Raptors Offense Offensive, Lose to Pacers, Devlin Still Believes

I think it’s gonna be a long, long time, ’till the Raps start to be kind,

I don’t mind ugly as long as ugly means close.  And close it was for the first half where both sides went through extended scoreless spells without the other taking any sort of real advantage.  The solid Indiana defense combined with a Toronto offense lacking direction, continuity, or purpose would usually mean an extended home deficit early.  However, the Raptors managed to stave of that eventuality till the third quarter when Indiana started converting on the high-percentage looks that they were generating all game.

Indiana’s a tough team and things would’ve had to gone almost perfectly for the Raptors to beat them twice in a row.  It was apparent early that both Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan were on schedule for sub-par nights.  For DeRozan, being played tight by Stephenson was too much to overcome and he doesn’t have the handles to make tight-checkers pay, unless his fades are going in.  It’s disappointing how easily he can be taken out of a game by a slightly above-average defender.  He went 2-10 FG. Gay went 5-14 in the first three quarters (fourth was garbage time) and there was some ugly stuff in there.

[Related: Reaction: Pacers 93, Raptors 81]

Lowry was having trouble running basic pick ‘n rolls due to Hill applying slight pressure near the three-point line, and Hibbert/West doing well to use the time gained by that pressure to negotiate any screen.  It took Lowry completely out of it, and the Raptors went to Gay to initiate the offense (not sure whether this was knowingly or just by chance).  Gay hasn’t shown this to be his strong-suit and the possessions that he initiated usually ended up in a jumper that hit somewhere between the side of the rim and the backboard.

This is a part personnel and part coaching issue.  On the personnel side, we knew we’d miss this aspect of Calderon’s game and obviously overestimated Lowry and the rest of the team’s ability to function in the half-court.  On the coaching side, Casey is being exposed as as having no offensive game-plan.  I realize the Raptors don’t have a low-post presence to draw doubles and swing it around the horn, or even put pressure in the paint, but that doesn’t mean every play is kicked off as a one-on-one move with a hint of a screen.  I’m starting to think that Jose Calderon, while he was here, was basically freestyling and making Casey look credible.

I won’t just complain and will try to offer some solutions:

  1. Get Bargnani in the block because that’s how he’s going to get out of his funk, and not by continually taking jumpers under the scrutiny of fans (yes, the boo-birds were out too)
  2. Practice some plays with Gay and Valanciunas in high-screen situations, where Gay actually turns the corner (and that’s key here!) on Ross’s side, hopefully forcing the defense to make some decisions
  3. Work on getting Gay and DeRozan in the post, because as much as we hear about Gay’s great height advantage and unblockable shot, we’re not seeing it nearly enough.  The sad part is that when he does get in the post, something positive usually happens
  4. Work on some plays where there is guard movement around a big who is able to read and pass.  Teams do this to us all the time where they run double and down screens to create hi-lo situations and other scnearios where you have guards going to the rim without the ball looking for a pass

[Related: Rapcast #137: Tas Melas from TBJ gives his take on Casey’s offense/sub-patterns]

The gist of it is that the Raptors shot 18% in the first quarter and 40% for the game, and as much as it was because of Indiana’s great defense, it’s the Raptors that are making themselves very easy to defend.  Granger supplied the offense off the bench for the Pacers in the first half, while Gay had 10 at the break, and DeRozan managed to go 5-8 from the stripe.  Down 5 at the break in an ugly 39-34 game, this was about as close as a scoreline as you might hope.

I’ll spare the Bargnani chatter and say that he got booed by the fans, supported by his teammates, took a patented 22-footer which he missed, played good man-defense on West, and most importantly, ended up with no rebounds in 33 minutes, which is embarrassing and made to look worse since the Raptors were -13 overall.

Hibbert and Johnson were in foul trouble and had three each in the first half, and both picked up their fourth early in the third.  This hurt the Raptors more than it did the Pacers as they’ve come to rely on Amir providing the interior presence and heart.  He looked jaded and worn out, and other than Valanciunas, didn’t get much help in terms of rebounding.  His energy-level was low as well, and we’ll chalk it up to a bad night for a guy who has been solid all year.

Onto the third quarter, and the Pacer high-percentage looks are now falling, and to make matters worse, Gay is suffering from back spasms.  Casey goes to Anderson and DeRozan for offense, who go 1-4 and 0-3, respectively, in the third quarter.  Again, all one-on-one stuff supported by a semi-screen.  Indiana won the third by 9 and the Raptors were down 13 after three.  The lead extended to 19 in the fourth quarter, which was garbage time, confirmed by appearances from Acy and Fields.

Throw in a token Ross 0-fer and  you have the makings of a team that’s still confused about whether it’s rebuilding or contending.  The bottom line is that for this team, as it stands, to have a chance certain things have to go right and when they don’t, ugliness ensues:

  1. Lowry has to play well.  It’s quite simple, he has to be the point guard that the Raptors thought they acquired consistently.  This means that he has to be a scorer who puts pressure on the defense and doesn’t defer to Gay every time (2-5 FG), brings good perimeter defense, and runs the offense in a way that the ball doesn’t get stuck.  For example, he’s got to be more careful as to when he picks up his dribble or passes to guys who are in unfavorable positions.
  2. One of Gay or DeRozan have to be efficient, with the other playing an average game.  Basically, no room for stinkers and since these are the scorers, we’re relying on them for production.
  3. Adequate three-point shooting from either Ross or Anderson.  This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point because if Gay and DeRozan are playing well, it usually means the court is spread well.  The Raptors were 3-11 last night and Indiana did not have to cover much distance to defend anyone.
  4. Rebounding must not suffer when the bench comes in.  The loss of Ed Davis hurts here and it’s amplified when Bargnani is introduced.  I’m not sure Quincy Acy is ready yet but either way, this needs to be addressed.
  5. More, but I’ll stop.

Finally, while we’re putting things in bullet-points, here’s some regarding the TV crew:

  1. Matt Devlin needs to stop finding the silver-lining in everything and directly blaming the refs.  Here’s a tweet which sums up his performance this season:

  2. There is absolutely no need for Leo Rautins and Rod Black to interrupt us every quarter.  They add no value, and only serve to exacerbate watching the Raptors.  I’d rather see more details stats or just plain old replays in that time.
  3. Jack Armstrong needs to focus on what he knows best, the details of what went right/wrong on each play.  Get into the details, Jack.  Talk about the varying types of zone defenses, cross-matchups, matchup strategies, give us the scoop on what the coach is saying on the sidelines, tell us what you’d do in this situation and why.  Do anything but fall into the trap of being a generic color guy, which is what he’s fast becoming.

Thanks for reading. It’s been a long season and other than that stretch after the Gay trade, it’s been a painful one.

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