Raptors bend but don’t break

Spurs 86, Raptors 91 – Box

After nursing a double-digit lead for most of the game, the Raptors made things nervous for everyone down the stretch but big plays from Bosh, Bargnani and Jack held the Spurs at bay. The defensive energy was more or less there for 48 minutes and the Spurs did their part in bailing out our 43% shooting by hitting 41%. There were times in this game where both teams looked out of sync and when Greg Popovic reluctantly called upon Tim Duncan to stir the Spurs’ rustic offense, the Raptors responded by not only increasing their defensive attention, but did one better by changing the tempo to a level which the Spurs don’t like playing.

The way Tony Parker started this game you wondered if Jarrett Jack would have a working ankle to stand on by the time the game ended. Parker’s hesitation-filled, drive intensive play was leaving the Raptors guard with a lot to think about. Not only wasn’t Parker scoring at will by easing himself into the paint using crossovers, quick usage of screens and blow-by quickness, he was setting up things for his bigs and wings. Parker had 13 in the first quarter and it’s a total shame that his mates could only get him 2 assists in the frame.

Parker’s play was affecting Jack’s offensive game as he looked to be deferring to just about anybody. He gave up the ball to Bosh and Bargnani in the high-post leaving his bigs to do the playmaking. Bosh fed Bargnani a sweet pass for two after the Italian was being fronted, but those plays were few and far between. Most of what we saw was Bosh settle for the jumper (10-24 FG) presented in great sincerity to him by the San Antonio defense. The effects of not having Hedo Turkoglu in there to guide Jack along were visible and deep down my appreciation for the Turk grew a little. Although both our bigs are rather poor at exploiting height mismatches, I’d say Bargnani is better than Bosh. He showed a bit of that in the first half as he backed down Blair and Jefferson for scores and overall tried to do the right thing by attacking where the Spurs’ bigs were vulnerable. The play where Bosh unsuccessfully tried to score on Jefferson in the post was a reminder at how vulnerable he is against quicker defenders despite having a height advantage. Bargnani’s flashes into the paint have improved and it’s good to see some of that work being rewarded, he had a poor shooting night of 5-16 but that becomes forgivable when you’re active on the glass and everyone watching the game can tell just how hard you’re trying. Also, he deserves special thanks to keeping that miserable three-point streak alive.

DeMar DeRozan’s aggressive early play deserves mention, he took Bogans off the dribble for an And1 and then pushed the issue on a break. Throw in a baseline jam after a good cut and you got yourself energy and 7 points. He picked up three fouls by the second quarter but Triano didn’t react by the book by giving him the hook, he left him in there and got rewarded by a hoop. The slow first quarter tempo suited the aging Spurs far more than the Raptors and if the game had been played at that pace, we would’ve lost to their experience. The bench came in late in the first quarter and changed everything; the lineup of Banks, Belinelli, Weems, Johnson and Bargnani caused turnovers and increased the urgency on offense. This change of play caught the Spurs by surprise and their transition defense during the stretch was poor. Banks’ offensive play (4-5 FG) was nothing short of shocking, his drive against Hill for the reverse layup blew my mind. Pure and simple. I’m typing this in disbelief but the man looks like he belongs as a third-string point guard. Belinelli didn’t have a field goal but took it right at the Spurs defense in transition and got himself 7 FTs out of it, Weems did the same and did a good job of recognizing that the jumper wasn’t there tonight and only hoisted 3 shots. His assist to an otherwise ineffective Amir Johnson was a thing of beauty. The second unit was largely responsible for our 22-9 edge in fastbreak points.

The introduction of Duncan off the bench didn’t have a say in the game until a brief stretch in the fourth. He struggled going 8-22 FG and came up short in several key possessions when the Spurs were knocking hard. Last time around the Spurs had burned us using their drive ‘n kick sets and they tried the same with Tony Parker and George Hill. However, this time around the Raptors were coy to the ploy and didn’t cheat off their wings, and instead chose to send help from the middle. Tighter, shorter interior rotations combined with contested outside shots resulted in the Spurs going only 4-13 3FG, 3 makes below their season average and 7 less than what they made last time against us.

By the time Duncan got going the Raptors had built a healthy 40-27 lead and Jack was starting to find himself, a few drives right at the Spurs bigs got him back in the game. He got an And1 against McDyess and soon found Bosh with a gorgeous no-look for two, the Raptors were clicking. There was effort in the overall team defense and the individual play was sound; Bargnani’s man-defense on Duncan was solid all game (the dunk in his face quite an exclamation mark), Belinelli and Banks were hounding their checks and wasting valuable ticks off the shot-clock which threw the Hill-led second unit off on quite a few occasions. All this led to the Spurs going 8:40 without a field goal in the first half and the Raptors went into halftime with a well-deserved 48-34 lead.

Both teams were on a back-to-back situation and the Spurs showed it more. Their threes were short, their guards only looked to truly exploit their quickness in the first quarter and during the fourth quarter run. I’m not sure if this is the Spurs being in cruise-control or just playing, dare I say, lazy basketball. I tend to think the Raptors’ effort level and dedication to playing defense caught them by surprise, especially given how the first game went.

Other than Jack continuing his aggressive play from the second quarter, the third was a pain to watch. The Raptors settled for way too many jumpers and the 3Q shot-chart reflects that. The Spurs tried to get Manu Ginobili going in this frame by running him off of multiple screens and curls but the Raptors held the schemer to only 2-9 FG. Wright also did a good job of not falling for his shoulder-fakes and he only went to the line 3 times, a far cry from the 14-16 FT earlier in the year. Wright (I cringe every time he dribbles) also had two pretty good drives for four points in the third but I’d still rather just see him pass the ball.

The Spurs offense went through Parker early in the third (just like the first quarter) and Duncan for the rest of the quarter, I felt they used Duncan too much and should’ve just milked Parker who we had no answer for. It was a quarter of missed opportunities for both sides, the Spurs only shaved 2 points off the Raptors lead despite our poor shooting. On the other hand, the Raptors had the chance to put the hammer down against the lethargic Spurs but settled for a 12 point lead going into the fourth because of offensive execution lacking ball-movement or any sort of true direction.

It wasn’t till the final quarter that the Spurs guardplay as a whole became problematic, Ginobili and Hill’s penetration gave them some momentum early but the real killers were the Raptors turnovers. We had 5 turnovers in a 3:17 stretch (including a classic Bosh-Butterfingers one) and thanks need to be given to a huge Bargnani three which relieved the pressure when the Spurs were making their charge. They went down to Tim Duncan who was being defended brilliantly by Bargnani but still managed to get 5 crucial points late on. The Raptors offense wasn’t pretty and on another night things could’ve easily turned sour; relying on Bosh isos 20 feet out is never a thing of surety and I would’ve liked to see Jack and Belinelli take a little more charge. The Spurs were showing help against Bosh from the weak-side on every touch and the Raptors didn’t have the motivation to either make a skip pass to the open guy on the corner or go top-corner for a clean look at three. As I said, with Hedo Turkoglu out, these things are somewhat expected.

The experienced Spurs had cut it down to three with less than a minute and with the Raptors desperately needing to score, they gave it to Bosh who didn’t settle for the offered jumper, but drove it right at Duncan for two and the game.

It’s a solid win in a back-to-back situation against a very good team, no idea why the same defensive effort was lacking the night before in Boston. I suppose that’s the reason why most people pick this team to be around .500. Next up is a trip to Orlando to face a team that has kicked our ass three times. Hedo Turkoglu should return from being “under the weather” and it will be the Raptors’ toughest test in three weeks. Let’s see how they fare.

We got a Flipbook coming your way later.

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