At least November’s over

That’s the kind of inspired defense the Raptors should be playing.
Suns 113, Raptors 94 – Box

We can’t play defense because we don’t know how to play defense. There’s little anybody can do to teach us defense because defense doesn’t work that way. There’s no prosthetic for laziness and indifference which is what we’re seeing on 80% of the possessions. I’d subscribe to the “defense needs time to gel” argument if there was something there that could actually gel, but when you have two poor defensive players in Turkoglu and Calderon out there with average or below-average defenders like Bosh and Bargnani, 30th in the league sounds pretty reasonable. If it doesn’t, consider we’re playing a defensive scheme that is stretching the hell out of our players. Let’s leave defense alone, I’m used to the team letting me down there, what about our offense? Our 9M/yr PG let Steve Nash off the hook, our 10M/yr free-agent signing was invisible for 3/4 the game, we were 5% from three, and were reduced to one-on-one play. That is unexpected.

Were you one of those people who thought that since we lost by one on the road we’d surely win at home? Oh you were, well, you failed to realize that this Raptors team (like last year’s) puts out varying levels of effort depending on variables nobody has quite figured out. One thing was consistent early though, Triano switching on Nash/Amare and having a big guard Nash. I wasn’t a big fan of the strategy two weeks ago and I remain unconvinced. The only reason it worked last time was because Phoenix was a bit lazy moving the ball around and missed some pretty good looks, in that game their wings made 1 three, today they made 7. Also not a fan of conceding the advantage inside (Amare 8-10 again after going 10-15 last time) while having your bigs at the mercy of Nash. Bargnani, Bosh and Johnson were all giving him space on the switch and he was still either blowing by them or hitting jumpers – what gives?

I honestly think that simple man-defense and simple switching (1/2, 2/3 and 4/5) is the only scheme this group can play. That or zone. The idea of helping preemptively is killing us, Nash made at least three cross-court skip passes which made a weak-side defender pay for cheating over to the strong side without cause. We seem to have have this zonal switching policy that sees us switch when an offensive player moves to a different part of the court, usually when dropping down and cutting across the lane. You might remember Hedo yelling (apparently correctly) at Bargnani for not picking his man up when the replay showed that it made no sense for Bargnani to be guarding Hedo’s man. At least to me.

Phoenix anticipated Triano’s little switch strategy and went to work quickly: immediate lob pass into post leaving defender with little time to resist and the help with even less time to help. Easy buckets followed. Hedging on the PnR also wasn’t working because Nash was splitting the Raptors duo to find Amare going to the rim; with their efficient PnR working in either situation, the Raptors were already in trouble. The first time the Raptors successfully defended this play after a switch was at 3:54 of the 2nd quarter when Amir Johnson doubled Channing Frye hard after a PG had switched on him. The double came from the weak-side and left Frye with a very tough pass to find a shooter cross-court.

The Raptors were running their own PnR with moderate success, Phoenix’s defense wasn’t very good either and Calderon made some nice passes to the bigs going towards the rim. Bargnani’s head was into the game (24pts, 7rebs) and he mixed it up by hitting a three early and then having a go at Frye and Lopez on a few drives. He had 12 first quarter points (4-8 FG) and made-up for the struggling Bosh, despite that the Raptors were down 8 after the first. Why? Well, Phoenix shooting 65% might have something to do with it or maybe it had to do with the Raptors shooting 33%.

Let’s talk about passive/aggressive. DeRozan early was aggressive, he ran the break, swept across the lane and forced his teammates to look for him. He had 8 in the first quarter and was making Richardson chase him around the gym, his defense isn’t great but part of me is thinking he’s as lost as you and I when it comes to figuring out what the Raptors are supposed to be playing. It pisses me off how Jose Calderon let Nash off the hook tonight, he got outplayed in every way imaginable. He made his only field goal at 6:20 of the third quarter when it was a 13 point game. Before that he didn’t even attempt making Nash play any sort of defense, I don’t think Nash broke a sweat on D other then when Jack was going at him.

Nash is a perfect instance of the old adage of the best defense being a great offense – wear him out and he’ll have less of an impact on the game. Calderon didn’t do any of that and Nash quarterbacked and picked apart the Raptors to the tune of 20 points and 16 assists. We need more from Calderon, both offensively and defensively, and we need him to be a lot more consistent. Look at his last 6 points/assist games: 5/10, 16/4, 21/7, 6/8, 9/4 and today’s 2/7. If he can’t be a high percentage 15 ppg scorer, a consistent three point threat and an opportunistic assist man, he’s dead to me. The standards for him are higher than when he was a backup and I’m not sure anybody holds him to it. Actually, I should correct myself, Leo Rautins was indirectly ripping him a new one by praising Jack’s insistence on taking Nash to the hoop. AltRaps thought Calderon was tired from guarding Stoudemire on the switch, I don’t buy it.

If the first quarter was about Bargnani, the second was all about Bosh – 16pts and 9rebs in the second quarter, 30pts and 16rebs for the game. He was 7-10 in the quarter and as great as it was watching him to hard at Frye and Amare, it was equally painful to see our offense so stagnant and lazy that they just wanted to do the easy thing and dump the ball down to Bosh. Those who think he’s padding his stats might enjoy this analysis. The second unit’s defense was again pretty damn good, other than Jack being broken down by Goran Dragic a couple times, the defensive effort was there and to be admired. Amir Johnson (I was wrong about him) expending energy on both ends, running back down the floor to get a block in transition, and even Belinelli was fighting through those Phoenix screens effectively. Barbosa lit us up a little but overall, our defense was much better, maybe it had to do with Nash being on the bench and Jack pressuring Dragic enough that their PnR didn’t runs so smoothly.

The score at the half was 50-49 for Phoenix, the second unit had given us a lift and Bosh and Bargnani had kept us in it offensively. Our heavy dependence on one-on-one play was concerning but you hoped that our starters would pick it up defensively and our effort would be better in the second half. Hedo Turkolgu was 1-4 with 0 assists at the half and a complete liability against Hill and Richardson, he looked slow, lazy and was overall terrible. Did we overpay for him? Yes, but we already knew that. I still think Triano needs to run the offense through him much more and as we saw in the second half at times, he can actually score, you know. Phoenix’s percentage fell to 53% and the Raptors were up to 39%. Not great by any means but at least a hot Bosh/Bargnani and a cold Phoenix meant that this was still a game.

That foul on Bosh. It wasn’t a flagrant by any means and even though it was more than your average foul, I’m not sure this was one where a “reaction” was needed or sought from the team. I thought it was absolutely hilarious that Devlin was pretending that the Raptors had somehow reacted differently than to how they did in Boston. To me the reaction was the exact same – indifference and mild interest. Note to Iavaroni: You don’t need to hold the bench back, they wouldn’t come out to cut the nets if we won the championship.

Another hilarious Toronto bullshit media moment. Elliotte Friedman reports that the Suns all wanted their video guy to cue up the Bosh/Pierce incident so they could see if the Raptors were pussies or not. He then posed a stupid question to Nash at halftime regarding the incident and Nash was like, “I have no idea what happened on Friday”. I don’t say this much but….LOL!!!

Onto the second half and after allowing a 33 point first quarter, we allowed a 34 point third. We gave up a 16-4 run which I blame firstly on the players for coming out as if they were in a haze and leaving Frye, Hill and Richardson wide open for back-breaking threes. Jose Calderon was brutal in this period, couldn’t get his own offense going, couldn’t set up shots for his teammates, conceded everything to Nash on defense and wasted chunks of time off the shot-clock leaving the tail end of it for Bargnani and Bosh to chuck up contested 1-on-1 shots. Hedo Turkoglu did not even attempt a shot in this stretch which is unexplainable and something Colangelo is bound to note. The transition defense suffered as well as Phoenix ran it back make-or-miss, we were slow to pick up our checks in transition and Phoenix barely had to make two passes before they found an open shooter. Classic Raptors D.

Secondly, I blame Triano for once again not calling a timeout until the team was down 17 points. How do you let a 1 point deficit turn into 17 without calling a timeout in between? As I said after the Boston game, this team needs serious hand-holding to get through tough times and Triano’s completely wrong in his thinking that the players can pick each other up and find their way. He needs to do some, you know, coaching. I thought he should’ve inserted Jack and Johnson much earlier in the third quarter since those two were bringing the most defensive energy offensive enthusiasm, both of which we desperately lacked.

After being down 17, the Raptors went on a 9-2 run, Hedo finally drove the ball to the rim and got a three-point play out of it, Jack took Nash to the rim again for two and Bargnani attacked for a dunk. Three things that should’ve been happening all game long, not sure why our PGs didn’t attack theirs every chance and no idea why Hedo was so invisible. You have to look at coaching here, Triano should’ve communicated to his PGs and team that Hedo needs to be more involved, maybe even run some high-screens for him against Dudley who has little chance of staying with him. This little spurt meant we were down only 8, could we finally hold the defense to something like a 20 point quarter and win this game?


We gave up 29 points in the fourth and scored only 18. It started nice enough with another Hedo three-point play but after that things went south as Phoenix went on an 8-2 run to push it to 11. Hedo was being aggressive but the defense was up to task as Phoenix collapsed to slow him down. This Phoenix team, unlike previous versions, can play defense in spots so they could be a threat in the playoffs this year. The Raptors offense tried to keep up and finally started moving the ball, they got rewarded by getting clean looks at threes which Belinelli and Jack just couldn’t knock down. Belinelli got burned by Barbosa on a key hoop and couldn’t provide any offense or playmaking, he’s basically in ‘famine’ mode these days. His last five games P/R/A: 0/3/0, 5/0/0, 7/0/2, 11/2/3, 4/0/4. Yeah, he’s struggling. When you get that kind of production from him and another 0-4 from Wright, two key bench players, you will shoot 39% from the game.

Worst of all, we ended up going 1-20 from three and our most potent offensive weapons of Bosh and Bargnani combined to go only 1-6 in the final quadrant. Those missed Jack threes really hurt and I felt if they had gone down the team might’ve played a little more inspired down the stretch. It’s a bad loss and we’re four games under .500. At some point this team needs to figure out what kind of defense to play, one that doesn’t ask too much of the players but at the same time is reliable enough to be 18-23 in the league or so. Triano, ball’s in your court. Iavaroni too, he’s supposed to be a defensive specialist, right? It will be very interesting to see how the team approaches three winnable games this week, anything less than 3-1 will be a disappointment.

I’m trying to stay positive. We’re 7-11, the December schedule is slightly easier and we need to go 10-5 or 11-4, taking us to a couple games over .500 by the new year. We’re 10th in the conference right now and the record doesn’t bother me, the defense does.

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