The swagger the Raptors once had has suddenly disappeared, replaced by indecision and frustration.
There were many reasons behind Toronto’s latest setback, the most important being Oklahoma City’s length and athleticism, but what the numbers can’t tell is the unease that has fallen on the Raptors.
“I give them (Thunder) credit,’’ head coach Jay Triano said. “They turned us over 18 times and that leads to fast breaks and it’s not what we wanted to happen.”
The Thunder likes to switch on defence, unafraid to have a small on a big because quick hands lead to deflections and turnovers.
Oklahoma City, as much as people want to paint the team as young and explosive, can defend and rank very favourably in field-goal percentage.
But was telling about Toronto’s offence was how slow it was in getting the ball to the right guy, how reluctant players were in attacking the basket.
“They outplayed us at both ends," conceded Triano.
It didn’t take long for Reggie Evans to enter the game against the Thunder, a move that was necessary in the absence of a post presence.
Turkoglu’s inconsistency in his first season as a Raptor does not get lost on the officials, who won’t dare comment, but it’s pretty obvious they are cutting Turkoglu absolutely no slack.
Turkoglu tried to stay involved during his stint on the bench by offering encouragement to his teammates.
When he re-entered the game with 5:57 left in the half, Turkoglu joined fellow starters Andrea Bargnani and Jarrett Jack.
Turkoglu, who started the game by defending Kevin Durant, was asked to guard the less explosive James Harden.
Turkoglu’s lack of foot speed was exposed when, on a switch, he got matched up against Durant at the top of the circle. It was no contest as Durant used his explosive first step to get to the hole.
On Toronto’s ensuing possession, Bargnani went strong to the basket. There was plenty of contact, but no foul.
Triano voiced his displeasure to Pat Fraher, who was the official along the baseline, but was given a technical by Brothers, who was the trailing official on the play.
“He’s not yelling," Turkoglu told Brothers. “He’s talking.”
A 119-99 pasting at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder pales in comparison to the meeting-prompting 146-115 thrashing in Atlanta but the three-game losing streak Toronto’s on right now has shown some glaring deficiencies.
The Raptors handled the ball like it was toxic, committing 18 turnovers that the opportunistic Thunder turned into 29 points.
And without Chris Bosh, the offence seems more discombobulated with each passing game; wins over New Jersey and Washington without their best player look like mirages compared to the losses to good teams like Cleveland and Oklahoma City.
No one’s ready to push any panic button – and Bosh could come back to the rescue Friday and get things going in the right direction – but there is some angst.
"They were a lot hungrier,” said coach Jay Triano.
And a lot better.
“Without Chris, we just needed to step up,” said Toronto’s Hedo Turkoglu, who was held to seven points. “When he comes back, we’re going to be much stronger. His presence will be great throughout the game on both ends of the court. We hope that he comes back soon and puts this team in a better situation.”
Jeff Green had 20 points and matched his career high with four steals, Russell Westbrook added 14 points, 10 assists and four steals, and rookie Serge Ibaka had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder. Oklahoma City took control with an early 12-0 run and led by at least nine throughout the second half.
“We respect every team we play and every player we go up against but we know we have that mindset of trying to be guys that go out and get after it and have that competitive spirit for 48 minutes straight,” Durant said. “That’s our brand of basketball here in Oklahoma City, and that’s how it’s going to be for a long time.”
The Thunder held the Bosh-less Raptors to 43.7 percent shooting. The 119 points was the third highest behind a recent win in New York and a season-high 127 against the Wizards Thanksgiving week.
"You could throw this game up there," Brooks said. "We played (well) on both sides of the ball. After a little lull, we came back and played good defense and made them miss a lot of shots."
It doesn’t hurt his case that since he hurt his ankle against Memphis on the Feb. 17, the team looks different. In their last two games, they struggled in a win over the Wizards then lost to a reeling Trailblazer team, snapping a 20-game streak of scoring 100 points or more in the process. His absence is showing how vital he is to the Raptors.
But Bosh is the most valuable player not on television. The Raptors are, for better or worse, hidden in plain sight. They are not scheduled to play a nationally televised game this season, not on ABC, ESPN or TNT. It’s entirely plausible that a national TV audience will not see Bosh until the playoffs.
If so, it means that few have likely had a chance to really see Bosh play this season. And if people can’t see him, it’s going to be hard to get them to vote for him, deserving or not.
The Raptors arrived without Chris Bosh, who’s been sitting for a week with a sprained ankle; Toronto went 2-2 during that week, so you might have figured they had a chance in Oklahoma City. The Thunder, however, had other ideas: they spotted the Raptors a 1-0 lead early on, and then took over entirely, running up a lead as large as 26 and finishing up 20, 119-99.
Toronto’s bench scored nearly as much as the starters, contributing 46 points; Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems scored 14 each, and DeMar DeRozan DePosited 13 more. The Raptors outrebounded the Thunder, 45-38, reserve forward Amir Johnson reeling in 11 of those boards. You have to figure that Bosh will be back soon, though probably not in time for Monday’s Toronto-Houston match.
What’s clear, is that the Raptors are a really, really bad defensive team. They don’t communicate, they don’t rotate and in some circumstances, they don’t try. One possession that stood out to me came in the first half. Jeff Green had the ball on the right block with Andrea Bargnani checking him. Amir Johnson couldn’t decide whether to come double Green or to stay on Serge Ibaka, who was under the rim. Johnson basically split the difference, defending no one and Green dished to Ibaka for a flush. That kind of sums up the Raptors defensively. And it’s a large reason OKC dropped 119 points on them.
Any athlete who might equate a spot on the bench with a career death sentence needed to look a couple of rows into the stands at a recent Kansas University women’s basketball game to be reminded otherwise.
There sat former NBA All-Star Antonio Davis, doing the same thing his daughter was doing, watching the Kansas women lose another heartbreaker, this one to Iowa State. Annette Davis, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Houston, didn’t get into the game. Her father, who played 13 seasons in the NBA and retired in 2006, can relate. He played sparingly during his freshman season at UTEP.
“It’s difficult, but at the end of the day it makes you a better person, a stronger person,” Antonio Davis said, repeating a message he has shared with his daughter.
Instead of pouting, he used it as motivation to improve his body and his game, just as his daughter has been doing since arriving at Kansas. Smart move on his part. He earned $86.815 million, according to basketball-reference.com, from the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks.
Raptors coach Jay Triano’s brother, Jeff, played minor league hockey in the Toronto Maple Leafs system years ago so it was understandable Triano postponed his pre-game press conference until after Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal to lift Canada to a 3-2 win over the USA.
"I think this (hockey) game was quite pivotal for the success of the (Winter) Olympics,” Triano said. "There was some tragedy before Opening Ceremonies. But overall, the Canadians did very well. It was a great way to wrap up the Olympics in your host country.”
As for the dramatic outcome, "I’m a hockey fan. But to be honest, the fact the gold medal is on a day we play takes a little bit away from our preparation today getting ready for tonight’s game.”
OKC point guard Russell Westbrook had another double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Westbrook also grabbed four steals and did not commit a turnover. Rookie Serge Ibaka also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. It was Ibaka’s second consecutive double figure scoring game.
"Russell did a good job of controlling the pace of the game," said Brooks. "He gave us good flow to the offense and Serge is developing into a good player. He brings energy, toughness and defense."
Oklahoma City had three more players in double figures for the game – Jeff Green with 20, Nenad Krstic with 16 and rookie James Harden added 12.
Both Krstic and Harden left the game in the second half with minor injuries and are not expected to miss any games.
Toronto had four players in double figures, led by 14 points from both Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems. Rookie DeMar DeRozan added 13 and Jarrett Jack had 11.
Eastern Conference opponents haven’t fared well against the Thunder this season, as Oklahoma City is now 18-6 against The East.
- When Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan came out checking Durant, I thought KD was about to go off for 50.
- Instead, Durant just posterized DeRozan early on a fast break. It was nice for two reasons. 1) It’s always fun to see someone get dunked on. 2) Durant actually finished the break this time, throwing it down rather than getting stuffed or stripped like he has so many times this season in similar situations.
- DeRozan’s improvisation moments later was not too shabby either. When a teammate airballed a layup attempt, DeRozan came out of nowhere, grabbed the ball in mid-air and threw down a one-handed dunk. Strangely, the play has the goods (and the ugliness) to make SportsCenter’s top 10 plays and its not top 10 plays.
I think this is the first time all season that offense is in the negatives column. Without Bosh, the offense couldn’t really get it going, and without offense, the Raptors aren’t going to win many games. Defense was mediocre, which is what you can expect. They just got flat outplayed against the Thunder, heck they even played Patrick O’Bryant in the beginning of the 4th!
Overall, not a good week. If the Raptors want to hang onto the 5th spot in the East, they are going to have to start scratching together some wins to make sure that the Bulls don’t gain any ground. Let’s hope that somehow the Raptors can pull together some wins this week before Bosh’s return, which is expected to be this Friday vs the Knicks.
-The Toronto Raptors aren’t much without Chris Bosh. They have no interior presence and Hedo Turkoglu doesn’t fit into the Toronto system as well as he did in Orlando. Too bad BoshIs all but gone to free agency after this season.
-The key stretch tonight came mid way through the third quarter. The Thunder lead was at nine when Russell Westbrook drove to the right side of the lane and was fouled while the same time dropping the runner. He went to the line and completed the and one. Then a few baskets later Kevin Durant grabbed a rebound went the length of the floor to about the right elbow and made a leaner while being fouled in mid air. The lead was now 19.
- “Did we mention Canada beat the U.S. in Olympic hockey earlier today?”
- “Oklahoma City stayed true to its character. They forced turnovers and converted them in points while shooting the ball well all night.”
The Raps were crap and played uninspired. It’s very similar to the roster mismatch they have against a team like the Atlanta Hawks. The Thunder were too fast, too athletic, and too energetic for this Raps team to keep up. Seeing this, in the future the raptors should forge some sort of counter measure in order to slow down the pace of the game. In contrast, the team turned the ball over like turnovers were going out of style. It reminded me of the team the Raps had before Bryan came here. Turnovers are a clear indication of a bad team, an immature team, and obviously carelessness. I am not saying our team is bad, but they certainly played like that on this night. It’s like you weren’t cool unless you gave the ball away. Well Raptors, tonight you’d be the Fonz.
So rather than explain what was a total meltdown for the Raptors. Much like some of their epic losses early in the season. Instead I wanted to focus in on the fact this team without it’s star is no where close to good enough. The entire Bosh 2010 thing has been done to death. However in the last few games you have got to see why. Chris Bosh is by far the best player on this team. Some have suggested this team can survive and remain competitive without him. If these games have not made it crystal clear that is myth and not reality, I honestly don’t think you have been watching.