Spurs outmuscle Raptors as Blair stars

It looked for a while like this could be a repeat of the Dallas game where the short-handed Raptors go to one of the big boys’ house and pull off an improbably win. Taking the 0-10 start out of the equation means the Raptors dominated the first half before crumbling in the third quarter where they handed the momentum back to the Spurs.

Raptors 91, Spurs 104 – Box

It looked for a while like this could be a repeat of the Dallas game where the short-handed Raptors go to one of the big boys’ house and pull off an improbably win. Taking the 0-10 start out of the equation means the Raptors dominated the first half before crumbling in the third quarter where they handed the momentum back to the Spurs. Trailing by six going into the fourth quarter isn’t necessarily an insurmountable position, except that unlike the first half, there wasn’t anybody quite going for the Raptors. As it has been lately, the effort from everyone save one player made you a little proud to be a fan.

The Spurs’ 10-0 was marked by an air of impudence that resulted in the lowering of their guard. Jay Triano’s quick timeout was in response to the casualness by which the Raptors were passing the ball into the post, and their general underestimation of DeJuan Blair, an active power forward liable to give you fits if you’re not up for it. Blair’s defense and affection for getting to the rim wasn’t met with an answer as the Raptors were caught on their heels in the early stages. Following the timeout the Raptors’ defense kicked into top gear by pressuring all the Spurs not named Tony Parker and forcing them into perimeter shots they struggled to make. After starting the game 4-5, the Spurs ended the quarter 3-18. On the offensive end DeMar DeRoan was as persistent as he was aggressive, he took the slashing game right back at Manu Ginobili and played a good defensive game to boot (4 steals).

Jose Calderon seems to supply a timely basket when the team needs it the most. He was the man who started the Raptors comeback in the first quarter and got great help by Sundiata Gaines, only too eager to go at rookie Gary Neal. The guards did a good job of making the Spurs’ tandem of Parker and Ginobili pay for their forays to the rim by taking advantage of the imbalance on the court and running the break, DeMar DeRozan supplying the majority of the pressure. Jerryd Bayless returned from his two game absence and looked rusty to start with two turnovers, he did manage to finish on a couple of his hard semi-out-of-control drives, I’m thinking he’ll be fully back by Friday.

Thanks in large part to the Spurs shooting 30% in the first, the Raptors held a one-point edge to start the second and the good times kept on rolling. The Spurs’ offensive woes continued, their first four possessions of the quarter created two turnovers and two bricks, while the Raptors were now getting production from the likes of Julian Wright. Defensively, the Spurs tried to pressure Jerryd Bayless with a full-court trap which was busted with mathematical precision by crisp passing and an emphatic finish by DeRozan. The sophomore had nine points in the quarter and served his defensive duties adequately against Ginobili. The five turnovers are a problem and mostly the result of him needing to look at the ball while he’s dribbling, meaning he can’t see who’s around him. The highlights of the quarter was a Julian wright touch-pass to Johnson (he had another beauty to Calderon in the third) and a Sundiata Gaines And1 on a baseline drive. The Spurs ventured inside with success but for the most part the Raptors’ plan of testing their jumpers was paying off.

The halftime scoreline was 53-42 Raptors and this was with Andrea Bargnani, despite having 10 points, being a no-show at both ends. On paper he should be exploiting DeJuan Blair and using his height to an advantage on the glass, instead his shot chart looks like a face with severe acne, and it’s Blair who finished going 11-16 FG with 11 rebounds. Bargnani was 4-18 at one point in this game before making his last two shots when the game was pretty much out of reach. I can look past the offensive nightmare, shit happens, even twice in a row. The unforgivable part is his defense, specifically to start the third quarter. He blew every rotation and let Blair get 6 points on him while appearing to walk around in a meth-induced daze. To top it off, he didn’t go inside and took three jumpers which he missed. That was the momentum shift the Raptors had to avoid for at least a quarter to have a shot at a win, they gave it up right at the start of the third quarter, a frame where the Spurs shot 62.5%.

The Blair-Bargnani matchup never quite sat right with me, switching Bargnani to Duncan and Johnson to Blair always made more sense. The couple possessions Bargnani was on Duncan in the first quarter was evidence of this as well. I’d rather take my chances with Bargnani’s post-defense against an aging Duncan then test his physicality and hustle against Blair, that to me is better suited for Amir Johnson to handle. At halftime, P.J. Carlesimo was quite happy, yet managed to warn of the offensive rebounding issues the Raptors were having with McDyess and Blair. Unknowingly, the assistant coach was foreshadowing impending doom. McDyess and Blair’s dominance on the glass meant the Spurs were +11 for the game and +6 on the offensive glass, and got enough offensive rebounds to deflate the road-weary Raptors. Ed Davis had 11 rebounds, Amir Johnson had 8, and Bargnani had 7, decent numbers except it they simply needed to do more. Specifically, Blair’s 8 offensive rebounds hurt.

The Raptors’ defensive stand took a hit too, I though Sundiata Gaines had played a tremendous second quarter on both ends, yet he didn’t see the floor for the entire third period resulting in a defensive drop. A point-guard inspired 12-0 had the Spurs up six late in the third, and at this point the Raptors were swimming upstream. Jay Triano reinserted Andrea Bargnani, perhaps hoping that the view from the bench might have cleared up his mind, but it wasn’t to be as he followed it up with three more jumpers going a tidy 0-6 in the quarter.

The fourth started nicely enough with a Gaines steal and layup, but two more missed Bargnani jumpers, Neal cashing in on two jumpers he was due for, and an ill-advised three-shot foul by Gaines on Ginobili later, the lead was 10. Still nothing impossible if only the offense could muster up something, except it didn’t. DeRozan’s drives were met with the Spurs’ interior defensive wall, San Antonio were getting back in transition, and any attempts to get points via our bigs through pick ‘n rolls were being met with the empowered defense of McDyess, Duncan and Blair. With nobody firing on offense, the Spurs continually getting to the line courtesy of Ginobili’s slashing and Hill’s penetration, and the defense unable to supply the necessary pressure to give the offense a chance, the weight of the opponent was too much to bear for the Raptors. The Raptors did cut it to six late, but it wasn’t enough.

This loss is quite similar to the one suffered in New Orleans. There was great effort, periods of offensive brilliance, good overall defense, but a whole lot of getting outplayed on the glass and in the paint. For the second straight game you have to ask questions of Andrea Bargnani’s defense, both the technical aspects and the effort. His game is in sharp contrast to what the Spurs had out on the floor in McDyess and Blair, two no-nonsense players who will physically wear down anybody on either end on a nightly basis. Andrea Bargnani’s game is different, he’s a player that relies on finesse, nothing wrong with that except when the finesse part isn’t working, he’s got very little, if anything at all to contribute. That is risky and liable to hurt the team any given night, and is the main reason behind his overall inconsistent play.

Up next is the Florida back-to-back, Orlando on Friday and Miami (lost four straight) on Saturday. Play with the same kind of effort and I’ll tune in to both.

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