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Raptors 101, @%!#@!$ 110 – Box

This wasn’t a humiliation of epic proportions, and that’s a good enough starting point when talking about the Raptors in Boston. As a Raptors fan you walked away from this game knowing that the overall effort was good, the team made a proper stand, and if it weren’t for two stretches where the Raptors shot themselves in the foot, things might have turned out differently, or at least the finish would have been tighter. You had to like how the Raptors responded after the early Boston offensive siege, how they withstood the crowd, and the Boston defensive pressure. What you didn’t like was the ease in the manner of which Boston scored, because it wasn’t for the defense’s lack of discipline but technical malfunction.

Boston came out looking to heal the wounds of Wednesday night by applying tremendous defensive pressure early in the possession and then counting on Rajon Rondo to spur the offense. The start hit the Raptors hard, though they should have been expecting it. Kevin Garnett made it a point to go at Andrea Bargnani after setting up shop in transition and then catching perfect passes from Rondo to setup easy finishes. The Raptors were on their heels on defense from the get-go, offensively not much was accomplished because of Boston’s active hands in the passing lanes, ball-denial on the wing and collapsing in the paint. The Raptors tried to catch the overplay by looking for backdoor cutters – an honest response – but could only manage one score that way. Six early turnovers, many of them coming the result of predictable and dangerous passes in passing lanes that Garnett, Rondo and Allen like to prowl in resulted in nine points for Boston.

My wrath for the 19-5 deficit at 7:50 of the first quarter was firmly directed at DeMar DeRozan, who continues to disappoint defensively. In the name of development, I can live with him bricking jumpers, getting blocked at the rim, turning the ball over, but what is inexcusable is the intelligence at which he plays defense. There is no excuse in the world for leaving Ray Allen open, not after he’s burned us time and time again, and it doesn’t matter if you’re only in your second year, his defense was utterly pathetic. Allen’s three threes in that span put the Raptors in a very big hole which they spent a lot of energy coming back from. Good on Jay Triano for benching DeRozan after Allen’s third three, great move to take out the obvious defensive pylon in favor of Barbosa, who although not a great defender, had glanced at Ray Allen’s 14-year old scouting report. Also seeing the early pine was Andrea Bargnani (38min, 11pts, 8reb, 4-13FG), unable to hit his first two jumpers and getting overmatched by Garnett, he was taken out in favor of Amir Johnson earlier than usual in the first quarter. Triano reacting to the game, good.

The Raptors won’t have many clear-cut advantages in most games this year, except that they have a bench which is capable of playing defense, playing hard, and has what sometimes resembles a decent offense. A 12-0 run inspired by Jerryd Bayless’ attacking mentality against Rondo and Amir Johnson’s (11pts, 6reb, 5-11 FG) defensive work and hustle on the offensive glass slashed the Boston lead to 40-39 midway through the second quarter (also talked some trash to Garnett – love it). The Raptors were poor in their PnR coverages all night with the exception of Johnson on about three first-half possessions. He also defended Garnett well in isolation situations and ended up exerting so much effort that he was gassed; Triano was forced to reluctantly give him a breather, solid effort from Amir. After shooting 35% in the first quarter, the Raptors were at 46% at the half. The Raptors bench outscored theirs 24-11 in the half. In other words, they rescued the game from turning into a blowout.

All things considered, being down 58-52 at halftime was a pretty good result. Jose Calderon (5-9FG, 12pts, 15asts – assist breakdown here) had done reasonably well against Rondo, he wasn’t getting blown by on every possession but Rondo still managed to rack up the assists because of his vision and their bigs’ movement in transition. The Raptors were very poor in picking up their checks in defense, and all too often a Raptor found himself between the ball and his check resulting in Boston executing at least five alley-oops in this manner. Even when the Raptors tried to front, Rondo and Pierce lobbed it over which forced doubles, which forced rotations, which played right into their hands because they are great at moving from anywhere on the court. The Raptors tried some traps after made FTs/FGs, against a lesser team they might have been effective but against Boston, it’s just asking for trouble because of the aforementioned ball movement.

Sonny Weems (0-9 FG, 0 points) was the goat last night, he had a couple possessions where he made up his mind to ignore everyone and everything just to hoist a shot, didn’t track Paul Pierce, and made a bone-headed play which led to a 4-point swing at the end of the half. The Raptors were in line to take the last shot of the half but he forced one too early and Garnett eventually ending up getting two FTs from it. He’s been playing really well of late so I’ll chalk this to a bad shooting night, compounded further by Pierce who was ticked at getting outplayed earlier in the week.

I thought Julian Wright would have been a great option early in the first half, yes, Kleiza was supplying some scoring (7-15 FG, 18 points) but his defense was poor and for my money he gave a lot of what he scored right back. Not to mention three unforced turnovers. The Boston offense needed to be disrupted and a player of Wright’s activity-level and wingspan is ideal, especially if Triano was experimenting with the trap. Back to Kleiza, the Raptors need him to be an efficient scorer, right now he’s shooting 43.5% which is too low. His defense has been shoddy, not so much that he’s getting beat off the dribble, it’s his tendency to stand idly when there’s action gong on around him that hurts us. I know this isn’t a great measure of how active you are on defense, but his 0.2 steals PER36 minutes reflect what I’m referring to. That’s only ahead of Andrea Bargnani on the team.

The third quarter is where the Raptors lost this game. Jay Triano. Third quarter. Timeouts. Not calling them. What’s up with that? He did this against Houston and did it again last night. This young Raptors team needs wake-up calls, regrouping and confidence boosts, which a timeout is ideal for. Triano let them play after Boston jumped out on a 9-2 run which I thought was a great time to put a brake on things. The timeout didn’t come till 19-5 and the Raptors were fortunate that they found themselves back in the game. For Triano to repeat the mistake twice in the same game is a point that needs to be emphasized because it had a negative impact on the game.

An 11-2 Boston run to start the quarter wasn’t enough reason for Triano to intervene. In fact, the Raptors did not call a single timeout in the third, a quarter in which they only scored three field goals, and shot 21%. Bargnani had gotten off to a slow start but had managed to regain some of his swagger by making a couple jumpers and a drive on an And1, the priority for Triano seemed to get his star back on the offensive track. Too bad taking jumpers isn’t the way to get your game firing, he took three in the third and missing them all. Jose Calderon, who had a great offensive game with 15 assists, had none in the frame While the Raptors suffered a power outage, the Boston ball movement got better and the Raptors couldn’t keep up without fouling and conceding open mid-range jumpers. Keep in mind that Boston is a championship-caliber team and the Raptors are in the midst of a rebuild, and it often showed last night.

The third ended with the Raptors down 86-67. The second-unit didn’t provide the spark in the third that it had in the second, Bayless was kept out of the paint and the Raptors offense was forced into a lot of perimeter looks and contested paint shots. Let’s give Boston some credit, their championship bid is built on their defense which they can fall back on any time to either keep them in games or create separation. In the third quarter, they used that defense to outscore the Raptors 28-15 creating a gap that was insurmountable. It didn’t help that Reggie Evans suffered a broken foot in that quarter, making it even harder to stomach and potentially making it the worst quarter of the season.

The fourth was a formality which was made interesting by a barrage of Raptors three pointers – five in total, two for Stojakovic, four of them assisted by Calderon and one made by the Spaniard. The 15-4 run which cut the lead to 8 with 6:26 left reminded me of the Jose of old in 2006-07 – a joy to watch. Unfortunately, by that point the Raptors legs weren’t with them which meant coping with the Boston ball movement, constant pressure (offensive and defensive) was difficult. From that point the teams just traded baskets and the Raptors suffered a fairly graceful defeat in Boston. At the very least, the two games against Boston have been far more enjoyable and much less excruciating to watch this year. I call that progress.