Raptors lose lead, then composure

Once you get done banging your head against the wall and cursing out everyone who screwed up in that fourth quarter, don’t forget that the team did play quite well for a large part of the game. It sucks balls to lose a game like that, you know, being up 17 and giving it back inch by inch until you’re in a tight game in one of the loudest arenas in the league.

Kings 111, Raptors 108 – Box

Once you get done banging your head against the wall and cursing out everyone who screwed up in that fourth quarter, don’t forget that the team did play quite well for a large part of the game. It sucks balls to lose a game like that, you know, being up 17 and giving it back inch by inch until you’re in a tight game in one of the loudest arenas in the league. Once the Kings made it a three point game with 10:56 left to play, they were the favorites to win this. If the Raptors were to avoid an ill fate they would have to do all the little things right to counter that great decider of NBA games that they had just finished conceding: momentum. Instead they lost their cool, gave up key offensive rebounds and got stuck in an offensive rut which was completely different than how they started the game. And yes, there was a questionable final play.

The Raptors defensive pressure was so great early on that it prompted John Schuhmann of NBA.com to tweet this. The elements that make up a good defense were all there. The highlight was the consistent ball-pressure above the three-point line with Jack and DeRozan doing a great job being in deny position while preventing the back-cut. As he stated in his halftime interview, DeRozan had taken on the challenge of stopping Tyreke Evans and was doing a job of it. The interior rotations were solid, whenever Tyreke Evans or Beno Udrih got in the lane there was a challenger waiting right there, sometimes Bargnani and sometimes Reggie Evans. The first-half defense of Bargnani against DeMarcus Cousins was outstanding, twice did the Raptor shove Cousins’ offering back in his face and made the Kentucky grad shake his head in dismay.

On the other end, aggression was the name of the game with DeRozan leading the charge. The early jumper didn’t fall but he didn’t discard his offensive game and kept persisting using the drive, soon enough the jumper came along and he finished with a game-high 14 FTAs (making 10) and 24 points. He was by and large the most aggressive Raptor on the night and the only one capable of producing offense entirely on his own. After Cousins got in foul trouble early and Dalembert (returning from injury) was slow to adjust, the Raptors poured it on the Kings in the paint. Carl Landry and Jason Thompson couldn’t challenge the Raptors who were getting on the run at every chance – 21-6 was the fastbreak point edge for the good guys at the end of the first half.

Andrea Bargnani was having an incredibly efficient offensive game (10-17 FG, 28 points), the catch-and-shoot was working well and he nicked a couple hoops on the baseline. His offensive game continued flowing into the second half but that’s also when his lack of rebounding came back to hurt the team, more on that later. The player of the half had to be Reggie Evans who fully and completely dominated the glass and finished with 19 rebounds (10 offensive) but only had four in the second half. Evans is collecting an obscene amount of rebounds and it has as much to do with his unadulterated hustle as it is to do with who he’s playing with. If he played with a traditional center there’s a good chance that the rebounds he’s collecting now would have gone to the center, but since Bargnani is nowhere close to being in rebounding position, Evans has a greater chance at the boards.

The Raptors held an 11 point lead at the half and saw Tyreke Evans head to the bench with an upset stomach. At this point all looked rosy but that was about to change, as it often does when the Raptors get an early lead on the road. Evans’ return in the third quarter was when the tide started shifting, he got into the paint just like he had in the first but this time around he started picking out shooters. The Raptors rotations were stretched and they gave up jumpers to Garcia, Udrih and Casspi. The Kings, despite being down by 16 early in the third thanks to a couple Kleiza threes, had figured out how to score against the slowly tiring Raptors whose defensive intensity had faded just a tad.

You got the sense that that it was only a matter of time when the Kings’ onslaught would reach its peak, and soon enough it did. Jack displayed an immaturity that makes you doubt his status as leader on this team by abandoning the rest of his teammates and trying to do things on their own. Instead of soaking the Kings’ pressure and responding by running a solid set which would act as a timely jab to the Kings, Jack tried to deliver knockout blows in the third quarter. He missed a bad three and had a costly turnover which fueled the Kings’ momentum, Calderon was inserted at 3:41 of the third and Jack was never to be heard from again.

Calderon didn’t fare much better in settling the nerves, he did hit two big time threes to keep the Kings temporarily at bay, but relying on your point guard to come up with deep bombs is not a convincing strategy. The side-to-side ball movement, the defensive pressure, the post-ups that the Raptors were executing in the first half had gone away and every possession looked like it was coming down to the final seconds of the shot-clock. Kleiza tried to go one-on-one in the post but got called for two travels, Bargnani was stuck at the three-point line with the ball in his hands desperately looking for a play to develop, even Reggie Evans attempted a jumper. Barbosa tried to use his speed in the half-court only to find out that defenses are much more ready when they’re not stretched in transition. Sonny Weems just dribbled and shot.

The start of the fourth quarter saw the Raptors clinging on to an 8 point lead and it didn’t start well. Barbosa, Andersen, Weems, Johnson and Calderon started the frame and went a -5 in 1:31 of play. It’s only five points but that was a massive momentum shift and many in the chat were questioning Triano’s decision to not call his first timeout until 3:34 of the fourth. The leadership on offense was non-existent and the Raptors were getting low quality shots, much like they had against New York in the final quarter. Reggie Evans’ rebounds, Calderon and Bargnani’s desperation offense, and DeRozan’s will to get to the line were keeping the Raptors in it but you knew the game was going to be won at the other end. Could the Raptors finally get some stops?

Up until now Bargnani’s two rebounds could have been easily overlooked because of his strong offensive game. He had done more than his share on offense and Evans had made up for his lack of rebounding. However, when a five-foul ridden Cousins was inserted back in the game, he made it a point to hit the glass. After being embarassed on the glass in the first half by Evans, the motivated combination of Dalembert and Cousins was too much for The Iowa veteran to handle, he was already being dragged wide of the paint by pick ‘n roll defense duties and he needed help. Bargnani did not provide it. (Tom Liston chimes in with this) The Kings had six massive offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, three of them directly the result of Bargnani’s inability to corral the rebound. These six rebounds led directly to ten Kings points and if you look at this game in the vacuum of the fourth quarter, it was the deciding factor. Seeing how Bargnani was having a poor rebounding game, maybe some offense/defense switches would have been in order since some combination of the two of Johnson/Evans/Andersen/Dorsey has a better shot at Dalembert/Cousins, at least when it comes to getting a stop.

The Raptors shot 8/21 (38%) in the fourth and after a huge Bargnani three, had a chance to tie the game with 12 seconds left. With no timeouts left, Triano chose to go for the quick two which was a boneheaded decision. Perhaps you can convince me that he had no use for Jarrett Jack in the fourth quarter, maybe even fool me into believing that he didn’t bench Evans for too long, but you’re not going to convince me that 12 seconds is enough time to run a scoring play, get a steal (or foul and rebound) and travel the full distance of the court and score again. All without a timeout. The Raptors were 9-21 from three before that final possession, Bargnani, Calderon and Kleiza had all hit multiple threes in the game and were primed to take this one. Instead, Triano gambled on I don’t know what and lost the game.

I rarely blame the loss on one player or a coaching decision and will stick to that principle. Instead I’ll point to the lack of composure as the main issue (and those f*&(^%g offensive rebounds). Just like against New York, the team went from playing an organized and planned sense of basketball to being completely helter-skelter without any great pressure being applied. It’s not like the Kings were forcing turnovers or playing great defense, the Raptors’ knees just buckled and suddenly getting into a set formation was a task too big on its own.

I don’t want this heartbreaking loss to take away from the positives we saw in this game.

  • The return of Jose Calderon’s outside jumper 5-9FG, 2-3 3FG.
  • Bargnani’s catch-and-shoot game and his pull-up baseline jumper.
  • Jack’s first half play where he found shooters well (very effective with that drive from the left and then passing it over the back).
  • Reggie Evans’ monster game. Not to mention some of his post-passing which has been quite surprising.
  • DeRozan’s aggressiveness and determination to get fouled.
  • Committed first-half defense.

The sad part is that we easily could have been 3-0.

Obviously, the game leaves a bitter taste because of the big lead we blew, but that’s to be expected of a team which hopes that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. For the Raptors to win, the key players must play complete games, and this loss should serve as a reminder that we’re not good enough to afford any of them going missing. Jay Triano needs to be held accountable for some of the sets that were run in the fourth, in my humble opinion, we have no business positing up Kleiza when Bargnani has been doing a great job of it all game long. Once again, a player like Julian Wright was not used in offense/defense type situations late in the game. When Sonny Weems was on his brick-rampage he should have been either taken out and given a seat on the bench (if Jack, why not him?), or some effort should have been made to integrate his strength (catch-and-shoot) into the game.

The Raptors are lacking assets and we need the coach to be on the peak of his mental capacity so that he can extract the best out of the team. Last night, I would’ve settled for some common sense on the last play.

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