Sixers 104, Raptors 97 – Box

Rebuilding or not, injuries or no injuries, it’s disappointing to lose and you’d think that as a Raptors fan you’d be used to it by now, but it still stings. It does sting a little less because of the 1000mg rebuilding pill which we all take daily (side-effects include nausea, shortness of breath and a general distaste for anything to do with Leo Rautins). The forecast didn’t look good even before the game started, this was a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Raptors coming in losers of eight straight, and the Sixers having won two in a row and picking up steam of late. The Sixers team which shifted into a higher gear to beat the Raptors last night shouldn’t be confused with the one which lost the first two games to the Raptors earlier this season. Whereas the Sixers have come together and are a legitimate low playoff seed, the Raptors have never materialized into the team that optimists hoped they would become.

The story of late has been DeMar DeRozan’s adopting the Raptors as a stage for showcasing his talents, and that theme continued against some pretty good Philly defenders. DeRozan had 11 first quarter points and was hitting his jumper with regularity. The hot start was complementary to a functioning offense led by Jose Calderon’s guardianship in the half-court and the Raptors contesting Philadelphia’s jump shots in the first quarter. The 29-20 first quarter lead did seem a bit flaky because of Philly’s 36% shooting which, given the Raptors 29th ranked defense, would surely rise as the game evolved.

As it has been the case numerous times this season, the hammer came in the second quarter in the form of the Sixer second unit. With Kleiza and Barbosa missing, Weems being out of sorts, Alexis Ajinca being Alexis Ajinca, and some guy named Trey Johnson handling the rock, the bench got their ass kicked. They conceded a 17-4 run which knocked the sail out of the winds and capitulated any momentum the Raptors might carry through for the rest of the game. The final bench scoring read 58-17, most of the damage being done by Marreese Speights who had 23 points in 17 minutes on 10-12 shooting. The mobility of the 6’10″ center hurt the Raptors on the offense glass, he was able to collect 6 offensive rebounds over Raptors bigs and was the primary reason behind the Sixers +10 advantage on the glass (+8 on the offensive boards). The Raptors are 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding percentage and it showed.

The Raptors bigs didn’t just neglect their rebounding duties (nobody had more than 6 rebounds), they also let the Sixers run wild in the paint – 56-30 are the points in the paint numbers. Granted, a lot of them are fastbreak ones which no big can help, but many of them are failing to keep tabs with the crisp and methodical interior passing of Doug Collins’ side. Spencer Hawes picked up a couple assists that were nothing short of beautiful, and when you have Andre Iguodala putting his ego aside and playing total team basketball, the Sixer team adds another dimension.

The Raptors’ most effective defensive scheme was the zone which Triano now deploys consistently, except that teams are now figuring out how to get around it. Their guards were dribbling to the weak spot in the zone and then making dump-offs which led to high percentage paint shots. Elton Brand had his post-up game working which meant the Raptors big men had to both play post-defense and worry about collecting the boards, which is hard to do if you can’t think on your feet. The Sixers also beat the Raptors at their own game – fastbreak points. The final tally was 30-22, the weary Raptors had trouble adjusting with the Sixers’ pace in transition which was compounded by Philly leaking out pretty much on every possession, fully confident that they didn’t need extra bodies to secure the defensive boards.

It was tied at 50 at halftime, and P.J. Carlesimo was lamenting the bench’s play and the Raptors giving up offensive boards. The third quarter belonged to Lou Williams who, along with Speights, symbolize the dominance of the Sixer bench. He hit three threes and had 11 points in the third, most of them in semi-transition to really put a dent in the Raptors tracks. DeMar DeRozan was chipping away with his drives, Bargnani (playing hurt, really) was hitting the odd jumper and playing good on-the-ball defense , and Calderon was doing his part in finding seams in the defense to stuff his passes through, all the while being exhausted playing on a bum foot. If it weren’t for Williams’ outburst, this could’ve been a tighter game heading into the fourth with momentum hanging somewhere in the middle. As it was, it was a 7 point deficit with the Raptors on the ropes and Philly smelling blood.

There are two things that sit very wrong with me. Calderon playing 38 minutes while Bayless plays 14, and Ed Davis playing only 17. Calderon had a 13 assist game which looks good on paper, except that the guy was up to his neck against Holiday and Williams, who were starting every possession by at least pegging Jose back. It would have been a good challenge for Bayless to go out there and compete with fellow young point guards and see where he stands against them, instead we saw an injured Jose labor for 38 minutes! The only logical conclusion I can draw is that with the deadline approaching, the Raptors are seeing what he can attract.

Triano spoke about the guards and the bigs’ defense:

We couldn’t keep them in front of us and conversely they did a great job of keeping us in front of them. I thought our defense was very porous all night. They got into where they wanted to go, it started at the guard positions, they got three guys, Lous Williams, Iguodala and Holiday who are very good. We couldn’t keep those guys in front of us, it puts our bigs in a bit of a hole and our bigs weren’t as enforcing as we need to be when coming into the lane.

This leads to the age old question which we have often debated on the Rapcast. Pick which one of the following you agree with more:

  1. It is the guard’s responsibility to keep their man in front of them and not allow themselves to be broken down. Baskets leading through dribble penetration are largely to be blamed on “blow-bys”.
  2. Dribble penetration is inevitable in this league full of great guards, and a team must be designed expecting the guard to be broken down and must be shored up with proper interior help defenders.

Have your say. Back to Triano’s quote, if he’s so concerned with dribble penetration, why not give Bayless more time? Seems to add up for me.

Ed Davis’ 17 minutes are even more confusing, even if Speights got a score or two on him, surely gluing him to the bench isn’t going to teach him anything, it’s not like he’s got effort issues that need mulling over. I would have liked to see the Raptors adjust and adopt a big lineup with the aim being to restrict the offensive rebounds. This one didn’t make much sense. Julian Wright got the start and played 26 minutes, closer to his ability. They gave him some wide open looks which he took…and missed. To add more misery to his already miserable week, he missed a couple close ones too. It’s been a bad week for Wright with Gay hitting the game-winner over him, and it’s taken a bit of a hit on him. His wing defense was still the best on the team, but all you remember is how he was unable to make simple shots which an NBA player should make. We knew it’s his weakness and that he has to work on it, nothing much to be said about it.

Andrea Bargnani played 38 minutes and I can tell you it didn’t look like it. The box score is respectable enough: 17pts, 6-10FG, 5reb, 3blk, and so was the effort. All things considered, he had it going tonight except for the touches. Maybe it’s oversight on the part of Calderon and the rest of his mates, or maybe it’s Bargnani not being demanding enough of the ball. At the end of this one you just got the sense that he had more to offer than what we asked of him. Defensively, he was alert and active, except for the rebounding bit :| Triaon did complement the Philly defense for slowing him down:

They didn’t allow Andrea any catches, anywhere. They worked hard to take him out of our offense and DeMar stepped up a little bit, but other than that we didn’t have a lot.

A 10-4 Philly run to start the fourth with Trey Johnson and Jerryd Bayless running the show iced the game. Bayless was rusty because of not being played and sitting on the sideline for a good five minutes waiting to be subbed in, and Johnson makes Sundaita Gaines look like a find. There was no way back. Triano had called a couple quick timeouts earlier which seemed to have some effect and I expected him to call one early in the fourth too, he didn’t and I’m not sure it would have made a difference. The Raptors traded baskets for a while and invariably committed some key turnovers which shattered any possibility of a comeback, and it would have been a miraculous one given the energy that was on the floor last night. From Amir Johnson to Andrea Bargnani, the rebounding and interior dominance wasn’t there, and from Jose Calderon to any other point guard, not enough pressure was put on the Philly backcourt which did what they wanted when they wanted it. Teams shooting 49% at home don’t usually lose, unless of course you give up the same number and get hammered on the glass.

Finally, a segment we haven’t done this year. Usually this is done in praise of Jack Armstrong. Not today.

Jack Armstrong is a rock solid color commentator, one of the best in the business and easily the best the Raptors have ever had. He found a very weird way to compliment Bryan Colangelo last night, this is him commenting about how dedicated Bryan Colangelo is because he re-upped Gaines’ 10-day deal before releasing him after two days (in favor of Trey Johnson).

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Jack, this is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of compliments for Bryan Colangelo. What’s next, should we be thankful that he’s fielding a 15-man roster?