There’s no point in trying to dissect the carnage when one all needs to do is look at the play from Toronto’s point position.
There’s no way the Raptors can compete until more is being produced by their point guard.
Jose Calderon was justifiably knocked for his indifferent play in the pre-season, replaced by Jarrett Jack in the starting unit when the regular season tipped off last Wednesday.
Two games into Toronto’s road trip, which already has the makings of an 0-for-4 mark, and Jack has done little to justify his spot in the starting five.
It’s sort of like having a football team with no legitimate starting quarterback.
The Raptors’ glaring deficiency became even more pronounced Wednesday night here against the host Jazz.
In Deron Williams, Utah has the game’s premier point guard, a guy who doesn’t even have to take a shot to take over a game.
And when he’s nailing jumpers, he’s virtually unstoppable, getting people involved and completely exposing teams, which is precisely what Williams did in leading the Jazz to its 125-108 win.
This was a mismatch of epic proportions, the playing field so uneven that Williams, at times, toyed with the Raptors.
All the Jazz needed was the opening quarter to set the tone and impose its will.
On a more polished team with more accomplished rebounders, there’s no way Evans would bring a 16.3 rebounding average into Wednesday night’s tip against the host Jazz.
Evans’ career high was posted in 2004 when he played in Seattle, where he averaged 9.3 boards in averaging a career-high 23.8 minutes.
And let’s be perfectly honest: Given his offensive shortcomings, on most teams Evans would be coming off the bench and not starting, which is what he’s been asked to do in Toronto and will continue to be asked to do in the immediate future.
The Raptors’ next-best rebounder, based on numbers anyway, is a tie between point guard Jarrett Jack and centre David Andersen, each averaging 4.0.
Also keep in mind that Evans was nearly traded to Charlotte this off-season, is in the final year of his contract and he’s on a team that already has made a huge financial commitment to Amir Johnson and has drafted Ed Davis, a fellow power forward who remains inactive with a knee injury.
During his career, Evans has had multiple double-digit rebounding nights, but nothing compares to his blazing start to this season, three games and three double-digit games, including a Raptors club-record tying most boards in a quarter (10) and most offensive rebounds in a game (10) in Toronto’s 111-108 loss to the Kings.
“I kind of feel like my old self again,” Evans said in describing his physical conditioning.
When it’s pointed out that last season’s prolonged absence led to Evans being virtually ignored by the media, he grudgingly nods his head in approval.
“Minutes,’’ Evans is quick to add when trying to pinpoint his accelerated start.
It’s not exactly a Hedo Turkoglu “ball’’ response, but it does go a long way in shedding some light when one considers Evans is averaging 31.3 minutes.
“This team is going to make you pay when you turn the ball over and we turned it over in the first quarter and they ran out (for easy baskets),” Triano said after the game. “We took some shots and missed the shots and they run out on that.
“It was transition mostly in the first quarter and I thought we got better at that.”
But it wasn’t as if the Raptors were trying to play the game at a pace unsuited for them.
“We don’t ever try to slow it down, we try to play and if we have an option or an open shot we’re going to take it,” said Triano. “When you take a quick shot and they rebound it, they’re going to go and we had a couple of those early . . . and they rolled in that first quarter.”
But as bad as the Raptors were in the first quarter, they were that good in the third. They closed to within 81-80 and had all the momentum in the game.
Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan dominated a 37-point Raptors quarter that showed what good can happen when they defend as a team and play unselfishly on offence.
However, allowing the Jazz to score five points in the final three seconds of the third took all the steam out of Toronto’s comeback.
Sonny Weems committed a foul on Williams that the Jazz guard converted into two points, and after DeRozan stepped on the sideline trying a three-quarter court heave with 1.6 seconds left, C.J. Miles banked in a desperation shot at the buzzer for a seven-point Jazz lead.
"C.J. made those shots that were heartbreakers for the other team and certainly warmed our hearts when they went in," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "It was really refreshing."
Miles called the bank shot more luck than skill, but said he felt comfortable coming off the bench.
"I know what’s going on, so I should be able to come in and make an immediate impact," Miles said. "That’s the role Coach put me in and we talked about it. If I can change the game, I’m going to do it."
The Jazz weren’t surprised Toronto made a game of it.
"Any time you get up 20 on a team in the first half, it’s hard to sustain because teams will make a run," Williams said. "But the most important thing is we were able to get the lead back up to 20."
Bargnani couldn’t explain the slow start, but said the way Utah pressed the ball didn’t help.
"We were too soft and allowed them to do what they wanted," Bargnani said.
Andrea Bargnani’s fourth game of the season might have been his best with 26 points (8-19 FGM-A), nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a losing cause.
Bargnani was especially good in the third quarter — where he caught fire and scored 15 of Toronto’s 37 points from all over the floor. Make it six straight games with at least 20 points for Il Mago dating back to last season.
This one featured 8 European and 10 foreign players…meaning it could easily have been billed as the Battle of Bad Haircuts.
There were some familiar faces:
**I remember Linas Kleiza not because he scored 40+ on us a few years back, but because in that same game he kicked Korver while he was on the ground.
**I remember Reggie Evans for getting a technical for slapping [his former teammate] Korver on the ass when the Jazz played the 76ers a few years back. Funnily enough, he got in trouble for the same offense against Grant Hill during the preseason. Anyway, onto the game:
When our first possession ended in an AK turnover*, I had a sinking feeling. “Oh no, the bipolar girlfriend team is back.” But it was just for a moment, because Deron and AK were running circles around the Raptors, Al was looking like THE best post player in the league, Millsap was Mr. All Around Basketball Player, and Raja…well, he couldn’t dunk on a breakaway, but he was exactly what we want him to be. The lead was 20+ in the blink of an eye, and near the end of the half the Jazz were shooting nearly 65% while keeping the Raps below 40%.
Utah collected the win despite playing without big men Kyrylo Fesenko and Jerermy Evans, and relying on a rotation that numbered nine players but often utilized only seven.
C.J. Miles and Ronnie Price helped carry the load for the Jazz. Miles scored 14 of his 19 points during the second half while knocking down 5 of his 6 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Price (11 points on 4 of 6 shooting) used his increased minutes wisely, as the speedy reserve The Jazz outscored Toronto 64-46 in the paint and 25-20 in the fast break. In addition, Utah shot 56.5 percent (48 of 85) from the field and 43.8 percent (7 of 16) beyond the arc.
“This team does not shoot a lot of 3s,” Toronto coach Jay Triano said. “But they did tonight and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Toronto forward Reggie Evans has a reputation for being a tough, physical player, a guy who’ll do just about anything to keep an opponent from doing his job.
Former Jazzmen John Stockton and Karl Malone had similar reputations.
Some have called Evans "dirty" because he doesn’t mind clutching, bumping and grabbing at opponents.
Again, similar things were said of Stockton and Malone, though most Jazz fans wince when the word "dirty" was used.
Before Wednesday’s Jazz-Raptors game at EnergySolutions Arena, Utah’s Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson came to Evans’ defense, so to speak.
"I’m not sure if he’s a dirty player," Millsap said. "I’m sure he gets out there and tries to wear (down opponents) and complete like anybody else. What people consider dirty is somebody who’s relentless, who attacks and is going to push and do whatever they can to get the ball."
Before coming to the Jazz in the offseson, Jefferson has already dealt with Evans’ aggressive play.
"I’ve been dealing with Reggie all my career," he said. "Every game I played against him I used to get in trouble in the film session because I didn’t block him out."
In fairness to Jefferson, Evans is almost impossible to block out.
"He keeps going, he doesn’t stop," Jefferson said. "The smart thing about Reggie is, as hard and aggressive as he plays, he doesn’t get in foul trouble that much."
Toronto is the NBA’s most diverse team, with six international players from Australia, Brazil, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria and Spain.
Utah has five global guys, including St. Petersburg standout Kirilenko, Turkey’s Mehmet Okur, Ukraine’s Kyrylo Fesenko (not present), the Netherlands’ Francisco Elson and Raja Bell, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In all, the NBA boasts a record-high immigration rate. The league of 435 players had 84 international athletes (19.3 percent) from 38 countries and territories as of opening night.
That’s up from 79 international players at the end of the 2009-10 season.
"I think more and more international players are going to be on the floor in the next couple of years because basketball is spread out global and more and more people come to the league," Kirilenko said. "So, it’s not surprising."
The foreign invasion has more than doubled in the last 12 years. In 1998-99 — the season before Bell entered the league — the NBA only had 38 international players.
Jazz center Al Jefferson expects the exchange rate to continue to increase.
"There’s great talent all over this world," Jefferson said. "And every year, they get better and better, so I’m not surprised, because the best players are going to play, and they’re everywhere."
"They got one of the best point guards in the NBA, if not the best," Triano said. "Coast-to-coast, he’s very good. He makes plays for other people. He defends really well. He is probably the top one or two point guards in the whole league."
Williams certainly lived up to those complimentary words against Toronto. During the Jazz’s game-opening 15-2 run, he sparked the team with two assists on fast breaks, dishing on a dunk by Andrei Kirilenko and a layup by Paul Millsap. He also had a dunk of his own and scored four points during the spurt.
He wasn’t finished, as he had 14 points — nearly eclipsing his previous season-high of 17 points — and added four rebounds in the first quarter.
"Deron was picking apart their defense," said guard Ronnie Price. "He, Paul (Millsap) and Al (Jefferson) had the pick-and-roll going early so they had to start helping and when they helped, Deron found the open guy. That’s why he is such a great point guard."
DeRozan ran into a much tougher defense than he has so far this season, and he responded well. After getting his first couple of shots rejected, he continued to be aggressive and ended up scoring 16 points on 6-10 shooting. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when Utah was running away in the fourth, the only way I could tell DeRozan was on the floor was too look for him. He completely disappeared. And do you remember those things I said that were unforgivable things? Well, at one point, the Raptors were playing excellent defense and had the Jazz late in the shotclock when DeRozan fouled CJ Miles to send him to the line. The foul wasn’t really that bad, as he attempted to take a charge, but still, it was a stupid mistake.
And then stepping on the sideline with 1.6 seconds left was something that might cause me to slap him, if I was his coach. Can you imagine the look Jerry Sloan would have given him if he were on the Jazz?
I hate to use the words of our infamous mayor-elect (as sad as that is), but the Raptors have to stop letting teams get easy buckets. Don’t get me wrong, Deron Williams is a great player and will certainly eat opposing teams for breakfast sometimes, but he had it way too easy tonight. Williams blew by Calderon and Jack and when he wasn’t finishing at the rim he was dishing it off to Jefferson for more easy buckets.
The Raptors simply are not a good enough team to give their opponents an easy ride. They have to defend the perimeter harder and prevent easy baskets. Tonight Williams was running circles around the Raps and they couldn’t do anything about it.