I had a bunch of awful John Wall puns and play-on-words ready. Alas, they will have to wait, and your frustration will remain directed only at the Raptors instead of split between the Dinos and yours truly.
And frustrated you certainly are, if you watched any of the 109-94 drubbing the Raptors took at the hands of the Washington Wizards. The team looked tired, disinterested, and outmatched by a team that improved to just 3-6 with the win. With the loss, the Raptors are still yet to beat a team below .500, and it has them at five straight games of giving up 100-plus points.
I guess we can start there, with the defense. I feel like a broken record and this is only my second post-game coverage of the season. The Raptors, on most nights, are going to be overmatched at the defensive end. Sometimes it looks like an effort issue, sometimes a scheme issue, and sometimes a personnel issue. Tonight, I was too irritated to decipher the difference, although I’m sure it was a blend of all three. The Wizards had their way in the Raptors’ end, shooting 56%, using their length inside and their quickness outside to exploit the Raptors’ largest weaknesses. Credit Flip Saunders for the game plan, or credit him only for walking his team into a situation well suited for their particular roster, but the Wiz seemed to smell blood immediately and never took their feet off the gas.
Andray Blatche lead the way with 22 points, using his length inside to give Andrea Bargnani fits. Bargnani was caught out of position several times when Blatche was fed the ball on the block, and it led to a few easy buckets. In the first half, Blatche and Javale McGee combined for 19-and-13 while Bargnani, Reggie Evans, and Amir Johnson combined for just 9-and-6. Amir Johnson should have been a defensive factor in this game with the style of opponents, but he was nearly invisible in his 18 minutes. He posted 0 fouls for the first time ever (probably), and it’s entirely possible that all the talk about his fouling issues has him thinking more timidly at the defensive end. One game can’t tell for certain, but he didn’t look his usual self tonight, posting just 6-and-5 and having two shots blocked, while lacking the extra gear he normally shows.
On the outside, Nick Young and Gilbert Arenas each dropped 20 points, terrorizing the Raptors’ guards as has become the team’s custom. Kirk Hinrich facilitated in an efficient manner, scoring 13 points on just eight shots and dishing out 12 dimes. Arenas shot 5/7 in the second half and was left open from 18-feet out far too often for a player with his range. This gives Gilbert 50 points over the past two contests, but hopefully for their sake the Wiz don’t reinstall him as the offensive focal point when John Wall returns. Nick Young impressed, as he does on a once-a-month basis, shooting 8/15 and adding six boards.
We know that Jose Calderon has trouble with quick guards, but he played just 17 minutes and it was his offense that was of greater concern (1/8 shooting, and he is back below 40% for the season).. Jarrett Jack did a poor job with Kirk Hinrich, which he somewhat predicted in the Toronto Sun yesterday, and supposed defensive specialist Marcus Banks looked lost within the defensive schemes in his 16 minutes, making poor help decisions on a few occasions.
Despite the large defensive shortcomings, it was actually the sputtering offense that probably cost the Raptors this game. The team shot just 41% and hit just four threes, overall failing to cash in on their 15 offensive rebounds and failing to supplement their 26 free throw attempts (20/26 on FT). Overall the Raptors were outrebounded 47-36 by the league’s worst rebounding team, and all of the Wizards’ starters except for Hinrich reached seven boards. That is the type of rebounding distribution the Raptors will require to be a strong rebounding team, but it hasn’t been the case at all (even with the league’s best offensive rebounding group).
Sonny Weems was probably the best Raptor offensively, which has been a recurring theme, as he dropped 16 on 7/13 shooting. However, Weems failed to get to the line in totality, and he really cooled down in the second half. He started over Linas Kleiza despite Kleiza being healthy, and don’t let the outcome fool you – this is the right decision, especially with how well Weems and DeRozan have played together (and I hope Liston’s stats back me on this, as this is eyeball evidence I’m going off of here).
Too often so far, Kleiza has gotten his points out of the flow of the offense, forcing shots or requiring isolations to get him going. Tonight, he scored his 15 more efficiently (just 11 attempts and 20 minutes). He was a great bench contributor in Denver, and I thought he was brought in to do the same here, even with Barbosa replicating some of that value.
Barbosa is expected to return Friday, which should help the floor spacing but may impede the development of DeRozan we have seen over the past few games. While he only put up 12 points, he shot 5/9, and the volume was largely a fault of the team’s facilitators. DeRozan has gotten better off the ball at identifying screens and cutting lanes, but he still seems hesitant to try and “get his” on his own, so the veterans need to look to him more. While this isn’t an ideal thing to say about a guy you are hoping is a budding star, it’s a reality at this point and bringing DeRozan along should be one of the primary focuses of this team moving forward.
As for the rest of the team, it was a mixed but mostly ugly bag. Jack shot 5/14 and Bargnani shot 3/13, two ratios that don’t mesh well for a starting unit. Bargnani grabbed just two rebounds yet again, and I really do think the rebounding is a mental issue. Rebounds are largely a product of effort and positioning, so there aren’t a plethora of excuses for defensive rebounding this poor. One instance sticks out in my head, as Bargnani tried to box out Blatche from a loose ball rolling out of bounds in the Raptors’ end. Bargnani just stuck his butt out, and Blatche easily reached around him and picked the ball from underneath him (though it did not lead to a bucket). This is a pretty striking example of what Raptor fans have been whining about all season thus far when it comes to Andrea.
Reggie Evans was a small bright spot. While he grabbed his usual nine rebounds, he also dished four assists on very intelligent passes, and had three steals. We have all spoke at length about Reggie’s hustle, grit, and rebounding, but don’t underestimate his basketball IQ. He may not have the skill set to be a strong offensive player, but he is at least aware enough to make the right play (usually).
A disjointed offense, a lack of interior and perimeter defense, and a poor presence on the defensive glass. Lather, rinse, repeat, it would seem. In front of a quiet crowd of 11,513, facing a reeling team missing its rookie superstar, the Raptors dropped a very winnable game. It’s disappointing coming off a promising two-game stint in Florida, and one hopes the Raptors can bounce back Wednesday night against an equally bad Philadelphia team that fell to 2-9 as well, and is also travelling for leg two of a back-to-back.
On an unrelated note, I read Carmelo Anthony’s quote that mentioned Chris Bosh today, and allow me an aside. When talking about his situation with the Nuggets, ‘Melo tried to make it clear that he would work with the Nuggets and keep them in the loop throughout whatever process draws out. “I’m not Bosh…what I do will be straight up,” is an abbreviated version of the quote. I’m sure a lot of Raptor fans liked that, and it makes ‘Melo the one-millionth person to hop on Bosh’s back so far this season. While he handled his situation terribly this offseason, I really don’t think it’s fair for ‘Melo to take a public shot like that, although I’m sure he didn’t mean it with malice towards Bosh (jealousy, maybe). Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Bosh has struggled with the Heat so far – right or wrong, I don’t want to see an ex-Raptor do well unless it was a completely amicable split – but the fan and media fury he has felt the wrath of so far is disproportionate to the severity of his crimes.