Zach Randolph killed us. Yeah, that Zach Randolph.
Raptors 107, Grizzlies 115 – Box

Had a chance to digest this loss and as terrible and ugly it was, it wasn’t against a horrible team as some might think. We should’ve won this game, no question about it, but you have to factor in how well the Grizzlies played before you lay it on the Raptors, which we will deservedly do. We were atrocious on the defensive glass and our man defense was broken down too easily, mostly because of some very inspired play from O.J Mayo and Mike Conley (10/10/6) who exposed our ever-present weakness at PG. The offense is raw and too simplistic, it works well when there’s an open game going on but in situational plays when you need a bucket (as we did late), it tends to fail because all NBA teams up their defense when they really need to. Hedo Turkoglu was brought in for exactly the situations we encountered in the fourth quarter but couldn’t produce the result, or some might argue, wasn’t given the context to do so. Whatever the case, whatever the excuses, we didn’t get it done, and there’s plenty things to blame to go around.

First thing to realize is that Memphis got spanked in their opening game by Detroit and were out to atone themselves. You knew this one wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked on paper when you had a motivated Zach Randolph and a fired up O.J Mayo working in tandem. Mayo and Conley’s agenda was to either push it against Calderon or rise and shoot it over him which they did with full effectiveness. Calderon was back-tracking for most of the first quarter as the barrage of drives followed by dump-offs and kick-outs started to get Randolph, Gasol and Gay into the game. You knew if Memphis kept this pace our defense was going to be tested hard, I was hoping they’d get fatigued and start playing lazy but other than a few stretches in the third quarter, they were solid.

The Raptors didn’t start off too poorly either, Hedo Turkoglu got into the offense courtesy of some step-back jumpers off the high screen (which Gasol and Randolph were reluctant to come out on) and assumed ball-handling responsibilities while looking threatening using the screens. Mysteriously, we never saw any more of that for the game as Jack and Calderon assumed ball-handling and creative duties for there on out. Perplexing indeed. The offense was crisp to start with, a lot of slashing from Wright, DeRozan, Bosh and even Calderon, who executed one of his high-screen turns for a score. A 22-23 first quarter deficit seemed a good position to be in considering how well Memphis started off, our 4 first quarter turnovers and how poorly Bargnani shot the ball.

In order to control the paint dominance of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Triano introduced Amir Johnson midway through the first but all he did was pick up an over-the-back foul and allowed Randolph two easy scores. Very disappointing because Randolph is a very build and you’d think he could use his athleticism and reach to bother Randolph if he only tried a bit harder. It was clear that his head wasn’t into the game and Triano went with Rasho who performed well for the rest of the night. However, a frontline defensive stand needs all your big men to step up, not just one. Memphis outrebounded us 45-36 with Randolph and Gasol going a combined 19-29 FG. There were so many interior rotations because of offensive rebounds and penetration that it pitched everybody against anybody and allowed them plenty of paint scores. Even though the duo of Bosh/Bargnani got the better of Gasol/Randolph statistically (49/18 to 49/14), we can’t be satisfied, those numbers for opposing bigs are way too high, especially when you’re losing the guard battle.

Jack came in late in the first and started looking for the Bosh v Randolph matchup in the half-court and it resulted in a lot of success. Bosh had 18 points in second quarter and without that contribution this game would’ve gotten out of hand. Andrea Bargnani couldn’t control Gasol in the post who cleared him too easily on the boards and the block; if that wasn’t bad enough, his offense left him, after missing four early shots and committing three turnovers, he decided that he wasn’t going to shoot, a cardinal sin for a shooter. It was 53-49 Memphis at the break and you’d have to consider the Raptors lucky to be in this one considering how disjointed they looked. Bosh though, looked amazing. He played a free brand of basketball which was very similar to his Olympic role, not too many set-plays but jockeying for position, hitting the glass, running the floor and just playing active basketball. The more I think about it, the more I believe that he should be playing in a freer role with limited plays run for him, he’s far more effective when he’s not asked to do anything in particular.

At half time Triano must’ve instructed Bargnani to resume shooting and it paid off. He hit four shots to start off the quarter including two threes, but only took one shot in the second half of the third. Explain that. Our offense was chugging along based on the individual brilliance of Bosh in the first half and the spurt by Bargnani early in the third, but very little was coming out of any planned processes. Memphis on the other hand was firing on all cylinders, they had Randolph hitting jumpers, Gasol carving space inside, and Mayo and Gay supplying the long-range bombs to maintain the spacing. The Raptors were truly torn, on one hand they wanted to protect the paint but on the other, the Memphis guards had only proven too well that they were liable to burn any cheating.

Guard scoring was a problem. Calderon only had 4 points in the first half and 8 through three, that’s not acceptable production given the fresh young faces he’s up against. Having a veteran PG in these situations is supposed to prove an advantage but instead we got outplayed at that position by their two young guns. I’m not sure whether aggressiveness or ability is the issue at hand, he clearly looked for his shot early but when the jumper wasn’t falling with any consistency, he lost touch with the offense and the only purpose he served was bringing the ball up the floor. After shooting 1-6 against Cleveland, he went 6-13 tonight, mostly due to a late spell of scoring when the game was out of hand. More importantly, his defense on Conley was terrible. His effectiveness is adequately reflected in his 3 assists, 3 turnovers and 5 fouls.

I would’ve liked to see Turkoglu as the primary ball handler in that third quarter. DeRozan’s a rookie so I’m not expecting much but there were definitely opportunities for him to score which weren’t taken advantage of. For example, I only counted two weak-side cuts from him; also, Conley’s three inches shorter than him and I would’ve liked to see DeRozan in the post. Other than the first quarter we didn’t involve their big men in any pick ‘n rolls, something they struggle at defending. Again Jay, I’m looking at you.

Bargnani’s emergence and Bosh’s continued solid play in the third coincided with the Memphis guards cooling off, just a bit. DeRozan played with some energy resulting in two scores and then Jack came on to play his best defensive stretch of the game, he got in the face of Conley and forced turnovers which led to points. We won the third 30-23 and went into the final frame with a 3 point lead which could only be considered precarious given how open the game was. Not to mention the liability that even a brief cold stretch on offense would spell doom since we hadn’t yet proven that we could actually stop Memphis from scoring.

After Belinelli’s beautifully set-up three gave the Raptors an 8 point lead with 10:07 left, Memphis called timeout. That did us in because they came out playing with the energy they started the game with, it’s not surprising that an 8-0 run followed. This included a Conley blow-by, Gasol overpowering Rasho on the glass, another Randolph jumper which under normal circumstance you don’t mind him taking, and a DeMarre Carroll jumper after some great ball movement against a stretched defense. From that point on our offense hit the wall and if it weren’t for some fortunate calls by the refs, it would’ve been over sooner.

The late fourth quarter offense was more about confusion than cohesion with players not having any idea what to do or where to be, our PGs getting caught in two minds of whether to drive or defer and our bigs not even positioning themselves to try and snatch that inevitable rebound. Calderon couldn’t create anything off the bounce and Jack looked lost playing the off-guard. Wright should’ve been given the task on Mayo who had proven that he could knock them down from outside over a shorter player, his jumpers at 2:43 and 0:47 killed us. Bad coaching by Triano. I also don’t understand why Nesterovic was taken out at the 9:00 minute mark of the fourth quarter and never returned. He was the only one who looked like he could control Gasol and box-out, but instead Triano went with with Jack-Calderon in the backcourt, a combination that makes no sense since it’s becoming obvious that Jack is more comfortable at the PG on both ends of the floor. I thought a big lineup of Rasho-Bosh-Bargnani-Jack/Jose-Turkoglu/Belinelli could’ve served us well.

As much as we can find blame in the offensive sets and lack of creativity, in the end this is basketball, a sport where effort, commitment and dedication to being competitive is rewarded. Our big men didn’t compete defensively against theirs and that’s why we lost. Triano summed it up curtly in the end:

“They came out with a lot more passion and hustle for the basketball. You could see it in the way they chased it off the glass the whole night. They pounded it inside and we had no answer to their size.”

It always scares me when I read that kind of a statement this early in the season.

Our offense needs direction through action, not just direction. Jose and Jack need to take it upon themselves to create shots for their teammates while Triano figures out just what to run. I get a feeling that if we rely on Triano’s sets to bail us out in the fourth quarter, it’s going to be a long November. The other option is to give Turkoglu the ball and let him play point-forward for 20 minutes a game and get used to the tendencies of Bargnani, Bosh and DeRozan, it could just work wonders in the long run.

Liners:

  • Memphis shot 51%. I don’t care who you are, the chances of a team winning a game when the opposition shoots higher than 50% are slim. Especially when you’re -9 on the glass.
  • If you’re looking at Bargnani’s 6 rebounds and giving him a reprieve, you’re wrong. He had two great offensive rebounds but overall, he was poor in his box-outs and recognitions.
  • They had 26 second chance points, we had 24. Somehow I felt theirs hurt more because they came at the end of more grueling defensive possessions.
  • It’s sad that in a game where we were looking for any of our big men to step up, Amir Johnson couldn’t even make it off the bench.
  • Impressed with Belinelli’s demeanor and decision making. Not the greatest quickness but fundamentally sound, would’ve even rather had him on Mayo than Jack. Height advantage and all.
  • PINP even at 52, thanks mostly to Bosh. Speaking of him, I can’t imagine he’s content despite his performance because of Randolph’s big game (30/7).
  • Best Lineup: DeRozan, Bargnani, Bosh, Turkoglu, Calderon going +7 in the 3rd. Johnson, Bargnani, Turkoglu, Belinelli, Calderon going -7 in the 1st. Check the game flow for more.
  • Antoine Wright – I see his value but I question his usage.
  • Who’s a better assistant coach? Damon or Alvin.
  • Turkoglu with a team-worst -20. That is a stat nobody wants to see. Ever. We know that +/- is usually BS but when your playmaker is stuck with that number it means he wasn’t making many plays but getting played.
  • Frayed Ends of Sanity

As always, thanks for reading. Up next is the Magic on Sunday. One quick site note, you’ll notice that we’ve integrated Twitter logins for comments. If you have an account, you can post using it and tweet your comments. It helps us spread the word.

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