Questionable Substitutions Cost Raptors Again, Lose to Heat

The Raptors were in it again, and could’ve even won it were it not for some rather questionable moves.

I will cut and paste the first paragraph from the Philly post-game, as it applies here as well:

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.

It’s not the first time the Raptors have managed to stay close against a decent opponent this season, and perhaps that’s a sign of growth for this team. The collective competitiveness that the team has displayed isn’t due to reasons you might’ve thought at the start of training camp. DeRozan and Lowry have slowed down considerably, Valanciunas is injured, and Bargnani no longer factors into the plans. It’s people like Ed Davis, Jose Calderon, Alan Anderson, and Amir Johnson that have been the reason for the Raptors’ stretches of competency of late, but as these same players have displayed (especially, Anderson), they can’t do it alone, especially with the game on the line. It’s then when you count on Lowry and DeRozan to produce and live up to the contract and trade hype, respectively, and when they fail to produce up to expectations, losing ensues.

Related: Reaction: Raptors 116, Heat 123 (OT)

The Raptors shot 63% in the first quarter, forced four Miami turnovers in the quarter and for the entirely of the first half were hitting their threes, with Lowry and Ross providing a nice spark off the bench and Jose on point early. After being schooled by Bosh on the first possession of the game, Ed Davis was eating the weak Miami frontline alive by shuffling to the right positions away from PnR action, and was being found dutifully by his guards. The rest he did with remarkable guile and efficiency. Miami kept coughing the ball up which kept shattering any continuity they were trying to build, and the scoreboard was showing a 15-point Toronto about midway through the second.

This isn’t an unusual situation for the Raptors, they’ve gotten to hot starts before and have almost always relinquished the lead. It’s almost like teams look at the record, fall asleep and the Raptors jump on them. Soon enough, though, the opposition wakes up, gets their house in order and the Raptors surrender the lead and in most cases, the game. The 11-3 run which the Heat ended the half with wasn’t unpredictable, but a matter of time. When you have LeBron James (34th triple double) on your team, exerting pressure on a defense becomes simply a matter of walking the ball up the court without turning it over, and giving it to James who can break down any man off the dribble, thus creating help situations. In this little run, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier were the beneficiaries of LeBron’s generosity, as both hit threes to quell the Raptors uprising and send the Heat down only 7 at halftime. We all knew what was coming.

The third picked up where the second left off, as the Heat shot 70% in the fourth, led by Wade’s 14 points. Wade and James took full control of the game as every Miami play was run through them, and their supporting cast delivered. I can point to countless situations where the Raptors got back-cutted or completely lost guys like Battier, Chalmers, and Allen for easy scores, but it’s awfully difficult for any player to be so help-conscious (as you are with Wade and James on the floor), while also closely checking your man. It’s not an excuse but a simple reality when playing the Heat. When dealing with Miami you either have to have extremely efficient rotations so that you can afford to send help and recover, or you need to be able to slow down the point of attack. The Raptors did neither, but if I had to bet money on them doing one of the two, it would be to at least keep Wade in front of them, which DeRozan and Lowry failed miserably at.

You might’ve guessed that by this juncture the Raptors had blown their lead and headed to the fourth down two. The Raptors effectively used a four-guard lineup of Ross, Anderson, Calderon/Lucas, Lowry, and Davis in a big chunk of that third quarter with decent offensive results (although they got hit hard on the boards). Basically, Casey put out a lineup that would be best suited to provide help and recover when needed, I’m sure he expected more of Lowry in terms of man-defense but never got it. All in all, it was an effective combination as the Raptors deployed and managed the zone rather well. This was more a response measure to the Heat’s athleticism more than anything.

Related: Ross Breakaway Dunk vs. Heat

As has been the case in a few games this year, Casey has always had a decision to make: whether to adapt to the other team’s style of play, or enforce his own. He had a chance to put Davis and Johnson in the lineup in the fourth (a combination that had success early in the game), but chose to continue with the four-guard setup. You could argue that it worked since the Raptors were in this game for the entirety of the fourth quarter, despite DeRozan being benched for another lackluster outing where his refusal to put any pressure on the defense through drives earned Casey’s ire. All in all, DeRozan sat for a stretch spanning 14:10 between the third and the fourth. Wow!

Jose Calderon, our most efficient perimeter shooter, did not enter the fourth quarter till the 3:18 mark and promptly hit two threes which went a long ways to send this game to OT. You could say Casey was saving him for just this, or you could say he was being negligent in not bringing in Calderon early, especially for Lucas who was very so-so. You might, somehow, justify that. What you can’t justify is Ed Davis not playing the entire fourth quarter. Yes, he had four fouls but so what? Why is our best offensive big man on the bench? Why cannot a Johnson/Davis combo be used since it worked so well in the first quarter? This is no rationale here. At the very least, introducing Davis would’ve prevented Miami from sending their big men to help on guards since Davis’s movement always punishes any man trying to cheat off him.

Alan Anderson made his first two threes in the fourth and missed his next three shots. This is the pattern for Anderson, he has a good stretch where he performs beyond expectation and then projects that into his future performance, which never works because the averages always screw him. He’s not your go-to guy in the fourth. Yes, he is a shot-maker and can get hot but to allocate FGAs for him in your offense will always lead to naught. More on him in a bit. DeRozan, our hero, was introduced in the fourth quarter with about seven minutes left and he didn’t let his poor performance keep him getting two massive buckets late on, one a thunderous dunk right through the heart of the defense. It was a good response but not nearly enough from our franchise player (yes, he is that now). The seven assist count is nice, but in a game like this when Anderson is shooting you out of it and ‘Bad Lowry’ had made an appearance, it’s scoring that matters, and going 2-4 from the FT line is very poor.

Related: What’s Wrong with DeMar DeRozan?

There was a key foul called against Amir Johnson against Bosh in regulation which really hurt the Raptors, it was no more than two guys battling for position with no harm done and the zebras blew the whistle. It allowed Bosh to go 1-2 from the line and tie the game with 53 seconds left, which was the last scoring play of regulation. On to overtime, and it was a repeat of the fourth quarter for Alan Anderson, only worse. While Casey inexplicably introduced Aaron Gray instead of Ed Davis, he also seemed to have given Alan Anderson the green light to shoot from anywhere in the Miami metropolitan area. Anderson made his first two shots and missed his next six. DeRozan did not even shoot once. This is a problem of game-planning. Pure and simple. If you’re wondering what happened to Ed Davis, he finally did get in the game with 1:57 left, a whole 15:03 off the court. This is madness. Pure and simple.

Stepping back, this was in Miami and you weren’t expecting much from this game anyway. The fact the Raptors took it to OT thanks to good general execution, shot-making, and good team-play is a credit. Maybe it’s the growth that I mentioned earlier, right now the team is projected to win 26 games, which is three ahead of the pace from last year. It’s definitely projecting to be a disappointing win total, as we’d hope they’d be in the mid 30s at least. I’m not using injury as any sort of excuse as that is, as the cliche goes, part of the game. It’s sad that Raptor fans, instead of celebrating wins, are left with these close encounters with good teams as a solace.

Of greater concern here is the play of DeRozan who continues to regress, not necessarily in terms of overall production, but demeanor and aggressiveness. Part of the pressure on him is due to Lowry being seemingly incapable of consistently putting the defense under any sort of pressure off the dribble or even in transition. With Lowry not serving the purpose, DeRozan’s passiveness on offense is magnified because without him the Raptors simply don’t have a perimeter player that is capable of getting to the FT line and supplying deliberate offense, thus leaving the door open for guys like Anderson.

It’s been another trying season, and it will continue to be so.

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