Raptors 81, Hornets 85 – Box

The Raptors did not get a fair shake from the refs yesterday afternoon. Questionable decisions have gone against them in their previous two outings as well, and on those occasions I shook my head and moved on, hoping it’s just lady luck being cruel. Yesterday there was nothing questionable or unlucky, it was blatantly obvious that the Raptors’ chance to win this game had been reduced by two calls that very well could have decided the outcome of this game. A win rewarding this effort would have been the icing on a cake, and as much the refereeing influenced the outcome, the first order of examination is internal.

The Raptors were good enough on the day to beat the Hornets despite injuries to Barbosa, Bayless and Kleiza, the refs, and a forgettable performance from Andrea Bargnani (42min, 4-17 FG, 11pts, 4reb, 2TO), who like any NBA center is liable to have a bad offensive game, but unlike any other NBA center is very likely to have a brutal defensive game. I can understand Triano sticking with Bargnani hoping he can catch fire in the fourth, after all he’s done that a few times this season. Sticking with a struggling offensive player for 42 minutes isn’t uncommon and is rarely up for questioning because usually these players are providing something or other somewhere else in the game. Not so much Bargnani whose 42 minutes on the court were marred by blown rotations, missed box-outs and a general disinclination to play any sort of defense. Hindsight is 20/20, but you stick Dorsey in there for 15 of Bargnani’s minutes and this is a win. I won’t slag on him, though, bad offensive games happen, too bad for the Raptors that when he’s having a bad offensive game it’s very difficult for him to have a positive impact elsewhere.

The first-half rebounding dominance supplied in large part by Ed Davis and Amir Johnson formed the foundation of the Raptors’ 44-37 halftime lead. With DeRozan and Bargnani sputtering it was left for the Raptors to hang their hat elsewhere, which is where Davis and Johnson came in. The Raptors were +12 in rebounds at one point in the first half and with 14 second chance points, the domination was total. The pick ‘n roll with Jose Calderon and Sundiata Gaines were working well, and the 1/4 combos also executed lobs effectively. Jose Calderon is attributed 7 turnovers in the game and those need to be looked at in the proper light. He’s running pick ‘n rolls with a rookie in Ed Davis and a guy in Amir Johnson who has never had an offense run through him consistently. The turnovers are expected, even more so given Calderon’s newly found aggressive nature. Credit also needs to be given for Sundiata Gaines for recognizing the types of players the Raptors have and quickly accustoming himself to their tendencies. He made a few passes from FT-FT passes that setup hoops for DeRozan and Johnson. And of course, he also did this.

The early goings had the Raptors benefiting from Marco Belinelli’s enthusiasm for getting back at his old team, he didn’t much of anything good and certainly didn’t make anyone regret the trade. Julian Wright on the other hand was in fine form, 11 points, 6 rebounds and great defense. The Raptors were ticking because of their defense with the +10 rebounding advantage leading the charge at halftime. Chris Paul was struggling to find his shot and didn’t look to get himself going, David West was the only Hornet getting his points efficiently, and even he was made to work hard for them. Marcus Thornton’s jumpers were completely off and they were getting no production from the guard spots. Emeka Okafor’s offensive rebounds were keeping them in it and it was a problem that wouldn’t go away.

The Hornets tried to come out hard in the third quarter with Paul and West, and the Raptors immediately pegged them back. Calderon and Johnson connected twice and Julian Wright had an impressive drive to push the lead back to 57-45 forcing New Orleans into a timeout. Not sure what happened after that because the Raptors energy level seem to fall, this happened right around the time Jarrett Jack started to impose his will on the game. Jose Calderon’s defense was poor, perhaps because of short-rotation and two-PG lineup fatigue, and he was unable to cope with Jack. Marcus Thornton, who couldn’t make a jumper to save his life, was played too tight by DeRozan which meant easy paths to the rim. Ed Davis didn’t get into the game till the 3:33 mark when Triano finally subbed off the ineffective Bargnani.

The Hornets, specifically Jarrett Jack, ended the third on a 6-0 run, stealing the momentum from the Raptors whose rebounding had taken a massive dip. They were -7 for rebounds in the third quarter and the negative trend continued into the fourth. But, just like they had done to start the third, the Raptors responded to the Hornets charge. DeMar DeRozan rattled off five straight points off of two Gaines assists and upped the lead back to 9, giving the Raptors a realistic shot at this. The combination of play that followed is what proved fatal, two Bargnani turnovers, two missed Bargnani jumpers and a Gains turnover meant no scores for five straight possessions. On the other end, Jack continued to put pressure on help defense and either scored or created points. At 70-68 the lead might still have been there, but the momentum had vanished.

The Raptors’ infatuation with playing Thornton tight was unexplainable and it burned them dearly, the poor-shooting guard shot four FTs and when David West gave them the lead at 80-79 with 3:47 left to play, things looked bleak as the offense and defense had gone in the tank. The Raptors caught some big breaks with the Hornets missing wide open looks (three threes and a wide open jumper) that surely would have settled the tie. The Raptors could not capitalize, Bargnani continued his misfiring and even the usually patient Jose Calderon was coaxed into an ill-advised contested three. Bargnani’s troubles were compounded when Okafor kept on piling the offensive rebounds against him, he finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, 12 of them offensive which more than made up for the Hornets shooting 39%.

The Raptors had a possession stolen from them with a minute left as the ball appeared to have gone out of bounds with West touching it last, the officials did not use the replay which would’ve overturned the call. DeRozan’s drive out of a timeout resulted in a foul and tied the game with 40 seconds left. The Raptors dropped in a weird sort of zone with Davis late in closing out West who calmly executed his expertise from 18 feet, defensive breakdown to say the least. The officiating looked to have dropped the ball again when DeRozan’s drive to the rim was deemed a turnover, after conferring they reversed the call allowing the Raptors another shot to tie with 19 seconds left. Triano chose not to call his last timeout and Jose Calderon inbounded the ball from the baseline to Amir Johnson in the post who was clearly fouled by West on his layup attempt. Replays proved the refs guilty but there was no whistle to be heard, after West made it a two possession game, Johnson ended up missing a jumper. Not the best shot in that situation. Game over.

It’s not a tough loss to swallow because there were good performances from Ed Davis and Amir Johnson in there, with DeRozan coming on late and giving it a fight. Triano’s late-game play calling again falls short, the Raptors are 3-7 in games decided by five points or less. I’m not going to slag on him because the team showed excellent effort and that’s criteria #1 when judging a coach. The bottom line is that the talent level on the Raptors is pretty low, and that the future of this franchise is being built on hope rather than substance. And this is where the good news kicks in, we’re another game closer to a top-three pick and that’s how talent is infused into franchises.

All in all, Raptors put in a good effort but get victimized. Up next is a trip to San Antonio on Wednesday.