I’m not even surprised the Raptors blew that lead, not in the least. If you expected them to sustain a 23 point lead for a whole half, you have them confused with a team with a killer instinct. They had Indiana at their mercy in the first half and inexplicably took the foot of the gas; this coincided with the fatigue kicking in and all that was left to see was Indiana running rampant on the break finishing with And1′s on every other play. When it came to execute down with the game on the line, the offense failed as Hedo Turkoglu (2-9 FG and a game-worst -18) took it upon himself to ruin possessions and Triano once again went with the two-guard lineup of Jack and Calderon only to see it flounder. I wouldn’t call this a heartbreaker, this is more like a gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing, migraine-causing slap across the face.
Indiana’s offense was laughable in the first half, they were getting no guard play from Earl Watson or A.J Price and were taking the first available jumper on every possession. If Triano had only read the pre-game post I had done earlier in the day, he would’ve known that Murphy is a Raptor-killer and not to be left open from deep. Other than his four threes in the first half, Indiana was missing everything, and the Raptors were making them pay at the other end. Jarrett Jack was getting into the paint and picking out options all over the court and Chris Bosh couldn’t be stopped on the glass. Roy Hibbert was having issues handling him and Solomon Jones didn’t fare much better. The starters had given us a nice 24-18 lead when Jose Calderon and the second-unit made their way late in the first quarter.
Indiana’s poor offensive play continued and our bench jumped on the opportunity. The unit of Calderon, Belinelli, Johnson, Weems and Nesterovic went on an 18-4 run to make it 48-26 in the second. Jose’s pressuring of Watson led to turnovers and the Raptors maintained great shape in their offensive sets to get well-constructed scores out of the half-court sets. Calderon’s court vision also yielded easy scores and just like they had against Philly, Belinelli and Weems ran at the Pacers to get theirs. Rasho Nesterovic had a great cameo going 3-3 with 6 points and 3 rebounds in only four minutes. Shockingly, he was never heard from again. Ever. That was the apex of the Raptors’ play on the night.
After that something happened. Granger had been quiet on the night with only one field goal up until he picked up a double-technical with Sonny Weems. This happened when Indiana was down 21 points and it seemed to fire the man up. He scored 8 of the next 11 Pacer points and picked up his intensity which also inspired his teammates, seen most clearly in Earl Watson picking up Jarrett Jack in the back-court and forcing two turnovers which signaled a change in the game. The Raptors failed to respond defensively to this shift in Indiana’s attitude and what we saw was embarrassing. Indiana was clearing the defensive boards and attacking us by putting the ulra-quick A.J Price (younger version of T.J Ford with a better jumper and a grip on the game) and the deceptive Earl Watson in pick ‘n roll situations with their aggressive bigs (Hansbrough, Jones, Hibbert) who although weren’t scoring but were causing the Raptors defense to collapse enough that their wings (Dunleavy, Granger) got the looks they sought.
The halftime lead of 13 looked very precarious as the fatigue had started to set in (I think it’s more mental than anything) and the transition defense was becoming a problem. Indiana was starting to beat us down the court and got And1′s on every other play as the Raptors showed their true colors – a poorly conditioned team that doesn’t know how to defend without fouling. The only above-average defensive effort on the night came from Andrea Bargnani who had a monster 17 rebound game which included three blocks and as usual, a few shot alterations. The big man’s defense on the night was a fun thing to watch, if only his offensive had shown up.
Indiana’s wing play continued to be the story in the third quarter as the halftime break didn’t seem to change the theme of the game as it was late in the first half. Indiana’s pick ‘n rolls initiated by Granger and their PGs continually carved us open and Granger’s drives against Weems, Turkoglu and Bosh were paying instant dividends. The swingman showing why he’s regarded as one of the premier wing players in the league. The Raptors offense went dead as Indiana decided to switch on the high screens that are the bread and butter of our PGs and Turkoglu. With the PGs neutralized, Andrea Bargnani struggling mightily and sticking to the perimeter (4-14 FG – shot chart) and Hedo Turkoglu playing like Hans Moleman, the only recourse left was Chris Bosh and he was seeing doubles. His FT shooting (15-20) was the levee that kept Indiana’s storm from reaching us early. He spoke about the FT shooting and team losing focus later:
I don’t think we relaxed any. We missed a lot of shots. We have to do a better job of not letting our offense dictate our defesne. I think when we miss a lot of shots, we hang our head a little bit.
I wanted to be aggressive, on a back to back situations I don’t like to shoot too many jumpshots because most of them are shot. I was just trying to be aggressive and get to the line, try to put pressure on them.
The second-unit didn’t have the same impact as they had in the first half. Belinelli, Weems, Turkoglu, and that god-damned D-Leaguer Antoine Wright were all firing blanks as Indiana breathed down our necks. Wright deserves special mention, he was passed the ball in the middle of swing sequence where the logical next pass would’ve been to kick it back to the wing for a three or to lob it to Bosh in the post, instead he chose to drive and made a muck of the whole play. I suppose Triano had the “defensive specialist” in there to cover Granger but that didn’t work out, he was getting lit up like the Olympic torch. The Pacers hit 11 threes in the game and sadly, most of them were wide open and the result of dribble penetration against our wings.
After shooting 52% in the first half, we went ice cold in the second and shot 7-34 (20.6%). We would have surely surrendered the lead in the third quarter if it weren’t for Rush and Price missing clean looks from three, their bigs missing offensive rebound tips and Bargnani contesting shots which others would’ve given up on. 84-78 at the end of the three and you just knew Indiana would complete the comeback. Indiana outscored us 26-19 in the third and if it weren’t for Bosh’s FTs, it would’ve been a whole lot worse. Take a look at the concentration of shots in the paint for Indiana and compare it to what we had going. You can’t even see their makes because they’re all top of each other in the paint. Basketball’s a simple game, there’s a better chance that you’ll score from close than from far. Triano doesn’t think we shot too many jumpers.
Before I narrate the sorry tale of the fourth quarter, I want to talk about DeRozan. There’s a disturbing trend developing that sees him nailed to the bench for the entire fourth quarter even though he’s played no worse than any of our other wings. He didn’t play a second past the 3:57 mark of the third as Triano opted to have Jose and Jack in there with Turkoglu. If anybody deserved to be benched, shown a mirror and ordered to run 100 suicides, it’s Hedo Turkoglu who’s playing like…well, Hans Moleman if he played basketball. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to point out the glaring lack of slashing in a lineup consisting of Calderon or Jack at the two. An entire avenue of scoring, offensive rebounding and defense is extracted from the lineup any time those three play together. Other than more ball-handlers, I fail to see a single benefit of keeping those three on the court, so ask yourself this: Do we really need three ball-handlers?
Jose Calderon started the fourth and got torched on the first defensive plays by A.J Price, he got shook for an assist and then failed to cover Price as he drained a three and a two. 7-2 run to start the quarter and the lead whittled down to a single point. In this little stretch our $53M man jacked up an ill-advised three and forced another one-on-one pull-up (BTW, the ball was “in his hands” at the start of both plays so he can’t complain about that). Bargnani also committed a clumsy offensive foul which gave Indiana possession.
Dumping the ball to Chris Bosh and hoping he gets fouled was our best shot at scoring as none of Turkoglu, Calderon or Jack provided the dynamic, drive-and-kick offense that the Pacers had going for them. Skill, athleticism and creativity at the wing positions is what is needed in crunch time and we didn’t have any of it. Jim O’Brien’s decision to go small and have Granger play PF was a stroke of genius which Triano failed to adapt to. Danny Granger took the challenge of guarding Chris Bosh singlehandedly and did a solid job, once stealing it and once forcing a bad shot. Bosh did get fouled more often than not (8FTs in the fourth) but the fact that the Pacers didn’t have to send help neutralized any offense that might’ve resulted out of a Bosh-double.
Turkoglu’s fourth quarter? 0-4 FG (0-3 3FG) with two points and most of it low percentage one-on-one play. Bosh had passed brilliantly out of the double-team on one occasion to find him wide-open on the wing but he missed it badly. Even Jack Armstrong couldn’t resist taking a quick swipe at Turkoglu after he launched that brick. Download audio or click play button below.
The ills of the two-guard+Turk lineup was most evident on the “play” we ran down 96-97 with less than two minutes left. After all three stood on the perimeter and wasted valuable clock deciding which of the three would play the role of PG on the play, Jack finally heaved a miss which was promptly turned into an A.J. Price three to make it a two possession game. The defensive coverage broke down because our backcourt was still deciding who’s guarding who.
A defensive stand in a two-point game with less than a minute left was needed and the small Pacers lineup worked again. After Watson penetrated, the ball found it’s way back to Granger who was being guarded by Bosh on the perimeter as part of the small-ball switch, the swingman drove right to the rack for two as the Raptors help never came (note that it wasn’t late, it just never came). That was the game right there, Triano just stared into space not knowing what had hit him.
We played the FT game and Murphy obliged by missing one, giving us the ball with 10 seconds left and down three. The play that we came out of had Bosh dribbling the ball at the three-point line as the clock ticked down to 5 seconds, which is when the Pacers realized that that it’s better to concede two FTs. Game over. Funny part was that even though our three ball handlers were all on the court, none of them had a chance to actually make a play. Give the ball to a PF covered by a SF at the three-point line when desperately needing a three, Triano sure screwed that one up. Have a look:
Who do you lay this loss on? Bosh for being unable to score FGs in the fourth and getting stripped by Earl Watson late? Turkoglu for playing like utter crap? Triano for insisting on his lineups and failing to adapt to Indiana’s smaller lineup? Lack of conditioning? Drop in intensity after our early lead? Whatever the case, it’s losses like these that further cement this team as nothing more than .500. Some are content with that, some are angry with that, and some – like me – are just annoyed with it.