Don’t Hesitate To Rotate – Raptors Beaten But Not Broken

A couple wide open jumpers and/or defensive rebounds away from a win.

Pacers 90, Raptors 85 – Box

This is what it boils down to. The Pacers have three matchups they can explore for points that are either mismatches, or bordering on one. First, it’s Danny Granger versus anyone on the Raptors, the Pacer is skilled enough to drive against anyone, and can create his own space. Second, of all of Bargnani’s excellent play, he remains a defensive mismatch for the stronger David West when the latter decides to operate from within 15 feet with an angle to drive. Third, the bulk of the Pacers inside, specifically Roy Hibbert created a lot of problems for Amir Johnson and company. The play that epitomized this might be the one in the fourth where Hibbert rather easily backed Johnson all the way in from the elbow for the layup.

The defensive improvement that Dwane Casey has brought on is evident, but nobody should be fooled into thinking that it can compensate for lack of overall talent. You can point to several key swing plays that turned this game around, but ultimately it was Indiana’s ability to go to an offensive well for scores that won them the game. The Raptors fought bravely with Bargnani carrying the torch for most of the game, and DeRozan coming strong in the fourth quarter, but when a crucial stop was needed, the Raptors didn’t get them often enough. And when they did, the offensive rebound eluded them.

Let’s run through this game. The offense never quite got going for the Raptors in a team sense; there were a tremendous amount of long jumpers that seemed to come about from very casual play. Calderon, DeRozan, J. Johnson were all guilty of it, and it set a bad tone for the Raptors. There was very little in terms of going towards the basket, and the Raptors offense was a classic “one and done”. The Raptors remained in the game on account of their defense, despite Amir Johnson picking up two early fouls. It should be noted that in years past, this could easily have turned into an ugly blowout with the Pacers running back the misses in transition. The defensive highlight of the quarter had to be Andrea Bargnani defending West very well in the block and on the elbow, even picking up a charge.

The lack of a post-up presence hurt the Raptors, who navigated the ball on the perimeter in hopes of a seam or two opening up, and that never happened consistently enough. Jerryd Bayless’ first spell fired the team up briefly, but at the end of one it was an ugly 18-11 game with the Raptors shooting 29%. Maybe it was home court jitters, or maybe just a case of jumpers not falling in. I would’ve liked to see Ed Davis get a shot against Hansbrough in the block, if nothing than in the name of development. I don’t think he got more than five touches in his 20 inconsequential minutes.

Dwane Casey recognized the need for an interior game in his first quarter talk, and the second swiftly started with James Johnson, DeRozan, and Bargnani establishing post positions. It was met with moderate success which served the purpose of getting the team going offensively. Andrea Bargnani owned the second with 11 points, countering some blistering three-point shooting by Paul George.

The second quarter was also a showcase for what’s different about this Raptors team. Jamaal Magloire might be an old carpet looking for his day in the sun, but he frustrated Tyler Hansbrough enough that the latter looked visibly agitated. And then are details of this scuffle too. It’s not often in the last few years that you can say that the physical presence of a Raptor had any psychological bearing on an opponent. By the way, Jamaal, keep swinging those elbows regardless of if anyone is within 10 feet of you.

Gary Forbes got his first action of the season in the second quarter and looked a mess. At halftime, the Raptors’ bench outscored the Pacers’ 17-4 (Bayless, Barbosa mostly), Bargnani’s scoring, and overall team defense was keeping them in it. The man missing from the Raptors’ plans was DeRozan who was held scoreless, mostly by himself. Taking long jumpers is never the way to get yourself going, and I’m disappointed that he didn’t rise to the challenge of facing Paul George. It was 38-33 at halftime for the Pacers, and I’m thinking it’s not too bad since we’re holding Indiana to 36% shooting, while shooting 40% ourselves, and it’s only a -1 rebounding differential.

The Pacers were quick to start the second half by going inside, feeling that they weren’t making the most of their interior advantage. David West became a lot more active in face-up situations, and the Pacers were wearing the Raptors down inside through Hibbert. DeMar DeRozan in the post against Paul George isn’t a great option because of the latter’s height, yet we continued to try and mine it for something. West was playing Bargnani much tighter in the third, taking away the space and making dribbling for a drive rather uncomfortable for the Raptor big.

The Raptor highlight of the quarter had to be Bargnani’s dunk on Granger, which seemed right about in line with the Italians’ aggressiveness of late. Yes, you’ll point to his four rebounds in 30 minutes as a reason this game was lost. I’d contend that it had very little to do with the overall affair because his defense was again spot on again (especially the footwork). Of course, this is ignoring the missed defensive rebound late in the fourth. There were two major swings in this game, the first of which happened in the third. It was at 4:11 of the quarter when George nailed a deep three after Butler had missed his own wide open look, after which the Raptors had missed another open look. It was a five point swing that ended up giving Indiana an 8-point lead which the Raptors never quite recovered from.

Bayless’ first spell had packed an offensive punch, the second was highly forgettable and suggestive of his future in the NBA: a point guard who just doesn’t “get it”. The barrage of jumpers continued well into the third with Barbosa now doing his part. At the end of the frame, it was an eight point game with momentum squarely on the side of the Pacers, and the Raptors desperate for offensive options. Not to mention, the Raptors’ interior bigs were visibly tired at this point. In my opinion, Amir Johnson had no business entering this game for Ed Davis with 8:34 left because he was already exhausted, and could not offer anything defensively. Davis was fresher and might have contributed more, then again hindsight is 20/20. It would’ve been a perfect time for Casey to challenge Davis to slow down Hibbert or Hansbrough.

There were a couple key defensive rebounds that the Raptors failed to gather, and what made it gut-wrenching was that they were missed after excellent defensive possessions. There was a very questionable foul on James Johnson which led to two crucial FTs (I’m talking momentum here), but the real dagger was the second turning point of this game. It happened after Bargnani missed a wide open three pointer, and Granger came back with an And1 to push the lead to Indiana’s largest, 12, with 4:28 left to play. One of those missed defensive rebounds led to another three pointer by Granger which extended the lead back up to eight with 2:18 left.

Credit to the Raptors who clawed back to within three thanks to DeMar DeRozan’s torrid shooting, and Bargnani’s continued focus on the offensive end to do the right thing. When it came down to the possession when the Raptors required a stop, a defensive gaffe by James Johnson left Granger open for his second trey of the quarter to push the lead to five with 1:14 left. He totally lost track of him in the paint and Granger was wide open. Let that not be the lasting memory of him, though, because he was again solid with 6 points, 8 rebounds, and worked hard to keep up with Granger in single coverage. The Raptors clawed back to within three on Calderon’s layup, and there was one more lifeline left, of course, dependent on getting a stop.

Indiana ran a quick pick ‘n pop which Bargnani correctly hedged on, and Amir Johnson correctly rotated on, but David West nailed the jumper to ice the game. A classic example of a very good offensive player beating a good defense. Casey’s comment on both plays:

“Those two plays, with kind of hesitant rotation, really broke our back”

At the end of the night you feel the Raptors had a chance in this game and if it weren’t for key possessions and lady luck, could’ve easily won it. Honestly, I like this Raptors team far more than any in the Colangelo era and can root for them without feeling depressed. That is progress!

Some notes:

  • Three-point shooting surprising again at 40% – 6-15, DeRozan and Bayless both going 2-2
  • Rasual Butler doesn’t do much on the floor, mostly stands in the corner or circles the perimeter
  • The Raptors could’ve used Aaron Gray, who wasn’t spotted at the arena. Hope he gets better, but it’s exactly matchups like these which he was acquired for
  • It speaks to how much confidence Casey has in Alabi that he can’t get in a game like this
  • DeRozan should have made himself heard much sooner than the fourth. Right now he’s a little lost in Casey’s offense, which has seen very equal ball distribution, accomplished via high-post play, early pick ‘n rolls, and a significantly reduced amount of one-on-one play. More on this after a few games have been played
  • Defensively, I feel every Raptor is doing their job, and when they don’t, recognized they didn’t do it so corrections are made. There aren’t any easy layups where the defense completely crumbles and you have situations where four Raptors are watching the guy lay the ball in

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