Solid team win against a club that was looking to avenge an earlier defeat. Good to see the Raptors get tested in the fourth quarter of a close game and come out on top, we haven’t had that kind of a result since the win in Washington. A string of tight games where the offense is tested and the defense is called upon is what the Raptors need to build confidence and Sunday afternoon was just that. It was far from a perfect performance but it was gritty, disciplined and thus effective. Contributions from the bench were sought and received, but the major neutralizer just might’ve been Jarrett Jack’s effort against a gimpy Chris Paul.
Let’s get a Hornets blog’s take on Chris Paul’s 40 minutes:
I’m a little confused by Jeff Bower’s use of Chris Paul at times. Yes, I know he’s a top 3 talent in the league, but the man is fighting an ankle injury, comes up gimpy in the second quarter, and they still played him 40 minutes. It was also obvious it was bothering Paul too. No explosions into the paint, several mid range jumpers rather than drives, and his defense was atrocious in the second half as any determined drive to the basket would lose him. It was an ugly game for him – 10 points on 13 shots, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, a steal and five turnovers. Basically, he played like Jason Kidd.
Yes, he was gimpy but full credit to Jarrett Jack for taking it right to him and making him feel gimpy. His bum ankle isn’t an advantage until somebody takes advantage of it and Jarrett Jack specifically looked to push Paul in transition which drew my applause. Some might disagree with me on this, but the ball moves much, much better out there with Jack than Calderon. He gets into the offense earlier and initiates action with a purpose, he also seems to defer to Turkoglu more. The first play of the game was a great example of how simple the game can be for Turkoglu/Bosh, a simple pick ‘n roll leading to a dunk.
We jumped out on the Hornets right out of the gates 14-6 and that set the tone for the afternoon. West scored on Bosh inside but the latter responded with points of his own; with Jack taking it to Paul and Hedo looking to create and be assertive, things were looking alright. DeRozan was being cut-up by Leo Rautins for taking some mid-range jumpers which I thought was unfair, if your SG is being sagged on, he needs to make him the defense pay. His jumper misses were rim-outs and by no means did he just stick to the perimeter, but instead mixed up his game well on his way to 5-8 FG for 10 points. However, in that first quarter his poor defense on Devin Brown’s back-cuts cost us 4 points and killed some of our momentum.
A 26-22 first quarter lead was deserved but something had to be done about David West’s scoring who was proving to be a tough cover for the frailer Bosh, I thought we should’ve at least tried Bargnani on him so he could take away his jump-hook, a most deadly weapon. There was an early pattern developing, the Raptors were getting away by leaving shooters open. The Raptors’ collapse and recover defense fares well against teams that can’t make them pay for helping and the Hornets are one of those teams. They went 3-21 from three (39% from field) today and missed very good looks from the corners, I get a feeling that the game might’ve had a distinctly different feel if Peja and Posey had shot better than 2-11.
The benches played the usual early second quarter and the Raptors held their own. Amir Johnson was giving Songaila trouble with his length and collected rebounds at an alarming pace (12 in 22 minutes). He ran the break hard and twice gave his PGs passing options, I know Triano’s been wanting to increase the tempo of the game and Johnson, more than others, gets the message. He did have trouble coming out to play Songaila at times, but overall it was a solid effort. Banks didn’t try to do too much, even took Paul off a screen to the rim for two only for his defense to let him down and not pick him up on the other end. He was being physical enough with Paul for the latter to constantly complain to the refs about him. On offense, he rightfully deferred to Hedo. That’s all we ask. Triano spoke about Banks:
“The one thing Marcus can do is defend. When he is in the game we try and let Turk run a lot of the offence from the point-forward position. Marcus can guard point guards and even tonight Chris Paul tried to post him up a couple of times in the third and Marcus was very strong and did a good job holding his ground. He has been taking advantage of the chances he has to play right now, he stays ready, he works out all the time and is ready to go.”
Sonny Weems only had two points in the second quarter but his help and man defense on Paul and the pesky Thornton was huge in that 14-2 run which restored the Raptor advantage. Thornton had come off the bench to give the Hornets a lift and Weems provided a good counter. Okafor’s offensive rebounding was a problem as he made us pay every time we missed a defensive rotation. After watching the tape a couple times, I deem Turkoglu to be the guilty party, not Bargnani, who is supposed to make the unexplainable rotation. The constant dribble penetration by Jack and some herky-jerky hesitation stuff from Turkoglu always got the Raptors a shot they couldn’t complain with, and it was during this stretch that Bargnani knocked down an open three, Johnson made a solid post move, Bosh got two in the paint and Jack caught the defense napping in transition for an easy two. The Raptors had gone through a mid-second quarter lull but recovered by upping their energy. 51-47 at the half.
The defense wasn’t great but relatively speaking, it was. Bargnani’s interior rotations were solid, Jack kept Paul from getting into the paint and picking out open options. Yes, Paul’s bounce passes to Okafor, West and Brown on soft PnRs and back-cuts hurt us, but the man was far from dominating the game. Fact is that the Hornets don’t have great wing options who can test DeRozan, Weems or even Belinelli in one-on-one situations and once Paul was neutralized, scoring got harder for them. Their over-reliance and dependence on Chris Paul was highlighted by our Hornets ESPN TrueHoop colleague a while ago and much of it remains true.
It was more of the same to start the third until Peja Stojakovic knocked down some shots he was missing in the first (one prompting this ridiculous call by Devlin). The quarter also featured Bargnani clawing a couple in-traffic rebounds down (11 for the game), hitting a three set up by Turkoglu and executing a beautiful drive to the rim. He struggled with his outside jumper but he did mix his game up well, I thought he battled hard for post-positioning early but didn’t get the ball when he had managed to secure territory. When he did get it, though, he scored efficiently and confidently in the post. He’s developing a soft hook from the 5-7 feet range which could/should be his bread and butter, not his three.
Stojakovic’s outburst and Okafor’s paint presence got the Hornets back in the game at 67-64 at the 5:07 mark of the third but just like the Raptors had done in the second, they ended the third with a bang. The energy crew of DeRozan, Weems and Jack provided the punch as Weems and DeRozan scored 10 points in a 12-2 Raptors run to end the third. Weems looks poised and confident out there, he’s turned out to be a better, more athletic defender than Belinelli, is proving to have a softer offensive game and is simply more aggressive. The fourth quarter steal he had off an inbounds pass shows his court awareness; haven’t seen a Raptor make a play like that in a long time. Right now, he is head and shoulders above Belinelli and Wright (DNP-CD), the former got in the game but an ill-advised deep three caused him to fall out of favor with the coach. Triano’s going with the hot hand and not sticking to a preconceived idea of a set rotation, I suppose when you have a team as inconsistent as this that’s your only choice.
Triano chose to leave the bench in there for the fourth, Jack didn’t replace Banks till the 4:50 mark and Weems played the full fourth quarter. Both teams missed everything for a 2:38 stretch in the fourth quarter – 7:58 to 5:22. This was the chance for the Raptors to extend their 7 point lead into something more substantial and the Hornets to close the gap, neither took advantage and we escaped a cold spell unscathed. Chris Bosh had six turnovers in the game, his early ones didn’t come back to bite us but the ones in the fourth quarter did. Paul knicked him for a steal and he lost the ball on a couple drives which were converted to points. It took the buzz out of the game for the Raptors and gave real life to the Hornets, who moments earlier despite being down only 6-9 seemed out of gas on offense.
I’ve already mentioned Bargnani’s great interior rotations, but two help situations stand out in particular. A block on a driving Chris Paul and another close-range denial of David West, surely saving the Raptors four points while kick-starting transition offense.
The turning point came when Bargnani, with the Raptors up 92-90 with 1:20 to play and just following a Bosh turnover and a missed Jack three (good decision, he was open), had his pass picked off by Stojakovic who missed the layup with the Hornets collecting the offensive rebound. West couldn’t supply a fairly simple finish and Devin Brown got called for the loose ball foul on Turkoglu. The Turk knocked down two FTs for a huge four point swing. Paul got two FTs and then came the pressure possession with 1:05 left, some great drive and kick action by Turkoglu resulted in Jack being open in the corner, he waited for the defense to come to him before swinging it to Bargnani who got a clean look at a three from the left wing, he missed but Bosh got a tremendous offensive rebound amongst three Hornets to lay it in. The Hornets at 18 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points, but it was the Raptors that got the board and the put-back when it counted most.
The hopes of going 5-0 against five under .500 opponents remains alive.
There’s also the Roll Call and some pretty pictures later. The podcast is postponed, we’ll try to make it up on Tuesday.