Are you satisfied we managed to keep it close or are you upset that we lost a game we were right there in? I’m leaning towards the latter. One always worries for the Raptors in high-scoring, up-tempo, no-defense games because history has shown us that it rarely works out for us in the end. As the dark shadow of the fourth quarter casts itself upon us, it gets harder to score and there’s no defense to fall back on. This formula usually results in a loss but tonight was different; different because we had a chance to win it right at the end but Triano made the same mistake he made in Phoenix – clearing out for Turkoglu in a set with no movement. Just like Phoenix, the result was a massive brick which burst our bubble and ruined an otherwise acceptable performance (at least offensively). The overtime was formality at its finest as Mo Williams drilled his 5th and 6th threes of the game while the Raptors offense missed deep bombs.
Lebron James is a very good player, there’s no contesting that, but our defense against him tonight was very poor. Other than DeRozan taking him out in the first half, he got his 36 without breaking a sweat and always had Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems at his mercy. As he steams down the middle of the court in transition, somebody needs to at least try and pick him up so he’s forced into playing the half-court. You got the sense that anytime Cleveland needed points they’d just go to him and he’s drive by his man for a layup since our help defense wasn’t there. At all. It was either that or he’d come down the middle, attract Raptors from the wings and and kick-out to Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anthony Parker so they’d attack a disoriented defense. Lebron might’ve only had 9 assists (ha, only!), but he was the source of the entire Cleveland offense. There was nothing we did or even attempted to do to slow him down, it was like we had conceded individual defeat to him before the game even began.
The Raptors kept up the offensive pace for 48 minutes in this game; Jack was at his driving best with 24, Bargnani matched that thanks to a hot start and Turkoglu had huge fourth quarter scores to propel the Raptors back into the game. Turkoglu’s defensive effort was as solid as I’ve seen all year, he was contesting hard for the rebounds and the 4 credited to him don’t indicate how hard he was fighting for them as the Raptors kept switching in and out of 2-3 zones. Our cross-court passes and East-West ball movement was great to watch; if these games without Bosh have taught us something, it’s that our ball movement and team-play when Bosh is in the lineup could be a lot better. Scoring 118 is sweet but what about the 126 we gave up to a team playing on a back-to-back? As nice as Bargnani’s stroke was today, his help defense was at its worst. There’s a moment in the second quarter where Jack yells at him for blowing the help coverage on Lebron as Weems was shading him towards the rim. Jamison got the better of him early and he had a lot of trouble playing with Evans in the first half, there was no communication or effort on either one’s part and it’s defensive performances like these that make you wonder if this man will ever find a consistent gear. Side note: Who will have the better career when it’s all said and done: Bargnani or Jamison?
With Shaq out, the Cavs went with Varejao and Rasho got another start in place of Bosh. This game was played at a tempo which doesn’t suit Rasho, he held his ground on offense by nailing a couple jumpers but defensively he was in over his head with Varejao and Hickson getting around him in the paint. Triano inserted Evans in the first to try and increase the defensive intensity but it was the offensive side of the ball that he had the impact. He found himself in favorable matchups and backed down Cleveland guards a couple times, cleared Hickson for a score or two, blew his share of JYD layups and missed some JYD FTs. A typical JYD game. The defensive hustle is always there and it got the crowd going, but as mentioned before, the frontcourt defense with him and Bargnani was just awful. No communication, two different people on different pages. Triano tried to match Cleveland’s agility with Johnson in the second but it was one of those nights for him, he picked up three fouls faster than I could pause my PVR to check out Elisha Cuthbert’s cleavage. 6 minutes, 2 rebounds, 4 fouls and terrible defense – funnily enough there was no tweet from #FreeAmir last night.
I’d take being down 33-30 after letting the other team shoot 72% any day, but could we keep it up? I thought a game being played at such a high pace with little defense would’ve been perfect for Sonny Weems and Marco Belinelli. Weems got off the bench and supplied some nice pull-up jumpers and some drives, but Belinelli didn’t even get a second of camera time, let alone playing. He had 7 points in the early second and was getting the better of Mo Williams and Delonte West using his strength. We tried matching him up against Lebron but it didn’t matter. I expected more of a performance from Jose Calderon who played most of the second quarter without scoring a point; West was beating him on every possession and Jose didn’t have a counter against a guard that was looking to exploit. His best moments came in the fourth when he hunted his own shots without fear, finally breaking his goose egg. Antoine Wright struggled going 3-8 in 30 minutes which was to be expected of anyone trying to guard Lebron, I thought Belinelli was at least worth a shot on this night. Thanks to some late second quarter Jarrett Jack “I’m keeping my head down and getting to the rim and either scoring or setting somebody up” play, we went in to the break tied at 60.
Bargnani and Turkoglu carried the load in the third with Jack playing most of the quarter. Turkoglu was being very local when he had the ball in his hands and directed traffic more than I’ve seen him do all season, perhaps not having Bosh is making others speak up. Cleveland seemed to get it’s points too easily in racking up 30 fastbreak points, they capitalized on our turnovers which were mostly unforced and results of poor dribbling. Turkoglu’s three stick out because he was trying to squeeze the ball between three defenders to someone like Reggie Evans who didn’t even want it to begin with. The Cavs scored an average of 2.2 points per our 1 turnover, we scored 1.31. Point being once they got the ball they ran with it.
Triano stuck with his predictable quarterly PG sub-pattern of 1/3 Jack and 2/4 Calderon. It didn’t make much sense because Calderon was having a terrible offensive night (4-12 FG) and Jack was having a great game (8-14 FG). Jose saved him blushes buy knocking down four shots and keeping the Raptors within striking distance. The zone defense we were playing was costing us offensive rebounds and the active West and Varejao were giving Bargnani and Jose trouble. Honestly, Bargnani’s 4 rebounds in 45 minutes is a shame. Absolute shame. On one fourth quarter possession Cleveland got three offensive rebounds as we struggled to figure out zonal rebounding responsibilities.
Triano figured Jack rotting on the bench didn’t look too good given his line, so he put him out there with Jose and Turkoglu (9pts in the fourth). The offense wasn’t great but Turkoglu bailed us out with a couple threes which saved the face of the three-guard lineup. Turkoglu’s crucial dunk off a Jack’s transition miss (was going hard on the break trying to make up for his turnover two possession before) gave us a 2 point lead with :50 seconds to play but as mentioned before, Lebron trotted in for an easy layup while whistling Jingle Bells as the help never came. Jack drove it in and got the call against Mo Williams for two FTs, Now we needed to defend for 17 seconds. Could we do it? No, we lasted four. It took Lebron all of four seconds to score another layup, this time he did it while checking out Friday Night club listings in the Eye. We finally we got the ball with a chance to win it, we did this: no movement, a deep clearout for Turkoglu who didn’t even look to drive and launched the exact same shot he launched in Phoenix. Same result. Triano’s comment on the play:
Very similar play to the one they had for Lebron, turn the corner and have an open side there and I guess Turk didn’t feel like he could get all the way to the basket so he took the jumpshot. He’s equally efficient at shooting the ball as he is taking it to the basket.
Turkoglu has autonomy when it comes to doing what he wants to in the clutch; that’s fine by me but looking at the play again, I’m not sure Turkoglu wanted to be in that position. He motioned to the bench a couple times and later acknowledged that it wasn’t the best decision.
In that situation I could’ve taken a better shot but I settled for that three.
Don’t worry Hedo, all you need to do is hit a couple big shots in the playoffs and everything is forgiven. Everything.
Overtime was forgettable, the Raptors knew they had blown their chance and Lebron wasn’t about to let the Raptors beat him in a 5-minute pick-up game. Sure, the loss doesn’t feel too bad because we’re conditioned to expect to lose this game, but it sure stings me. Even though we gave up 126 points, the defensive effort can’t be questioned, it’s the communication and technique tonight that was very much lacking and reminded me of the Raptors of November and December – defensively lost. This was going to be a tough game even with Bosh, so let’s move on and focus on OKC, another good team that’s going to try to cause turnovers and run with it. I’ll take a 1-1 weekend.Follow @raptorsrepublic