Shockingly, we’re still hanging on to the 8th spot

I don’t know if I should mourn the Raptors loss, celebrate the Nets win, or gouge my eyes out with an unsharpened pencil.

Reggie Evans goes up for a shot.  Whaaaa?
Raptors 101, Hawks 107 – Box

There’s definitely an element of *boilk* in this post as we just finished our second year of Raptor Fan Fridays. Thanks to all the funny chaps who come out and restore my belief that not everyone on the internet lives in their parents’ basement. Hopefully the Raptors can make the playoffs and we can have a few more of these nights where we give away prize after prize.

I don’t know if I should mourn the Raptors loss, celebrate the Nets win, or gouge my eyes out with an unsharpened pencil. On Monday, Steve and I had a podcast where we decided that the Raptors needed to win at least one of the games against Cleveland, Boston or Atlanta to still have a shot at the final playoff spot. Lo and behold we drop all three games and have somehow managed to hang on to the eighth seed. Call it luck, call it destiny or call it the Bulls being utter shite. Whatever the case, I’ll take it, especially since Chuck Swirsky’s vomiting in his mouth on every other Bulls possession.

As for the game itself, it was supposed to be a loss from the very beginning and it ended up being just that. To the Raptors credit, they managed to hang around for about a quarter or so until every Hawk wing decided to dribble penetrate, kick-out and force the Raptors to make the rotation. Unfortunately for us, they have four guys on the court that can take you off the dribble and shake your defense until you’re forced to concede an open look somewhere. In the first quarter they weren’t making that open shot, in the second they did and boy did they ever. They scored 45 points and totally erased the soft and fuzzy feeling the Raptors 25-14 first quarter lead had left behind.

Let’s talk about that first quarter; it’s not a surprise we had a lead considering the efficient production from Andrea Bargnani in that first quarter (9pts, 4-6FG) and effective defense from Amir Johnson, starting in the place of Reggie Evans. Johnson (18pts, 13rebs, 8-10FG) night was simply terrific, he picked up a foul on the very first possession and as he did that @FreeAmir yelled out a very audible F-word that echoed through SCC. The play wasn’t foreshadowing Johnson’s night because he had a game which would make any garbage-man proud, he negated Josh Smith for most of the night, forced him into a 7-17FG night, racked up a game-high +16, a team-high 2 blocks, finished a couple And1s with style and played a season high 35 minutes while only picking up four fouls. Smith isn’t a player that puts you under any great pressure to defend in one-on-one situations, but we should note that Johnson showed an ability to play high volume minutes without picking up silly fouls. The man delivered in every sense from start to finish.

Bargnani’s night got significantly worse after the first quarter, he went 3-9FG for 6 points the rest of the game and was a total non-factor. I know you don’t like to hear this, but he played more minutes than Johnson and collected less than half his rebounds. On the evening we were a critical -8 in second-chance points and -6 in offensive rebounds. In fact, the Hawks only shot 41% to the Raptors’ 48%, the difference in the game was the rebounding and three-point shooting, in the latter we were outscored 24-6 with Jamal Crawford once again playing the role of mercenary with a game-high 25 points including 15 in that second quarter which knocked the wind out of our sails.

The Raptors didn’t lie down in the face of Atlanta’s offensive pressure as some of you might expect. I’ve already mentioned Johnsons’ gritty effort, but there’s also Jose Calderon (10pts, 10asts) and Sonny Weems (18pts, 8-16FG) who played with a level of aggression that was very much welcome. We laid an absolute defensive egg in the second quarter but the response after halftime was solid. It looked like Atlanta was going to blow this one wide open but we got defensive stops by extending our defense, playing great man-to-man defense against Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson, the latter being held to a 6-14 night thanks to Antoine Wright who also joined Bosh on the treatment table after a sprained ankle. The defensive energy was good, even great at times, but the Hawks have a talent advantage at every single position and it showed.

The one glaring defensive weakness they have is Mike Bibby and they hid him well by having him guard Antoine Wright as Joe Johnson guarded Jose Calderon. The Raptors tried to exploit Bibby by going to Wright a few times but he went 0-6 and we had issues paying Atlanta for the double; those guys are athletic, cover a lot of ground on the perimeter and their length forces you to think twice before testing the passing lanes. It was only an 8 point game heading into the fourth and unlike in Cleveland, we had a legitimate shot to winning this if we got a little hot and managed to get some defensive stops. The Hawks might’ve shot 41% for the game but they shot 50% in the fourth quarter when it counted; Joe Johnson notched 8 of his 18 in the fourth with Belinelli on him as Wright exited due to injury.

Their clutch performer had delivered, how did ours do? Hedo Turkoglu only took one shot in the fourth quarter and Bargnani only took two shots, missing both. Top this off with Turkoglu and Jack bumbling the ball for a turnover with 43 seconds. With our two major offensive players declining to take a serious role in this game, it fell on the likes of Jarrett Jack to carry the team which is unfair. It’s not his job to carry the team on his back; sure, he does it once in a while but to expect it of him is another matter. I don’t understand any criticism levied at Calderon and Jack’s offensive games, in my mind these two should be exonerated on offense until the “stars” that are Bargnani and Turkoglu deliver their goods. How can you criticize Jack or Calderon for not leading our team in the fourth quarter and give a free pass to Turkoglu and Bargnani. Yes, everybody should be accountable but there’s a sequence to things which must be followed.

As with many a Raptor game this year, Triano did something that goes against any common sense. Jose Calderon was having a very efficient game but didn’t see the light of day in the fourth quarter till there were 6 seconds left in the game. Sonny Weems was our best wing player on the night and Triano chose to bench him between the 9:51 and 0:14 mark of the fourth quarter. He basically didn’t play the fourth quarter after having a damn good first three quarters. I am a DeRozan fan but am at a complete loss in understanding this behaviour. I’m inclined to say this is bush-league coaching on the part of Triano who has real trouble figuring out which of his players are having good games. Maybe Colangelo should send him an iPad with the ESPN boxscore constantly refreshing to help him out. At this point I suppose I could reiterate how he plans his substitutions a day in advance but this was Game 79 and everything that can be said about him has been said. A leopard isn’t going to change his spots, or in this case, Triano isn’t going to learn to coach.

The sad part is that he’s done this so many times that I don’t even get a reaction out of it anymore. Nobody asks him these questions in the post-game interview so it remains a Twilight Zone mystery.

Looking ahead to Sunday, if we win that game the only way we don’t make the playoffs is if we lose to both Detroit and New York, and Chicago beats Boston and Charlotte. It’s safe to say that if we win that game, we’re in.

Tom Liston and I were discussing a few things and concluded the following:

  • The NBA needs to differentiate between paint and non-paint rebounds. The reason being that there are rebounds that often fall into players’ lap and there are rebounds that are hard-fought and contested. A distinction needs to be made.
  • The same goes for assists. There’s a difference between creating a shot out of nothing for somebody and just passing the rock along. I know it’s highly subjective, but in this era of stats, this needs to be recorded.
  • The major advantage Sonny Weems has over DeMar DeRozan is his physical strength and NBA-body.
  • Antoine Wright should never take a mid-range jumper.
  • Amir Johnson needs to work on his physical strength and upper-body so he can defend without fouling. He’s often reaching instead of holding his ground and this should solve that problem.
  • Hedo Turkoglu has a tendency to smile at the worst possible moments.
  • Jarrett Jack is pretty good at drawing a three-shot foul.
  • The Bulls are a terrible team, worse than the Raptors.

I’ll also leave you with some gems from our Twitter account, handled by Scott:

  • The Raptors on defence look like mice that have found open bottles of wine and helped themselves.
  • Devlin always watches the screen, never the live action. Just brutal for a play by play guy.
  • I am looking to cut back on my drinking. Therefore, I will only take a shot every time Andrea gets to the line.
  • Weems with a textbook bounce pass…..to the blonde eating popcorn courtside.
  • I feel like I’m watching 70s porn. This game holds my interest but isn’t doing anything for me.
  • Rogers Access Question: If we score more points than Atlanta, do you think we’ll win?
  • Wow. Not often do you see a player throw a shot clear OVER the backboard from 5 feet out. Reggie Evans is the best.

Much thanks to the folks at Sports Centre Cafe for accommodating Raptors Republic all season long, special thanks to Realizar and Colin Alschotz for hosting the game parties. It’s been great fun, hopefully it’s not the end and we can squeeze a couple more in.

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