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Tough night at the office.
Raptors 115, Pacers 130 – Box

The first minute of this game was a microcosm of the whole 48. The Raptors sticking to the perimeter and the Pacers going inside. Sure, both teams got off to hot starts but the difference was that the Pacers did it in a way which they could sustain for the rest of the night, and the Raptors did it in a way where they’d be lucky to do the same. That’s the problem with jumpers, if you’re going to rely on them as your main scoring option, you need to be ON for the whole night, not just a stretch here and there. That’s not even taking into account the defense which was non-existent tonight, and we’re not just talking a part of defense, we’re talking transition, man, perimeter, interior, whatever. It just wasn’t there and we deservedly got hammered by a Pacers team that wanted it more than us.

I don’t get the complacency and sense of achievement the the Raptors sometimes play with, it’s almost like they get big-headed after a couple wins and think they’ve turned the corner and expect things to be easy from here on out. Talent isn’t as big as issue for us as maturity and leadership, and we see it on nights like these where the focus just isn’t there for whatever reason. It’s disappointing because this was a great opportunity to go into the All-Star break with a full head of steam and we stumbled on the first night of a back-to-back.

The Pacers came out with a very specific plan and that was to punish the Raptors in the paint, the first three possessions of the game were all about Danny Granger trying to exploit Sonny Weems which he did successfully. Weems had a terrible game, he offered no defensive resistance and took some very hurried shots and if it weren’t for Turkoglu and DeRozan being injured, I doubt Triano would’ve played him more than a minute. Bosh was matched up against Roy Hibbert and never quite looked to do more than take the jumper that Hibbert was giving him. He had 35 on the night and I know how ridiculous this will sound, but I thought he went about it the wrong way. The Raptors were missing an inside presence all game long, someone who could wear the Pacers out, slow the game down and turn this into a half-court affair, not a track meet. That would’ve given us a better shot at a W. We’ll get to the D in a bit.

The only Raptors that looked to get to the rim were Marco Belinelli early and Andrea Bargnani, who moved beautifully without the ball all game long. Belinelli was instrumental in keeping pace with the Pacers in the first, he was offsetting Granger’s damage by killing Brandon Rush off the bounce. His live-dribble game is much more refined than DeRozan, the latter’s strength being off-the-ball movement. Neither team was playing any great defense and Belinelli did a good job of presenting himself to his PGs and taking the initiative on offense whenever he saw space. Unfortunately, our defense was a sieve and promptly gave back what the offense earned. A 34-32 first quarter lead never bodes well for the road team.

Two worrying signs were developing early and manifested itself through the course of the game. 1) Hibbert getting great inside position against Bargnani and Bosh, and 2) Pacer PGs, specifically Earl Watson, having his way against our PGs who struggled going a combined 3-12 FG, 10ast, 3 TOs and 9pts. Bargnani’s defensive game has improved but he was brutal tonight and just like Bosh, his career-high 34 points need to be viewed in the context of his defensive performance. I’d say if he had put out half the effort he did against Dwight Howard in Orlando, we might’ve been alright tonight. It was appalling how easily Hibbert not only carved himself space, but finished with either hand over him.

Seeing Earl Watson play against us this year has made me wonder just why a team wouldn’t want him. The savvy veteran showed Jarrett Jack a thing or two about screen-usage tonight, and when he wasn’t supplying the trickery, it was Luther Head and A.J. Price’s quickness that was making Jack wonder just how he’d keep up with him. Jack’s effort wasn’t great and I can’t explain that because he’s been solid for us all year, I’d think he’d be even more pumped up for this game but it wasn’t the case. He tried to get himself back into the game by picking it up on offense (something he’s doing of late) but the jumper or drive-game wasn’t working and 1-6 FG says it all.

Jose Calderon’s impact off the bench was minimal. The Raptors didn’t score for the first 5:27 of the second quarter and the offense looked a mess. Indiana was as eager to launch quick shots during this span as us so at the end of this horrendous stretch, we were only down three. After this reality-check of how unreliable jumpers could be, I though the Raptors might buckle down, wake up and start playing some defense because it was clear that this game was there to be had if we wanted it. We needed to tighten up our transition defense, sort out our help responsibilities and slow the game down to our liking. Indiana’s penetration was forcing us to make too many rotations all over the court and we just weren’t up to it and needed to mentally get ourselves in the game in order to compete. None of that happened and we continued to play with poor effort soon finding ourselves down 10 before the half. Belinelli gunned us to within three at the break and you were hoping a halftime talk would correct some of our problems. It didn’t happen.

I’d like to comment on Matt Devlin describing Chris Bosh’s game as “spectacular” for most of the first half and even when we were down 20 points in the fourth quarter. I like Devlin, I really do, but he sometimes falls into the trap of telling the audience what to think which a play-by-play man should never do. Chris Bosh might’ve had 20 in the first half but Murphy got him back for 10 and once you factor in the help that needed to be provided for Hibbert, you have to conclude that Bosh and Bargnani’s soulless defense was one of the main reasons Indiana got the looks they did (52.4% FG). Yes, transition defense was a big problem (19-9 fast-break points) and we didn’t get back properly the whole game, but I do have to look at our bigs first and the 50 PINP conceded to a team without a proven post presence.

The second half started like the first, except the Raptors weren’t hitting their jumpers and the Pacer lead ballooned. Credit the Pacers for sensing a weakness and pushing it every chance against a weary Raptors defense; by pushing it I mean bringing it past the timeline in less than 2-4 seconds and forcing the Raptors to play longer defensive possessions. Jack’s defensive was bad in the first half and Jose did his level-best to match it and when he realized he couldn’t guard, he tried to shoot his way into the game and tonight wasn’t his night. With two starters missing and two of our PGs having bad games, it would’ve required a special team effort to pull this one out and sad to say, the defense didn’t even show up. We got down by 22 in the third quarter and the game was practically over, there was little chance of a serious fourth quarter rally since we hadn’t played a lick of defense all night.

Conceding 130 to the Pacers is embarrassing and a testament of how easy it was for them. Granger, Watson and Head burned us on the drives while Hibbert and Murphy did the job inside. Seven Pacers were in double figures compared to only three Raptors (Bosh, Bargnani and Belinelli). We never had a chance, not with the halfhearted way we played defense. Jay Triano:

They were more aggressive from the beginning iof the game, they made shots and were above 50% for the whole game, we couldn’t seem to get a top. We let them get some momentum early and they piled the points. We tried to make a comeback and they made more shots, we scored enough points to win but we got to be better defensively….Our bench wasn’t very good tonight because two of them were starting.

The bench indeed wasn’t very good and failed to provide the spark it usually does, but that’s obviously because the players who provide the spark were starting – Belinelli and Weems. Johnson had a good second-half spell but by that time the game was out of hand. The Raptors are a fairly deep team but overcoming the loss of two wing starters and the subsequent effect that had on the bench was too much on this night.

Bargnani’s offensive display was fun to watch, some of the cuts to the rim were very aggressive and he barked for the ball when he got there. I like it when he utilizes his short catch-and-shoot jumper after making a cut, it’s an unblockable shot that could easily be one of our go-to plays. He moved very well without the ball, nailed jumpers with men running at him and had some nifty finishes in traffic. It’s just too bad that his 4 rebounds stand out like a sore thumb. A couple weeks ago in the “raps” section, somebody pointed out that Jose Calderon looks off Andrea Bargnani, I disagreed with them at the time but today saw an instance where Bargnani had sealed off a shorter defender and begged Jose for the ball only to see him go the other way, I would’ve liked to seen him call to space the floor and work that mismatch. Here’s the play.

I want to re-iterate that Jose did not “look off” Bargnani, Jose just happens to be a very poor at making the entry pass. This wasn’t the only instance where Jose didn’t work hard enough or didn’t know how to make a pass into the post, a couple times today he failed to get the ball to Bosh from the wing and had to reset by passing it to the top of the key. It’s an area of his game that needs improvement. Bargnani’s fast becoming our most effective post-player and we need to get him the ball whenever he’s got a mismatch like the one shown, especially when the refs are calling ticky-tacky fouls (69 FTAs). And just to keep things balanced I’ll mention that Calderon’s alley-oop passes are getting better with time, he threw a couple to Johnson today which were nothing short of perfect.

Calderon sprained his ankle after stepping on Jarrett Jack’s foot (another reason they shouldn’t play together) and since he’s not the fastest healer, it’s going to be very interesting how the Raptors fare if Jose’s out for an extended stretch. If there is a time to pick up an injury this could be it what with the soft schedule and All-Star break coming up. Triano on Jose:

I don’t know the prognosis but it doesn’t look good right now.

Raps lose. Shit happens. Time to get back on track tonight against NJ. No excuses.