As Antoine Wright correctly pointed out in the aftermath of Toronto’s 114-101 loss to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, there’s a chance a team that once looked to be a lock for post-season play may no longer be a playoff player.
“If we don’t change this, we’ll be looking in from the outside,” Wright said. “We can’t afford to be losing games like this. Our margin for error is so slim.
“We have to figure it out. We just can’t expect to win games by just showing up. We have to somehow find a way to channel our energy in the right place.”
It was felt the return of Chris Bosh would help solve some of the issues that plagued the Raptors heading into their matinee tip against the 76ers.
Bosh, as expected, was rusty and passive.
For whatever reason, the Raptors approached the game as some Sunday stroll against an opponent that was vulnerable, having lost eight of its past 10 games and five in succession.
Instead of a walk in the proverbial park, the Raptors got spanked.
Bosh wasn’t demanding the ball and neither was he drawing defenders like he normally does when healthy.
For only the second time this season, he didn’t make a single trip to the charity stripe.
Bosh played nearly 33 minutes and recorded his 40th double-double of the season.
“It was a little rough,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said of Bosh’s game. “But we’ve got to play him. We have to play him through this and get him back to 100%.
“I think his timing is off a little bit. Being away for as long as he has, it’s going to take a couple of games for him to get back into a good smooth routine.”
The last time Bosh didn’t make a trip to the foul line was against the Lakers, the team the Raptors play next, in late January.
"I don’t think I can fault the energy or the effort, but maybe the focus," coach Jay Triano said. "We just didn’t seem to be as locked in on this team as we should be."
Wright, who was an awful 2-for-10 from the floor in a five-point, four-rebound effort, couldn’t argue.
"I agree with him," he said. "Our energy wasn’t channelled in the right place. I guess we thought we had an easy game and we were going to catch a team in here early and just beat them.
"You can’t expect to win games just coming into them like that."
The Sixers, stumbling along at 23-39, took advantage of everything Toronto handed them. A group of fine individual talent that hasn’t yet coalesced into a good team, the Sixers took it to the Raptors one-on-one and won every battle.
Thaddeus Young, a tough matchup for Andrea Bargnani because of his quickness, went off for a career-high 32 points, Jrue Holiday had 16 and every Philadelphia starter was in double figures.
"You really have to be active help-side because they are such good one-on-one players; we got caught looking at our own guy instead of providing help," Triano said.
"It’s communication. When you don’t communicate and you’re not on the help side, I think that’s a lack of focus."
Health had been an issue all weekend. Amir Johnson, who started in Bosh’s place Friday night, was not feeling 100 per cent on Sunday, compounding Triano’s roster troubles.
Hedo Turkoglu played in Friday night’s win, but was clearly labouring on his ankle and was held out of Sunday’s matinee.
“It’s sore again today,” Triano said. “We’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow to hopefully have him get better so that it’s something that is not going to linger for the rest of the year.”
Brand came out aggressively against Toronto’s long, gifted All-Star and set the tone by grabbing seven first-quarter rebounds.
Bosh finished with 12 points and 12 boards, but looked spaced-out at times and never really helped Toronto a great deal at either end of the court.
“Playing (center) was a little different, so I wanted to get some rebounds and push (Bosh) him out a little bit,” Brand said.
“I got in some foul trouble, but when I was out there it was fun to play with the guys who were running, rebounding and going.”
It was a lineup that, against the Raptors, who have no classic center and are the worst defensive team in the NBA, worked nicely — even if it wasn’t intentional.
"I think the team needs somebody else to step up," Holiday said. "And I’m out there, so why not me?"
The Sixers, who got a career-high 32 points from Thaddeus Young, improved to 23-39. The Raptors, paced by Jarrett Jack’s 20 points, dropped to 32-29.
Yesterday, for all of Holiday’s forehead-slapping turnovers – and there were four of them – he countered with at least three or four head-nodding plays.
Not a bad ratio.
The most noticeable of Holiday’s mistakes came with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game and the Raptors trying desperately to cut into the Sixers’ double-digit lead. Holiday’s mistake was a backcourt faux pas: heroically attempting to be a one-man press breaker against three defenders. The ball, knocked loose from Holiday, was scooped up by Jack and immediately dished to teammate Jose Calderon, whose three-pointer made the score 94-87.
Sixers coach Eddie Jordan immediately called a time-out and looked at Holiday as if the rookie had crashed his car.
Toronto power forward Reggie Evans, traded last summer by the Sixers to the Raptors for forward Jason Kapono, offered a little perspective on his old team before yesterday’s game.
"From a friendship standpoint, knowing those are my homeboys and stuff, and knowing we had a good on-the-court, off-the-court there, it’s kind of like, ‘Damn, what the hell they got going there?’ " Evans said of the Sixers, who improved to 23-39 yesterday. "But it’s different: They have to learn a whole new system, a whole new coaching staff, and everything is different there now."
Evans scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Former Sixer forward Reggie Evans was traded to the Raptors in the offseason for Jason Kapono but still keeps an eye on is former team.
"I think me and Andre Miller were a big help to the team," he said. "They’ve got a lot of new faces now – from the coaching staff to the players. Things just look different over there now. They’re really offensive-minded, they’re not really disciplined right now. There was a balance on defense and offense. We were poised. We knew at any time we could get things rolling. But now, everything is just different over there."
Evans has become a fan favorite among the Toronto base. Oftentimes during games, the crowd will bellow "We want Reggie,” although he missed the first 51 games of the season with a left midfoot sprain.
"It wasn’t surprising at all," Evans said of becoming so beloved. "I come out there real aggressive. It just shows that hard work pays off. A lot of these fans work 9-to-5. They work their jobs, get their salary and they’re working hard. They spend their extra dollars to get a ticket, they at least want to see some hard work out there. They appreciate hard work."
The Sixers extended the lead to as much as 13 points in the first quarter, aided by their good shooting and some bad aim by the Raptors, who missed eight of their first 11 shots. But Toronto has made a living of performing huge comebacks, as they’ve won nine games this season after trailing by double figures. Sure enough, it was 24-24 after the first.
But in the middle two quarters, the Sixers shot 24-for-37 (65 percent) and outscored the Raptors by a 65-51 margin. And then they relied on Holiday and Young to close things out.
"I think he’s doing a good job of understanding his game within the NBA game," Iguodala said of Holiday. "He had a problem with coming down and taking a shot with his toes on the line a lot with 20 seconds on the shot clock. I think he has a great understanding about that, he’s really changed it up. Instead of shooting those shots he now shoots open shots after a few passes and getting the whole team within the offense. He’s grown tremendously throughout this year. Hopefully he continues to grow."
Iguodala finished with 16 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Lou Williams also hit double figures with 12.
“I’m not talking about the west coast trip,” Wright said, when asked whether the Raptors non-competitive approach to a game at the Air Canada Centre bode ill for a four-game trip that begins tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Milwaukee’s playing great,” Wright continued. “Chicago’s playing great. There’s really not much room for error. You can find yourself going from fifth to seventh quick. You don’t want to be in a position where you have to fight your way in.” After missing six games with a sprained left ankle and another one due to dehydration, Chris Bosh played 32 minutes and 52 seconds and was 6-for-14 without making a trip to the line – although that latter statistic can be chalked up to post-injury lack of rhythm and some understandable tentativeness. Andrea Bargnani had another sleepy day in another one of those insipid noon starts and with Hedo Turkoglu (sore ankle) actually absent in body and not just in mind, the 76ers’ raw physical skills were too much for the Raptors.
“Long and active,” as head coach Jay Triano described them, the 76ers had 30 fast-break points. As for his own team? “I can’t fault their energy and effort,” said Triano, “but maybe their focus.” Inexcusable, that.
Something about the Toronto Raptors attracts you to them, but once you see them play it might turn you off. Although they once had a good streak going at one time, now it’s as though something has changed inside them. Losing five games in a row is something big to happen; even when Bosh is back you still need to carry your own weight as well.
Each player needs to be able to contribute even if you may be benched you still need to have the faith and compassion to take home the win. You need to put everything you have into it all the time, or what is the point in trying to win. With not coming out on top for five games, you would think they would take this as a sign.
But instead they keep throwing in towel while walking into each game thinking they don’t need to try that they will just win. The team has to be able to pull together as one, and show that they are team not individual players. ¬
We’re three-quarters of the way through the 2009-2010 schedule AND the Academy Awards were held last night. So, using the world-famous awards show as the premise for this blog, it’s time for another edition of "8 Questions for Number 8" .
Now in Los Angeles, the Raptors will face the Lakers, Sacramento, Golden State and Portland before heading back home to the ACC. That’s a tough road trip when you’re playing well and they’ll have to face the teams as they try to re-integrate Chris Bosh into the offence while Bosh himself tries to work himself back into shape.
– While he’s only missed seven games, the last date he had played before yesterday was February 17th. That’s a chunk of time to be out of game action. It’ll take him a couple of days/games to get his wind back and legs underneath him.