It ends the way it began: with an unlikely win on the road. This time it was against the Bulls who had everything to play for as a win would’ve avoided the Celtics in favor of the Magic. The gunning Raptors jumped on them early and maintained the defensive effort for the entire 48 minutes making Chicago look very ordinary and constricted. The smart money would’ve been on the Bulls winning this one but it seemed like the pressure got to them as their offense looked very tense. The Raptors were the complete opposite and played hard and free basketball and it all worked out. The season on the other hand, didn’t, and let not any win mask or sugar-coat that fact.
A 12 point jumper-driven first quarter by Chris Bosh kick-started the game for us and took the early wind out of Chicago. Shawn Marion had his run ‘n gun game going with Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon doing a good job of one-dribbling and providing the early outlet to expedite the defense-to-offense switch. Marion’s 10 points – all short hooks/jumpers – gave John Salmons enough to think about on defense that he forgot about his offense for the second straight game against the Raptors. Kapono checked in early in the second quarter and drained two no-hesitation threes in transition and suddenly we had a 20 point lead. The Bulls were running into their own players on high screens and their bigs were clogging the lane for their guards, it was comical.
The main implication of being a jump-shooting team is that for every hot-shooting stretch you’ll go through, you’ll go through a cold one. That came in the second quarter as Noah remained unfazed by Bosh’s early jumpers and continued to give him space, Bosh naturally took it and missed. On the other end the Bulls wisely discarded their offensive sets in favor of going one-on-one through Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose. Roko did a solid job on Rose early and took him to the rim on a couple occasions but after a Chicago timeout where Vinny Del Negro challenged Rose by handing him Roko’s resume, he quickly responded. Some great pushing of the rock in transition by Rose led to Chicago opportunities and carved open the Raptors defense which was otherwise playing good scouting-report based basketball – concede the jumper to those who can’t shoot and tighten up on those who can, Rose and Gordon respectively. That changed in the second.
Ben Gordon decided that he’d make an example out of Anthony Parker and torched him on four straight possessions, one of them involving a series of step-back fakes followed by a drive which had Parker begging for an ankle-brace. A 21-4 Chicago run cut the lead to three and this appeared to be going in the direction of the bookies as the Raptors called timeout. As seen all season, when the opposing guard is allowed to get into the lane using a screen our hedge/recovery and communication is poor which leads to chaos on the defensive end. This little stretch was just that – a cruel reminder of how vulnerable we are. What came out of the timeout was a 13-4 run keyed by a couple terrible Bulls turnovers in their own backcourt and some anticipatory play by Calderon against Rose. The Raptors took an 11 point lead into halftime.
One thing I’ve noticed and haven’t talked about enough. Jason Kapono might not get his ankle broken on highlight-reel players often but the man has never been able to keep his defender from driving to the elbow area and that’s enough to force help thus invoking rotations. Usually his man is always able to create by driving 8 feet in and kicking out to a wing who will naturally help, even though it’s not part of a defensive plan. He hit two threes in that second quarter but if you look at the Bulls scoring opportunities that result from his defensive play you realize he’s not worth it. A bit of a fraud if you ask me.
Chris Bosh needed 18 rebounds to average 22/10 and he knew it. He went after the boards like a man possessed and got his 18th early in the fourth, was he playing a little extra hard today? Yes, yes he was. There’s no denying it whatsoever, I’m not saying he takes nights off but today he played harder than in most games. I don’t care, he did some stat-padding, which Raptor hasn’t done that? After the game he said that the current roster as it stands would’ve gotten home-court in the East:
We’ve been playing fantastic the last two or three weeks. I wish we could’ve had this group the whole season. I feel we could’ve gotten homecourt if we had this nucleus.
He’s wrong and I hope Colangelo is smarter than Bosh when it comes to seeing this recent play in proper context. Just consider the strength of the schedule and number of home games we’ve had and you’ll see that this isn’t the stretch of games to extrapolate next season from.
The Raptors produced some excellent ball movement in the third quarter as Marion was vintage. Even though they didn’t score every time, the Raptors were practically on the break on every possession. Parker, Calderon and Marion had the V formation going with Calderon at the bottom, Marion on the left and Parker on the right flank. The Bulls appeared disjointed on both ends of the floor, couldn’t contend with our wings’ speed (I can’t believe I’m writing this) and appeared stuck in quicksand on the perimeter. Noah and Miller were the only two who were playing any consistent defense but they aren’t exactly shot-blocking threats which could scare off anyone. Rose and Gordon had a combined total of 7 points in the quarter as we took a 15 point lead into the fourth.
The defensive energy here was hard to explain, Jose stuck in front of Rose and was helped by the pick-setter’s man (usually O’Bryant) who pushed him him away from the paint on the high-screen making it difficult for him to turn. It’s amazing how a proper hedge can negate a threat, once Rose swung it back to the wing (usually Gordon or Salmons), Parker was playing him tight and the lane was being clogged by O’Bryant/Voskuhl who had recovered and the Bulls’ big who weren’t on the same page as the guards. This resulted in the Bulls guards forcing contested jumpers which played right in our hands.
The Raptors won the points in the paint battle 54-42 and had 19 fastbreak points. We attacked the rim AND ran the break, nice. I was expecting an obligatory fourth quarter run from the Bulls but it never came making it quite an uninteresting last quarter of Raptors basketball in 6 1/2 months. It’s been a crap season, no doubt, but this isn’t a mess that can’t be fixed. Either we’ll have to play the FA market and make a trade or two (possibly including Bosh) to retool this team for next year or we could go the rebuilding route. I think we’ll only rebuild if Bosh wants out and Colangelo’s hand is forced thus leaving him with no other option. I’m fine with either, just don’t sell me a steak and then only serve garden salad.
- I thought the Bulls would’ve been much better off running isolation plays for Rose and Gordon instead of fighting through their lethargic offensive sets to create shots.
- Chris Bosh couldn’t get a handle on his 18th rebound as it went out of bounds. The scorer scored it as a rebound and a turnover.
- Roko Ukic: I love the guy, I really do, but I don’t feel comfortable with him as backup #1 because of his jumper, his loose handle and potential to be a complete waste on offense if the defense is sagging. If he can come to training camp with an improved outside shot it will help things.
- I have a hard time gauging Chris Bosh. Does he honestly think that this nucleus would get home-court in the East?
- Brad Miller likes to swing elbows, him and Patrick O’Bryant were going at it and after a dubious O’Bryant foul, Miller responded with the clear-out after the whistle had blown. Somebody needs to knock the f**k out of him, I know it ain’t gonna be Patrick.
- Speaking of Patrick, has he climbed over Pops in the depth chart? NO! He had a nice game: 27 minutes, 4-9, 9 points and 7 rebounds. His finishing around the rim is poor (not that Pops is great) and the majority of his points in real meaningful games will come from 12 feet out. He successfully rolled on the PNR a couple of times but also got blocked hard twice, he’s a little two-minded near the rim which scares me.
- This was Leo Rautins’ worst season. I can predict what he says 10 seconds before he says it.
- Shawn Marion was 15-18 for 34 points. Check out his shot-chart, its more congested than the Rail on a Friday.
- Paging Quincy Douby, paging Quincy Douby.
- Will not return: Jake Voskuhl, Nathan Jawai, Jason Kapono.
- The final record is 33-49, 4th in Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference. We end on a three game winning streak and are picking 9th.
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