Jefferson strikes at the death, Raptors aggrieved

The heartbreak that accompanies controversial buzzer-beating losses was mysteriously missing after Al Jefferston’s game-high sixth offensive rebound scored the tie-breaking points to send the Raptors to their third straight loss, and more importantly a tie in the loss column with the Wizards for the league’s fourth-worst record.

Jazz 96, Raptors 94 – Box

The heartbreak that accompanies controversial buzzer-beating losses was mysteriously missing after Al Jefferston’s game-high sixth offensive rebound scored the tie-breaking points to send the Raptors to their third straight loss, and more importantly a tie in the loss column with the Wizards for the league’s fourth-worst record. The late questionable loose-ball foul against Evans certainly gives the Raptors a reason to feel aggrieved, and the accompanying outrage is likely to help cope with the defeat.

The 14-point fourth quarter lead which was built on the back of a very effective zone defense evaporated as soon as Utah adjusted by speeding up their pace and not allowing the Raptors to get set in the zone. In a week where the ‘hot hand’ was discussed a lot on this site, Calderon’s three late misses from downtown didn’t make much sense, since he was trying to ride his luck from the quarter before. DeRozan’s travelling violation epitomized the anemic fourth quarter offense, one which was devoid of team spacing or individual skill, and set the stage perfectly for Al Jefferson to cap off his night by scoring the last three Jazz baskets, one of them coming on a 14-foot sky-hook.

With Andrea Bargnani out, Ed Davis got the start and went about his business impressing everybody with his poise, effort and skill – the newly found confidence in the jumper being the main talking point of late. Four of his five field goals (12 pts, 5-13 FG, 3 reb) came in the first quarter and he was also playing the defense that will be his career’s hallmark. The damage inflicted by Davis was being more than offset by Al Jefferson (34 pts, 17-24 FG, 8 reb), who was the best player on the court all night long. Big Al had the jumper going, was working the offensive glass and was proving to be a tough customer in the post. He had 10 in the first, 18 at the half, and was the the driving force in the Jazz engine room.

The Raptors conceded their usual 57% field goal percentage in the first quarter but were down only 5 thanks to Davis’ contribution. Devin Harris and C.J Miles’ dribble penetration was putting pressure on the Raptors defense, which had already lost Amir Johnson to a left leg injury. The Raptors were conceding too many FTs and weren’t getting enough of their own; DeRozan was struggling to get the space or the calls by the zebras but still managed 5FTs and 7 points in the third. His frustration on borderline block-charge calls was evident and the four turnovers can be attributed to pure frustration and trying to create something out of nothing. The Raptors weren’t getting him the ball in catch-and-shoot situations and he was left to construct his own clean looks, something he’s not very good at right now.

The introduction of Evans (33 minutes, 11 rebounds) was soured by Johnson’s injury, but that didn’t stop the Iowa veteran from influencing the energy at the sparsely populated ACC, even though his minute total was stretched due to Johnson’s injury. The story of the first half had to be the Raptors’ 10 turnovers which were converted to 16 points by the Jazz. The lack of three-point shooting for the Raptors was translating to a lack of spacing, with players like Johnson and Calderon forcing the issue against a congested Jazz interior defense only to find themselves hit a wall, and then try to reset the play by throwing a low-percentage pass which was prone to being stolen, much like the paying customers’ money this season.

The Raptors bench was thoroughly outplaying the Jazz’s and thus offsetting the unstoppable Jefferson. The frontcourt of Fesenko, Favors and Cousins were proving to be too big for Ed Davis, whose influence on the game had been reduced to a trickle by halftime when the Jazz held a 52-50 lead. P.J Carlesimo spoke of slowing down Jefferson, playing defense without fouling, trying to get DeRozan in better scoring positions, and getting Davis involved like he was in the first. The overarching issue here was not mentioned – Jose Calderon. The point guard was having a poor game against Devin Harris, the defensive exploitations are a problem that we’re more or less used to, but as long as it’s balanced out by an adequate administration of the offense his contribution is considered positive. He had three turnovers in the first half, was not producing anything in two-man games with Davis, Johnson or Evans (granted, all three aren’t great partners on the PnR), and was misfiring on his jumpers.

The third quarter had the Raptors play inspired basketball, they played committed defense after getting a great boost by their zone defense, Joey Dorsey and James Johnson. Not surprisingly, Jose Calderon was empowering the offense which led to a better overall defensive effort, he had 8 points in the third including three mid-range jumpers that are often of the “bail out” variety which gives the entire team a lift. Jerryd Bayless’ great dirive and acrobatic layup gave the Raptors an eight point lead entering the fourth and the good news didn’t end there,

The Raptors bench won their battle 41-6, the key contributor was Sonny Weems’ 16 and Bayless’ 9, both of whom fired on jumpers to give the Raptors a 14 point lead with 8:21 left. The Raptors zone defense wasn’t allowing the Jazz to run their pick ‘n roll with any kind of space, something they had done very effectively in the first half. The Jazz did adjust though, they gave the Raptors a dose of their own medicine by pushing the ball in transition and setting up their offense early. Earl Watson running at the Raptors resulted in some breakdowns and the Raptors left their shooters open to a tune of a 12-2 blast where the Jazz dropped four threes. In this stretch the Raptors took five jumpers as their first option in their sets and it played right into the hands of the Jazz who were counting on long rebounds to get them going.

With the zone broken and the Raptors lead only one, Al Jefferson got the better of Evans for a defensive rebound and tipped it in. Jose Calderon went back to aiming his jumper and taking them out of the flow and missed, setting the stage for Jefferson to swish a sky-hook from 14 feet over Evans, it was fortuitous by all accounts. The Jazz’s three-point lead only lasted one possession when Jose Calderon’s drive found Barbosa in the corner and the Brazilian made no mistake. Tie game at 94, Jazz ball with 18 seconds left.

The final play wasn’t going anywhere for the Jazz and Earl Watson threw up a half-hearted three, the rebound appeared to be corralled legally by Reggie Evans, who was called for a loose-ball foul. The TV crew only managed to show one replay where it looked like a terrible call, but they only showed one replay, choosing instead to show close-ups of Triano’s face which was at best inconclusive. Typical Raptors TV production, honestly, at this point I’ll settle for these clowns being fired.

The final play was an isolation for Devin Harris who was defended fairly well but drove the lane and threw up a shot knowing it was a tough one, Reggie Evans again seemed to have position by the rebound was a little long and allowed Jefferson to get his fingertips on it – in at the buzzer. Jazz end the game on a 24-8 run. How ironic is that the Raptors concede three late offensive rebounds in a game where they welcome the return of their best defensive rebounder?

Overall, this was an entertaining game where the Raptors gave a good effort and were even +8 on the boards, ultimately though, it was the turnovers and sputtering offense (16 points in the fourth) that proved disastrous. They missed the interior defense of Amir Johnson the most, and DeRozan never quite finding his range dented the cause. Raja Bell is a pretty good defensive player, not sure he’s good enough to restrict DeRozan to 4-16, though. Credit to the Jazz for denying DeRozan the ball, testing his questionable dribble when he did get it, and then contesting his jumpers when he finally managed to get them off. DeRozan’s response was to drive the ball and get to the line, but as I already mentioned, the refs didn’t see it the way he did and the non-calls seemed to affect him mentally. He’s got to get past that, it’s too early in his career to worry about the refs, let alone rely on them.

Growing pains.

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