It’s a loss that easily could’ve been a win if only the Raptors would had gotten some production from some players they’re supposed to get production from. Before we dive into the details, the over-arching theme for this game is the Raptors effort. The loss stings, especially under the circumstance, but the effort of the good guys cannot be doubted and that’s new and something one can get used to. This game is exactly how many envision this season to be in the best case – proper effort but coming up short in the end because of a lack of experienced talent.
Reggie Evans got the start despite the matchups making zero sense. Presumably the Raptors are desperate to show anyone that he’s good for something, but Reggie keeps blowing his chance to do so. He tried some post-ups, attempted a reverse-slam on the baseline, and went up with the shot on the rare occasion he got the board. He failed at everything, and even when he manged to get fouled he blew the free throws. The plan to increase his trade value by showcasing him is backfiring and if he gets another start, the Raptors won’t even be able to ship him in NBA2K11.
The power forward position was a bit shaky on the whole with Amir Johnson displaying similar tendencies as last year: improper footwork and disorientation in the paint and mistiming his rebounds. It’s only two games in but he looks to be much the same player as last year and I don’t remember him making a jumper yet, an area of his game he worked on during the summer. The other thing he worked on was ball-handling and he obviously felt confident about it because he tried a drive-move from the top of the FT line where he brought the ball around his back, it was easily picked off and run back for two. Johnson so far has looked out-of-sorts, more so because you expected him to show you a little something extra. Joe Dorsey was the best power forward on the night, doing things like hustle and help-defense right, but picking up five fouls in 10 minutes was very Amiresque.
Weems (13pts, 6-12 FG) and Jack (18pts, 6-12 FG) were the main guns for the Raptors with Barobosa (16pts, 7-12 FG) putting in a shift consisting of what we saw of him in Phoenix (the good and the bad). Jack is looking to be our go-to offensive player and he looked very comfortable splitting the high double and then coming into the lane for a floater or a pass to the corner. This was pretty much the Raptors’ bread-and-butter play for the night – Jack with the ball coming at the defense and exploring his options on the wing or finishing himself. Weems’ jumper was falling and why shouldn’t it, the man has a textbook shooting motion and gets great lift, the problem is that all his shots seem to come from his own work and not from any team play.
Boston came out firing with Shaq, Rondo and Pierce doing the damage, and in the process making our interior defense look very bad (we’ll come to that in a bit). The Raptors regained their composure, didn’t hang their heads and dare I say, hung their hat on their defense. They always say that defense can keep you in a game and that’s exactly what happened, Boston’s energy and shooting cooled off and it coincided with the Raptors’ ascension. A 13-point deficit was sliced to 7 by halftime and the Raptors had to feel good about themselves.
David Andersen provided a great lift by hitting some mid-range shots, contested the boards very well and was great in his rotation-defense. The 41-35 rebounding edge to Boston flatters them and it is so only because the Raptors shot a very poor percentage (39.8%) for the game. You might look at Boston’s shooting percentage of 53% and question how the Raptors could have possibly played good defense, to which I’ll say the effort on defense was great, not necessarily the defense itself. For starters, that’s pretty good, and further confirmation of this was Boston-homer, Tommy Heinsohn, even crediting the Raptors on numerous occasions.
DeMar DeRozan failed to make an impact in this game for two reason: 1) His one-on-one defense was very poor and 2) His jumper is inconsistent. Two areas that he knows he has to work on and he has put in the work over the summer, it just didn’t show in this one. The slashing game was still there, as evidenced by his 8 FTAs, but until he can knock down that mid-range jumper with consistency he’s going to be very easy to defend. His defense? Well, that has to improve, the main problem I saw was that he was playing too tight and giving the offensive player no choice but to drive. The angles were wrong and there was too much hand-checking, thus the three fouls.
So, there’s obviously a name missing from the recap so far. It’s Andrea Bargnani. He was poor, there is no other way to put it. It’s already been all said so I’ll repeat it in small doses. Brutal help defense, failure to close-out driving guards, little effort on the glass (3 rebounds in approximately the same minutes as Jack who had 6), very poor movement after setting screens, poor decision-making with the ball, reluctance to assert himself etc. I could go on but I’ll stop because every Raptors fan already knows the story. Just so it’s clear that this isn’t an issue of the same old analysis being regurgitated over and over, the Boston commentators provided fresh eyes for Bargnani’s game and their comments were not flattering. He was referred to as someone who can “frustrate a coach” and labelled a “weak link” in the Raptors defense. Here’s the bottom line about Bargnani: he needs to become significantly more alert on the defensive end, and much more aggressive on the offensive end to be effective. Playing with a little bit of passion also wouldn’t hurt because it’s only Game 2 of the pre-season and it already appears that he’s going through the motions for the sake of them. Make you mark, man, now’s the time for you to come into your own and we’re all rooting for you. You just happen to make it very hard for us to get behind you and believe in you.
After Boston had decided to go with a bench led by Delonte West and Marquis Daniels in the fourth quarter, the Raptors re-inserted their starters looking to snatch the win. Bargnani was added late on in a one-possession game hoping to tilt balance in favor of the Raptors but committed his team-high third turnover and blew two help coverages. Kleiza didn’t fare much better on the defensive end either, he lost track of Marquis Daniels twice and was made to pay the price through open jumpers which sealed the deal. To Boston’s credit, their off-the-ball movement and floor spacing makes it tough to keep up with their guards when their bigs are pounding the ball underneath.
Jose Calderon’s poor pre-season continued and early on he couldn’t create anything and struggled with his own shot. In the second half he got a bit better and developed some chemistry with Barbosa, twice feeding the speedster for buckets on the break. The Raptors tried a few pick ‘n rolls with him and Amir Johnson, but the latter was too far away from the basket to make anything out of them. Calderon’s drive-and-kick game got better as the game went on and he wasn’t guarded by Rondo, but overall it’s a start to be concerned about for Jose as he hasn’t displayed the crispiness and rejuvenation that was expected after the summer trade rumours.
The Raptors also missed 11 free throws (59%) which can be directly linked to losing the game. Overall, there were positive signs for Barbosa, Weems and Jack, and as already said the effort was there. The stagnation of the offense could be a cause for concern, Bargnani high screens don’t seem to lead anywhere, Calderon isn’t facilitating things in the half-court, and too often we’re relying on Jack in late shot-clock situations. DeRozan and Weems need to be involved more frequently and the Raptors need better production from their big men. When you have dinosaurs like Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq guarding you, at some point you have to make them pay for their age and lack of quicks. It didn’t happen and it should have, but overall, it’s a positive performance.
Pre-season continues on Tuesday with the Raptors in Chicago.
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