The trend of blowing big leads is becoming the norm. Last night we were able to hold off Indiana by executing brilliantly down the stretch, but this cannot possibly be a sustainable method for winning games. This one was Exhibit A of how potent our offense can be even with two of our big guns misfiring. The bench, headlined by Jack and Belinelli, lead a 59-point performance which let us get away with mediocre games from Bosh and Bargnani, although both were useful down the stretch. Throw in a perfect Jose Calderon (21/3/7) performance and you saw that there’s reason to be excited about this team. Defense though, is another matter and something that remains a cause for concern.
Any time weak opposition comes to your building you have to jump on them and destroy their will to win early, we did something like that with rookie DeMar DeRozan being highly aggressive in getting six early points against the surprised Brandon Rush. A sign of a man in a zone is when he’s nailing his jumpers regardless of situation – Calderon’s play early was impeccable, he was sticking his jumper off the screen, on the break and spotting up on the wing. Indiana decided to test out their three-point efficiency early and got nothing in return, the Raps took the long rebound and ran with it as Turkoglu and Calderon got us off to a great offensive start – up 7 early. But as you know, a 7-point lead means little to us and all it took for that to evaporate was a TJ Ford And1 against Jose and a great quarterback pass from Ford to Murphy on the break for another And1 against a trailing Bargnani. The two point-guard’s were trading punches as it became a guard’s game – Bosh and Bargnani were a combined 2-9 as Indiana was paying a lot of attention to Bosh.
Triano got Rasho Nesterovic (miserable all year but 12/7 today) off the bench instead of Amir Johnson to contend with second-year man Roy Hibbert who’s looking more polished than most imagined. Rasho provided a boost and kept Hibbert in relative check by scoring 4 on him, although the Raptors draft pick showed us something we all desire in a big man – size, strength and aggression. Danny Granger and crew were misfiring on looks they consider open as Turkoglu started to take advantage of the inexperience of Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones, both giving the Turk too much space to operate. Granger picked up two fouls early but still managed to get 8 in the first, (6 from the FT line) and kept Indiana in it. They almost erased the lead after Earl Watson came in to spark the offense (he faked Jose 2 feet in the air at the three-point line), but Turkoglu hit a step-back three and Jack came off the bench for a great drive right at the end to punctuate a 39 point quarter for the Raptors. Up 8, shooting 56% while conceding 44%.
Jose Calderon’s passing was crisp all game long, he made decisions in a fraction of a second, whether it be finding Rasho on a bounce for a lay-in or keeping the swing going after a Bosh double. If Bosh is drawing the double, Jose’s facilitating the offense like that and the Raptors are hitting their outside shots, it’s game over for the defense. Jose was aggressive against Ford who has no chance of blocking his shot and to worsen his chances, tends to concede the jumper too easily for a guy with his quickness. Even if you were a TJ backer, you saw today which PG is more suitable for us.
The second quarter made a case for the two-guard lineup of Jack and Calderon. Having two ball-handlers on the floor against a defense that doesn’t move in transition proved to be too much for the Pacers. The tempo increased as Jack and Calderon used quick initial passes to move the ball into the front-court, the Indiana bigs (Hibbert and Murhpy) had trouble coping. Amir Johnson’s agility showed against them as he wrested a couple rebounds away, fed them to Jack and Jose and off they went. Rasho Nesterovic’s jumper was on and that brought Hibbert further out, giving the Raptor guards driving space which they took. 7 points in the quarter for Jack including a three set-up beautifully by Belinelli who was focusing on being a playmaker today. Indiana dared Jack to shoot and he made ‘em pay. When Jack’s spacing the floor, it creates a lot of room for the big guys setting screens for him to slip to open areas and find their jumpers – just ask Bargnani who benefited twice today.
74-53 at the half. Good news, we scored 74. Bad news, we let Indiana score 54. The Pacers, who only shoot 30% from three, were even worse going 2-11 from downtown to help the Raptors’ cause. It was clear that they couldn’t handle the pace we were playing at, the question was whether we could maintain that pace. It’s very difficult to play up-tempo basketball for 48 minutes, at some point you’ll need to ease up and catch a breath and it’s in those times that good teams fall back on their defense. The Raptors currently need to score at a very high rate to maintain any advantage they’ve gained and the law of averages says that you will go cold, it’s inevitable. Right now if we’re not scoring we’re giving up big runs. A better situation for us would be to concede 4-6 points in a 7-possession stretch we’re struggling in, not 12. That’s half the points and the difference between a bad and an acceptable defensive team.
Great players come up big. As the third quarter started, so did DeRozan’s punishment. Danny Granger administered 11 points on the rookie who gave him way too much room despite being warned by the coach. After the 11th point was scored, the bench came calling and in came Wright. It was too late because Indiana had already sliced a 22 point lead in half by the 6:41 mark. The Raptors didn’t have the energy to play like they did in the first half and Indiana was starting to settle in and have success on the offensive glass, Jeff Foster giving them three extra possessions in the quarter. This was going to be a close game and the Raptors needed to dig in to pull it out.
Indiana scored 39 points in the third as the Raptors offense went cold. We went down to Bosh who was defended well by Murphy, Jim O’Brien sent additional help making the outlet passes difficult leading to turnovers. They gave Bosh space to shoot and he wasn’t making them which gave them a lift. It became so bad that we even saw Wright going 1on1 which obviously went nowhere. After Tyler Hansbrough had hit two hooks over Bargnani in the first half, he came back to crash the offensive glass and run the break to bring Indiana within 7. Earl Watson played well in his second stint, the calm collected PG set-up Brandon Rush for open looks and ran the Indiana offense much smoother than TJ Ford, even though the latter had shown great ability to penetrate early in the third. Jack’s And1 against Jeff Foster pushed the Raptors lead from 7 to 10 at the end of the third and gave the Raptors a huge psychological boost. Another boost was provided by Bosh’s defense as he blocked two close-range efforts by Granger and Solomon Jones that would’ve, he finished with 4 blocks and 12 rebounds and had an overall solid defensive game. I don’t know if this is bad defense or good offense but it’s one of my favorite plays this year. Triano spoke of the attention Indiana was giving to Bosh:
They were leaning on Chris a lot, giving him jump shots. They watched the Orlando game and he wasn’t making them. We told the guys if we move the ball side to side and set screens for each other, we’ll get any look we want and in the first half we had a lot of guys that contributed and scored.
The Raptors’ two main defensive problems are providing unnecessary help and helping from the wrong places. Three of Indiana’s threes in the third quarter resulted from a weak-side defender helping on a PG drive while leaving a legit three-point threat open. Help-defense is part of the game and Triano hasn’t able to implement a strategy that is cohesive enough that it comes natural to the players. I see too many players scrambling to get where they have zero chance of getting. Bargnani flailing at Granger, Belinelli 10 feet away from Rush, Jose on the wrong side of the court as Watson etc. The good news is that they’re at least scrambling, but sooner rather than later Triano will have to figure out why we’re the league’s worst defensive team and do something to stop it. Or maybe he believes that more games and more familiarity will pull us through, I think the issue is more technical than that.
Granger set-up Rush for three after we over-helped and soon after T.J Ford drive and kicked for a Granger three. Luckily for us those two plays were sandwiched around two Bargnani jumpers. He had been awfully quiet till now going 2-5 and was outplayed by Hansbrough and Foster on the glass and in the block. He made a conscious decision to be more aggressive in the fourth quarter and found his niche in the mid-range game. Jack found him on the slip for a jumper and then he passed up an out-of-rhythm three to step-in and nail a baseline jumper. He went 4-5 in the fourth quarter including six straight point early, consider the amends made. Murphy was left open on the perimeter as Bosh and Bargnani got confused as to who was guarding them and he touched us for a three cutting the Raptors lead to 7 with 8:08 left. The Big Turk responded with a trifecta of his own on the next possession as the Indiana defense appeared gassed. It appeared to be a dagger.
Give Indiana credit, after Bosh missed a couple chances to put the game away, Murphy was left open by a lazy Raptors defense and he hit another deep bomb, the lead was 7 again with 5:37 left. It was either time to step-up or crack and the Raptors relied on their ball-movement to get Jarrett Jack a clean look for three. Answer supplied. The Pacer’s were tired on offense and were simply passing it around the perimeter and firing, Granger hit another three (nobody’s fault really) to put the pressure back on the Raptors before Bosh and Bargnani answered with scores to ice it. Bosh’s post-move was pure determination, he fought through non-calls and a loose whistle all night and got bumped twice on this play but managed to finish with a hook. With 2:57 and a 12 point lead, the game was over.
A quick word on Belinelli, really liked his aggressiveness in going to the rim. He didn’t just step-back and launch the long jumper today and probably felt he could take Jones and Rush off the dribble and did. He got to the line 10 times and displayed a slashing ability in the half-court set, something we haven’t seen much of. DeRozan should take a page from his book and add that to his game. Triano alluded to the gelling of Belinelli, Jack and Calderon:
Everybody’s starting to get to know everybody a little bit, at one point they’re probably thinking they’re competing for a postion. Now they’re realizing that they can play together on the floor as well as give each other relief.
It’s good to see the Raptors win with Bosh going 5-19, but that’s not saying we can with with Bosh going 5-19 again. Getting 59 points off the bench while they shoot 65% is much more of an anomaly than Bosh’s poor shooting night. A loss can sometimes disguise the bad things that happened in this game and some of the clean looks we gave up in the third quarter should alone warrant hours of video analysis and practice. This team will go nowhere if our defense doesn’t improve, on the bright side we’ve played the second hardest schedule in the league and have come out of alive. Things can only get better, right?
Check the live blog for the game as it happened and the Roll Call for individual ratings. At some point on Wednesday we’ll post another session of Breaking it Down where we’ll look at some defensive breakdowns.
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