Raptors Try Hard To Lose Game, Succeed

Second-half capitulation and questionable coaching.

Let’s see how this went.  Raptors build big lead. Check. Raptors blow said lead. Check. Raptors lose game. Check and mate. This recipe is getting staler than my wife’s cooking (no worries, she doesn’t read this).  In between all that there were the usual occurrences that plague the Raptors.  For instance, bizarre substitution patterns, random lineups, late tactical reactions, and that’s just the coaching.  Throw in a pinch of your star player shying away and instead a fringe NBAer trying to take the game over, a dash of me-ball, and just a sprinkle of bad officiating for good measure, and you got yourself a Raptors game.

Philly looked awful a couple weeks ago in Toronto and judging by the first half, it appeared that their malaise had continued.  The Sixers posed absolutely no pressure on the Raptors defense in the first half, and it was the visitors that dictated tempo and style buy running an assortment of guard-focused sets which freed up shooters like Ross and DeRozan.  The big-men combo led by Ed Davis (18/10) was forceful inside and what you had was a game where offense was being supplied from the outside, and defense on the inside.  Of course, relying on jumpers is never a safe bet, but given just how disinterested the Sixers were, it seemed like it might be enough.

Related: Quick Reaction – Raptors at Sixers

Ross had four threes in the first half, DeRozan was sticking entirely to the perimeter and hitting his jumpers, and propelled by a first quarter where the Raptors shot 72%, they were up by 17 at the half.  At this point, the usual good stuff was happening:

  1. The only guy doing any damage for Philly was Jrue Holiday, who the Raptors did not game-plan for and was basically allowed any shot he wanted. Fair “strategy”, make one guy beat you, but as we found out later when he was actually beating us, there was no counter-measure.
  2. Philly was staying on the perimeter with Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Evan Turnver basically letting the Raptors defense off.
  3. The awesome interplay between Amir and Ed was about as awesome as it could get (11 assists between them)
  4. Any time the Raptors ran any guard off a screen, they got a good shot because Philly’s trails were terrible and their help even turriblr.
  5. The team was shooting 60%, and the Raptors bench was outscoring Philly’s by 26-11.  Ross had 12 (FU Nick Young)
  6. Even Quincy Acy was giving production in non-garbage time minutes.

Now, up 17 you have to know that there was going to be a reaction coming out of halftime, and as simple as this sounds it’s true: the Raptors #1 priority was to make sure that the punch Philly would deliver would be either deflected or answered in equal measure.  What was Philly’s punch, you ask?  Tightened perimeter defense that dared the Raptors to drive the ball coupled with a zone that crippled the Raptors ability to move the ball.  Soon enough in the third quarter, Philly went on a 25-7 run through sheer ball-pressure causing turnovers, and the Raptors settling for the same jumpers they had in the first half, only this time they were contested.

I cannot explain why Casey did not immediately react and deploy a quicker three-guard lineup which could actually dribble out of pressure, and perhaps even drive the ball.  Instead, he stuck with Fields until the lead was halved and then brought in Anderson.  The ineffective DeRozan, who had a terrible quarter earmarked by indecision and disinterest was allowed to stay in the game till the 4:24 mark, while the Raptors hottest shooter, Ross, suffered the pine.

The double teaming on defense was quite a sight, as the Raptors seemed at one point to double Thaddeus Young on one play and Lavoy Allen on another.  The Raptors ended up mustering two assists in this quarter, as opposed to the 19 they had in the first half.  Lowry and Calderon split the quarter, with Lowry’s introduction coming at the the 7:45 when the team was reeling.  Perhaps Casey felt it was finally time to try the Anderson/Lowry/DeRozan combination for a bit, if for nothing than to get a third ball-handler in (he also took Fields out).

Momentum is a funny thing, though, once you lose it it’s awfully difficult to get it back no matter what tactical adjustments you make.  Here are two adjustments/decisions Casey made: he benched DeRozan in favor of Anderson for almost the entire fourth quarter, and did the same for Calderon in favor of Lowry.  I get the first sub, DeRozan was awful and should be embarrassed for having primetime minutes taken from him by a scrub.  I don’t get the Calderon decision because he was actually playing well, and not being torn to shreds by Holiday.  Please note that Holiday’s ridiculous line is NOT on individual defense, but on team and lack of plan.  Notice how teams game-plan for DeRozan? That’s what the Raptors should be doing for Holiday.  I get that he’s good, but given the defenders we have in Ross and Lowry, is he season-high point total good? Here’s DeRozan’s shot-chart:

Look, I get that he’s trying to get his jumper going and I’ve applauded that in the past. But in this situation when the team is struggling and hemorrhaging a lead, and needs the tempo to be slowed if not halted, why are you, as the supposed best player on the team, playing into the hands of the opposition by continuing to launch springers that aren’t working. DeRozan’s got to realize this: his strength is still the drive-to-get-fouled game, and when the team is struggling that’s what his fall-back is, not his jumper. Not yet, at least.

Lowry ended up hitting a three here and a jumper there but at the end of the day went 3-11 FG, and had very costly turnovers which were made all the more inexcusable because they came out of timeouts.  After Philly had predictably taken the lead early in the fourth, the Raptors did find the fortitude to come back with a 15-4 run to go back ahead 88-78 with 7:16 left, thanks in part to Anderson’s two threes and Ross’ great play (who knew, the hot-hand theory has something to it).  Soon enough, though, the averages did their thing and Anderson tried to do too much and ended up making a mess of three possessions by going one-on-one in situations where the odds were against him.  Lowry did the same, jacking up a couple jumpers including one early-three which let Philly off the hook.

DeRozan was introduced later in the quarter for Ross for some reason (perhaps Casey felt that icing him would motivate him?) and did nothing but add to Philly’s cause with poor shot-selection (I think he had one drive all game).  Fast-forward late in the game where the Raptors had to basically inbound the ball, get fouled and hit FTs to seal it, and instead they turned it over.  Jose Calderon passed to Anderson, who was pushed in the back by Nick Young.  No call, turnover.  

Related: NBA Apologizes to Raptors…Again

Note that this wasn’t the only blatant officiating screw-up, they also missed a trip on DeRozan which was mind-boggling.  You can have a healthy debate whether perhaps a taller player should’ve inbounded the ball or whether the play to free-up Anderson was good enough. On the next possession, the Raptors defense was clearly instructed to switch but for unknown reasons Landry Fields was in the game!  Of course, Philly went right at him by picking off Lowry and creating a Holiday/Fields matchup.  He laid the ball in, you could’ve even made a case for an And1 as Amir Johnson came over to contest.  Tie game.

Related: GIF of Jrue Holiday Tying Game

In overtime, DeRozan took three jumpers (two threes), missed them all.  Ross (our best perimeter player on the night) played only the last five seconds.  We conceded offensive rebounds (Johnson, otherwise solid, guilty on a couple) and were unable to defend Philly’s slashes to the paint (56-32 PITP for Philly).  Casey deployed a Lowry/Calderon backcourt, a combo that hadn’t played together all game, and drew up out-of-timeout plays that were either horribly designed or horribly executed, makes no matter.

Raptors lose.  That momentum we had gain earlier in January is now dissipated with this four-game losing streak, and the bottom line is this:

  1. We are last in the Atlantic.
  2. We are 12th in the East, 6 ½ games behind the 8th spot with four teams to beat for it.
  3. We are 25th in the NBA.

Injuries or not, and with the schedule now even, this isn’t what the front-office was selling in training camp.

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