Raptors 97, Pistons 103 – Box

The only time the Raptors seem to be able to defend anything is when they go in the zone, unfortunately that’s not a viable strategy for 48 minutes because teams adapt to the zone and figure out a way to beat it after a few possessions. It’s too bad really, because the positive reaction the Raptors see after deploying the zone is too short-lived, much like Liston’s last $20 purchase at the Rail.

So what’s the story of this one? It’s terrible defense for 80% of the game, a spark off the bench which made the game tight, and of course the usual ineptitude that prevents the Raptors from actually winning the game. No complaints here since the only thing that’s worth looking forward to is that high pick.

The Pistons finished this game shooting 52% and were over 60% after the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarters. The defense played was so bad that even the Pistons were giving surprised looks to each other after their unchallenged strolls to the rim. It’s not just a question of personnel for the Raptors, it’s also the strategy. For example, Detroit started Tracy McGrady as the point forward and he was too good for Jose, even at the ripe old age of 56. There was hardly a reaction on the part of the Raptors who stuck Jose on him and later switched him to Hamilton, another mismatch. Leave matchups aside though, Detroit poses mismatch problems all over the floor so we can let that pass, here’s stuff that makes you scratch your head:

  • Why are the Raptors forcing a player baseline knowing that Bargnani is the help defender?
  • What is the point of hedging if the hedger doesn’t become part of the play after the ball has swung?
  • Is there a reason why Stuckey’s shot is being respected?
  • Why don’t the Raptors guards make a concerted effort of preventing fast-breaks?
  • If we have repeatedly shown an inability to defend the pick ‘n roll, why not put a more versatile lineup which will be more forgiving of switching?
  • Why can’t we close-out shooters and prevent wide-open drives? It’s all about playing your angles and keeping your defensive shape, the Raptors suck at that.
  • Why is there no communication on defense?

Giving up 38 points in the first quarter to a team returning from the West coast is pretty bad, and dug the Raptors into a hole that was going to be tough to climb out of given Detroit’s matchup advantage at pretty much every position. The Raptors received a boost in the second quarter courtesy of the bench, which scored 20 of the 28 points in the quarter. Reggie Evans’ hustle got us going (he drew an illegal defense call on a post-up, I believe that’s what Charlie Sheen meant when he said ‘winning’), and Barbosa shifted into gear to counter Detroit’s pace and movement in the half-court set. An 11 point deficit at the half was something to be thankful for because after the first quarter this looked like it was going to be over at the half.

What’s his face was interviewed at halftime and he flat out said: “Our defense has been terrible” while being thankful to the bench for saving the game. Problem is that the bench is supposed to keep you in games, not win the game for you. That’s the job of the starters who got outscored 80-57. Andrea Bargnani had 20 points on 20 shots, “graceful” is how Matt Devlin managed to describe him. He gave the team a shot in the arm to start the third with five straight points, other than that it was the usual Bargnani – painful defense, little emotion, low-percentage shots and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes. There’s a play in the third quarter where he completely blows a rotation and even James Johnson shakes his head in disgust. I’m too used to complain about this with any vehemence, the only way he can be a consistent positive contributor to the Raptors is if his role is limited to an offensive player off the bench – 25 minutes sounds right. He should be able to maintain his defensive concentration for that long and is likely to put a better effort knowing he’s only got to sweat for so long. It should be said that everyone with the exception of Bayless was bad so Bargnani fitted right in.

The Raptors went to the zone in the third and it was effective enough to slow the Pistons pick ‘n roll machine with T-Mac down (can’t believe I’m writing this), and force them to move the ball around and think for a change. Detroit struggled passing it around in the zone and the Raptors got deflections which led to points, but overall it felt like when the Raptors did manage to get a stop, they couldn’t score for whatever reason. Be it a bad call by the ref, a missed open jumper or one of the 16 turnovers. Leandro Barbosa was hunting his shot and finished 7-16, crossing the line from spark off the bench to chucker who needs to be benched. Sorry, I’m not of Devlin’s nature where my spine tingles when he throws one high off the glass and it goes in. He needs to realize he already has a contract for next year and start passing the ball. On a night where DeMar DeRozan is 8-11, Barbosa has no business taking the shots he did. In fact, I’m surprised Triano didn’t run more stuff for DeRozan, who despite having a very poor defensive game, was determined on offense.

The third was played even and the Raptors made the mistake of getting into the penalty early in the fourth, couple of them very suspect calls. The end result was Detroit shooting 10 FTs in the fourth to the Raptors’ one. I have some issues regarding the way the substitutions went. Bayless, who was effective defensively, only played 19 minutes, Julian Wright wasn’t used in a game where we struggled to matchup with Detroit for size and agility. Wright has played a total of 12 minutes in the last 13 games. Either Jay Triano hates him or Julian Wright is dead.

Taking a panoramic view of this game it was noticeable just where the Raptors fall short defensively, in addition to not having wing players that can slow down their own man, their interior defense is being manned by Bargnani and a rookie in Ed Davis. There really was no hope last night except that chance to out-gun them which is hard. James Johnson had a good showing with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and for the first time in some time appeared to be in relative control of his body and mind. I can see why people like him, and he seems a nice enough find, but know that right now he’d struggle to make the rotation of any NBA team, let alone start for them. He’s a good option at the three while we’re tanking, but if Colangelo is going to market him as the “core” next year much like he did Sonny Weems, I’m going to hang a puppy.

Final word goes to the Tracy McGrady versus DeMar DeRozan matchup, the comparisons are easy to make. Identical body-types (McGrady’s taller), similar early offensive challenges, comparable athleticism, except McGrady was definitely a better defender than DeRozan at the same stage. What I like about DeRozan is that he genuinely wants to improve and is willing to work his tail off doing it, that’s not something which could be said for McGrady who relied on talent more than his love for the weight-room. You saw a couple moves from DeRozan that really got you excited, he had a great drive from the right baseline where he finished a reverse very confidently in traffic, then there was a pull-up jumper in transition that he wouldn’t dare take in November. It’s these small things that add up and turn an average player into a good one, and a good one into a great one. The best thing about DeRozan is that he’s progressing, and progression is the means by which a rebuilding year has to be evaluated.

Raptors lose. The lottery is one day closer.