Moral Victories: The Theme of the Season

Good effort but an L.

Pacers 95, Raptors 90 – Box

A win at the end of that effort would’ve been well deserved. As it stands, it’s another loss to the Pacers (exact score as last time) caused by wounds that were self-inflicted.

No Bargnani in the lineup translated to DeRozan looking for his offense right from the start. He scored 14 of the Raptors’ 21 points, before being silenced by Casey. After DeRozan’s hot start, I would’ve brought him right back to start the second, hoping his forward momentum would continue. Instead, he sat for more than 6 minutes of the second, and when he did return failed to even hoist up a shot.

Much has been made of his struggles this season, and last night we saw that not only can he operate within the structure of slow-pace offense, but is actually desperately needed to keep things fresh. There is no reason why he can’t have a similar offensive output with Bargnani in the lineup. It’s not like Bargnani’s game is clashing with this, if anything they should be a decent fit seeing how Andrea’s playing inside and out these days.

What I hate about DeRozan’s game right now is that he’s taking too many jumpers. It’s the curse of the improved jumper – whenever a player realizes that he’s marginally improved as a shooter, he’ll start hoisting them up at a rate that isn’t in line with his actual ability. Right now he’s taking 2.1 threes a game compared to last year’s 0.6. Yes, the percentage this year is better, but as we saw by the numerous airballs last night, it should not be option one or two on any play, and it tends to be more than is desirable right now.

Indiana came out very uninterested, turned the ball over, and weren’t giving a proper account of their positional advantage at arguably every position. The day off seemed to serve the Raptors well and they shot a blistering 59% in the first quarter countering Indiana’s 29%. You should know the story by now, Raps get hot early at home, jump out to a lead, and then sure as shit, give it right back.

Let’s fill in the numbers in the age old equation.

  • Why they got the lead: day off at home, Indiana lethargic, hot shooting by DeRozan and Barbosa
  • How much was the lead? 16 points
  • Why they lost the lead: regression to the mean
  • Which scrubbish player which we totally didn’t expect to burn us burned us? George Hill, 22pts, 7-11 shooting
  • When did they lose the lead: Indiana didn’t take the leads till the fourth, but by halftime the 16 point lead had been cut to 5, so yeah, the Pacers had all the momentum

It didn’t help that Jamal Magloire tried to “toughen” things up by getting under PsychoT’s skin, which had the same reverse effect as with DeMarcus Cousins, where a player who was playing like shit started to give some. The second was also where I finally decided that I should talk about Rasual Butler a little. He’s been ignored in every post I’ve written so far, mostly because I can’t be bothered with the guy. Tonight though, I’m reflecting on whether he’s the worst starter in the NBA. A couple of his airballs were of the highest quality, good enough to make one of those 80’s blooper reels that used to come out on VHS (younger audience can google that term). I realize Kleiza is playing on one leg and James Johnson is halfway between meh and whatever, but if either of those two have a pulse, it should automatically mean that Butler is on the deep end of the bench, preferably in civies, and even more preferably paying for a ticket to the arena.

So did Ed Davis take advantage of his first start? Glace at the box score and you see 10 rebounds, and a couple late hoops, but overall verdict: disappointing. He’s supposed to be our PsychoT, and for large parts of this game he was anonymous. When you finally get a chance to show why you deserve more minutes, you have to come out and have your presence felt. He got pushed around too many times, didn’t contest in the post against West well enough, and crucially, was pushed too far underneath the basket on a late FT miss which cost the Raptors two points.

He was also rejected by Danny Granger, which led to the latter’s completely underserved ejection. The NBA is soft man, imagine someone giving Pippen a second technical after this play? Never. Not saying Ed cost us the game, just that a bit more was expected of him.

After the lead evaporated by halftime, the third was going to be a test of whether the Raptors could stick with a Pacer team that was very much interested in the game, and would’ve received a talking to at halftime, including some adjustments. One of said adjustments was going down low to David West, who the Raptors had trouble matching up with, as is expected. I expected the Raptors to fold in the third, credit to them they only managed to lose it by 5.

Jose Calderon and DeRozan hit key shots that delayed the camel’s back from breaking, and even Gary Forbes pitched in with a quality cameo. In that quarter I realized, just how much the Raptors are asking Amir Johnson to do. He’s defending West, Hibbert, PschoT, almost on alternating possessions. The guy’s ribs must be in tatters. Kudos to him, I’m not even looking at the boxscore for his numbers, and I don’t need to. The guy is playing hard and for the most part, well.

On the backs of their defense, the Raptors kept it close in the fourth as well, and that’s the key improvement over years past – their defense keeps them in the games, they just don’t have the talent to win them right now. DeRozan had 6, and Barbosa had 9 in the quarter, mostly through individual plays. The lack of a double team threat means that points either need to be constructed the hard way against a set defense (no fastbreaking here, remember), or individual brilliance is needed. Barbosa displayed some of that in the fourth, and Calderon ran the sets as well as one can, while keeping Collison in control. Then again, the Pacers weren’t looking at their guard to score, but their bigs.

Close game till late, and really, we lost it at the FT line. West was the offense initiator for the Pacers, while the Raptors went to different options at different times, purely out of desperation. Amir Johnson was setup by Davis for an And1 and missed a FT. DeRozan was setup by Ed Davis gain on a back-cut after wing pressure by Indiana, and missed a FT. That tilted the balance. West was sent to the line for two FTs that would normally result in a two point lead giving the Raptors a chance to tie. Tragedy struck though, as Davis couldn’t secure the rebound and PsychoT nailed two FTs to ice it.

Casey had a brain fart at the end as well, he put Magloire in the game on offense, and had the inbounder pass him the ball down three. Indiana fouled, whether it was on purpose or not doesn’t matter, and Magloire missed both. The Raptors didn’t even get a chance to tie the game. That hurt.

Some random thoughts:

  • Barbosa with a great block on Collison in the fourth, Lebronesque.
  • Lots of fouls again, and it’s mainly because of fatigue. Tired players foul, simple as that.
  • Credit to the Raptors for sticking this out all the way till the end, didn’t think they’d have their legs in the fourth quarter. Tonight will be tough.
  • Matt Devlin referred to Andrea Bargnani as Andrea Bargnana. It was a Punjabi moment.
  • I’m trying to think of a matchup where Kleiza is at a clear consistent offensive advantage, and all I can think of is at the three in the post, and that too only after he’s received a pass in a deep post-up position because we can’t ask him to dribble – it’s fatal
  • Don’t really have much to say here. Good effort, DeRozan’s improving, but it’s clear we have a shortage of talent here. The small forward slot is critical, and a replacement for Jose Calderon needs to be found in the next year or so. This time should be ideally used to groom a point guard, and I’m not sure if Bayless is it.

Let’s not end on a downer. The Raps were shorthanded, played well, and despite the loss should keep their heads high. A year ago this would’ve been an embarrassing home blowout, as it is right now it validates the work ethic of the team as a whole.

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