The Academy awards are on as I whip this together, and on a night where great acting gets recognized, you have to acknowledge the performance the Toronto Raptors put on in the first quarter this evening. They performed just like a legit NBA team, their defense was excellent, they were decisive and efficient on offense. And then the camera stopped rolling. By the third quarter, the red carpet had been rolled out in front on the Raptor rim and was frequented my the likes of Jason Terry and Shaw Marion to name a few.
Other than the promising start gone awry, what hurts about this game is that Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki had a quiet second half, yet the Mavs still dominated. You can make an argument that Jason Terry is a talent even at this point of his career, but the remaining cast are players that are not that great. Shawn Marion is not what he used to be, and he had a good game but the guy who did a lot of the damage was JJ Barea. The dimunitive guard faced little resistance getting into the paint and making guys like Ian Mahinmi look good enough that guys like me are having to actually type his name out. That shouldn`t be happening, but then again, the defensive intensity just hasn`t been there all season. It`s just not a point of emphasis with this team and it`s just become part of the culture.
The first quarter did display the defensive potential a lineup with an Ed Davis – Amir Johnson – James Johnson frontcourt has. Twice in a matter of three games have we seen spurts of defensive brilliance, with our new starting small forward as the spark behind that. James also showed some playmaking ability with 7 assists, some of them pretty dishes inside. Unfotunately right now we have two 3`s that have more court vision than any of our shooting guards have, but neither of them can`t shoot worth a lick. It was interesting to see James jack up 12 shots, which he has no business doing.
Someone who did get some shots to start the game but was later ignored was Amir Johnson. I just don`t understand why we don`t high-low this guy more than we do now. He has an unbelievable pair of hands, he`s the anti-Antonio Davis like that. He swallows up even errant passes and is able to release the ball at the height of his extension, and he makes these at an excellent rate. So it`s not as pretty as a stepback jumper or an acrobatic layup, so what. It gets the job done. People are so impressed with the sizzle when it`s all about and always has been about the steak.
Speaking of sizzle, I`m trying to figure out whether DeMar DeRozan is justified in what looks to be a growing resentment of NBA officiating. Not sure why the officials would have a collective beef with him, but it`s clear that he feels that he`s entitled to a few more calls. It bothered him enough that he pretty much went out of his way to get T`ed up after a charging call when Mahinmi had stepped in. I think he sees guys like LeBron, Wade, Durant getting calls on similar players an expects that refs do the same for him. That`s not how it works DD, and if it makes you feel any better, a lot of fans feel the same way. A whole season averaging around 20 points and the whistles will come.
Another point to chew on is that the Raptors themselves rarely take charges like that, where a big jumps over outside the charge circle, so DeRozan is kind of unprepared. If he starts seeing things like that in practice, then maybe he`s better prepared for it. Almost every decent team employs that strategy, because it`s just so hard to keep guards from penetrating in today`s NBA, you have to layer defenses so that your guys are there before their player is.
A quick aside on Leandro Barbosa. There are some things that he does exceptionally well, like catching defenders flatfooted and swooping in for a lay-up. Actually that’s the only thing he does well, because he’s not a great shooter and he’s a non-existent passer, which is very unsettling for a player with that combination of speed and handles. It’s sad that he cannot take advantage of the kind of attention he draws on his penetration, and that’s probably the difference between him being a sixth man instead of a quality point guard. It’s not going to happen at this stage of his career, but it’s worth noting.
It`s not as fun following a team that is not very competitive, and throwing together a few words to describe it isn`t any different, but in losing the Raptors did achieve our inmmediate goal of “(preserving) high draft status” as Bryan Colangelo admitted a few days ago on a local radio show. You want that to happen, but at the same time you want to see a glimmer of hope, a ray of light break through the dark coulds that hang overhead. That would have been the first quarter run we witnessed last night. You could tell that even Mark Cuban couldn`t believe it, but the Mavs righted the ship and eventually executed like winning teams do. Let`s hope some day soon our beloved Raptors develop that mentality, because knowing you`re going to win is half the battle. Or something like that.