Let it be first noted that the Raptors got proper-f***ed by the refs here. I’ve been ignoring the moaning that’s going on about the refs, writing it off to the zebras being generally inclined to let players play, and assuming that things were evening out. Not so last night when Andrea Bargnani got hit on the wrist on the game-winning mid-range jumper, a possession after DeRozan’s drive to the rim met with a Charlotte hack and a blank stare from the baseline ref. I don’t think this is a David Stern conspiracy because Stern doesn’t give two shits about the Bobcats and the Raptors, it’s just that the Raptors don’t have players that are known for being aggressive. This will self-correct over time, but right now it’s painful to take.
Much like against Philly, the Bobcats played some small ball with Biyombo in the middle and this time Casey stuck more or less with a bigger lineup, choosing to play to his strengths. When you do that you expect to give up things in transition and maybe some open jumpers, what you don`t expect is being out-rebounded and in fact, that`s exactly where you expect to gain an advantage. How the Raptors were a -1 on the glass and gave up 50 points in the paint while having two 7-footers playing most of the game is plain wrong. Andrea Bargnani`s two rebounds in 33 minutes and zero defense all game long, have a lot to do with it, but at least this time around he made up for it by having a strong offensive game.
Bargnani looked sharp offensively to start, and with Jeffery Taylor clamping down on DeRozan, Bargnani`s early offense was key. However, when the other team identifies you as a weak defensive link by having Byron Mullens isolate you, it`s an embarassing problem. DeRozan was getting roughed up by Taylor which left his backcourt mate, Lowry, to pick up the slack and that he did. He was involved in a battle with Kemba Walker and played him even, no more no less. Walker’s speed was a problem for Lowry and the UConn man got away with too much last night, especially considering Lowry’s main selling point is his defense.
The stalwart for the Raptors was Jonas Valanciunas, who is quickly becoming the only big on the Raptors who plays like a big (Ed Davis’s flash in pans not included). He fought with Biyombo and Mullens for positioning, went after the offensive boards as is always the case, and moved brilliantly without the ball. Instead of strictly living a vulturous existence off of the offensive glass, he had it passed to him on occasion in two-man sets and did well. One of the plays Casey runs a lot is a high-post where the center catches the ball above the elbow, with screens being set to open up back cut opportunities. It requires the center to deliver the ball and that’s an area Valanciunas needs to improve on. Bargnani’s in that position a lot too, and I think both are lacking in that department, but Valanciunas actually has a chance to develop that part of his game.
On the strength of Jonas, Lowry, and Bargnani, the Raptors were up 10 with 7 minutes to go in the third, but you just knew it wouldn’t last. I just didn’t think it would end in an immediate 13-0 run. It was a classic case of failing to close out a quarter. Some ill-advised jumpers by Bargnani and DeRozan, turnovers by the same, and the entire team failing to buckle down on defense and allowing Charlotte to run in transition. It was the very definition of wasting away all the hard work done up to that point. Sixteen fast-break points for Charlotte, and more critically, them playing the Raptors even on the glass gave them too many opportunities, and easy ones at that. It didn’t help that going up against Sessions and Walker, two good ball-handlers, the Raptors defense wasn’t able to force the turnovers they usually do.
Down a single point to start the fourth, Casey essentially had Davis, Kleiza, McGuire, Ross, and Calderon out there, which left you to wonder where the offense was going to come from (no idea why Kleiza replaced Bargnani 20 seconds into the fourth, and why McGuire replaced Lowry a minute in). Calderon was having an awful defensive game and a horrid offensive one where he insisted on passing the ball to his teammates in the least desirable spots on the court. This lineup pretty much conceded an 11-1 run to start the fourth, and the Raptors were down 10 before DeRozan, Bargnani, and Lowry even given a chance to pull ahead early in the fourth. I realize it’s a back-to-back, but c’mon, like c’mon.
DeRozan and Bargnani scored 5 each in a fourth stretch which saw the Raptors pull even at 93 with two minutes left, that run included DeRozan finally posting up effectively and Bargnani nailing a three after faking out two guys. The comeback was a remarkable feat considering the end of the third and the start of the fourth. The game looked to have shifted in the Raptors favor after DeRozan`s awesome And1, but Walker responded with a drive against McGuire for his own And1 that evened the affair. BTW, can those two TSN anchors f**k right off because they actually make you miss plays. I got a problem with this play because I have no idea why Lowry was guarding Walker, who was burning him all game, especially with McGuire on the court who was doing a decent job. The foul against Jonas was questionable.
The ensuing play for the Raptors was the right one: a screen for DeRozan to drive, Taylor trailed the play and when he caught up, DeMar faked him out for the foul – great move. Unfortunately, he missed a FT, thus giving Charlotte a chance to take the lead. The ensuing play was well defended for a while, with Walker covered by McGuire and Gordon by DeRozan, even the screen set was negotiated well and it came down to a one-on-one between Lowry and Sessions. Sessions pulled up for a jumper, Lowry could`ve done better, perhaps.
You know the final play – the contact on DeRozan`s drive was ignored, Calderon missed a deep but open three, Lowry’s shot was blocked, and Bargnani was hacked on the last shot with the referees remaining silent. Also, notice how Walker stepped out of bounds after Bargnani’s miss, the Raptors should’ve had the ball back:
It`s a tough one to swallow. You would pencil in DeRozan to have a big game against a rookie and he didn’t, and you’d expect Lowry not to be outplayed by Walker. Failing to net a rebounding advantage through our size is also disappointing and some of the responsibility has to fall on the guards for not boxing out, although the lion’s share is on you know who. Ideally, we would’ve been able to use Ed Davis and Johnson more, two of our “small bigs” who are supposed to be effective against such tactics but those two are far from reliable. Blame the refs if you must, but know that despite all that this could’ve been won.
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