Shorthanded Raptors compete, win

Persistence pays off. A night before in Chicago the Raptors gave a performance which was deserving of a win if it hadn’t been for the high quality of the opponent. A night later at home against Orlando, they repeated the performance and this time around the Magic succumbed to the Raptors’ decisive commitment to organized and intelligent basketball.

Magic 98, Raptors 102 – Box

Persistence pays off. A night before in Chicago the Raptors gave a performance which was deserving of a win if it hadn’t been for the high quality of the opponent. A night later at home against Orlando, they repeated the performance and this time around the Magic succumbed to the Raptors’ decisive commitment to organized and intelligent basketball.

Two things jump out at you from the boxscore. First, the Raptors 48-30 (15-7) dominance on the boards thanks to Reggie Evans’ 17 rebounds. Second, and symbiotic to the first, the home team’s 21-10 second-chance points advantage. Not reflected in the boxscore is Evans’ defensive play against Howard, who he made work for every inch. In the post-game interview, Evans described Howard as being tired as the game went on by saying “he felt him leaning on him”, and it’s true. On the back of a good FT-shooting night Howard dropped 31 points, but they weren’t of the type which end up overpowering the opponent. The thunderous dunks that have the potential to embarrass and demoralize were missing, instead he had to rely on his jumper (an improving bank-shot) and grind it in the paint. It just might be that Reggie’s greatest contribution was to tire Howard enough that he missed his final three FTs in a tight game in the fourth.

The first quarter defense wasn’t as good as it was against Chicago, but it was still better than the norm. The Raptors held the Magic to 41% shooting, out-rebounded them 12-8 and were up 6-0 in second-chance points. Jerryd Bayless (23 pts, 8 asts, 7-14 FG) was controlling the game with his hard dribble, always looking to go inside and kick it out to James Johnson or DeMar DeRozan on the wings. The ball moved from side-to-side and the Raptors wings were making their jumpers with DeRozan showing improvement in his range and off-the-ball movement created due to proper Davis and Evans screens. James Johnson, as he’s been doing since he arrived, did some ball-handling as well, he serves as a great release point when the ball is pressured in the back-court. The Turkoglu-Johnson matchup was an interesting one because they’re being used very similarly by their respective teams – as alternate ball-handlers who can slash and create shifts in the defense.

The Raptors held a 23-19 first quarter lead and the Magic were in for a fight. There were no easy threes to be had because the Raptors were getting back in transition and closing out shooters extremely well, even Sonny Weems was into it. The bench scoring at halftime was 22-3 in favor of the Raptors and overcame the 10-2 Magic run to end the half. Joey Dorsey saw the light of day and in his brief time on the floor stuck with Raptor-killer Ryan Anderson, Weems was supplying efficient offense against Richardson, and Barbosa spelled Bayless very well by playing his patented two-man high PnR game.

Hedo Turkoglu was booed on every touch which prompted Matt Devlin to reflect on, and I quote this word-for-word, “the magic of Bryan Colangelo”. Jack Armstrong and Devlin proceeded to shower Colangelo with praise on trading Turkoglu for Leandro Barbosa and saving the club from financial burden and improving team chemistry. My response to that: Yeah, but he also signed Turkoglu to a ridiculous deal so if he goes some way in cleaning up his mess he’s back to square one, not deserving of knighthood. I mean, if your friend comes over to your house and pisses on your couch and then cleans it up, do you praise him or be like, “WTF man, you just peed on my couch!”.

Jerryd Bayless kickstarted the Raptors in the third quarter by hitting two threes and a long jumper. I got the feeling that every time he plays high minutes he does well so I did a search on BR which says that every time he plays more than 30 minutes, he averages 16.4 points and 7.1 assists. As a starter, he’s averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 assists. Those aren’t shabby numbers and it does appear he’s a better contributor when starting, especially when you consider that he brings more on the defensive side than Jose Calderon. It’ll be interesting to see how Colangelo views Bayless’ strong finish to the season, does he still go looking for a point guard in the draft or roll the dice with Bayless, who has proven to be a volatile player and goes through spells of absolutely awful guard play. But that’s as a sub, as a starter he’s certainly something different. I’ll stick to what I always say at this time of the year: take these performances with a grain of salt because there’s no pressure to do anything.

The Raptors struggled to close out the third and the Magic ended the quarter on a Dwight Howard fueled 8-4 run, pushing the Magic into a six point lead entering the fourth. The Raptors held their ground, Ed Davis had four fouls and did well defensively against Bass for the most part, he also had his say on the offensive end by finishing near the hoop after Weems found him in that early fourth quarter run which gave the Raptors an 85-84 lead with 8:55 to play. The Raptors wings – Johnson, Barbosa and DeRozan – were stellar in that stretch, each finding the soft spot in the Magic defense after great ball movement had excellent screens had shifted the Magic defense more than Van Gundy preferred. DeRozan had 24 points on 8-16 shooting including eight in the fourth quarter. The shot-chart is improving and hopefully this is the beginning of him turning into a great mid-range shooter, which is necessity if a wing wants to be a great scorer.

The Raptors’ final five points came at the line, two of them off a great drive by Bayless who got hammered by Bass at the rim. He immediately got up and chest-bumped Barbosa showing that he wasn’t going to be denied tonight. Bayless’ steady FT shooting combined with Howard missing three of his last four FTs were enough as the Magic, a team which I think really misses the versatility of Mickael Pietrus, went down in Toronto.

I called up the Fan 590 and brought up two points with Eric Smith and Paul Jones:

  1. The Raptors performances at this time of the year should not be over-analyzed because they’ve historically done better at this time of the year. Teams tend to look at the record and underestimate them, and there’s little pressure.
  2. The Raptors need to explore utilizing Andrea Bargnani’s strengths much better. I made the point that his excellent scoring prowess is being lost in his bad defense. The solution would be to have a starting lineup built on defense, and bring Bargnani as a reserve for around 25 minutes. He’d be under less pressure and would perform better defensively against substitutes, thus giving the team an overall lift.

Eric Smith said that the move would make sense basketball-wise, but given Bargnani’s contract, it’s going to hurt the franchise and his confidence. Fair point on it potentially hurting his confidence, but he’s a big boy and will get over it. I don’t see how it would hurt the franchise, if the point of the team is to win as many games as possible, that’s a pretty good solution. Smith instead said he’s rather see Bargnani traded than come off the bench, as it would be more comfortable for everyone in the organization.

Paul Jones agreed with what I said.

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