Defensive Collapse Sinks Raptors in Philly

One of the worst closing stretches of a basketball game you could imagine.

Why is he in his warmup gear? Good question.
Why is he in his warmup gear? Good question.

Sixers 106, Raptors 98 – Box

Well, that was stupid. Not the game, me thinking they could actually win it.

The Raptors blew one down the stretch in Philadelphia last night, collapsing defensively in the final six minutes and allowing the Sixers to shoot their way back into things thanks to blown assignments, poor rotations, and some curious substitutions.

The Raptors led by four with six minutes to go, but from that point forward Philly shot nine-for-14 (64%), hit a trio of threes, and outrebounded the Raptors seven to three. It’s a small chunk of the game, but it was also the most important chunk, and the Raptors blew it. A lineup of Jrue Holiday, Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Thad Young and Dorell Wright is fine, but nobody’s idea of a juggernaut, and they looked like what everyone is expecting the D’Antoni Suns to look like in scoring 22 points in six minutes.

The Raptors didn’t answer with terrible offense, but it wasn’t strong either, as the team shot 44% in the fourth and went just three of nine at the line. The nine free throws were actually a low total given that the Raptors were in the bonus with over eight minutes remaining and decided not to attack from that point forward.

And the disappointment wasn’t just in the score the final few minutes, either. Kyle Lowry, returning to the team after an extended absence and coming off the bench, shot one-for-five in the final six minutes. It tarnished what was the 13-7-7 line we’ve come to expect, but more important were two instances where we got a potential glimpse of what may have worn out Lowry’s welcome in his previous stops. First, he looked disinterested at the line in missing a pair of late free throws. Second, he didn’t get a call and failed to run back on defense, leading to an easy Thad Young bucket. Add that to the fact that on the three J-Rich hit to extend the lead to six with 80 seconds left, Lowry curiously left Richardson to “help” in the paint despite there really being no need. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lowry and couldn’t be happier that he’s back, but it was a bad couple of minutes for him.

It was also a bad couple of minutes for Dwane Casey, as he curiously sat down rookie Jonas Valanciunas for the final 13:47 of the game despite the fact that he had been one of their best players with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Jonas had the team’s best plus-minus at +7 (an admittedly fickle stat in a one-game sample), dove to the rim hard as the dive man, worked his tail off on the boards, and acquitted himself well enough on defense that there wasn’t a need to hide him. The Raptors were up 10 points when he left the game for the last time. From that point on it was 41-22 Sixers. Just saying.

Granted, the Sixers went small and didn’t have a “center” for Jonas to guard. Spencer Hawes’ Mullet played just 1:47 from then on, Kwame Brown didn’t play and Lavoy Allen played 5:37. But what’s to say that the Sixers are the ones who get to dictate the size match-up? Instead of going small with McGuire and Kleiza to match up, why not leave Valanciunas in and force the Sixers to play one of their less offensively gifted players or risk Jonas shredding them on pick and rolls? It certainly didn’t help that Amir Johnson, the alleged “small ball center” on the team, simply hacked while in the game, failing to grab a rebound in his final 12 minutes of play and fouling out with two minutes left.

It’s especially frustrating because to that point the Raptors had been pretty good, especially on the offensive end against the league’s second best unit in terms of defensive efficiency. The Raptors shot 45% overall and got to the line 29 times, rarely turned the ball over, and pounded the Sixers on the glass. It had all the makings of a team-oriented win, including a streak of 13 straight assisted field goals to start the game, a feat the franchise hadn’t accomplished since the opening game of the 2011-12 season.

Again, too, Lowry looked good until the last few minutes, and Jose Calderon had his usual game, setting up teammates, spacing the floor and playing the matador for Jrue Holiday (as expected).

DeMar DeRozan also played well enough offensively, scoring 24 points on 18 shots. He was mauled on two takes in the second half that resulted in no-calls, so his eight free throw attempts could have looked better, too. His shot chart bordered on what we have been asking for, with only two of his attempts coming from outside of 15 feet. His finishing in the paint wasn’t great (three-for-eight) but again, two of those were pretty egregious fouls. It’s a continuation of the positive early-season trend we’ve been witnessing. Defensively, he handled Evan Turner well early but struggled with Nick Young and J-Rich later on (though it was tough to tell at times whether he, Lowry, and McGuire were matched up with specific players or it was changing pretty frequently).

Andrea Bargnani was bad. It didn’t look that way early, but his aggression waned and he ended up with 22 points on 21 attempts, a terribly inefficient rate that even a good-for-him seven rebounds could make up for (Skeets if you’re reading, he now has 184 points on 180 attempts, the 19th worst rate of Points/FGA for any player with 75 FGA, 12th worst for anyone with 100 FGA and fourth worst for anyone with 150 FGA). It really was the case tonight that Casey would have been better off sitting Bargnani down the stretch since he no longer seemed interested in attacking or actively defending. Interestingly, Bargnani’s plus-minus in 24 minutes when paired with Jonas tonight was +7 but -15 in 15 minutes without him. For the season, the team has been better with just one on the floor rather than both, but Bargnani has been a much stronger offensive player when Jonas plays with him.

And, I think that’s about it…the defense was straight up terrible late, Bargnani shouldn’t have been on the floor, Jonas needed more time, and Casey let the Sixers dictate the match-ups in the fourth despite the fact that the Raptors had been successful with their game plan to that point.

They’ll try to bounce back against Charlotte tonight, but the key players may be worn down from playing heavy minutes last night. Could be tough sledding – looks like a potential win, but no doubt the Bobcats are thinking the same.

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