About the only good thing you could say about the Raps last night was they took full responsibility for this embarrassment.
From Jose Calderon to Andrea Bargnani to DeMar DeRozan there was no talk of the schedule or fatigue or any other excuse. The message from all was clear: “We did this to ourselves.”
And they did.
There was no denying the season-high 23 turnovers that led to 23 Washington points and deprived the visitors of 23 other chances to score.
There was no denying the 54 points in the paint the Wizards got against a Raptors team that came into the league first overall in allowing the fewest points in the shadow of their own basket.
They were slow coming out of the gate, and barely interested closing it out. In truth, this one couldn’t end quick enough for the players or any of the announced (but not even close) to 14,077 that were supposedly in the building.
Bargnani, the lone Raptor who had any success scoring at all and finished the night with a game high 22 points, pointed the finger squarely at the turnovers and then turned it squarely on himself and his teammates for basically handing the ball over.
Forgive Bargnani for actually inflating the damage from the 23 turnovers they did commit to what he thought were 25. It probably felt like even more.
“That’s the game right there,” Bargnani said. “That’s 25 shots we didn’t take, 25 times we gave them the possibility to go on a fast break and this team doesn’t wait. They are very athletic running up and down the court. We made their game.”
Bargnani said he couldn’t even credit the Wizards for the turnovers. For the majority they were just rushed, blind passes that were easily picked off.
And if the 23 turnovers killed them, the 54 points in the paint they allowed certainly didn’t help.
DeRozan knows his team needs him to score and he knows the 31 combined points over the past four games just aren’t going to cut it.
“I just got to play better,” DeRozan said after an 11 point game that saw him hit just one of his first 10 field goal attempts.
“I take a lot of the (blame) when we’re not doing as well because I got to step up and start being consistent on both ends of the floor.”
The offensive drought is the biggest surprise as it was only five games ago that DeRozan was being praised for a more consistent jumper and his much-improved range on that jumper.
DeRozan sounds confident the offence will come.
“We still haven’t caught our rhythm yet,” DeRozan said. “We’re not flowing yet. We show spurts of it in games, but we just have to get everyone involved to where we are all feeding off each other. Sometimes we lean on (Bargnani) a lot. We need to be able to take the pressure off (Bargnani) and have everyone contribute from the starters to the bench.”
Head coach Dwane Casey wouldn’t mind a little more offensive output from DeRozan but what concerned him Tuesday night, with regards to DeRozan, was that his shooting guard let his rough offensive night affect his defensive intensity as well.
“He shot 4-for-16 and like most young players it carried over to the defensive end,” Casey said. “We can’t let that happen. There are going to be nights when you’re not going to shoot the ball well and you have to continue to attack the basket and go from there. But again, he’s a young player, he’s going to be up and down and I expect this. That’s who he is right now.”
Team turmoil is not an all together inaccurate description of the Kings so far this year. They’re on their second head coach already and the season only reached the 10-game mark for the team on Tuesday night. Smart, formerly of the Golden State Warriors is in. Paul Westphal is out. The Kings did manage to win Smart’s debut besting Milwaukee but then played just well enough to lose by seven to Orlando in the second. The team was in Philadelphia Tuesday night and played without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who sat the game out with a thigh bruise. Wonder boy Jimmer Fredette started in his place. Part of – or all of – Westphal’s ouster was the DeMarcus Cousins situation. Cousins and Westphal privately and publicly clashed to the point where one or the other had to go and, as is usually the case, the team has less invested in the coach than it did the player. Like the Raptors the Kings are in the middle of a tough part of its schedule. They are on a five-game in six nights road trip that began in Philly, moves to Toronto, then Houston, Dallas and finally up to Minnesota.
The Raptors, who scored just 62 points against Philadelphia on Saturday, threatened that mark again. After leading 20-17 after one, Toronto scored just 14 points in the second quarter and 18 in the third. The Raptors missed their first 14 three-point attempts and committed a season-high 23 turnovers.
Washington outscored the Raptors 29-14 in the second quarter. The Wizards took the lead on Jordan Crawford’s free throw with 8:38 remaining and led 46-34 at halftime.
Washington extended its lead to 52-36 two minutes into the third quarter and led 71-52 after three. The Wizards’ biggest lead was 79-52 early in the fourth quarter, but Toronto made it cosmetically close by going on a 12-0 run.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he wasn’t focused on the Wizards’ record. “I don’t even look at that number – 0-8,” he said. “They’re an NBA team. They get paid on the first and 15th of every month.”
Well Raptors’ fans, your Prince Charming is closely approaching. Prepare to let your guard down one more time.
Allow me to introduce to you the 2011-2012 Toronto Raptors, an unseemly combination of grit, resilience, and believe it or not, talent. Over the past couple of seasons this team has slowly offered up glimpses of who they could be.
Now, instead of being blown out of the gym, the Raptors are staying in games late, making shots, and playing with poise; even coming away with some wins. This team does not play like a bottom feeder, nor do they have any intentions of being treated as such.
They are scrappy, they fight for every point, and they do not go away easily. The culture of basketball in Toronto has finally shifted.
What’s the reason for this shift?
Well, there are a few. The Raptor core is one year older, stronger, and more experienced of course. The ongoing development of players like Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, and the lights out play of Jose Calderon, so far have made them competitive late in games.
And then there is the most underrated, yet most important change: Head Coach Dwane Casey, who is the defensive mind behind last years Dallas Mavericks’ Championship team. A man responsible for taking a notoriously bad defensive team (sound familiar?), and turning it into an efficient, turn-over producing, well-oiled-machine. A man who helped Dirk Nowitzki with his jump from good player to great player.
This was by far Washington’s best game of the season, particularly on offense. For eight games their offense had been simplistic, with pick-and-rolls or isolations on the strong side and a lot of standing around. But against the Raptors there were weakside cuts occupying defenders, slowing help, all the things you see in a good offense. It gave them room to attack the basket and they did, it was not a jump shot fest. It wasn’t consistent, it certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a vast improvement over past games.
Meanwhile the Wizards defense was more aggressive, although it was certainly helped by a hesitant Raptors offense that did not attack aggressively. DeMar DeRozan has not found his groove for a couple games now. Jose Calderon has been aggressive off the pick and roll the last few games but tonight was pausing, then forcing some ugly passes that led to turnovers (the Raps had 22 on the night). Toronto only had 52 points through three quarters, the Wizards deserve credit for some of that but the Raptors do as well.
The Raptors are not a good team — they start Rasual Butler (1-of-6 shooting). They need Andrea Bargnani to generate the offense, and while he finished with 22 he was not as sharp as he has been in previous games. They are a team that is going to have nights like this.
1. Find the big man: Raptors forward-center Andrea Bargnani kept slipping free on the perimeter and scored 30 against the Kings in Toronto last season. The Kings can’t allow him open threes.
2. Foul trouble: If Marcus Thornton’s thigh contusion keeps him out, that leaves the Kings with only 10 healthy players. Excessive fouling would put the team in a bind.
3. Fatigue factor: Both teams played on the road Tuesday. Will that be an excuse if either falters late tonight?
Saunders also got some quality production from rookies Shelvin Mack and Jan Vesely. Vesely had an uneven debut on Sunday, but on Tuesday he was energetic on both ends of the floor, fighting for rebounds, creating five steals and providing two highlight dunks. He stole the ball from Calderon, dribbled up the court, dunked with two hands and got a standing ovation from the fans. He later soared high above the rim to catch an impossible alley-oop pass from Mack. Despite being well outside the paint, Vesely was still able to throw down the ball, and he shivered as a form of celebration.
Ten players scored as the Wizards set new season highs with 48.8 percent shooting and 20 assists. “Everybody coach put in the game played well,” Singleton said after scoring nine points and grabbing a team-high nine rebounds.
The Wizards were the last team in the NBA without a victory, setting a franchise record for futility to start the season, but they took advantage of a Toronto team that was coming to Washington for the second game of a three-games-in-three-nights set. They took control of the game in the second and third period, when they outscored the Raptors 54-32, forced 15 turnovers and handed out 14 assists.
Here is why they struggled in Washington:
The Raptors ranked first in the league in opponents points in the paint per game and were coming off a game where they locked down the Minnesota frontcourt.
They got demolished inside by the Wizards as they scored 54 points inside the paint. Washington was averaging 39 points in the paint going into this game.
Turnovers and transition baskets:
It’s hard to play good on the offensive end when the team keeps passing the ball to the other team. They had more turnovers than assists and gave up 23 points from turnovers.
The Wizards did a lot of their damage in transition plays, where they shot 71.4 percent from the floor and generated 1.14 points per possession.
Bargnani was the only Raptor to show up offensively against the Wizards. The rest of the team shot 35 percent from the floor. That number is a little inflated due to Leandro Barbosa’s blatant stat padding during the fourth quarter when the game was totally out of reach.
In spot-up scenarios the team shot 35.7 percent from the floor and generated 0.87 points per possession. The Raptors pick-and-roll ball handlers struggled when they looked to score, as they shot 33.3 percent in that scenario and generated 0.64 points per possession.
In off screen plays, the Raptors shot 33.3 percent from the floor and generated 0.67 points per possession. Tired legs were definitely a factor.
Blatche, of course, had a couple of great moments in the second half, including one sequence when was fed the ball on the wing, passed up a shot and got rid of it, then got it back and passed up another shot, instead feeding Singleton in the short corner. Earlier in the game, Blatche stayed with a back-and-forth sequence of both teams on the break and blocked DeMar DeRozan to make up for his own turnover.
The basketball gods rewarded him with a three-pointer later, doing the same thing for Lewis.
"I decided I’d try to tough it out," Blatche said. "I seen it was a good opportunity for us to come in and get this win. I was there to support my teammates."
The important theme here is for the players to do what they do best, and that generates the best product on the court. Whatever the Wizards thought they were going to be this season, some amalgamation of future stars and potential trade assets worth showcasing, what they are is a young team full of role players that when put in the position where they can best succeed, might win a few games. Perhaps the model shouldn’t be Oklahoma City but Denver.
“We moved the ball, played defense for one another, helped each other,” Booker said. “It was like everybody was on the same page.”
“We have to prepare like we’re desperate. We have no right to overlook anybody,” coach Dwane Casey said.
He’s right. They don’t.
The Raptors made a couple of dozen nice passes, all of them to their opponents, who seemed barely able to believe their luck. It resulted in a lopsided 93-78 victory for Washington.
On Saturday, when the Raptors were out of it late in a game, Casey kept his starters in the game to send a message. On Tuesday night, sitting in the midst of a back-to-back-to-back and with several of his stars visibly flagging, Casey waved the white flag with nearly 15 minutes to go. The entire second unit featured throughout the final quarter.
The realities of human endurance are forcing Casey to fight only winnable battles. Tuesday night’s was a loser shortly after his team took the court.
The Wizards are a bad team, but the fecklessness of the Raptors emboldened them to the point where rookie Jan Vesely was running by the Toronto bench pumping his fists after a dunk in the third quarter.
Remember, this kid hadn’t won a single game in the NBA to that point. Somehow the Raptors had convinced him he was Leo DiCaprio standing on the bow of the Titanic. Wasn’t this the sort of thing we got Jamaal Magloire to sort out for us?
Beforehand, Casey laid out his mission statement.
“We were considered a soft team (last year). I don’t think anybody would consider us soft right now. They might. I hope they do,” Casey said. “That’s what we’re trying to change — that reputation.”
Afterward, Andrea Bargnani had this to say of the effort: “We were soft. Mentally soft.”
1. I think the refs were so disgusted by the quality of this game that they could barely be bothered to blow the whistle at either end unless somebody drew blood. I think they just wanted to end this ugly display as quickly as possible and I can’t say I blame them.
2. DeMar DeRozan is struggling badly on offense right now, although he did save some face with a decent second-half performance. We’re really going to get a sense of his mental makeup based on how he works through this. To his credit, he’s still working hard on defense and diving for loose balls.
3. Rasual Butler continuing to start for the Raptors is an unfunny joke. It’s getting to the point where I wouldn’t blame David Stern if he fined the Raptors for blatant tanking. No team that is legitimately trying to win games can justify starting Butler and playing him 20 minutes per game.