Larry Brown and the Bobcats ran a clinic on sound NBA defense and the art of running the break; the Raptors did their part by being the test dummies and got ripped to shreds by an athletic Charlotte club that smelled weakness and showed no mercy. The Bobcats ran fast break after fast break to an eventual rout of the Raptors. In what was arguably their worst effort of the season, “effort” being the key word here, the Raptors laid down and rolled over for a 116-81 whooping. The energy wasn’t there, shots weren’t falling, and another abysmal third quarter sealed the deal as the Bobcats won by the largest margin ever in franchise history.
The game started off pretty harmlessly for the Raptors. Tyson Chandler asserted himself early on with some good defense on Chris Bosh and crashed the glass against a stationary Raptors rebounding unit. It looked like he was going to be a difference maker early on, especially since he’s got the kind of length that has given Bosh trouble in the past. Andrea Bargnani, while not doing a good job containing Charlotte’s rebounding presence, was doing good things offensively. He made a nice cut to the rim for an easy layup, something we’d all like to see more of. Perhaps Andrea was taking notes when he saw the wily old vet Rasho pull off the same thing against Indiana the night before. You saw DeMar DeRozan trying to block everything in sight, ironically ended up on the receiving end of 5 blocks by the time the night was mercifully over. The score was pretty much even, but somewhere in the first quarter, a theme began to emerge, one that would continue to present itself for the rest of the game.
Jose Calderon drove in for a layup which caught some rim but stayed out. Two seconds later, Raymond Felton came streaking down for an easy fast break bucket. Jose was nowhere to be found, well, he was actually at the 3-point line. This was where the Raptors transition defense failed miserably, allowing 41 points to their 10. Some of the fast breaks were unavoidable, sure, but too many of them were cases where Charlotte just ran right past the Raptors. It’s not like someone was just lagging right behind…nobody was home, not even in the same TV frame.
Two players really hurt the Raptors – Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. Jackson asserted himself early on and was very successful posting up on the left block against DeRozan and then curling into the middle of the lane, proving too strong for the rookie. I can see practically every team in the league that has a half-decent guard being instructed to attack DeRozan. It’s not the kind of weakness you want in a lineup that already has Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani.
Amir Johnson was the first player off the bench and he continued to impress, wasting little time tipping in a Bosh miss and then later running the floor for a nice catch and layup. At some point, you have to look at giving Amir extended minutes. He addresses two of our major needs: defense and rebounding, and is showing that he isn’t a complete liability on offense. DeMar DeRozan showed a bit more offensive aggression today and scored some quick buckets early on by slashing without the ball. This is something that we are seeing with increasing regularity, DeRozan getting a couple of good looks for early buckets. It’s good, but I want to see DeRozan handle the ball at top of the key and try to create something for others by using his quickness. To be a quality SG he’s got to be a good, if not great, playmaker. A couple of nice dimes off a controlled drive would put me at ease. DeMar did get stuffed a few times today but he’ll learn what he can and cannot do at some point. He’ll never have that powerful finish that guys like LeBron or Wade have, but where he lacks in power, he could make-up in technique.
Bosh put Chandler in foul trouble late in the 1st but Nazr Mohammed came in and played impressively (11 pts, almost twice his season average) as Andrea Bargnani showed little to no interest in preventing Nazr from dominating the paint, the Italian had 4 rebounds in 28 minutes. I think people are starting to realize over time that Bargnani is flawed as a defensive player and pretty soon the bandwagon will be full. The offense was fine, he scored 11 points in a 7 minute stretch in the second quarter and was keeping the Raptors in it, but after that he only took 3 shots for the rest of the game. Somebody (Triano) explain that. I would also have liked to see Rasho be rewarded for a good performance by getting a few minutes, he at least showed enough to warrant a second look.
Marco Belinelli came in near the end of the first and started off with a nice dish to Amir, showing some good court vision again, but he was ultimately unable to make an impact as the jumper wasn’t falling and the transition opportunities just weren’t there (2-9 FG with 3 turnovers including a couple rejections). Those of you who think he is starting SG material, don’t skip over these performances on the way to your evaluations. Charlotte had 16 blocks on the night, each one more demoralizing than the previous one. The also had 13 steals and forced the Raptors into 15 turnovers. So much for Triano having ball-handling out there with Jack, Calderon and Turkoglu. Absolutely dominant defensive performance which could make a grown man cry.
Amir Johnson was the lone bright spot for the team in the second quarter as he had a couple put-backs and was visibly hustling on every possession (13/8 and 3 blocks for him). Andrea showed a little offensive diversity with a corner 3, a part of the court he rarely ventures to and I can’t explain why that is the case. The Raptors are terrible at defending offenses that swing the ball well to the opposite side, no one is reacting fast enough because the intensity is just not there – there is no will or want to defend. Some uncharacteristic Calderon and characteristic Jack turnovers led to another wave of fast breaks as Charlotte racked up the PINP (74-44 for the game) Again, there was no one even the vicinity off Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton and Stephen Jackson as they accelerated towards the Raptor rim – we just didn’t get back. Transition defense is a function of effort and since we didn’t put forth any, we got deservedly smoked. Inexcusable.
Hedo Turkoglu coudn’t handle Gerald Wallace. It wasn’t even close. Antoine Wright was marginally better, but whatever benefit he brings is washed out by a non-existent offensive game on an offensively struggling team (tonight). Wallace abusing him wore Turkoglu out and he had a bad game overall, zero impact and looked like he was asleep. You can’t have Jose, Jack and Turkoglu all struggling at the same time, those are key contributors for us and nights off from even two of them usually doesn’t bode well. Both point guards were just as bad as they were good yesterday. Calderon was passive and Jack couldn’t find his shot. Raymond Felton started abusing Calderon on drives which is crazy because Felton can’t throw a rock in the ocean and should be give ample space to try his miserable jumper. You could see his confidence growing as the quarter went on and the lead started to build. You make this offensively-retarded team (2nd worst in the league) believe they can score at will and they become more aggressive. The 31 point fast-break edge is almost historical in its disparity.
What bothers me is that if it was a matter if ability, it would be more palatable, but you can actually feel that the effort is not there at times. They think they can just outscore teams, it worked against the pathetic Pacers but when facing a decent defensive team, it’s not going to fly.
The 3rd quarter, like the second was bad. In fact, Charlotte was +9, +12 and +17 in the final three quarters. Defensively, they did anything they wanted. They tore the ball away from the Raptors and went off on numerous fast breaks as we helplessly watched. At one point in the 3rd the fast break margin was 33-6. Sometimes it felt like a fast break even though all our players back. On one play Gerald Wallace collected a pass and cut into the middle of the lane, gathered himself and tomahawked it down. The Raptors barely moved. Why is Wallace being allowed unimpeded through the middle of the lane? Why isn’t someone on him like white on rice? There is no physical presence which can hope to intimidate anyone on this team, maybe Evans but who knows when he’ll be back. You need to make things a little uncomfortable for the other guy, bump him in the lane, grab some shorts, show some ambition! It really did feel like a fast break point.
By the end of the 3rd it was an 18 point lead but it may as well have been 60, we didn’t look potent enough to threaten anything and the 4th was just more punishment. The Raptors cannot handle athletic, hustling teams. Memphis outhustled them as well and they looked to be a worse team “on paper”. You can argue that these Bobcats are worse on paper as well, but you can’t quantify effort on paper, and that’s what the real difference is. Tonight was a damning example of that.