This is getting scary. the Raps have ventured from bump-in-the-road to mini-slump to all-out slump to…we’re just not a good team. At least before at home they competed with the elite teams in this league. Now, its just blowouts. The game was pretty much over halfway through the first quarter. Since the “big” lineup change, the Raps have pulled off an improbable come-from-behind victory against Atlanta, the blowout loss to OKC, two unconvincing road victories against the dregs of the NBA and now this.
It was clear the Raptors weren’t ready to compete as they came out firing jumpers, giving up offensive rebounds and letting Deron Williams go about like he was picking out groceries on a lazy Sunday. The challenge when dealing with the Jazz is staying with them on their cuts, screens, rolls, back-picks, hi-los etc. and it’s safe to say the Raptors didn’t have the basketball IQ, the willingness or even the preparedness to dig down and bother the Jazz. The Jazz came in, ran their sets, made those sweet bounce passes on pick ‘n rolls, those skip passes on flares, and drove and kicked us to death until Jack Armstrong decided to sing the praises of one Wes Matthews for about an hour. The Raptors offered no resistance.
We scored here and there through Bosh, Bargnani, and Wright but defense was another matter and it never looked like we’d manage to stop them for long enough to get a run going. Reggie Evans came in the second quarter and helped shave a 20 point lead down to 10 with his energy but those things are spurts and aren’t repeated every quarter. After that, the Jazz went back to doing their thing and we went back to playing like a team that’s expecting the game to go just like how practice went. I’m sure everything works dandy in practice because every Raptor is damned ecstatic in those scrum interviews, but the actual game is a different matter. Anyway, point being that the Jazz were in firm control of this game for 45 of the 48 minutes.
A lot of venom is being directed at Jay Triano. I have a problem with this and I’ll explain why but let’s address the actual coaching as it is first. In practically every team sport whenever a team struggles, fans tend to jump on the coach. Most of the time there’s not much the coach can do, you can only play with the hand you’re dealt. Some coaches can outwit others with good playcalling and in-game management, for example, Jerry Sloan but the majority of the time you’re constricted by the personnel at your disposal. Jay Triano is also strong in terms of X’s and O’s, definitely not as good as Sloan, but competent by most standards. It’s his game management that suffers tremendously, everything ranging from timely timeouts to substitution patterns can be openly questioned and the fact that he can’t get a decent effort out of his roster is an indictment on his ability as a leader. Now, let me defend Triano: He does not control who plays and for how long, not by a longshot. There’s a certain fellow that stands unassumingly near the player’s tunnel that has Jay’s ear and it’s the reason Triano was hired in the first place. He will not take certain players out of the starting lineup simply because just like Mitchell to a lesser degree, his hands are tied.
He also will not pull a Sam Mitchell and get into a player’ face. How many coaches do you know in the league that don’t tear a strip off a player once in a while? This is the NBA, half-ass doesn’t get it done. Look at what Flip Saunders did to Andray Blatche. Blatche has been going off but Flip didn’t like what he saw on defense and he let his young star know it. It turned sour, but don’t you think Blatche got the message? If this was the Raptors, people would be complaining about how Blatche just needs more touches in order to win games. But like any good coach, Saunders realizes that Blatche’s contributions on the offensive end are meaningless if he’s giving it back on the other end.
The defensive accountability just isn’t there. What is Jay waiting for? For a 20-0 run to start the game before he pulls some or all of his starters? Even change for the sake of change would be welcome. Send a message, any kind of message. This is where Triano fails and to top it off he defends the players’ effort in the post-game conference. He’s actually lying to himself and giving the impression that he hasn’t lost the lockerroom when in fact the product on the court speaks volumes.
The main reason I have a problem with the Triano hate is this. Bryan Colangelo inherited Sam Mitchell, chose not to let him go right away, but then invariably fired him after his perceived mishandling of Andrea Bargnani and lack of creativity in his offensive schemes. He felt the team was underperforming with Mitchell and brought in Jay as the interim, ultimately hiring Jay. The team struggled after Jay took over last year despite the coaching change and it’s struggling again this year, even after a pretty major roster overhaul. This is Colangelo’s hire. This is on him, not Jay Triano.
The biggest factor in the Raptors season has been the play of Chris Bosh. The Raptors weathered the storm early on in this season during a tough stretch of games and then excelled when the schedule became easier. Bosh had come into the season bigger and stronger, and took his game to another level. Since his injury he has not come back to that level and without him playing out of his mind, this team struggles. As Bosh goes, so do the Raptors.
You notice that Utah is like a better version of the Raptors. They too have a finesse centre in Mehmet Okur who likes to shoot a lot of 3s as well, but the difference is that he still manages to be a presence in the paint and pull down a decent amount of rebounds. They too have a prolific scorer/rebounder at power forward, a skilled European small forward, but once again, unlike ours can also play great defense. Young but willing guards who don’t demand many touches. A quality point guard that can produce offensively, but can take control of a game AND play shutdown defense.
The Calderon for Jack swap managed to do two things, both bad.
1) Jarret Jack was playing better as a starter. He was more comfortable as a starter and he set a better defensive tone to start the game. Deron Williams simply abused Jose tonight and Calderon responded with an 0-5.
2) Calderon is much better coming off the bench as has been proven time and time again. It’s just one of those things that is hard to explain but it is what it is. It doesn’t matter who the better point guard is, they end up playing the same amount of minutes anyway so why not just have him come off the bench again? The boost he gave to the bench was definitely an asset.
Funny that the one change Triano made has probably taken the team a step backwards, especially defensively. Do they not know what the problem with this team is? Our bench looked like the only group that could compete last night. When you have a good bench, but weak starters, the answer should be obvious. This will never happen because it makes too much basketball sense.
It’s Chris Bosh’s birthday so let’s make a wish on his behalf, shall we?
Here’s how I’d switch it up:
1) Amir Johnson shows energy and hustle. Have you ever seen Andrea dive for a loose ball? Too lazy? Let Amir set the tone early in the game. Bargnani becomes instant offense off the bench if his already fragile confidence isn’t shot. The bench role means less pressure and playing against weaker defenders which should help his offensive game.
2) Let Antoine Wright or Sonny Weems start the game over DeRozan. They have the length and NBA body to handle starting 2-guards and as much as DeRozan attacks the basket to start games, the guy is a defensive sieve.
3) Start Jack, Jose won’t mind.
I’m not saying this lineup will fix what ails us, but it’ll give us a fighting chance past the first two minutes of the game and will provide the shake-up that this team so desperately needs. We’re crawling towards the post-season and need a shot in the arm in the worst way. I just wish Bryan Triangelo would feel the same way.