Expectations are still in check but that felt good. After the pre-season we had and all that talk of fatigue, chemistry, nine new players and what not, it was good to get our first quality win out of the way early. Naysayers will say it was against a disoriented and overrated Cleveland team on a back-to-back and that may be true, but you only get to play who you’re served on the schedule. This game was a test and the Raptors passed it, not in flying colours, that would have been the case if they had maintained the big lead for the whole contest, but with enough comprehension that we can at least remain optimistic and say that this team has a fighting chance. This can all come crashing down quickly, but at least we’re on the right track.
The first play of the game could serve as foreshadowing for Bargnani’s season. Facing up against Sideshow Bob, he didn’t for a moment hesitate and snuck by the big Brazilian for an emphatic right hand jam. No hesitation in the move, and no doubt about the result either. So often have we seen him get caught in two minds in those situations and fall into the trap of taking a low percentage shot, but not this time. After that play the game took an ominous complexion with Shaq getting the better of our big men despite timely double teams. But every team has a weakness and Cleveland’s is defending the pick ‘n roll. Shaq’s refusal and inability to come out and check Bargnani at the perimeter after the high screen meant open shots for the Italian and he made the most of it in an early 13-0 run. Give credit to Jose who set up Bargnani for 6 of his makes. Jose’s assist distribution was Bargnani 6 and 1 each for DeRozan, Bosh, Belinelli, Turkoglu and Wright. Triano on the obvious advantage of Bargnani:
“We knew it was going to be a battle (between Bargnani and O’Neal) and (Bargnani) picked up that early foul but he didn’t back down at all the rest of the night. That’s one of the advantages of (Bargnani), he’s going to make a big guy have to come out and guard him and if you don’t he’s going to make you pay for it.”
All that’s just intelligent basketball but something from Bargnani truly stood out for me, it was how hard he ran the break. One only tends to remember the plays that lead to points and that’ll what make the highlight reel – a run down the middle that forced Calderon to make a pass he wasn’t even thinking about for the layup. The way he faced up Big Z on the perimeter, sized him up, made him wobble just a bit and then blew by him forcing help and a foul from Shaq. Those are plays that set tones and more important than the scoring and defense, Bargnani set the tone for us. It’s one game and I’m the last one to get carried away, but things look promising for him because he seems to be mentally tougher. Thirteen first quarter points, 28 overall, 11-15 FG and two horseshit fouls that could’ve meant more than just 30 minutes for him. At the end of one we had a five point lead with Cleveland, other than Shaq, looking very perimeter oriented and Lebron taking a back seat to I don’t know what.
In this game Bosh wasn’t asked to be the man, he was asked to scrap for points, hit the glass and clean up others’ mess. Guess what? He was phenomenal with 16 rebounds, at least 5 of them contested (you know, the ones that don’t fall into your lap), and 21 points. The shot-selection wasn’t great and the indecision was ever present, but as the game wore on, he asserted himself more and more. In the beginning he looked intimidated by Shaq but as the team started doing well, he seemed to gain confidence and started taking better shots. Out-rebounding a team such as Cleveland (49-48) is a feat in itself and Bosh deserves full credit because if it weren’t for him, Cleveland would’ve had a lot more than just 12 second chance points.
The second quarter belonged to Marco Belinelli who came out of nowhere to light it up. In the chat I was told that I was too harsh on Belinelli in the pre-season but that’s just not true, he had a terrible pre-season where he took bad shots and looked out of sync, he deserved the flak. In this game, he took some bad shots but knocked them down. He mixed it up with a couple drives, one of them leading to a dunk right down the middle as Shaq failed to help. This is Belinelli – he’s feast or famine. Today he was 4-8 with a +19 in 19 minutes which is simply ridiculous, next game he might be 2-8 with a -16 in 20 minutes. I’m going to try and stay even about this guy until I see him play 20 games, but for today, cheers to you.
Cleveland shot at a 35% clip for the entire game. They looked to set up their bigs in the first quarter with Lebron only taking two shots, he took seven in the second but Belinelli and Bargnani continued the onslaught as Cleveland’s late shifting and slow-footed defense was no match. They had real issues dealing with the Raptors’ spacing and constant ball movement, and it was in those rotation sequences that their defense looked the most disjointed mainly because of their bigs who were glued to the paint. Other than Big Z’s hook, two FTs by Moon and a layup by Shaq, Lebron tried to carry the load but in the end lost the second quarter 30-17. Bargnani carved him open in the post on one possession through an up and under. The crowd went nuts, I spilled my beverage.
The Raptors offense was very simple, other than high screen usage, good spacing and timely cuts by Belinelli and DeRozan, nothing quite stood out. We just made sure the ball never got stuck on one side of the floor or with one person, something that plagued this team last year with Bosh. I suppose there’s no reason to make things complicated when they’re coming easy using basic plays. I’m sure against a tighter defense things would have been different. Triano went with the Calderon-Jack lineup in the second quarter and just like it hasn’t all pre-season, it didn’t do much for me. I feel Jack comes into the game with the weight of the world on him and tries to do a bit too much; instead of just letting the momentum in the game take its course, he tries to force the issue, often taking quick shots and going at a faster pace than necessary. As we saw in the fourth quarter of this game, it can pay off, but I just wish he’d take it a bit easy.
18 point lead at the half, should’ve been 22 if Jose had finished a layup and we hadn’t let Lebron run it back for a hoop in four seconds. Great first half, can we carry it over to the third? No, we sh*t our pants. A 23-6 run midway through the third and it’s a tie game. Why did this happen? Cleveland went with a smaller lineup featuring Hickson, Gibson, Williams, Lebron and Parker and focused on swinging the ball rather than playing inside-out with their bigs. Our defense didn’t see it coming and got caught over-helping on soft drives to the paint, something I’m sure is preached in practice. The result was Gibson, Williams and Parker knocking down open threes while we went into jumper mode. Not to mention, the refs made some terrible calls in that quarter, most notably calling two offensive fouls on Bargnani for nothing. They were momentum shifting plays that really helped Cleveland.
Sure, I was upset when that happened and said Here we go again.. but at the same time I’m glad it happened because now we’d be tested in a close game. This win means a lot more because of Cleveland’s comeback than it would have otherwise. After the Cavs had tied the game at 69, Hedo finally decided to assert himself. Nothing spectacular, a good recognition of Bosh in the post led to two points, after Jose closed out hard resulting in a Gibson travel, Wright took it straight to the rim for two more. Hedo then waived of the guards to handle the ball and attracted the double on a left wing screen to free up DeRozan for an open corner jumper. A heat-check Lebron missed three later, Turkoglu drove it to the rim for two. It’s now 78-71 Raptors going into the fourth and that is a hell of a lot better than going into the final frame tied. It gives the players a mental cushion and assures them that even though they stunk the joint up for most of the third, they still got a decent enough lead to protect. To me that sequence was the game and Triano spoke about playing their game instead of trying to play into Cleveland’s hands:
“We stopped playing against their lineup and played with our lineup. We tried to match up small a lot tonight because they started making a couple of threes and we went back to our bigger lineup. When we went back to our bigger lineup, we had guys in position where they knew the actual offence we were running.”
I’m not sure Mike Brown runs any sets, it’s hard to do when you’ve got a superstar player but at some point you might want to contemplate having something in place when Lebron’s not in the game, like early in the fourth. A trailing three by Bargnani and a great cut by Jack which was rewarded with a Bargnani pass for a hoop which set the early tone, Bosh added some gravy with a jumper over Shaq as Cleveland’s offense misfired. Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson missed three ill-advised jumpers during this early fourth quarter stretch which pushed the Raptors lead to 13. Cleveland never returned to the small lineup hey had success with earlier in the third, instead dumping it down to Shaq who doesn’t seem to pass anymore. Yeah, he scored a few here and there but the Raptors were more than happy to have four Cavaliers standing still while Shaq did his business inside. Jarrett Jack deserves credit here for playing some very sound defense on Williams, forcing two turnovers and driving it straight to the rim for FTs. It really iced the game for us, in the past we’d settle for jumpers in the fourth but Jack really took it to Cleveland.
In the end, it’s a great win for the Raptors and it should do wonders for their confidence. Friday should be routine, if it’s not, all this goes to hell.
- My money’s on Mike Brown as the first coach to go.
- I don’t miss Anthony Parker. Leo, please explain to me who exactly is saying that was the “signing of the summer”.
- Antoine Wright picked up a charge on Williams and Parker each. He didn’t shut down Lebron (7-19 FG) but did make him pass a few times when he’d have rather hung on to the ball.
- Lebron with a poor shooting night in 40 minutes. 7-19FG, 8-14FT but a triple double. Is it just me or has he made that feat lose all it’s impressiveness…
- Special mention to Rasho for his put-back over Shaq which pushed it back to 13 later in the fourth after the latter had dunked one on the other end.
- Consider Shaq’s -25 and Gibson’s +12 and then take into account that most of their minutes were mutually exclusive. That can tell you just how much better Cleveland played with their “small ball” lineup.
- I didn’t mention DeRozan much and that’s a good thing. The rookie doesn’t force things, spreads the floor by staying in the corner and cuts when the defense isn’t paying attention. At this point, that’s all we can ask of him. If he knocks that corner jumper like he did today, we might have found a solution for the void left by Parker.
- Leo/Matt, maybe it makes you guys feel better that the Cavs are staying in Toronto and not bolting, but we fans don’t need reassurance that NBA players want to play in Toronto. Same for the Hedo thing, he chose Toronto because we paid him $53M dollars, I’d play in Siberia for that much dough.
- Jose Calderon won some sort of an award for his FT shooting. He then clanked his first two of the season.
- This is what O Fortuna sounds like with the crescendo at 1:49.
- This got me so excited I played an hour and a half of pick-up right after.
Thanks for reading. There’s also the ratings post which has a ridiculous amount of comments.Follow @raptorsrepublic