Were you content after the Lakers loss and thought that since we hung around the champs for four quarters, the next night in Sacramento would be rather easy? I mean, linear thinking dictates that if you almost beat a really, really good team, you should be able to pummel a really bad team, no? NO! It just doesn’t work that way and that’s why I was so upset after Tuesday’s loss – because we had blown our chance at the split. Any NBA team is lucky to split a back-to-back and the chances of that happening on the first night are much greater than the second. After a solid effort in LA, we predictably crumbled in the third quarter under the guise of fatigue. Nothing surprising whatsoever, we’ve seen this happen in Indiana and Milwaukee before and should’ve been expecting it. Part of me is still not over the Lakers loss because believe it or not, that was the winnable game on this back-to-back what with the Lakers returning home from the East, not this one.
To the Raptors credit, they came out with an energy which was entirely unexpected. Andrea Bargnani got the first three Raptor rebounds of the game, two of them offensive, Chris Bosh nailed a mid-range jumper, Jarrett Jack hit a three, DeRozan started off with his usual aggressiveness and even Hedo had a couple drives to the rim. It was as if though we were out to redeem ourselves and nothing would stop us. But oh no, I’ve watched too many Raptor games to jump to any such conclusions and reserved my judgment while calmly taking a sip from my now almost empty Crown Royal bottle.
As is the duty of any artist, I must be fair to the picture I am painting so I’ll talk about the positives of the first half before reluctantly treading into the tale of the second. Donte Greene was identified as the target of our offense and DeRozan, Turkoglu and Jack all attacked his side of the court, they back-cut on him, drove at him, forced him to make a rotation and so on. He wasn’t upto it and neither was Spencer Hawes who was at the mercy of Bargnani’s pump-fake for the first half. Bargnani did well in exploiting Brad Miller’s carcass in transition and in the half-court to the tune of 11 rather pretty points. The Kings are pretty thin in the paint and the Raptors did a very good job of going right at them early on, Hawes and Landry aren’t defensive stoppers or shot-blockers by any means and it showed. The ball-movement was steady, the cuts were hard and it was all quite refreshing. Of course, all this changed in the third.
Jack was in attack-mode as usual but unlike the Lakers game where he was getting praised for it, he will receive no such treatment today and that’s because Beno Udrih ate both him and Calderon alive. I have accepted that the $13M/yr we have invested in PGs can’t buy us defense against their quick counterparts, but when Beno Udrih goes off for 24/4/8 on 10-14FG, it feels a bit odd. Odd in the sense that you don’t expect it but here you are trying to explain why a below-average PG scored twice his season average on you. Then again we have a history of letting scrubs get off on us so even that shouldn’t be a shock. Technically speaking, all Udrih did was use a screen around the FT line area to go left or right, stop on a dime and rise for a jumper. He kept the game that simple and it got him 24 points and kept the Kings in it early. Check his shot chart.
The main problem the Kings pose is Tyreke Evans attacking you with the ball, I’m sure the Raptors expected him to get his points and didn’t look to DeRozan as a defensive stopper by any means. What they didn’t expect was Beno Udrih providing the production he did. Evans did get his triple-double of 19/10/10 and was a huge part of that crushing third quarter which we’ll get to. The Raptors needed their superstar to respond to what their star was doing and Bosh didn’t deliver. He had a very poor shooting night of 6-20 FG and there were a lot of sets tonight where we gave him the ball for jumpers as four guys watched, his reads of the double-teams was poor and he looked to get himself off before his teammates. That to me is Chris Bosh at his worst – not only is he not producing, but nobody else gets to score either.
Jose Calderon did a good job in the second quarter, he “pulled a Beno” but hitting a couple jumpers off the high-screen, didn’t concede much defensively and led the Raptors to a 20-16 win of the second quarter. Bargnani (20/6/3 on 8-12 FG) was again instrumental in the frame as he continued to terrorize Hawes. We went into halftime with a 45-40 lead which we were good for. We hadn’t gotten blown out on a back-to-back and that in itself is reason to celebrate. Not that I did, I just calmly got some ice out of the fridge, put a few pieces in a glass and then poured some more Crown on it. Then I waited for the third quarter.
The third quarter started and we immediately wet the bed.
Defensive energy? Gone. Drives to the rim? Hardly any. Jumpers? Hell yes. Effort? You must be joking. We conceded a season-high 43 points in the quarter and got outscored by a full 20 points. The quarter started with the Kings going on a 12-0 run and we never recovered. This span saw two Turkoglu misses, two Bosh bricks, a DeRozan brick and a Jack missed layup. There was no defensive energy, not even the preemptive help that’s made us dead-last in league defensive rating. Udrih and Evans each had 9 in the quarter and instead of buckling down and responding, the Raptors offense resembled anything anything but a team. Bargnani only attempted two shots and made both, I though the Hawes matchup was there to be exploited all night long and we didn’t milk it enough, certainly not to the level they milked Evans and Udrih. Blame Bargnani or his teammates or his coach, you can have your pick. The Kings shot 18-24 (75%) in the quarter equaling the number of field goals they had in the entire first half. Triano called it selfish:
We got very selfish, we had guys come down and take a shot and I guess other guys aren’t happy because they don’t touch the ball. We miss the shot and it gets rebounded and it’s fast break points, before you know it it’s a 10-0 run and we caved after that.
We lost points in the paint 62-42, lost the fastbreak 22-6, lost rebounding 52-33, lost points off turnovers 17-7, and lost steals 7-5. We lost practically every hustle stat against a team that had 11 less wins than us coming into this one and are playing out the string. The stats sure don’t bear out Triano’s belief that there was nothing wrong with our energy.
I hate to comment on Turkoglu because there’s nothing positive to say, but since he is our prime free-agent acquisition it’s only fair to give him a review. If I had to measure his performance on a spectrum of sorts, I’d have one end marked ‘shite’ and the other end marked ‘utter shite’. I’d say he was somewhere in the middle today, a whopping 6/7/3 on 2-8FG and 3 turnovers, and all this while being matched up against Donte Greene and Omri Casspi. Need I say more, need I really say more? I’ve gone off on Turkoglu enough times already this season and nothing I can say will add anything new to the story. He was crap. That is all. Let’s just hope we sneak into the playoffs and he hits game-winners left and right. If you can stomach it, here’s his post-game interview.
I could talk about Amir Johnson’s zero-filled scoresheet, Reggie Evans running around pretending he’s Dennis Rodman, Belinelli’s pointless late insertion, Antoine Wright’s 0-4 (14/56 for 25% in his last 8) and terrible defense, and other such nondescript events but it’s not worth it and more importantly, not needed for the reader to get an idea of what kind of game this was.
We were down by 15 heading into the fourth and even though that’s far from an insurmountable lead, the body language, the effort and the shot-selection in the first three minutes of the quarter told you that it’s best to turn this one off and finish off the bottle of Crown. This is the second time in less than a space of a week that we’ve been outworked and outplayed by a team that has nothing to play for whereas we’re jockeying for playoff positioning. We are now in a three-way tie for the sixth spot with Charlotte and Miami while Chicago is a game back at the ninth spot. The upcoming schedule for the teams goes like this:
Charlotte: LAC, @ORL, @IND
Miami: CHI, PHI, SAS
Chicago: @ORL @MIA @MEM
Toronto: @GSW, @POR, OKC
It’s conceivable that we’ll only need to go 1-2 in this stretch to still hang on to a playoff since Chicago has got it pretty tough. I’m not really aiming high here but at this point we should just make the playoffs and see where that takes us. How cruel the NBA is? Seems only yesterday that we were chasing the fourth spot which is now Milwaukee’s to do. They have created a 2 game gap between themselves and the 6th seed.
Final word on this game is that it wasn’t hard to predict a third quarter collapse as we’ve done it before and have only won twice on the second night of a back to back. Was it fatigue or was it just the players giving up? I don’t know but I hope it’s the former. I would hate to think that we have effort issues at this stage of the season.
Oh, by the way folks, Udrih was playing so well in the third that his coach kept him in there for the whole quarter! And you know what else? He started the fourth and lived to tell about it!