Superior opponent. Check. No transition defense. Check. Opponent shoots over 50%. Check. Big players coming up short. Check. All the elements that will make the season tough to get through were there last night and not surprisingly, the Raptors were down 25 in the fourth quarter against a Boston team missing Paul Pierce and Shaq, and giving their bench a good run. I would have liked to think that if you take the Raptors starters and put them against the Boston bench that they’d hold their own, maybe even pull through but that wasn’t the case. Nate Robinson dominated this game with his speed and got me thinking that maybe the Raptors could use Leandro Barbosa in a similar role – ball in his hands coming at the defense rain or shine. It might not be the fundamentally sound strategy but it could be fun to watch. I really find it painful watching Jack try to be something he’s not and am rooting for Calderon to find his form and become a good starter, thus moving Jack to an energy-scorer off the bench. Tell me you don’t think Barbosa and Jack couldn’t pack a punch in the second unit.
Andrea Bargnani. 5-16 FG, that’s without Shaq or Perkins in there and after playing the most minutes on the team, 25:15. But wait, he had 15 points and 5 rebounds so I guess it’s all OK, right? This guy needs to drink a carton of Red Bull before each game to get his energy level up to snuff, actually check that, he needs to be injected with blood taken directly from a raging bull who has gone mad and just finished plundering to death about a 100 cows. Wait, just to be safe, before that blood is injected into Bargnani, it needs to be mixed with the same stuff that had infected those people in 28 Days Later, maybe then we can see a full game’s worth of effort and intensity from this guy. I hate to single him out but they tell me he’s our best player so I’m giving him the ink that the “best player” deserves, it’s only fair. I counted at least four instances of absolutely terrible help defense from him and that’s without paying much attention. Most of the time it has to do with a guard coming into the lane and Bargnani either not meeting him near the rim, or meeting him at such an angle that it’s pointless. A Breaking It Down segment coming soon. BTW, what’s up with that Shaqish jumper?
While we’re talking about Bargnani’s help defense, let’s touch on Amir Johnson. If you have the game PVR’d, go look at how he picks up his first foul. I can’t doubt his effort on the play, but there’s the right way to seal a guy on the baseline and then there’s the Amir Johnson way. Unlike Bargnani, I appreciate his aggressiveness and the fact that he made the effort to recognize that there’s a basketball game going on and that he’s got a responsibility to cover his teammates, but he’s going to have to be a lot smarter about his angles and body-shape if he wants to avoid being whistled by the zebras. Still, he only picked up two fouls which wasn’t too bad. He had a couple good scores during garbage time, ran the lanes hard, but at this point he’s not showing much more than he did last year. Where’s that jumper he worked on?
Leandro Barbosa had a poor shooting night going 3-9, and that was expected because he’s not the shooter he looked in the two games before this. If I had to give him a nickname, I’d call him Mr. Option. It’s a boring and unspectacular name, but I find it fitting. He gives the point guard an option on every play, either he’s streaming down the flank or looking to catch the ball for a shot after flaring off a screen. Triano’s put in a couple plays to get him shots, mostly him coming off a weak-side screen for a mid-range jumper, he didn’t hit them tonight but the idea was there. The other main newcomer, Linas Kleiza, had a nice enough game, a quiet 15/3 which the Boston defense was more than willing to concede. Kleiza’s got good skills, he’s fairly refined, plays hard, can’t create his own shot but is smart enough to figure out where his shot’s going to come from, and goes about his business in a professional manner. There’s no reason he won’t average 15-18 points this year, but what does that contribution mean in the larger context if key players like Bargnani, Calderon and DeRozan aren’t delivering consistently. Kleiza’s contribution could just get lost in the mix.
Dorsey had a strong showing, the guy doesn’t do much but does rebound and happens to be pretty good at it. Full marks for effort yet again and I bet that he’s done more than play himself onto an NBA bench, even though it might not be the Raptors’. Calderon couldn’t get past first base again because he couldn’t make his mid-range jumpers, until he does that his “turn the corner” drive is nullified and he doesn’t get to showcase his passing other than just flipping it to somebody after the high screen. He’s shooting 29.6% for the pre-season and 11% (1-9 3FG) from three. That is not going to get it done, I wish I could say that the jumpers he’s missing are highly contested or bad shots, they’re not, they’re completely within the flow of whatever offense the Raptors are running, Calderon just isn’t hitting them. Pure and simple.
Before Sonny Weems “exploded” in the fourth quarter his performance was forgettable as well, a man of his scoring ability should not be anonymous for quarters at a time. The biggest knock on him is that he doesn’t seem to be too concerned about winning or losing, and that’s a scary, scary thought. Robinson blocking his little baseline jumper was sick/wet/nasty (video 1:40 mark). I feel a little sorry for DeMar DeRozan, the guy means well and puts in a good shift every night, but it’s evident that he doesn’t believe in his jumper and is reluctant to take it. That results in forced drives which the defense is only too ready to meet and that’s why you see his shot getting blocked so often. I appreciate his drives and am glad that we have a player who isn’t afraid to take it to the rim, but a shooting guard without a jumper is like a sniper without a gun.
When this game was still somewhat close and something could be learned from it, two things about the Raptors stood out. First, the transition defense. It was bad all around, much like the Chicago game I covered, the other point guard had free reign to take it from 3/4 court all the way to the rim. Robinson and Rondo beat our point guards who were jogging back and raced past our lumbering big men who hadn’t caught on to their strategy of challenging them to not only get back, but to contest the drive. Doc Rivers preaches drives to the rim and the way the Raptors were defending, he’d be a mad man not to repeat the same message in each huddle. The Raptors have some size in the interior positions, but the defense and intelligence was missing. I’ll call it lack of court awareness, but it was bordering on lack of effort.
Second, the offense. This Utopian scheme of everybody “picking each other up” and “sharing the load” while “distributing the scoring” makes romantic press and even brings a tear to my eye. I like it and am only wondering just how hard it is to come up with a system where four or five guys can carry the scoring load evenly. Since most basketball teams cater to one or two players who are often the primary or secondary options on them, does it mean the Raptors have to have twice as many plays to make sure four to five guys have equal stuff run for them. Or does Triano plan on coming up with such intricate plays that they’re going to distribute scoring evenly across the board. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the idea of team-ball but even team-ball is heavily dependent on the idea of a double-team drawn at some point which throws the defense off. Right now the Raptors find themselves in one-on-one situations on and off the ball, and this is making it very hard for clean looks to be generated.
Not the way you want to start the weekend.