Out-worked by a team out of the playoffs

We had everything to play for but got outworked by a team that had nothing to play for. That is very difficult to both understand and stomach given we’re in the thick of a playoff race and just had the Bucks leapfrog us for 5th place.

Sixers 114, Raptors 101 – Box

We had everything to play for but got out-worked by a team that had nothing to play for. That is very difficult to both understand and stomach given we’re in the thick of a playoff race and just had the Bucks leapfrog us for 5th place, thus putting us in an unforgiving matchup against Boston if the playoffs started today. Milwaukee’s recent run of 9-1 run has coincided with the Raptors going 4-6 and the injury bug biting us, if this trend continues we’ll be hitting the post-season with little momentum and if you recall that’s how the 2007-08 season ended before we got trounced by Orlando. The Raptors need to issue a call to arms and get their act together, because this is the time of the season where playoff teams start ironing out minor kinks, not worrying about individual and team effort. We got work to do.

As is the case when we play any half-decent PG, dribble penetration becomes an issue and so was the case again on Sunday. This time the tormentor came in the form of Jrue Holiday who dropped a cool 21/7/6 and had Jack and Calderon seeing the back of his shirt all game long. When you get your drive game going you develop confidence and Holiday did just that as the game went along going 8-12 for 66%, that’s 26% above his season average. The fact that we can’t defend quick PGs in a half-court set isn’t a revelation but the expectation is that our help defense can pick up the slack but that never happened. You can point to player deficiencies as the reason a man blows by you, but how can you explain not getting back in transition? You can’t, that part of defense is all about effort and conceding 30 fast-break points on a nationally televised Sunday afternoon home game is a shame. Triano didn’t think effort was a problem but instead chose lack of focus as the reason for the loss:

I don’t think I can fault the energy and effort but maybe the focus tonight, we just didn’t seem to be as locked in on this team as we should be.

Sonny Weems got the start instead Hedo Turkoglu and I hardly noticed, in fact, I was glad to see Weems in there at least try to do the right thing than see Turkoglu take questionable shots without any criticism from anybody only because he had a great playoffs last year with a different team. Weems didn’t have the same game he had against the Knicks since he was facing a better defense but did drive the ball, got after it on defense and tried to hang with Iguodala. The duo of DeRozan and Weems were in attack-mode for the first half, DeRozan was relentless in his approach going to the rim and as has become routine, got denied a fair share at the rim but also got his 9 points in 17 minutes. Hardly spectacular, somewhat anticlimactic and typically DeRozan. I’m thinking he’ll begin to have a real impact on this team in his third year when he gets his body right. As much as Devlin and Co. label him a “high flyer”, his finishing at the rim can best be described as weak, it’s an area of his game that we hope to see develop with his strength.

There might be numbers at the wings with Wright, Weems, DeRozan and Turkoglu, but whether there is true quality there is debatable. Of course there’s Turkoglu legend but until that has manifested itself in a Raptors uniform, I’ll reserve praise. Going down 20-7 in the first 5:30 wasn’t the start we were looking for and it was becoming clear that Philly could get any shot they wanted because we hadn’t come out ready to compete and own the podium home court. Seriously, the casual and cavalier attitude we came out with bugs me to no end. The team needs to build defensive solidarity in the last third of the season and we’re still making the same mistakes we made in November; the recent easy schedule did well to mask some of our defensive issues, but now that we’re back to playing non-crap competition our defense will be tested.

Back to the game, Thaddeus Young (career-high 32) pulled Bosh out to the perimeter and gave him the same treatment Bosh usually dishes out. Bosh had a weak game, Triano managed his minutes well early on but he ended up playing 33 minutes of impact-less basketball. Yes, there were 12 rebounds somewhere in there but the defensive presence was lacking and when we needed scores in the second half, his usually reliable drive-game was nowhere to be found. If you’re letting Elton Brand get scores on you these days, you know you’re not playing well. If it weren’t for Jarrett Jack things would’ve gotten out of hand early. Much like Jose, his check got the better of him but I’m in a forgiving mood when it comes to Jack because he didn’t play a minute of basketball where he didn’t give 100%. He drove the ball against an athletic Philly D, hit tough shots in the lane and knocked down the jumpers he was given. 20 points, 9 assists and 4 steals on 9-14 FG, and yes, he had a key turnover in the fourth but still, that’s a lot of production from a guy that was supposed to be option #5 on the team in training camp. Jack’s play had the game tied at 24 at the end of the first and with Bosh recovering from injury, we needed someone else to step-up. Any takers? No, not even Bargnani.

The question is whether Bargnani can be the #1 man on an NBA team? The answer is no. I love his threes and baseline drives as much as anyone, but unless that’s happening on a game-in, game-out basis, it’s just flash-in-the-pan stuff. Creating your own shot should be a key characteristic of any franchise-player hopeful and Bargnani simply hasn’t shown that he’s capable of that so far. There have been games here and there where he’s shooting an insane percentage and dropping 30 but when you step-back and look at the big picture, his play has been marred with big spots of inconsistency which has hurt the team, the 11-36 in the last three games being one of them. It’s not surprising and quite simple: if you play farther away from the basket and rely on low-percentage shots to spark your offensive game, you’re going to struggle finding consistency. How a starting NBA center can have 4 rebounds in 39:20 of play is still beyond me, but I know that rebounding positioning and jumping helps, neither of which he does.

The second quarter with Jose leading the charge was where we made our mark against the weaker teams, but these days that unit isn’t providing the punch. Every night it’s a different story and on Sunday it was inconsistencies from Amir Johnson, Reggie Evans and Jose Calderon. Calderon needs to dominate his matchup at the backup PG, think about it, he’s supposed to be a starting caliber PG coming off the bench and the boxscore needs to reflect that. I think it’s much better to play Calderon with the athletic ones like Johnson, Weems, Belinelli and another starter, maybe Bosh or Bargnani. Watching him run a pick ‘n roll with Reggie Evans should alone be grounds for Triano’s dismissal. And why do we insist on running sets for Evans when we have Bosh, Bargnani or even Jack on the floor? Sure, he makes a post-move once in a while but if you ask the defense if they’re willing to live with the Raptors making Evans a top three offensive option they’ll gladly take it.

After the second unit failed to deliver, we were down 9 at the break and needed some inspiration if we wanted to avoid a disappointing home loss. Didn’t happen, lost the third quarter 34-28. Philly, which shoots 45.4% (21st in NBA), was at a 54% clip by the end of the third and that’s all you need to know. We let a team that averages 97.4 points score 114. Their Achilles’ heel is shooting and our defense let them off the hook. Holiday, Young and Lou Will dominated the third quarter as our transition defense failed and our perimeter defense collapsed. There was no stopping them on the break after turnovers or misses and our offense was reduced to Jack trying to create with four guys standing around. The play at the end of the third quarter where we let Lou Williams drive the ball end-to-end to get two FTs right after a Marco Belinelli three was morale deflating and perhaps the best demonstration of the inconsistent effort on the day.

Wright had a miserable game and is 16-51 (31%) in his last seven games; the wing play has been so poor that Belinelli was resuscitated for this one and dropped 11 on 4-6; how much he’s looking over his shoulder after every possession is another matter. As I said, we might be confusing numbers with depth at the wing positions. If there’s one thing I look for in Wright, it’s not his scoring but his man-defense against the other team’s best wing and on Sunday it was very poor against Iguodala.

Being down 12 at the start of the fourth I’d have my best player in the game but Jarrett Jack didn’t enter the game till the 7:54 mark of the fourth by which time the lead had increased to 13. We basically wasted the first 4 minutes of the quarter with a lineup of Calderon, Bosh, Wright, Belinelli and Bargnani; that lineup had done nothing in the second quarter so I’m not sure what Triano expected. In that span we committed three turnovers and couldn’t capitalize on Philly’s three turnovers. The Jack/Jose lineup saw some daylight and Jose’s brief burst of offense couldn’t compensate for the defensive deficiencies of those two. Triano pleaded with his team in the huddle to get back on defense and compete, but there was no response which is hardly surprising given Triano’s rather passive tone. Wright and Calderon threes cut the lead to 6 but when we needed a defensive stand, we couldn’t stop Philly for six straight possessions which pushed the lead to 13 with under two minutes left. There you have it folks, more proof that defensive wins games and if you can’t make a stop when you need one, you’re toast.

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