If you’re going to blow 18 point fourth quarter leads, the least you could do is win the game and save yourself the blushes. As the Magic were making that furious fourth quarter run, all you could think of was what a shame it would be if the Raptors lost this after the phenomenal effort and dedication they had showed for 3 1/2 quarters. The team had never looked crisper and more sure of themselves as they did last night as they played both ends of the floor and frustrated the Magic into submission in front of a home crowd that grew impatient by the minute. The Magic made their run but in the end justice was served as the Raptors earned themselves a great road win and avoided the season sweep. Yes, the Magic were on a back-to-back and playing their 4th game in 6 nights, but the Raptors know all too well what that’s like.
The game plan for the struggling Magic was simple – go down to what’s tried, tested and true. They went to Howard on literally every possession in the first and he gave them 9 of their first 12 points. Bargnani did as well a job as you can on him in single-coverage and came up on the short end of the stick on the fouls yet again. Three of his six fouls was rubbish calls made only because defenders usually foul Howard in those situations, the officials need to actually see the play and not make judgments based on how things “usually” go. Other than Howard, the Magic movement was good with quick cuts being made every time Nelson or Lewis held the ball at the wing. The Raptors defense wasn’t shabby either, in fact, we were highly active as evidenced by the sheer number of deflections we had in the game. The Magic scored 27 in the first quarter but they didn’t come easy, the Raptors played sound energetic defense and forced the Magic into shots the Raptors wanted them to take. They just made them.
On offense, the sets were crisp, purposeful and enthusiastically executed. There was an effort being made to get Bargnani involved and hopefully get him to pick up some fouls against Howard, it didn’t happen but a good try by Triano. Bargnani was missing everything early but they were, what we consider for him, good shots. He had a couple flashes into the lane followed by short jumpers, a trailing three, a spot-up jumper but couldn’t convert. The ball movement was absolutely rock solid and led to Antoine Wright nailing a couple jumpers off the bench and DeMar DeRozan moving well to find the open spot on the floor to unleash dead-eye jumpers. On all his jumpers tonight (6-7 FG, the lone miss was in and out) he had his feet set, was squared up, had a high release, eyes-locked, and followed through properly even in the face of pressure. They were all mid-range jumpers created because of good floor spacing and his willingness to step in from the three-point line and make himself available to his PG. 5 of his 6 jumpers were assisted which was the theme of the night as the Raptors collected 31 dimes on the night. Triano spoke of the strategy to get DeRozan open:
We showed some things on video tape where he might be open. They were going to double Chris Bosh in the low block and they were doubling off DeMar last time. We thought they might do that again and they did; we showed him on video tape where he might be able to go get open looks.
The Magic’s four point first quarter lead was short-lived as Jose Calderon came off the bench as Jack gave way. Jose’s obviously picked up a few things by watching Jack as he maintained the frenetic pace set by his predecessor. Quick-thinking aggressive offense encourages player movement and he had Turkoglu, Bargnani, Johnson and Bosh all on their toes early with his quick-hitting passes off the high-screens. He had 8 assists on the night and 6 of them were to Bosh and Bargnani off the high screen; he had a very good command of the two-man game and his play leading up the pass was very deliberate and measured. The Raptors went on a great early second quarter run where it seemed they scored within the first 14 seconds of the shot-clock every time. Turkoglu’s long-distance shot was on (3-4 3FG) and Jose himself nailed a three and a spot-up jumper to keep Nelson close, and the pressure on the Magic. The defense lapsed a little but the Magic were unable to make us pay by missing what they consider clean looks from three (they were 9-31, we were 9-20).
Belinelli came off the bench to knock down a jumper off a curl as part of that exquisitely executed second quarter and when Brandon Bass tried to D him up, he took him off the dead-dribble to the rim for two. However, the second belonged to Bargnani who had 10 points and was giving Gortat and Howard something to think about by playing on diverse spots on the floor. All this while holding his own on the glass against Howard, the 8 rebounds are nice but I wish the boxscore reflect the way he boxed out tonight. Suffice to say that 35-35 rebounding number is as much Bargnani’s doing as any other Raptors. The latter parts of the second quarter saw the Raptors fatigue a little and the offense become stagnant, but when the jumper is working those ills have quick remedies. Jack and Turkoglu hit big bailout shots which had the Magic looking towards the skies for answers. The Magic were held to one field goal in the final 4:43 of the quarter as the Raptors defense collapsed on Howard, played very tight on the perimeter and did a superb job of negotiating Orlando screens. Other than Redick hitting a couple jumpers off Howard screens, the Raptors came off unscathed. Triano on Bargnani’s play:
Andrea did an outstanding job on Dwight. He made him work all game. We tried not to double at any point, we wanted to make him score, make him work to score. I thought Andrea did a real good job of playing him by himself and forcing him to take tough shots and keep him off the glass.
62% shooting at the half gets you a 9 point halftime lead on the road even though your All-Star is struggling, and Bosh did struggle. In fact, other than his rebounding he did everything in his power to help us lose the game. Six turnovers, countless strips, terrible shooting decisions and a failure to exploit Howard using his quickness. Triano on Bosh:
Chris has to be better. He didn’t have one of his better games and we survived that. Is said that to him inside, there’s a lot of times you carry this team, this time the team carried you.
We were fortunate that every other starter was in double-digits, otherwise there would’ve been some serious questions asked of Bosh. There’s nothing more painful to watch in the Raptors offense than when Bosh is given the ball at the high-post and every other Raptor stands still, as was the case in the fourth quarter. When the Raptors offense is functioning properly there is a two-man game going between a PG and a big, the SG or SF is trying to get open as the other big gets into rebounding position and sets screens on the weak side. For most of the game we were in that mode and only when the fourth quarter came and DeRozan and Belinelli were sent to the bench in order for the Jack/Calderon/Turkoglu trio to be given another shot, did we struggle.
In fairness to Bosh, the Magic did send a second guy to either double or show every time, it’s just that when he did get the ball in those situations he took too long to read what was going on. It must be said that it’s easy criticizing a player’s court-awareness when watching on TV with a panoramic view of the action, reading defenses and recognizing opportunities under pressure is difficult. This is a part of Bosh’s game that has always been a weak point and one of the major criticisms of making him a centerpiece. Nice no-look to Turkoglu for the jam, though.
The third was more of the same, DeRozan knocked down three jumpers here and once again, the ball movement was flawless. There were possessions here and there where the rock got stuck, but as I said, we were hitting our bailout shots so it didn’t seem too bad. The story to me was the Magic shot-selection – very poor. Vince took some brutal shots and got sent to the bench, Redick launched a few contested shots against Belinelli and DeRozan, and the Magic tried to desperately shoot themselves back in the game from long-range. Howard only attempted three shots in the quarter, give credit to Bargnani for denying him ideal position and the Raptors team-defense to sending timely help. Early in the first they had had great success with Howard, not so after that, it also felt like he let his team’s poor play get to him and took his foot off the pedal. Maybe it’s a back-to-back thing?
You remember Vince laughing on the bench when the Raptors were losing in his later years? Well, it’s happening again and now that he’s on another team, Jack Armstrong finally said something about it. Download audio or click play button below.[audio:http://raptorsrepublic.com/audio/clips/2010-01-06-JackArmstrongOnVinceCarterLaughing.mp3]
Closing out the game with a 18 point lead against a fatigued team shouldn’t be too hard but Triano sure made it. As well as Jack (15/3/7) and Calderon (8 assists) had played apart, he put them in together along with Turkoglu for the fourth and the results were as expected – not good. The redundancy of having Calderon and Turkoglu on the floor is getting to be very apparent, even though it worked to a measure in the second quarter. Having all three in there with Jack at the point moves Calderon to the off and there goes the slashing aspect of our offense out the window. Whereas DeRozan, Weems and even Wright provide the east-west slashing that leads to easy points, Calderon parks himself on the corner and becomes very easy to guard. It also hurts our rebounding as we lose height at the SG position, even more so because Calderon (unlike Wright or DeRozan) is never in offensive or defensive rebounding position. Needless to say the offense suffered as we went to our last resort on the night (Bosh at the elbow with no movement) and he didn’t deliver.
On the other end, Nelson must have had a flashback to the playoff series and started to take Calderon off the dribble, getting fouled a couple times and causing enough penetration to create shots for others. The Magic made a couple deep bombs but Turkoglu and Bargnani responded in kind. It was an 11-0 Magic run which consisted entirely of Nelson and Redick scoring which cut the Raptors lead to 101-99. Jack had the chance to reign in the game with some long jumpers but missed badly and the Magic had two chances to cut the lead to one but Redick and Lewis missed good looks.
The first pressure possession came with a 1:16 left with the Raptors hanging on to a 2 point lead with offensive confidence at a game-low. Turkoglu used a high screen and drove against Lewis to get the foul and two FTs. After Vince scored on a poorly defended play, we went back to Turkoglu with 0:35 left and he missed a jumper but Belinelli had good position on the ball as it was trickling the other way and Vince hit it out of bounds, giving us possession and the win with 0:21 left. Clutch FTs by Bosh and Belinelli sealed the deal. Back at .500.
There’s no flipbook for this game since I was vegged out on the couch, but I couldn’t resist taking this one.
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