They must have changed the definition of a turnover because I cannot believe each team is only charged with 12 turnovers apiece. It honestly looked like every other play in this game was either a bad pass or a strip which led to a fast-break opportunity that was inexplicably wasted. It all made for a fairly entertaining Sunday evening capped off with a Raptors win, the offensive hero was Andrea Bargnani and the player of the game was Ed Davis.
Jay Triano had Amir Johnson guarding Blake Griffin and by now you should know that Johnson has learnt how to make life tough for anybody he’s guarding. His defensive growth has gone largely unnoticed amidst all the losing, and when people talk about his game evolving they’re usually referring to his jumper or post-move. When he has been tasked to do so over the last couple weeks, he’s held his own and made things tough for Andrew Bogut, Kevin Love, Josh Smith, and know Blake Griffin. Johnson only played 14 minutes before coming off with an injury which might make you wonder why I’m dedicating a whole paragraph to him. It’s because he didn’t let Griffin get off to a flyer and gave Ed Davis, watching from the bench, an idea on how one might defend Griffin.
Whichever power forward the Raptors had on Griffin was basically taken out of any help sequences – when you’re guarding a player as agile as Griffin, it’s going to be tough to focus elsewhere. This meant that Baron Davis and Randy Foye didn’t have much in terms of help defense to deal with in the first half on their ventures to the rim. P.J Carlesimo called Baron Davis’ treatment of Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless as “overpowering” and he was right, the Clippers made it a point to go at Calderon in the post and off the bounce. The Raptors switched Weems and Barbosa on him for stints which quelled him just a bit.
Offense wasn’t the problem for either team, the Raptors had Andrea Bargnani (27pts, 6reb, 9-21 FG, 8-9FT) and DeMar DeRozan (17pts, 7-18FG, 7reb) going and the Clippers were benefitting from Baron Davis, Blake Griffin and Brian Cook’s contributions, the latter very much seeking his offense against Bargnani. The Raptors shot 55% in the first quarter and were at 48% at the half, the Clippers were at 47% and 49%, respectively. You often hear commentators talk about young teams making mistakes and not knowing how to win, this game epitomized such colloquialisms as there were long stretches of play where the basic fundamentals of passing and dribbling were entirely ignored. Add to it a veteran like Baron Davis, otherwise having a great game running the show, reduced to unnecessarily executing pointless behind-the-leg dribbles and you almost felt like you were at the Vince Carter All-Star Classic.
The game just might just be the official announcement of Ed Davis on the up-and-coming power forward scene, his game in Dallas was nothing short of awesome, but I’ll go ahead and say this one takes the cake because of who it was against. As the game got out of control and the shooting percentages dropped (Raps ended at 42.7%, Clips at 41.6%), this became a game of which team was going to get more shots at the rim. Ed Davis had six offensive rebounds on his way to a 13/14 night, that’s six extra possessions which was the decisive stat in the game – the Clippers had 77 possessions and the Raptors had 82.
The things he does don’t make it to the ESPN highlight reel, they aren’t glamorous and smooth, he just does the things that you need someone to do in a basketball game in order for your team to have a chance to win. He’s that guy you want to have on your pickup team because you know he’s going to fight in the paint and always give you a chance. The game-high three blocks are pure gravy and a testament to his comprehension of how to play defense. He fights very hard for low-post and rebounding position, and if the point guard is on the same page with him he can provide high-percentage opportunities. He’s got just the right amount of skill mixed in with his length and athleticism that he’s able to get off a hook if he’s within reasonable striking range. Davis is behind Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins in rookie PER48 rebounding (over 15 minutes of PT), and this is with him missing a good chunk of the season. Good things to come.
The game was tight throughout with the Raptors pushing it to 6 or 7 points and some careless plays allowing the Clippers to stick around. When it came time to hit the big shot, Bargnani hit a massive three, schooled Griffin on a fake for free-throws, and then got an off-the-glass And1 for 9 fourth quarter points. Davis’ four rebounds in the fourth also helped steady the ship and the Raptors came out with a win. DeRozan started off strong before cooling off, Barbosa did the opposite, and Weems couldn’t distinguish himself from Trey Johnson. Let’s not fool ourselves, the Raptors beat a very bad team. “I wish we could we could play a big game every night because every time we play a team with a superstar or a lot of hype around it, we definitely step up and we did tonight,” said DeMar DeRozan after this one. I don’t like that quote, a team as poor as the Raptors shouldn’t need a superstar to motivate them, looking at the standings should be enough.
Jose Calderon deserves a lot of credit for keeping his nerve against Baron Davis, he was getting torn apart by the Clipper and I’m sure the halftime speech articulated that fact over again. He got into it with Davis after he had one of his drives nullified, and instead of allowing Davis to get in his head, Jose responded not by making it about himself, but by tightening his passing and attacking the Clippers in transition. Calderon’s 10 assists were massive, especially in the second half when Brian Cook and Baron Davis had shifted the mometum over to the LA side.
There’s a forum thread about who the Raptors should trade for, and names like Flynn, Mayo and Bradley are popping up. The guy we saw last night – Eric Bledsoe – is right up there as a potentially dangerous point guard. His speed in the first quarter was eye-popping and he’s got a good drive-and-kick game in him, he did tail off as the game went along and finished off with a whimper but I’d be very interested to see what kind of career he’s going to have. Point guards of his size, stature and skill can go either way – you have Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, but you also have T.J Ford and Daniel Gibson. Somewhere in between you have Eric Maynor, D.J Augustin and Jerryd Bayless. What separates mediocre from good in this case? Hard to say, perhaps you can enlighten, there’s the obvious things like a jumper and scoring ability, but I’d say that court-vision, composure and a reliable dribble is what will allow a team to stick through a point guard when he’s having a tough go at it.
I’ll end with praising Jack Armstrong for his great analysis of what makes Baron Davis so dangerous – he keeps his dribble alive, protects it, and waits for his teammates to get into the right position before delivery. Over the years I’ve enjoyed Armstrong’s take on the subtleties of the game, it’s just too bad that whatever he says is quickly drowned out by the babble of Matt Devlin who’s busy trying unsuccessfully to make routine Raptor scores sound like the Play Of The Season. Sadly, the two cancel each other out.
Up next is Chris Bosh’s return. I’m not sure if I have a post scheduled before that so let me say this now. If you’re going to the game and his name is announced, or if he touches the ball, don’t boo, don’t cheer, just do nothing. The Raptors accomplished nothing in his seven years, the franchise didn’t take a step forward but also didn’t exactly take one back. We were crap when he came here and were crap when he left. If I had to describe his stay in Toronto in one word, it would be ‘Meh’. So when you see him on the ACC floor, just think ‘Meh’.