass.

Bargnani’s defensive work on Yao was impressive in the first half, he was staying vertical, pushing Yao a couple feet outside of where he wanted to be and getting on his toes to contest (remember, he can’t jump) and block his shots. The story was a bit different in the second half when Houston decided to punish Bargnani who seemed out of gas and wasn’t able to prevent Yao from getting the position he had failed to get in the first half. Bargnani’s first half was interrupted by his third foul (total BS) at the 9:11 mark of the second with the Raptors up 7. This coincided with our first major drought of the game where Houston immediately went on a 14-2 run thanks to Lowry getting the better of Ukic on a couple plays and Ron Artest being left open by Parker who was double-teaming a player only he could see. With Bargnani out of there Yao got a couple deep scores against Bosh and Voskuhl; this was followed by the slowest offensive move ever from Voskuhl. Of course it was blocked and Houston ran the break in style with Lowry delivering a beautiful bounce pass to Wafer for the finish – Raptors down 7.

One expects Yao Ming to get the 20/11 he got but you hold out some hope that we can prevent Louis Scola from looking like Moses Malone. No offense to the big Argentinian but he’s got no business getting 20 points and 16 rebounds against us, not when he’s averaging 12 and 8 all season long. Now he’s a high IQ player with a feel for knowing when to post-up, when to shoot and when to cut but Bosh needs to show a little defensive pride here and make it a personal mission to stop him. Same goes for Jose Calderon and their guard penetration but that’s a storyline that’s gotten so old it barely makes it into the posts. Jose had 16 assists and a couple of them were actually more than just passing the ball to Bargnani and Bosh on the perimeter, at the end of the day 10 points from him is just not good enough. One of the reasons he was picked over TJ was because he was supposed to be the better offensive player but so far his scoring has been well below expectations. Racking up assist numbers is nice but we need him to do more than that. Here’s his distribution: Bosh and Bargnani with 6 each and Marion and Kapono with 2 each. I’m telling you, there’s an imaginary wall made of titanium at the top of the FT line for him.

Needless to say we struggled without Bargnani in there because he was spacing Houston’s defense by drawing Yao out and forcing Scola to be cognizant of him. Scola’s got a well-defined and controlled offensive game and he showed it against Bosh in the low-block by executing a couple moves that Bosh would have to be envious of. Bosh himself had cooled off in the second and only had 4 after scoring 14 in the first quarter. Shawn Marion and his unorthodox offensive game gave us 8 second quarter points and they were all “weird” and typical Marion scores – catching a ball in no-man’s land and unleashing a shot only a mother could love, driving in from the left, stopping on a dime and then throwing up a hook shot. He finished with 18 and 10 which are solid numbers seeing how Triano hasn’t called a single play for him, but his defense on Artest could’ve been better. Artest only had 13 points on 5-10 but he had three back-breaking threes and two of them were against Marion who was conceding the shot. Overall though, a good game by Marion.

Every time the second units were matched up we came out on the losing end. Roko, Kapono and Graham/Voskuhl proved to be no match for Lowry, Wafer and Landry – the only three players to get off the Rockets’ bench. Their bench outscored ours 44-16 and shot 16-26 for 61%. Their backcourt (including Aaron Brooks) didn’t have much trouble getting into the painted area against our wings and kicking it out to Landry who was always moving towards the basket when catching the ball or shooting from a comfortable range. Parker and Kapono both had awful defensive games, they lost track of their man without a screen even being set. It was almost like they were caught watching the play and allowed their cover to just walk in a semi-circle to a wide open spot on the floor where they could receive a pass from the post for a jumper. They were a combined 4-19 but my issue with them was mostly on the defensive end, says a lot about offensive expectations, eh?

The second quarter drought meant we lost the frame 37-23 and were down 8 at halftime. The third started like the game had, with Bargnani on fire – he drained two more threes on Yao which was preceded by our best possession of the game: Bargnani drove down the lane, dumped it off to Bosh in the low-post who found Parker in the corner for three after the defense had collapsed. This little 11-3 spurt had tied the game and from here on out there were two ways we could go: 1) we would stay hot and build a lead to win the game or 2) we’d stay on pace with Rockets as long as possible only to succumb to another offensive drought. The latter happened. Chris Bosh kept us tight by picking up the scoring with 8 off his jumper which had heated up again, we were up 2 at 70-68 with 3:24 left until Jason Kapono decided that he needed to get his. As soon as he came in the game he jacked up two terrible shots early in the shot clock without even looking for Bargnani or Bosh. Parker did the same on a possession without realizing his fadeaway percentage significantly drops when he’s tired (aka second half). The Rockets responded with 4 field goals off of 4 assists – all set up by dribble penetration to go up 77-72.

The game was technically over at the start of the fourth quarter when the Rockets went on a 9-3 run on the backs of Yao as our offense sputtered under Roko Ukic. His miserable three-point attempt was sandwiched between two more Kapono jacks and the lead was now 11 and Bosh and Bargnani had already used up their legs. We cut the lead to four on Jose Calderon’s four quick points but the Rockets went back to Yao and Landry in the paint and our interior defense was too soft and tired to mount any resistance. The latter half of the fourth quarter was elementary.

Liners:

  • The way Scola and Landry lit us up reminded me of how Singleton lit us up against Dallas.
  • I’ve always liked Kyle Lowry. He lit up the Raptors last year and it was clear to me that he’s three inches away from being a damn good player in the league.
  • Bargnani’s defense on Yao was great in the first half and terrible in the second which speaks more about his conditioning than anything. Probably true for the rest of the team too.
  • We had 2 fast break points.
  • Liked the way we responded to the Rockets zone, moved the ball well East-West and dropped it down low for a score or two. One of the few offensive bright spots under than Bosh and Bargnani.
  • Chris was canceled out by Scola.
  • We got 0-3 on the roadtrip and the season is unofficially over. I would advocate resting the players and seeing some of the younger ones develop but then I remember that other than Roko, we got nothing to develop.
  • Jason Kapono is the second-worst Raptors free-agent signing after Yogi Stewart.
  • Best Lineup: Parker, Bargnani, Bosh, Marion and Calderon going +12 to start the game. Worst Lineup: Kapono, Ukic, Bosh, Voskuhl and Marion going -10 in the stretch after Bargnani picked up his third foul.

Thanks for reading. My advice to you is to take a break from the Raptors till the draft, there’s nothing to see here. If you choose not to, grab the Twitter.

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