It’s crazy man. It’s crazy how a guy can go 4-14, miss the game winning shot, and still be the player of the game and get rave reviews across the board, including from this corner. The Boston game epitomizes exactly what fans want Andrea Bargnani to do: put defense first. That’s all there is to it. Followers of his career have grown weary of the hit-and-miss offense which is as liable to win a game as lose one on any given day. It’s easier to be consistent on defense than it is on offense, and that’s what perplexes a lot of people about Bargnani, that he hasn’t yet developed a defensive game to fall back on when the offense fails. And the offense fails for everybody at some point, the difference is that when it fails for Bargnani, he’s got nothing to fall back on. Hopefully, that can change.
The reality is that the Raptors lost to a bunch of scrubs in the late fourth quarter and nobody seems to be quite upset about it. If you’re like me, then you’re just glad that for the first time in a while, the team put out a concerted defensive effort that lasted 48 minutes. And that too in preseason. If you sit down and think about it, it is quite unbelievable. In half of a short training camp, Casey appears to have had an influence that got these guys to treat a preseason game like it mattered. I know it might sound like I’m making a big deal out of one outing, and before you mock me for getting all giddy about this, consider preseasons past.
Remember the Turkoglu year when it was OK to just trudge along in preseason in the name of fatigue? Or how getting blown out somewhere in Western Canada at the hands of the Nuggets was accepted in the name of “gelling”? Or losing to Philly in Hamilton after a half-ass effort? If you search the archives of this site, you’ll find that the casual approach to preseason was admonished back then too. If you’re a title contender, you take it easy in preseason and the even the early part of the regular season, when you’re at the bottom of the NBA barrel, the preseason is the time where you set the tone. That tone was never set under Mitchell or Triano, and it is being set under Casey.
A few things popped up while watching the game. The Raptors had the Celtics’ first unit thinking hard on offense, there were a few instances where pressuring up-top and on the sides put Boston under strain and up against the shot clock. The coverage on Rondo was planned and executed with diligence. We’re used to seeing him scoring 23 points in a half by walking the ball up to the rim against us, and seeing a puzzled look on his face when faced with a hedge that forced him to give the ball up for once was pretty much a dream come true. Ray Allen didn’t hit eight threes, and had to work doubly hard to get a clean look. Breath of fresh air.
If Bargnani was the player of the game, then Bayless had to be the goat. He sure made those of us calling for him to start look like idiots. I don’t know how much of it was him trying too hard to impress, and how much was plain old bad basketball, or maybe one was the result of the other. He finished with four turnovers and all of them were ugly. Right now Bayless is average at too many things to be considered a player for the future, and the hope is that he can elevate certain components of his game to a level that make him a little special. Right now his shooting is inconsistent, his drives have a sense of recklessness, and his passing is downright dangerous. The Raptors passed up a couple point guards with their pick, and didn’t bother acquiring another to select Knight or Walker, so there is some level of faith in Bayless. I hope for the young man’s sake that this is a season where he grows as a player, instead of repeating the same mistakes again.
Switching to some practice talk. I love how Casey sets numerical goals for the team. He’s targeting seven consecutive stops per game, he’s set a rebounding mark for Bargnani to aim at, he wants to keep the opposition field goal percentage under 45%, and so on. Listen to the whole interview, and you’ll see a guy who has lived the game tape and is referring to specific plays and sequences, and has communicated to the team exactly what went wrong, and how it needs to be fixed.
Whenever you have a problem, the first thing to do is admit and take measures to address it. It never happened with Triano where even after brutal losses the post-game interviews and practice scrums never addressed the specifics. Maybe he just didn’t speak about them, or maybe he just didn’t know.
As a fan of a team that’s rebuilding, the first and most important thing you want to see is that the right approach is being taken. For the first time in Colangelo’s tenure as GM, I have a sense that that is the case.
I’ll end with a Casey quote:
“I was really, really impressed with Andrea’s defense.”
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