Full credit goes to the Raptors for making a game of this. On paper, this should not have been close given the absence of Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, and Andrea Bargnani, combined with the return from the west coast. On the other side, having come off an emotional loss against the Knicks the night before, the Nets were sluggish for the first 30 minutes of this game, before turning the screws on the Raptors through Joe Johnson and putting the game away.
Jonas Valanciunas and Ed Davis were the story for the Raptors, and formed a combo that many Raptors fans felt from the outset could be a viable solution to the problem of improved defense and lack of bench scoring, as it would involve Bargnani being moved to the second unit. The two were a combined 11-13 in the first half, Valanciunas was making minced meat of the laterally and vertically challenged Reggie Evans, whereas Davis’ pure reach was getting him rebounds and clean looks against a mildly interested Andray Blatche. Both players are excellent on the effort scale and once you have that, becoming productive is a matter of finding opportunities, which they did against a Nets frontline which is easy to ask questions of.
I`d be remiss if I didn`t mention that the Nets came out lethargic, and their only real threat in the first half was Gerald Wallace, a man used to torching the Raptors. While Deron Williams was having a Bargnani-like shooting night and Joe Johnson was figuring out how to tie his shoelaces, it was Wallace who decided to attack and slither his way to the rim like the snake he is. Fortunately for the Raptors, he missed most his FTs and the Nets were turning it over on every other possession.
The Raptors modest early lead of 11 could`ve been larger if Pietrus or Ross had managed to knock down some of their looks, but instead the Raptors lingered into halftime up by 8. Most of this advantage was built up in the first quarter when they shot 57% and the Nets had 6 turnovers (10 in the half). You had the feeling that this lead was rather precarious, not even because the Raptors were going to regress, but because the Nets were yet to wake up.
DeRozan struggled in the first half, prompting Devlin to comment that he wasn`t forcing his game and doing the other things like rebounding. This wasn`t an issue in the half since the team had a lead, yet you knew that this couldn`t hold true for the duration of the game. Sure enough, as the Nets started to move the ball around, reduced their turnovers, and worked through Joe Johnson, their offense flowed which, at this juncture, merited a response from the Raptors. Not just a defensive one either, but that of the offensive kind led by their leader on the night. DeRozan, perhaps overcome by the heavy minutes (44) and the punishment administered by Johnson, couldn`t quite respond the way the Raptors needed him to.
Jose Calderon thrived playing with the bigs, especially Davis, here’s his 15-assist distribution:
Solid game for Calderon against Deron Williams who was having a very off night, and didn’t come close to hurting Jose defensively in any sort of manner. I don`t want to anoint Calderon the starter, and neither should you to be honest, as we`ve made this mistake for years now. A good game does not make him a starter, it makes him a good player who can`t sustain this sort of impact/production as a starter. The jury’s out on whether Kyle Lowry can lead a team on a consistent basis as a starting PG, but the verdict on Calderon has long been made and the appeal denied. Let’s not even revisit this.
The Nets were 8/10 from threes during the third and the early stretch of the fourth, and that was the end of things. By the time C.J Watson made his three at 8:18 of the fourth quarter, it was a 12 point lead and the game was out of reach. It didn’t help that the Davis and Valanciunas, our most effective combo, only played 3:53 together in the fourth (which is all that Valanciunas played). This hurts more because Reggie Evans, for all his rebounds, was on the floor and had shown he could not handle Valanciunas in the paint. I`m not saying the outcome of this game would`ve been different, but can we at least try to put our most effective lineups out there?
The Nets were +7 on the glass overall which can be attributed to a pesky Reggie Evans. I thought the Raptors rebounded quite decently, even when the zone was deployed, and overall, maintained their shape on defense well. Those Brooklyn threes in the second half weren’t due to laziness; it was just good ball movement on the part of the Nets and great shot-making by Johnson and Watson. The crowd got a little antsy in that second half when a couple passes went wayward, and I’m willing to forgive that in the name of heavy minutes and a surging Brooklyn side. I thought it was harsh, but maybe they were booing the season, not the performance on the night.
Well, here we are at 4-19 with the season over, 8 ½ games out of the last playoff spot with five teams in between. There are no playoffs in sight, only another long stretch of meaningless games that we’ll have to suffer through. Perhaps there will be a mid-season trade, as there usually is, not to improve the basketball team but to appease the fans in the short-term and plant some false seeds of hope. That’s the norm around these parts and we’re dangerously close to repeating the trend. I doubt even a trade like that would shake things up enough, well, maybe if they trade Bargnani it might signal an end to the vicious cycle.
I don’t think Bargnani should be made the scapegoat. I see lots of articles by the mainstream media who are finally sharpening their knives at the man, now that he’s most vulnerable. Where they were when this problem manifested itself years ago is a good question. I, for one, am not even a big advocate of a Bargnani trade, never quite have been. I’m all for him going to the bench and serving his role as a bench scorer (if he can be bothered to do so). The real turning of the page isn’t going to happen by trading Bargnani, but by changing guard at the top.
In short, Raptors lose in a hard fought game. Up next is Dallas, then Houston. We might be at home, but the road is tough.
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