Raptors 94, Heat 97 – Box

I’m not really feeling this moral victory. Denver, fine, I can buy that, after getting killed by OKC and the Jazz that was a good fight against a strong team, but we should’ve won this game. Up 17 against the Heat in the third and up 11 midway through the fourth, we had to find a way to close the game instead of crumbling under the pressure to both score and defend. The bright side is we’re at least talking about basketball issues instead of effort issues, but that doesn’t take away from this being a potentially disastrous loss with Chicago only a game behind in the loss column.

I had initially thought that Hedo Turkoglu didn’t play because he was “sick” but in the post-game presser, Triano specifically said that it was a coach’s decision:

Reporter: Turkoglu was good to go and you decided to give him a seat tonight?

Triano: Yeah, he was active but it was a coach’s decision to not play him.

Reporter: What was the particular…?

Triano: Coach’s decision.

Reporter: Was the coach’s decision sort of more because he wasn’t healthy or were you sending a message to your group?

Triano: Both.

Anyway, we seem to play better without him so I hardly care, and as a reader pointed out a while ago, the Raptors should plant guns in his locker-room and see if they can void his contract. Weems and Wright got the call and they picked up where they had left off, hounding the ball in isolation situations and digging down on defense. Weems’ man-defense on Wade was great for the most part, we just had severe trouble dealing with Wade as he turned on high screens and got matched up with Bargnani, Bosh and Johnson going to the rim. The Raptors never made an adjustment on that play and Miami kept setting a screen for Wade which caught Weems or Wright, leaving Wade free to attack a Raptors interior defense that only had 2 blocks on the night and as a team was +8 in personal fouls. We have trouble defending without fouling (5th worst in NBA at 22.43 PF/G) and it showed.

Wade reserved his efforts for the second half when his team really needed him and deferred to other in the first. Now, looking at Wade’s shot-chart, you notice that of his 11 made shots only 2 were jumpers and he obviously struggled with his mid-range. Noticing this early trend, perhaps Triano could’ve deployed those switching schemes he’s so fond off when even though they’re so not appropriate. Simply put, our best chance of slowing Wade down is turning him into a jump shooter, not giving him an open invite to get And1s at the rim at the expense of our slow-footed help defenders. Maybe I’m too simplistic in my view of things but it sure as hell makes sense. The Raptors did try running two guys at him on a couple possessions in the fourth quarter but they did it when he hadn’t even started dribbling at the top of the key and he just picked out a big on the baseline for a jumper. Triano says that they did everything they could to stop Wade but I don’t see it.

Back to the first half, we hung our hat on our defense and had some great takeaways in the backcourt which fueled our offense and we were up 8-0 on fastbreak points. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but at times we looked like a poor man’s OKC Thunder – defense driving offense. You might remember how the interior passing of the Nuggets gave us big problems, well, more of the same here except this time it was Joel Anthony who got himself in the right position on the screen ‘n rolls and showed a nice ability to finish against pressure. Bosh’s response was rather pathetic – fadeaways in isolation situations, holding the ball too long wasting time off the shot-clock, not reading the Miami doubles properly and showing zero defensive grit. Miami’s doubles on him came at different times, they sometimes only showed and backed off when he dribbled, sometimes came immediately, sometimes on the dribble etc. They mixed their looks enough to confuse Bosh whose basketball IQ keeps getting in the way of him being a real star. As for this game, perhaps it would’ve been better to explore other offensive options than dump it down to him because he didn’t have his game early and never looked like he cared enough to get it going.

It also seems like as the season has gone on, he’s taken his game further away form the basket. He averaged 13 FTAs in the two games in October, 10.6 in November but between December and February netted 7.6, 7.3 and 9.4, respectively. For March however, he’s only averaging 6.2 FTAs which is a significant drop. Maybe some of it is due to his injury, but there’s no doubt that he is far less aggressive in going to the rim now then he was early in the season.

After sticking with the Heat in the first (down 26-23), we simply waited for Wade to get his rest and took advantage. We were already ticking on offense because of good PG play from Calderon, and Jack picked up right where he’d left off – very efficient ball-movement on the perimeter. I only counted one WTF-shot by Wright in the first half and the Raptors off-the-ball movement (especially DeRozan, Weems) freed up a lot of room for Jack to drive and he notched 11 second quarter points as Miami, without Wade’s penetration, kept clanging jumpers left and right. Sure, many of them were wide open ones, especially Beasley’s (1-10 FG) but overall the Raptors second-quarter unit did well and the bench had a 21-12 advantage at the half. Bargnani was often at the top of the key in these swing sequences and did a good job of keeping things moving, he also found Evans for a great hi-low once.

I’d be remiss to not mention Amir Johnson. I rarely question the referees but some of the fouls he picked up tonight were lame. He once got called for gently leaning on a guy without the ball and another time for holding his arms straight up, I’m telling you, these officials make up their minds well before the play sometimes. Bargnani’s defense in the first half was decent in the sense that he was there whenever a guard got to the lane or when he was asked to seal the baseline, but it wasn’t up to snuff when he was asked to defend Anthony or Haslem in close quarters. He’s 27th in the NBA in Blocks Per 48 and that number has to rise for us to be a good defensive team because his frontcourt partner, Chris Bosh, is a perennially poor shot blocker. Unless Amir Johnson is having a stalwart of a defensive game, anybody can cruise into the paint without much fear of having their shot altered or blocked.

So it’s 49-43 at the half and we’re shooting 55%, other than some sloppy turnovers I’m happy. We’ve slowed the pace down, haven’t given up 70 points in the half and have only one role player (Joel Anthony early) murder us after Wade penetration. The third quarter belonged to Bargnani’s two massive confidence-filled threes and Jose Calderon’s 8pts and 3 assists which also included two threes. Calderon’s two threes were big because they came while Wade was in the midst of his 13pt assault in the quarter. Calderon and Bargnani were doing a good job of busting an increasingly aggressive Heat defense by moving the ball across the perimeter and knocking down back-breakers, the lead ballooned to 17 at one point and it looked like the Raptors might cruise. The shot-selection to end the third was very poor, Wright took a bad shot and then Bargnani was caught unaware of the fact that the Raptors had the chance to take the last shot of the quarter and hurried up a bad three. We had a chance to go up 13 or 14 heading into the fourth but settled for a 10 point lead.

Hey, I’ll take a 10 point lead to start the fourth on the road any day and now it was a matter of holding it together, executing efficiently and relying on your defense. Instead we got jumpers and more jumpers. But first, somebody explain me this. Bargnani and Calderon both had it going in the third and Bargnani started the fourth but Calderon didn’t. Why Triano fails to recognize that he’s got a PG with a hot-hand (who isn’t being abused defensively) that could be milked is a mystery that remains unresolved; this is at least the 7th time this season that he made a sub involving Calderon and Jack that he had decided upon in practice the previous day. Why not adjust your predetermined routine and go with what the game’s offering you? After Calderon had 8 in the third, he had 0 in the fourth. I just don’t get it.

Two things happened in the fourth quarter: our offense failed in the clutch and our bigs weren’t able to stop their bigs. First, the offense. Sometimes the play-by-play tells the whole story and here it is. At 3:31 we had a 6 point lead and these are the offensive possessions that followed:

2:56 Carlos Arroyo blocks Jose Calderon’s layup 89-85
2:45 Chris Bosh misses 37-foot three point jumper 89-85
2:13 Chris Bosh misses 18-foot jumper 89-87
1:23 Jarrett Jack misses 26-foot three point jumper 89-89
0:39 Antoine Wright misses 25-foot three point jumper 89-91
0:26 Andrea Bargnani misses 20-foot jumper 89-91
0:12 Andrea Bargnani misses 25-foot three point jumper 89-93

Do I really need to continue this post?

Every time we gave the ball to Bosh, nothing came of it except shot-clock wastage and even though Anthony is a good defender, I’m told that Bosh is a top-tier NBA PF who should be able to get his when his team really needs him. Instead, he gave us 4 points, none after the 6:22 mark. The Heat defense was much better but we let it suffocate us into 6-20 shooting in the fourth instead of digging down and responding like a confident offensive unit. Some might criticize Triano for not playing His Royal Clutchess in the fourth but I’m all for him benching the underperforming lazy dud.

Offense wasn’t the main story to me, it was Udonis Haslem who averages 9.5ppg dropping 11 in the fourth and going 10-11 FG (yes, you read that right) for 23 points. I’m looking at Andrea Bargnani as the main culprit here, Haslem took him off the bounce more than a couple times, got rebounds over him and even knocked down his mid-range jumper. You can blame the rotations for not picking him up there as Bargnani went to help, but overall he schooled Bargnani.

I was also disappointed in the play coming out of the timeout when we were down 2 with 37 seconds left. A pick ‘n pop for a contested jumper for Bargnani from 20 feet? As the road team you have to be the aggressor here and get a shot that if it doesn’t go in, you have a chance to get to the FT line. We basically threw the game away late on.

So, tonight it’s Charlotte in Charlotte and last time we were there we lost by 35. The time before that we lost by 26. The only good news is that we hold the tie-breaker over Chicago.

Don’t miss the Roll Call.

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