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And we turned down T.J Ford for Gerald Wallace?
Bobcats 102, Raptors 89

It was all about Gerald Wallace last night. He was scoring, rebounding, passing, blocking shots, diving for loose balls, causing steals, running the break, posting up and even picking fights in this one. There have been many who questioned his attitude and durability in the past but this season he’s been a revelation for the Bobcats and a thorn in our side. I feel like an idiot for being opposed to the Ford for Wallace swap that was apparently on the table before Colangelo got greedy and asked for their first round pick (D.J Augustin). His game tonight reflected the exact things that we’re missing: wing scoring, slashing and defense. Oh well, let’s just make ourselves feel better by reminding ourselves that earlier in the year he did say he didn’t want to play in Toronto.

Wallace had bruised his knee against Sacramento and was literally limping in the second half of that game and was at one point questionable for this game. You wouldn’t have known it. He started off scoring 8 of the Bobcats’ 12 points and had a say in almost every possession. Look at his line: 30 points, 9-13 FG, 2-2 3FG, 10-12 FT, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a game-high +17. That line doesn’t reflect his assault on the Raptors rim, for that you have to consult the shot-chart, you see that one dot near the basket? That’s really 8 dots. But the shot-chart or the stat-line doesn’t do justice to the sheer hustle, emotion and passion he played with, for that you have to listen to Okafor:

Gerald has no regard for his body. He just doesn’t care. He sacrifices for the team and he’s clearly our energy guy. He’s out there flying and diving and doing whatever it takes to win.

His two corner-threes, three-point play, steal against Bosh and steal against Bargnani turned this game on its head. The disease that is the Raptors’ soft defense has spread to Marion, he was mentally out of it from the beginning and Wallace must’ve recognized the slowness in his step because he was taking him off the unused dribble and getting into the paint so fast that even a great NBA defense wouldn’t have time to react, let alone the Raptors’. The defense on high-screen situations with Felton seemed very unplanned and the communication between Bargnani and Calderon seemed to be minimal. Felton got his path to the rim but it wasn’t at the expense of Calderon but of Triano and his inability to shove a fundamental defensive concept in their brains. That play epitomizes the Raptors defense – no communication and no idea of rotation responsibility. Contrast this with how the Bobcats defend this exact same play – trap the PG, both arms up looking to cause a deflection and a man waiting to rotate if the PG somehow makes the pass to the pick-setter. The Bobcats were trapping early and it resulted in three turnovers because we couldn’t counter it by spacing the floor and making pressure-relieving passes. Two early Jose Calderon turnovers, a Bargnani bad pass and playing in short-clock situations resulted in a sputtering offense.

The Bobcats built up a 9 point lead at the end of the first and Triano wasn’t too pleased with the team. Juan Howard came into the game for the Bobcats and it opened up the game for Jose Calderon who looked much more comfortable turning the corner against Howard than against Wallace or Okafor. The Raptors offense didn’t look as stagnant and lethargic as it did in the first and it drew attention away from Bosh who was now being checked one-on-one by Diop, Howard and Okafor. What ensued was a Bosh that we haven’t seen since the GSW game in October, hard pump-fakes and hop-steps drew him a few fouls and enough respect from the officials that they started to call it on his fadeaways. All in all 16 points in the quarter including 14-14 FTs. With 20 points at the half you’d think he’d be owning his position but that’s where Diaw and his 16 points (30 in total, one short of career-high) come in. Diaw’s a shrewd post-up player who has the ability to use a pump-fake to extend himself through the paint and Bosh had trouble with him in the post and on the perimeter. We’re thankful for Bosh’s contribution in the half which meant the Bobcats lead was slashed from 9 to 7 but once you factor in Diaw’s 16 its not nearly as impressive.

I’m both jealous and envious of the Bobcats. They have two good PGs, a solid second-tier PF/C, a defensive minded SG who can shoot the rock, a decent enough bench and Gerald Wallace. They’re like the ball-sharing, free-flowing Raptors of 07-08 except they’ve got a true slasher. If only we had nicked a slasher like Gerald Wallace or Mikael Pietrus instead of Jason Kapono we just might be in a different position. Much like Monday, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Bobcats fight for that final playoff spot which they remain only a game back of. Their offence is primarily spawned from wing penetration, off-the-ball movement and crisp passing but they’ve got good post-up options in Okafor and Wallace. If this team would’ve found its groove earlier in the year they’d be at least three spots higher in the standings.

The third quarter remained a battle of attrition with Bosh getting his points off of jumpers and Diaw schooling him in the post on the other end. Throw in Andrea Bargnani’s commendable use of the pump-fake to get himself some open looks and you’ve got a back and forth game which stood in Charlotte’s favor at 69-66 with 2:06 left. That’s when they went on a 13-4 run to take a 12 point edge into the fourth. Wallace jammed on the break after picking off a lazy Calderon pass which Bargnani should’ve stepped in to rather than waited for, he was found by Diaw for a three off of a drive and on one possession he basically took on the entire Raptors team and finished at the rim. To top it off Felton drove ‘n kicked against Calderon to setup Raja Bell for a three. This was a game changing sequence initiated by Wallace’s aggressiveness on offense and his tenacity on defense.

Jose Calderon had 8 points, 11 assists and 5 turnovers. The drunk from Philthy’s encouraged me to count the number of passes he makes to a big on the perimeter compared to Felton or D.J Augustin. I did that for a five minute third-fourth quarter stretch and I found that about 85% of Calderon’s passes are lateral ones to Bosh or Bargani. Compare this with Felton’s who rarely passed the ball to another guy on the wing unless it was for the sole purpose of swinging it or finding a different post-entry angle. With an offense so fractured at the point-guard position is it any surprise that we lost three of the four quarters again? On a different note, it makes zero sense for Jose to play 40 minutes given his apparent injury situation. I’m not sure what’s holding Colangelo and Triano back from pulling the plug on him and giving Ukic the minutes he needs in order to come into next season with something under his belt.

The Wallace sequence just described was certainly a key one but the start of the fourth was when the hammer came. Boris Diaw basically abused Chris Bosh in the post for six straight points which stretched the lead to 18 and brought forth garbage time. This sequence saw a Chris Bosh and Jason Kapono turnover, a Chris Bosh missed three and more Shawn Marion one-on-one play which is the last thing we want to see from him. Giving the ball to Shawn Marion in a one-on-one situation is offensive suicide, he doesn’t have the touch and finesse that’s needed to see off his drives. His moves seem too quick for his own good and he ends up shooting the ball way too hard when using the glass. Right now he’s a system-guy playing in the wrong system. Bosh’s defense on Diaw was soft, he conceded position by falling for pump-fakes, didn’t try to prevent Diaw from getting the position that he himself was being denied on the other end and was a step slow to react to the Bobcats intentions of going straight at him.

The only meaningful play that came after Diaw’s mini-explosion was a Gerald Wallace post-up of Bosh which illustrated just how weak his defensive game is. Good luck to the Bobcats in their playoff run. I live through them.

Liners:

  • I’ve taken the liberty of copying Jason Kapono’s line.
    MIN   FGM-A   3PM-A   FTM-A   OREB   DREB   REB   AST   STL   BLK   TO   PF   +/-   PTS
    13    0-1     0-1     0-0     0      0      0     0     0     0     1    2    -15   0
    

    He’s about as useful as a prostate infection.

  • The improvement of Andrea Bargnani continues. 27 points on 10-17 and 7 rebounds. Still terrible at defending the high screen but as I already said in the post I blame most of that on the lack of a defensive system. He’s averaging close to 6 rebounds in March, not great but something of an improvement. He’s making his jumper this year which means defenses actually have to consider his pump-fake instead of just watching it and Bargnani’s done a great job of mixing the drive with the jumper and the fake-and-draw-foul move, something that is oh so useful in those tight games.
  • All that Diaw and Wallace scoring led to a 62-22 PINP edge. What do you expect? Our best offensive player operates 18 feet out and our star PF first-option is a jumper. I’m not even alarmed by these alarming numbers anymore. You just accept them for what they are – a reflection of the personnel on your team.
  • The Bobcats shot 50%. Our record when we allow opponents to shoot that is 1-20.
  • Shawn Marion’s arrival has had a negative impact on Joey Graham. It’s somewhat to be expected since Graham’s getting fewer minutes but as a coach it’s Triano’s responsibility to make sure a player who is just starting to find his groove in the NBA doesn’t suffer a setback. Or maybe he doesn’t care because he’s been told Graham is on the outs.
  • In the Marion teleconference Bryan Colangelo alluded to keeping most of this roster intact and bringing back Carlos Delfino. I don’t see it happening, this roster is too dysfunctional and too flawed to merit only a couple minor additions. Nothing short of an overhaul is needed.
  • Bargnani brought down Wallace with a hard bump on the break in the fourth quarter. I’m glad he did but I thought it could’ve been called a flagrant 1 since no attempt was made at the ball. Then again I only got one look at it.
  • Speaking of getting one look at things, the production on these Raptors telecasts is third rate. They never show a replay of interesting/important/questionable calls and focus on inane replays like a three-pointer going in. I thought I saw at least three travels tonight and was looking for some replay help but never got any. On one play somebody threw the ball off of Calderon as it was going out of bounds which I thought was questionable but no replay. Many other instances like these.
  • Saw a bit of Roko and Jose playing together in the second half. Not sure its a good idea until Roko learns how to shoot. I do hope the Raptors have a very specific summer plan for him because if he comes into training camp next season without a tighter dribble and a much improved jumper, things aren’t going to get better for him.
  • Marc Iavaroni was in the stands with a notebook, a pen and a terrible shirt. Make what you will off this, here’s my guess: Messina head coach, Iavaroni assistant, Triano assistant, Leo special consultant.

Thanks for reading. It’ll soon be over.