The only reason this one is as close as it was is because Toronto’s defense was absolutely putrid. In the end the Raptors pulled it out with some very efficient and timely offense from it’s two homegrown talents in Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. Sacramento come into the game missing their franchise player in Tyreke Evans, but they really didn’t need him as their aggressiveness earned them 14 offensive rebounds and plenty of trips to the line. No matter how much Jay Triano bellowed about playing a lick of defense, it was only at the end that the Raps seemed to step up their intensity and get a few stops, setting the stage for DeMar DeRozan’s most impressive performance to date.
DeRozan did have a good game against the Rockets with 37 points. He had a great 3rd quarter against the Lakers in a 23 point effort. What made this effort truly impressive was not only his play in the deciding moments of the game but the manner in which he accomplished it. Up 102-100 with five minutes to go, DeRozan led a six point run including a sweet dish to Amir Johnson. Inexplicably, he was involved in the next few possessions and Barganani’s triple bailed out the Raps with about a minute to go, but this was the first time in a long time that we saw a guard take over offensively the way he did in the fourth. He made it look easy, which the great ones do. Granted, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Beno Udrih will never be considered great defenders, but it’s not like DeRozan took advantage of these situations before. The four assists are what excite me as much as the 28 points. He was recognizing mismatches, driving with control and with peripheral vision. Perhaps all this stems from the confidence coming from an improved jumper. He’s more than a catch-and-shoot guy which is what he was before Bargnani’s injury. He’s better off the dribble, which is great, because that’s the domain of an elite NBA scorer. Now he’s getting more touches and we even saw a couple of pick-and-rolls with Bargnani, which must have put a smile on Mr. Colangelo’s face, wherever he is these days.
Bargnani scored a ton and efficiently as well, which is something we are all getting used to. He dropped 30 points off 19 attempts, impressive for anyone. The reason he has become more consistent is because he’s trying to get to the line, especially early in the game. It’s important that he’s become consistent, because he needs it to balance out his defense, which was typically uninspiring today. Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins make a point to grab offensive boards and if you’re not going to provide consistent help defense, you have to box these guys out. That’s something he didn’t do in the first matchup in Sacramento either, costing the Raptors the win. Eight rebounds for Andrea and everyone’s happy? Kevin Love averages more than 15 a game and doesn’t have half the physical tools this guy does. Not hating on Bargnani, I’m just bothered with the concept that if you’re really good at one thing, it’s OK if you suck at other things. Almost everyone will acknowledge that he’s capable of squeezing his hands on a few more. Can you afford to not give it a 100% every night you’re on the floor in the most competitive basketball league in the world? I guess Vince Carter did, so there is a precedent.
I don’t know what it’ll take for Julian Wright to get minutes on this team. I really don’t. He’s a game changer defensively and displays an above average basketball IQ offensively. Here are some reason I think that are holding him back: First, he’s not a BC pick or big signing, so he’s not entitled to the minutes. Secondly, he’s not a good shooter, which seems to be this organization’s most important priority. Thirdly, Triano does not recognize that it’s not Wright’s man defense that is effective, but his team defense is excellent. He cheats well and rotates well because he has good length and quickness for his size. He didn’t get much time in New Orleans either, so maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Another big boost to the potent Raptor offense was Leandro Barbosa’s corner threes. I still yearn for the days when Anthony Parker would park himself in there and hit big three after big three to win us games. It’s a shorter shot for one, and if teams want to respect that shooter, it really takes that defender out of position for any kind of help. It was probably out of coincidence more than anything, but it seems to be a shot that Barbosa can hit with better consistency. Barbosa needs to learn how to pass out of a fast break though. He comes off a team-first kind of guy, but geez it’s hard to throw away easy points like that, especially when your defense makes the margin of error so slim.
That’s really the main thing isn’t it. Not having to shoot 58.5% just to eke out a victory at home against a really, really bad team, which they are without Tyreke Evans. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year, the team is young but the defense just isn’t there. Offense, just like when you’re taking shots on your driveway, is a fickle thing. It’s not always a function of effort. But defense can be, and that’s why teams like the Phoenix Suns never made an NBA final, because sometimes those shots wouldn’t fall, and they could not afford that. Bryan Colangelo was also the architect of those Suns teams, and I guess he still hasn’t learnt his lesson, because even if DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani become offensive powerhouses, this team will still not develop into a consistent winner.