That darned thing you called “effort”, pretty underrated eh?
After what could be described as one of the low points in this franchise’s history, and a subsequent closed door meeting where all the the dirty laundry was aired out, the Toronto Raptors scratched and clawed their way to a 109 – 107 overtime victory. While it was great to see this level of play, especially defensively, it confirms many a fans suspicions that the intensity just wasn’t there for the majority of our games this season. Better late than never, I guess.
After the closed door meeting, Jay Triano mentioned that “0 – 3” changes would take place in the starting lineup. Swapping out 3 starters would be too much of a change to implement right away. Who deserved most to be relegated to the Bench? Probably Andrea Bargnani. Who deserved to be moved to the starting lineup? Probably Amir Johnson. In the end Triano did nothing, which is a pretty infuriating move. It propagates the notion that Triano does not have the cajones to coach an NBA basketball team. Most now assume that Jarrett Jack’s tirade about “sensitive” players was directed towards Bargnani. This most likely seems to be the case. Triano probably felt that, by pulling Bargnani, he would be confirming that he sides with Jack (and others) on this issue. The coach is too concerned about AB’s feelings and/or confidence it seems. Either that or he feels that Bargnani should be given a chance to re-affirm himself with this new air of accountability that now seems to exist.
In any case, there was definitely an extra spring in the Raptors’ step to open the game. They jumped out to a 10 – 0 run to start the game. Many of us must have forgotten what a good run looks like, because it involves not letting the other team score for an extended period of time. There was a tangible difference in the effort on the defensive end. Players were moving, lunging at shot attempts, there was that energy that good defensive teams possess on that end. That kind of effort is contagious, and it translates to a better tempo and a better effort on offense as well.
Jose got off to his customary energetic start, pushing the ball, and even force-feeding it to DeMar DeRozan on the break. Don’t know why Calderon can’t play uptempo for more that the first 5 min of a game. Still, he had a good game. He shot the ball well, and snuck in for a couple of layups. He struggled at times guarding the 5’5″ wonder, Earl Boykins, but who doesn’t? It’s like a center guarding a quick shooting shooting guard if you think about it.
Jarrett Jack was fired up tonight. He was brought into the game near the 9 minute mark of the first, and he struggled guarding Boykins as well, maybe even more than Calderon did. He had a lacklustre start to the second quarter, letting the Wizards back in the game after building a 10 point lead in the first quarter. You can sense Jack is in some ways feeling the pressure after a day of finger pointing. He now needs to lead by example, and he may have been trying too hard early in the game. His offense struggled most of the game. In overtime, however, it was a different story. Jack came up with a big steal on Boykins and hounded him on every possession. Gilbert Arenas did go off for 34, but the points he scored on Jack were mostly of the deep 3 variety. When Arenas is going off like that, he’s a tough guard for anyone. There was fire is JJ’s eyes after the big steal. He may be a backup, but he just became one of the leaders on this team. Maybe he’s the Charles Oakley that Raptor fans have been yearning for over the last few years.
Hedo Turkoglu sealed the deal with a tough fadeaway jumper with 8 seconds to go in OT. He played one of his better game as a Raptor, and provided the late game finish that fans have been craving for. He ran a well-executed pick-and-roll with Bosh near the end of regulation, which is what we should be seeing a lot more of in those situations. Defensively, he made a big play with 30 seconds left, ripping the ball away from Boykins, who had just grabbed his 8th (!) rebound of the game. He did miss a deep 3 at the end of regulation on a pretty lame play call, but he hit almost the same shot in overtime with 2 minutes to go, putting the Raps up 106 – 102. His intensity was up, and you get the feeling that he was just as fed up as some of the other players on this team were.
The performer of the first half was DeMar DeRozan. I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer that this kid is going to be a player in this league. Building off his performance in the Atlanta game, he scored all of his 16 points in the first half. Triano actually decided to bring him back in early in the second quarter, and he made the most of it. He continued to show that he can get to the line, using his quickly improving ballhandling skills to get to the rim. His ballhandling was the one thing that he would need to succeed, and it looks like it’s coming around nicely. His shot is still in need of improvement, but that’s the one thing that improves with repetition. He already looks like a much more well rounded player than he did at USC. On one play, Bargnani posted up on the right block and found a streaking DeRozan for a quick dunk. It brought a tear to my eye. Bargs was where a center is supposed to be, creating space for our guard, and he finds him for an easy bucket. That’s how basketball is supposed to be played. This team looks so much more complete with legit guard play. DD’s energy level was great as well. His effort had been there all season, but he took it to another level tonight, feeding off his veteran counterparts. Until tonight, it was a dangerous environment for a rookie to develop in. You don’t want him to develop bad habits early on in his career, and continue to propagate the culture of resignation that is creeping into this franchise.
All that being said, DeRozan was absent in the second half. This falls on Triano. Hardly any touches in the 3rd quarter and then he was on the bench for the rest of the game. I realize it’s a trust issue, but it’s not like we were winning without him out there in the 4th. Jay went back to the two-guard lineup in the 4th, which has been just awful so far, whether Jarrett Jack likes to admit or not. Look, I understand you don’t want to play a rookie at critical moments of the game, but you have to have someone who can drive and possibly finish at the rim. Quite honestly, that guy is DeRozan on this team. Already. So DeRozan played less than I’d have liked, and Andrea Bargnani played a lot more then he should have.
All eyes were on Bargs tonight. I’ll admit that I found myself watching him constantly throughout the game, watching his movement, watching his expressions. In the first quarter, you could tell he was busting his ass. He fell trying to body players inside. He got called for a 3-second violation, a rarity for him. We saw him grab a rebound off his own miss, another rarity. We saw him sweat. He posted up consistently, and it was a welcome sight. Il Mago has good passing instincts, and you see that skill ome out when he posts up. Reminds me of Brad Miller during Sacramento’s heyday. It all went away in the second half, unfortunately. Let’s hope it wasn’t a one game thing. You could tell he was getting tired, he struggled to run back sometimes. That’s going to happen when you put more effort in, and it will probably mean that he won’t be able to handle as many minutes, but Jay Triano hasn’t realized that yet. It almost felt like Bargs struggled with the elevated level of play of his teammates. His offense struggled as a result, as he got blocked a few times trying to take the ball inside. He is still not effective enough to score inside on a consistent basis, and he may never be that kind of offensive player. He shot horribly, but hit some big buckets at the end of the game. I still feel that he tries to compensate for his other weaknesses by putting up good shooting numbers. All it does in the end is prove that he is a one-dimensional player. Have to applaud the effort, though. Let’s see if he can keep it up, and more importantly, if any action is taken if he doesn’t.
Lastly, Chris Bosh. What else can you say? Last night was an example of how there is no comparison between this man and Andrea Bargnani. His effort and domination on the boards, many a times cleaning up AB’s misses clearly show that. We are a bad team in spite of Chris Bosh, not despite him. He carried the team on his back, and even came up big in the 4th quarter. He’s not built to take over in the 4th, most post players are not, but his sheer will and determination was inspirational to watch. If his teammates bring even half the effort he brings night to night, success will follow this team.