Kris Humphries, season average: 9 points, 9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks. Yesterday vs Raptors: 18 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks. There’s your Man of the Match. The Raptors have a glorious history of letting scrubs have career games, add in the motivation of playing a former team and you got a motivated Humphries dominating the Raptors bigs. Yes, Hump dominated the Raptors, it’s hard enough to write that in a sentence let alone live blog it.
A few tides and turns later this was a close game in the fourth quarter when another marginal former-Raptor proved to be the difference: Sundiata Gaines. He had 7 fourth quarter points in the key Nets run which established a lead the Nets would not relinquish, on a side note I never quite figured out why the Raptors cut him in favor of Trey Johnson. Not that it would have mattered in the very least, it’s only that pound-for-pound, Gaines is just a better player. The game was earmarked by poor Raptors interior defense and the only hope was that strong offensive performances would overcome the burden the frontline had put on the team. DeMar DeRozan was the only one that delivered as advertised, as the rest of the Raptors struggled to keep pace.
DeRozan (30 points, 12-19 FG, 6-6 FG) was on point from the very beginning with his jumper which he is now unleashing from areas where he wouldn’t dare from two months ago. He had two turnaround fades where he turned towards the baseline and released high-arcing shots which met the bottom of the net without the least chance of being blocked by anyone in the league. His catch-and-shoot mechanics in the short mid-range area are also improving, he executed at least three shots where he took a couple dribbles, stuck his toes in the paint, and faded back for a soft swish. The mix-and-matching with the drives was also present, and he’s learning to finish despite the contact instead of getting ruthlessly blocked. You don’t see those embarrassing blocks at the rim anymore against him, when he goes in now he knows what he’s trying to do.
Brook Lopez started the game chewing us inside and shooting a ridiculous 8-10, Amir Johnson was no match and neither was Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors were forced to double and when the Lopez kicked it out to their point man Deron Williams, the ball started moving for them and seams opened in the shifting defense which rookie Damion James, drafted 24th, took every chance at exploiting. His 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 FTs were a real sore point for the Raptors who couldn’t deal with his aggressiveness and determination. And yes, that’s a career-high in points for him as well. Who knew you could find decent players late in the first round, eh?
The Raptors weren’t looking for Andrea Bargnani as a primary offensive option, opting instead to use the Amir Johnson/Jose Calderon pick ‘n roll as the driver of the offense. Amir had a terrible offensive game, perhaps influenced by his poor defensive game, and for the first quarter the offense was stagnant, the ball movement minimal and the one-on-one shots plentiful. When Bargnani did get the ball, it was the usual jumper which went in at a poor percentage in the first half, and at a higher one in the second, evening out at .500 for the game. His game-impact? Zero. Sorry, but I can’t look past collecting 3 rebounds in 39 minutes when the team was -5 in that category. His defense was terrible and made to look worse by the Raptors switching on matchups that clearly made no sense, Bargnani guarding Farmar? Honestly, what is going on?
Ed Davis’ boost off the bench converted a 23-27 first quarter deficit to a 51-47 halftime lead, it was helped by Ajinca (strained his leg, had to leave) and Barbosa giving the Raptors a lift and at one point in the first half the Raptors bench was outscoring New Jersey 21-7. Lopez had 17 at the half and Humphries was having a say on every possession on either end of the court. It’s amazing how good a player can look when you’re playing with a point guard that gets you the ball right where you want, taking nothing away from Humphries but Williams’ delivery on the pick ‘n rolls with Humphries and Lopez was impeccable. Calderon’s been up against Rose, Kidd, Nash and Paul recently and fared okay, not yesterday. His assist numbers are there, 12, but he was 2-11 and other than a third quarter spurt of assists, he was anonymous.
The Raptors came out cold in the third, James Johnson missed some looks and looked decidedly lost, Calderon missed everything and Damion James had 9 manly points in the early third to give the Nets a five point lead. It looked like they wanted it more. With Anthony Morrow out for the second half, Sasha Vujacic saw the opportunity and capitalized with a couple threes which came too easily against the Raptors defense. The zone was deployed and even that didn’t stop pure dribble penetration, which is surreal. The Nets had layups against our zone! Vujacic quieted DeRozan for a little bit, just enough for the Nets to get some momentum, but DeRozan quickly corrected his ways and started scoring after a momentary interruption.
The Nets appeared to be pulling away with the Raptors effort-level and interest dipping, when Jose Calderon had an inspired spell where he notched four assists in 2:48 of playing time late in the third. That erased the Nets’ 7 point lead and a Bargnani three helped the Raptors to a three point lead heading into the fourth. Too bad the Nets started the fourth on a 13-4 run, which included two Farmar threes, both coming from the result of poor Raptors defense. The first one was due to a screen that nobody called out for his man and he had a wide open look from three – no contest. The second one had Weems switch on him, Farmar size him up and then step back for the three. Weems didn’t even raise his arms. Then there’s that seven point Gaines spurt against Barbosa, who wasn’t exactly helped by his defense on those screens. Brook Lopez sets great screens and really clears you out, there needed to be better communication and there wasn’t. The lead extended to 11 shortly and was then punctuated by a four-point play when Calderon fouled Lopez trying to get around a screen, that killed any mild momentum there might have been. The Raptors never got close because they couldn’t get sustained stops, when the did manage to get the odd one, Humphries or Petro dominated us in the fourth quarter rebounding to make up for it.
The only defense played last night was by Jerryd Bayless, who played hard against Williams and tried to use his strength to offset the ex-Jazz point guard. That’s it, though, he couldn’t do much of anything else. The quarterbacking of the team was poor and right now all he does is try to draw fouls, which is nice except it’s not job #1 for a point guard. The Nets adjusted to Davis in the second half and he saw things come a lot harder for him when the Nets focused on boxing him out and keeping with him in transition. He was on course to have a great game and was stopped short due to a coach’s adjustment, on the other end, nobody quite adjusted to met Humphries’ challenge and the Raptors were run over.
You might say offense wasn’t the problem because the Raptors shot 48%, problem is that situational offense has always been an issue for the Raptors. And if you take out DeRozan’s percentage the Raptors are at 43%. Still, that stat is wholly eclipsed by the Nets shooting 56% and scoring 38 points in the fourth! Our defense sucks ass, pure and simple. Hard to win anything when you give up that kind of percentage and have Hump walk all over you, contract year or not.
We’ll do this again tomorrow.
Random: English cricketers Monty Panesar and Steve Finn, and Chelsea players Didier Drogba and David Luiz were at the game.