The ’95-96 Bulls which won 72 games would’ve been proud of this effort. I’m not sure the Raptors could’ve played a more complete game, and if you don’t agree with that, then you certainly will concur that this was the most enjoyable television this season. The Raptors started off on a 10-0 run which was highlighted by scores in transition, interior passing, jumpers in the half-court and of course, defense that makes you shed a tear of happiness. The Blazers, playing on a back-to-back after a big win in New York, appeared half a step slow and never quite caught up.
Twenty of the 24 points the Raptors scored in the first quarter came from either DeMar DeRozan or Ed Davis. The only additional analysis needed here is that facilitator of those points was Jose Calderon, who continued his mastery of passing off the high screens. If I’m the defense at this point I basically switch on Jose every time a screen is set for him because if you give him an inch of space to make a pass, he makes it on a dime. The other end of the pass, i.e., the guy who catches it, is so in tune with Calderon that what we’re seeing is clockwork. Here’s his assist breakdown: DeRozan 6, Davis 5 and Ross 2.
I should highlight that Ed Davis’ points aren’t coming from just pick ‘n roll dunks and put-backs, he’s got his re-engineered jumper functional from within 8 feet, and he made a few moves today where he glided in from the painted area for layups. The playing time, which is the most precious thing an NBA team can bestow on a player, is being made of excellent use by Davis who is playing to his strengths on every possession. I cannot point to a single questionable shot, nor can I doubt his effort throughout his 30 minutes.
Continuing with the theme, what constitutes a questionable shot for DeRozan is now changing.
That’s basically Rip Hamilton’s shot chart in his prime. Wesley Matthew’s either had severely underestimated DeRozan’s ability or just had no interest in this game because the space DeRozan was allowed, even after he had proven himself in the first quarter was obscene. If you get a chance to watch this game again, focus on DeRozan’s movement on the perimeter and notice just how keen he is to present himself as an option whenever the point guards are running things with the big men. I remember when Raptors fans used to hold their breath when he launched from anywhere outside 6 feet, now we’re looking forward to those. A sure sign of progress.
The Raptors were up by 7 at the end of the first which is about the time where Casey flirted with a smaller lineup which had Fields at the four. Matched up against slower guys like Joel Freeland and Luke Babbitt, he acquitted himself well by getting some dribble penetration while not being taken advantage of on defense, although not sure how much Freeland or Babbitt can punish anyone. Portland chose to match Casey instead of bringing on Aldridge which I felt was a mistake even though the guy he usually punishes, Bargnani, was out of the lineup. Aldridge ended up having a nice enough 14/10 line, but it wasn’t close to some of the performances he’s had in the past against us. Davis and Johnson playing well offensively and hurting him in the paint definitely had to affect his offense, and that’s something Bargnani just can’t seem to do with guys like Aldridge.
The Raptors were up by 16 at the half and Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry’s vastly different contributions had much to do with it. Coming off the bench, Lowry calibrated his game to be more like what’s in style these days and that’s a pass-first point guard. He had nine assists and only two shot attempts in 22 minutes. That really does say it all. With Davis, Ross and DeRozan going, his offense wasn’t called upon, and I rest in the comfort of knowing that we have a player that has the firepower for when such is needed.
Lowry’s bench backcourt partner, Ross, had his three-point shooting game of the season: 6-9 3FG for 26 points, half of which game in the second quarter. His game is only improving as he gets acquainted with the longer NBA three-point line. You’ll notice that those ill-advised contested pull-ups that he was airballing earlier in the season aren’t even being taken, and that his shots are all being setup instead of being forced. Last night all but one of his shots was unassisted, and when you factor in how well the bigs are playing and how accurate the PG passing was, it directly translates to cleaner looks on the perimeter since the defense is sucked in worrying about happenings in the paint.
Portland never did make a game of this one and the Raptors cruise controlled their way to a win in the second half. This was the first game of a 6-game homestand with the Kings, Thunder, 76ers, Charlotte and Milwaukee to follow. There are no back-to-backs in this stretch and the only game that the Raptors won’t be favored to win is OKC (who lost last night at home to Brooklyn). It wouldn’t be unrealistic to suggest that the Raptors could be 16-21 at the end of this stretch, which would be a remarkable feat given the earlier struggles.
The elephant in the room is Andrea Bargnani and where he fits. I think the Raptors options here are pretty clear. His value on the market has to be pretty low and if the Raptors feel they aren’t getting anything of substance, they can simply slot him in a bench role where he could actually be useful as a C or a PF (those lines are blurry anyway and I don’t believe in the natural position BS). The Marc Stein report which suggested that Lowry would be part of a packaged deal doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not sure why the Raptors would trade Lowry when, technically speaking, he hasn’t done anything wrong and plays a position, which until this recent run, we’ve been weak at.
If the Raptors want to be a solid two-deep at every position, it makes sense for Lowry and his reasonable contract to stay. Here’s how I see things:
PG: Calderon, Lowry
SG: DeRozan, Ross
SF: Fields, Pietrus
PF: Davis, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Bargnani
It’s not hard to see where improvements are needed, and point guard isn’t the position that screams for change.