Good start, bad rest of the game

That was the winnable game on this three-game roadtrip. Too bad all the Raptors could muster was a decent quarter of play, after that the wheels came off and by wheels I mean turnovers. Twenty-five turnovers leading to 27 points, it’s like a disease without a cure. I’d like the NBA to keep a stat on the number of fastbreak points that were the result of turnovers, I bet that it would be really high for this one.

Raptors 85, Grizzlies 96 – Box

That was the winnable game on this three-game roadtrip. Too bad all the Raptors could muster was a decent quarter of play, after that the wheels came off and by wheels I mean turnovers. Twenty-five turnovers leading to 27 points, it’s like a disease without a cure. I’d like the NBA to keep a stat on the number of fastbreak points that were the result of turnovers, I bet that it would be really high for this one. Andrea Bargnani was out so the Raptors were missing a big chunk of their offense, but you still would have thought they’d perform better after a big layoff against a team playing on the back end of a back-to-back. The Raptors were in this game for about a little more than a quarter before things normalized into what was expected from the outset.

It was 24-16 at the end of the first and you had to be thinking that the break had rejuvenated the Raptors and that the the Grizzlies were feeling the effects of their late trip from Indiana. Linas Kleiza had it going against Rudy Gay in the post, Jose Calderon was picking apart Mike Conley Jr., and Jerryd Bayless partnered with Leandro Barbosa for some effective minutes off the bench. The offense was flowing, the defensive rebounding with Joey Dorsey in there was solid, and it looked like the Raptors were going to hang their hat on team-ball and stay in this one. Didn’t happen.

The tide turned in the second quarter for two reason. 1) Turnovers, lots of ’em. It killed the Raptors’ flow on offense and started tons of Memphis fastbreaks, a lot of the turnovers happened above the FT line and Memphis was aggressive in cashing in on them. I can understand Calderon’s turnovers, that’s part of his new aggressive style, what I can’t forgive is DeRozan’s, his dribble lets him down too many times and he’s got a problem with catch-and-drives on the curls. Kleiza too, his passing off the bounce and in two-man games is quite terrible. 2) Dribble penetration. The Raptors were doing OK for a while this season, but of late this is becoming more of an issue. Conley Jr., Gay, Allen and Mayo got to the paint either on their own or with the help of single screens, the Raptors defense wasn’t containing or rotating which meant they were in a vulnerable position and hence the 28 Memphis FTs. The amount of pressure the bad defending of the guards put on the Raptors’ bigs is significant.

Memphis hit back hard in the second and were about to go in at the half up seven before Calderon hit a three at the buzzer to cut it to four, hoping to swing the momentum back in their favor. At the rate the Raptors were playing defense, scoring 20 (2nd) and 19 (3rd) points in quarters isn’t going to cut it. The Raptors tried to make up for Bargnani’s absence on offense by a good blend of team ball, and to say they failed would be harsh since they did shoot 50% (38-76) for the game. There were key periods in the second half (more on that below) where the offense looked lost and got into short-clock situations which it didn’t handle well by coughing the ball up. Barbosa forced some shots which are hard to criticize because “that’s his game”, some of Calderon’s decisions were questionable (that pass from the mid-court to the curler?!), DeRozan clanged his share of open jumpers, but for the most part things were going okay.

Without any players that command double teams, the Raptors were forced into a lot of perimeter possessions and took 19 threes, making only 4. I didn’t find many of the threes being “forced”, they were the best available shots on possessions that were defended well, you just have to shoot better than 21% from downtown. When the Raptors did get to the line, they were miserable – 5-14 compared to Memphis’ 23-28. That’s an 18 point difference in an 11 point game.

The turnovers are a talking point. Some are the result of speculative point guard play which I appreciate, the Raptors were never going to win this game playing in the half-court because they don’t execute well enough to live by their set offense. Jose Calderon’s aggressive play is acceptable, it keeps everyone on their toes and generally speaking, it’s leading to good things. There’s also an issue of unfamiliarity here, the two-man games between Calderon and Dorsey/Davis did’t look very smooth because those are plays the Raptors just don’t run often enough, probably not even in practice. With Amir Johnson still feeling the effects of his injury, the Raptors were forced into low-percentage possessions which unfortunately for them, led to cough-ups instead of missed shots (hence the high percentage and high turnovers).

Halftime had the scoreline reading 48-44 Memphis and the third quarter blitz was more or less expected. Memphis hadn’t utilized Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol to the extent we’d thought before the game, and you can make a case that had they followed a traditional game-plan they’d be in control right from the start. Randolph had 8 points in the third and Tony Allen came off the bench to give them 6 in the frame as they started controlling the flow of things. This was a make-or-break quarter for the Raptors, either they would bounce back and stick in this game or Memphis would continue to ascend. The latter happened as the Raptors’ offense went in a funk which put this game out of realistic reach. They went scoreless in the final four minutes of the third in which the lead went from 6 to 14 entering the fourth. Have a look at the possessions in that stretch:

3:10	Leandro Barbosa misses 24-foot three point jump
2:57	Linas Kleiza misses 25-foot three point jumper
2:24	Leandro Barbosa misses 23-foot three point jumper
2:00	Rudy Gay blocks DeMar DeRozan's layup
1:40	Leandro Barbosa bad pass (Mike Conley steals)
1:06	Jerryd Bayless misses 25-foot three point jumper
0:28	Tony Allen blocks Leandro Barbosa's layup
0:01	Jerryd Bayless misses 28-foot three point jumper

The Raptors went three-happy at the wrong time in the game, you can call it good defending, bad shooting, or settling, just pick one. Whatever it may be, it was the result of not having a double-team threat on the floor.

Barbosa had a couple “Detroit moments” and DeRozan scored on a drive to cut it to 7 midway through the fourth and then another bad stretch of offense hit us:

5:20	Linas Kleiza turnover
4:54	Jose Calderon lost ball (Tony Allen steals)
4:22	DeMar DeRozan turnover
4:09	Joey Dorsey misses free throw 1 of 2
4:09	Joey Dorsey misses free throw 2 of 2

It’s quite simple, bad defensive teams which concede a high FG% and can’t defend without fouling can’t afford to have cold spells. The lead stretched to as many as 15 and it ended with an expected but disappointing loss. I’ll end by talking a little about DeMar DeRozan, statistically he had a decent game, 7-13 for 18 points, but some of the things I saw out there were very worrying. He’s very unsure of himself when he’s driving and considering his passing options, it’s like he loses confidence in himself with every dribble he takes. On a symbolic first-half drive, he drove the ball right into the paint and had a chance at a floater, but instead chose to pass it to the wing and got it picked off. Once on the break he hung on to the ball for so long, that would should have been an easy two turned out to be a deflected pass and a missed shot. At this stage in his career, I’d rank his basketball IQ below average, and what’s disappointing is that considering the amount of playing time he’s received to start his career, I thought he’d be better. I won’t even mention his defense, you simply can’t let Tony Allen juke you.

Tonight the Raptors are in Dallas, a place where the Raptors haven’t registered a win in the last decade (here’s the last one). The Mavericks did drop home games to Memphis and Milwaukee, but it’s going to be tough bordering on impossible. In fact, with Houston, Boston and Chicago to follow after that, the next realistic chance at a win will be away to Cleveland on January 5th. Right now the Raptors have lost 9 of 11, it could very easily be 13 of 15.

Try not to lose it. Think of the rebuilding.

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