Raptors 100, Cavaliers 108 – Box

The argument that Chris Bosh is not a “max player” has died down considerably this year, but this game jogged some old memories and reminded us that there are tiers in the class of 2003 and Bosh isn’t in the top one. Unexpected bench performances from Wright and Belinelli had made up for Turkoglu and Bosh being ineffective, but when the fourth quarter comes calling your big guns need to respond. It didn’t happen, there was no structure or scheme to the Raptors offense as the “big 3″ of Bosh, Turkoglu and Bargnani combined for a total of four fourth quarter points as the Raptors wasted a pretty good effort on the road.

This was going to be a tough game with Cleveland seeking revenge so the Raptors needed to ride some hot hands. One of those hot hands was DeMar DeRozan who I backed big time on the podcast yesterday, he had 10 first quarter points and all of them came on drives. The rookie has played with great focus and has brought early intensity to practically every game, you’d think after such bursts of offense and athleticism he’d warrant a greater role come the fourth quarter. Instead, Jay Triano once again took him out at the 2:41 mark of the third and brought him back (for some arcane reason) with 35 seconds left in the game. What. The. F**k. Somebody explain this to me because that makes about as much sense as the dream I had last night where I was riding a polar bear on Yonge St. while being tailgated by a ’67 Camero driven by a Zebra yelling profanities in a Gaelic language.

After the whole RuPaul fiasco you’d hope Chris Bosh comes out with some fire and maybe thinks about dunking one on Shaq and talking some mild smack afterwards. No such luck, if anything it was Shaq who came out and looked to establish the inside game. I can’t blame him from thinking that we’re a soft team because he barely broke a sweat all night along in getting post-position, which was compounded by our single-coverage. Shaq had 7 field-goals, he hasn’t had that many baskets since December 15th when the Nets and their win-less rotting carcasses came to town. If Bargnani hadn’t picked up two fouls (one on a drive, one on a perimeter cross-over) on him in the first quarter I’d say Shaq would’ve got around 35 tonight. Speaking of fouls, Lebron took out Turkoglu in less than two minutes as the latter picked up two cheap fouls. 1-6 FG for 3 points on the night and a HUGE miss of a wide open shot at 9:51 of the fourth which would’ve tied the game at 93 and iced a 10-0 run. Here’s what he said about his fouls and the technical he picked up later for complaining:

I was afraid to walk by them, you know, they might call a foul. I tried to sit next to the coach so I don’t pick up a foul. It’s part of the job you know, you have to deal with it. It still affects your game, you try to get yourself going but stupid fouls in the first minute of the game…it kind of cools you off. I tried to come back again but it’s hard. I have to put this behind and try to do better stuff tomorrow.

Once Turkoglu was wheeled off the court, Antonie Wright came on and you’re thinking this game might get ugly. But old Wrighty did us proud with 5 points in the first (10 in the half) and some passable defense on LeBron. The Raptors defense did force Cleveland into six first quarter turnovers which were mostly the result of their big men’s inability to make a simple pass. Still, the effort was there. Bargnani was missing some very clean looks in the 15-20 foot range and that right there is the main difference between Nowitzki and Bargnani – Nowitzki’s game is polished, compact and fluid. Bargnani is still figuring out his “go to” moves and you’d think a wide open mid-range J should be automatic (like it is for Dirk) but it’s clearly not the case. I also don’t agree with the belief that he’s somehow more athletic than Dirk, that’s just not true. In 37 minutes he collected 6 rebounds and when the team is -11 in that category, people will point fingers at you.

Bosh started off the game by hitting the backboard on a jumper whilst facing up Shaq. That told me he was nervous as hell and he played like it the whole game, not once making a defensive stand against the aging Shaq whose bones can be clearly heard creaking as he lumbers his way up the floor. The second was his best quarter because he was matched up against another relic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. A couple step-back fades and a drive against the Lithuanian amounted to 12 points in the quarter, Shaq got him back for 8 in the same stretch. I felt that we didn’t exploit Shaq’s weaknesses via Bosh/Bargnani as much as he utilized his advantage over us. In other words, not enough PnRs involving Shaq or Big Z.

The slight edge in that big-man scoring was negated by the Raptors leaving Cleveland shooters open in the corner, the Cavs hit three threes in the frame and the half ended with the Raptors down 2, thanks to a Wright three on our last possession. I’d also be amiss not to mention Marco Belinelli’s 8 points in the quarter, he ran two great leak-outs which led to points (one off a beautiful Turkoglu pass, his only contribution on the night). Jose Calderon didn’t have the same impact off the bench like he’s had of late, but Wright and Belinelli’s work didn’t make it seem like he needed to.

The overall defense was great all night, but the transition kind was fairly poor. we had no answer to Lebron running at us in transition, not many teams do. Still, I would’ve liked to see the Raptors expend a little effort and get the ball out of his hands through a trap or two. The 62-60 halftime scoreline told you that no team was having great defensive success, the difference was that they have a superstar who can score/create when it matters the most and we have Hedo Turkoglu. As our creator struggled, one of theirs excelled. Mo Williams was having his way with Jack and Calderon using high/baseline screens, and even managed to juke them using the old “fake the post-up but spin to the rim” move. He set his own offense up nicely and even dished out 10 times. An overall solid playmaking/scoring game from the guard (22/3/10).

The third quarter was a fairly boring affair with neither team wanting to stamp their authority on the contest. Jarrett Jack made some great plays on the pick ‘n pop to set up clean looks for Bargnani and DeRozan, he even hit a three of his own as Mo Williams D’d him up on the side. Cleveland increased their defensive pressure in the third but the Raptors had adequately responded, Jack and DeRozan leading the charge. Both drove right at Shaq to pick up fouls as the big guy headed to the bench. The tide perhaps changed when tied at 77, Amir Johnson was brought into match up against Anderson Varejao and failed the assignment, the next time a big man was needed Triano opted for Rasho. Ouch. The Brazilian had five points in a quick stretch against the Raptors garbageman which really hurt, he had a chance to make a degree of amends by knocking a couple FTs down but clanked them both. The fault wasn’t all his, Bosh and Belinelli missed jumpers and we blew another coverage on a Mo Williams three. Big Z took Bargnani outside and nailed a J on him as the Raptors entered the fourth down 8. Things weren’t looking good, Bosh in this quarter had 3 points and if it weren’t for Jarrett Jack being aggressive against West and Williams with 9, this game would’ve reached blowout territory.

Cleveland extended the lead to 10 early in the before Marco Belinelli did his best ‘microwave’ impression and gunned the Raptors to within 5 with a three and a great drive for two, the Italian showing no fear in either shot. Jose Calderon hunted down a jumper for himself and we were within 3, that’s when Turkoglu missed that W I D E open three after a Bosh double which would’ve leveled the game. The only thing more annoying than looking at Turkoglu’s face was hearing the ‘defense’ chant in the arena, seriously, is their PA guy 90 years old? Cleveland’s offense became very Lebron specific, their movement died down and they just waited for Lebron to cap the game for them. It didn’t happen, he missed several questionable jumpers (0-7 3FG) leaving he door ajar for the Raptors, but alas, we couldn’t capitalize. We had a few chances to bite into the lead but Bargnani, Belinelli, Turkoglu and Calderon missed reasonable looks which would’ve tightened the screws. It was a one-point game with 5:43 left which is right before Mo Williams drained a three.

I thought we had played a very good game so far but needed an timeout right at that point. Cleveland wasn’t making us pay for blowing our perimeter defensive coverages because of switch-confusion but Williams’ three served as a reminder of the threat. It was also evident at the time that the offense was struggling, we had come up empty on three of our previous four possessions and things were a mess. Jay Triano chose to let them play on and it resulted in an 0-3 from Belinelli, Bosh and Bargnani. The timeout finally came at 4:24 in an 8 point game. It was too late. I’m not saying the timeout would’ve saved the game, but it would’ve hopefully settled us down and maybe given us a chance to regroup on offense. As mentioned in yesterday’s podcast, Triano’s instincts of sensing and anticipating a shift in momentum are very poor.

His decision to play a struggling Jose Calderon late fourth quarter minutes was also questionable, his jumper had been off the whole game and even Jack Armstrong hinted at Jose having “one of those nights”. By contrast, Jarrett Jack had picked himself up after a sluggish start and had had a great third quarter as mentioned already. Triano over-engineered the situation and made it unnecessarily complex, he should’ve simply gone with what’s been working the last few games.

Belinelli had brought us back in the game and made a game of it once again, but the late fourth quarter can be summarized in two words: terrible offense. I’m not sure the Raptors had any idea of just about where they were going to get their points heading into the final frame. So far in the game the offense had come from sources like Wright, Jack and Belinelli, and we expected that to continue and it didn’t. Bosh’s touches were limited, but they had a lot to do with him shying away from the ball and less to do with his teammates looking him off (as Jack Armstrong would have you believe). If you’re a big max-money player, you can’t take 3 out of 4 quarters off. Just can’t.

Bosh’s defense was terrible, he was getting out-muscled by Shaq and allowing post-position too easily, and wasn’t playing any help defense on the driving guards. You’d think with his athleticism and reach, he’d at least pick up one block for the game but not even that. These were the quietest 21/10 he can possibly get. Hedo Turkoglu didn’t play between the 3:21 and 0:35 second mark of the quarter which is odd since he’s supposed to handle the rock in the clutch, no? Our offense was run by Belinelli and Wright in the late fourth which is Jay Triano’s fault, he’s got to recognize that Cleveland is clamping down their defense and go to what has proven to work for us – Bosh at the FT line. He’s got to settle this team down and run some proven plays for Bosh or put the ball in Turkoglu’s hand with a plan in his mind. And that “play” he drew up coming out of a timeout late in the game? I doubt a contested Bargnani 25-footer was the way to go there.

Here’s Jack begging Triano to do something to get Chris Bosh going. He was being checked by Anderson Varejao for a stretch in the fourth and getting neutralized way too easily. Download the audio or click the play button below.

There were some good things about this game, Wright, Belinelli filled in nicely for the injured Weems and our energy was good for the full 48. Sad to say that we wasted a pretty good effort because of our big guns coming up short. The aggressors usually get the W and Cleveland was the aggressor, they had a 21-7 FT edge at the half; although I disagreed with a lot of the calls, their style of play is conducive to the ref’s whistle and they got the calls. This was a tough road game against an elite opponent, we had a chance to win it. That’s all you can ask.

Briefly, I’d like to point out my disgust with the Raptors television production team. THEY ARE BRUTAL. Words cannot describe how awful they are. I’ve complained about this over the years but they need to fire that entire unit and get some fresh young grads in there who don’t need a full five minutes to cue up an important replay. They missed at least three live plays, they don’t show the 50-50 calls, don’t have enough player specific cameras, and simply don’t show enough replays. The advent of PVR has helped but that only works when you’re watching at home, if you’re in a shady Thornhill bar with a 350lb man leaning over you as he’s telling racist jokes to a morbid looking woman sitting on the other side of you, it’s very hard to focus. Very.

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