Uncomfortable Coaching Questions Rise as Raptors Lose in ATL

I don’t want to sound alarm bells after losing the second game of the season on the road, one which we were underdogs in to begin with.  The reality is that the Hawks, even on paper, are the better team and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raptors suffered defeat.

Raptors 95, Hawks 102 – Box
I don’t want to sound alarm bells after losing the second game of the season on the road, one which we were underdogs in to begin with.  The reality is that the Hawks, even on paper, are the better team and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raptors suffered defeat.

The problem one might have with what transpired on Friday night is that it could potentially speak to systemic issues: they Raptors appeared to have no offense and the coaching didn’t exactly inspire confidence.  This manifested itself in lack of touches for Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross’ weird playing time (13 random minutes including a very quick pull), an overly late timeout (down 16 in the third), lack of inbound plays (to the point where the Hawks commentators were pointing it out), and worst of all, completely static offensive sets that further confirm that barely anything was covered in training camp (or so we hope because that would at least explain the lack of movement).

The first play of the game Jonas Valanciunas pulling off a beautiful spin move (GIF) on the baseline for a lay-in.  The rest of the quarter was an up-and-down, open affair where the Raptors did well to try and get to the rim.  It wasn’t pretty and even Rudy Gay (6-23 FG, 14 pts – insert eye surgery joke), struggling mightily as he was, tried to drive and slice his way rather than pull-up for that oh-so convenient jumper.  They shot 45% in the first quarter, one which was wide open enough for Dwane Casey to trot out Austin Daye as a sniper in a smallish lineup.

The second quarter was a total disaster as the Raptors abandoned their affinity towards the rim in favor of going 1-9 from three.  The lone make came from Amir Johnson which raises its own set of uncomfortable questions.  In the second is when you began to notice that there is little to no overall offensive game plan, let alone a matchup-specific one.  There’s no visible effort to work inside-out by getting the ball in to Valanciunas (or anyone else for that matter), and there is little East-West movement when the play is being initiated from the top.

[See Also: Reaction: Raptors 95 @ Hawks 102]

The engine of offense seems to be to give it to DeMar DeRozan (14-23 FG, 31 pts, 4 reb) and let him try to score, not create shots for others through some thought-out plan (2 assists on the night).  The other source of offense is Kyle Lowry or D.J. Augustin driving from the top and kicking out, which isn’t a terrible plan as both are capable of it, except that those drives are happening at the whim of the PG and not through some defined construct that supports the cause.  Still, it’s early so no need to panic.

The Hawks ended the half on a big run as the Raptors helped their transition cause by shooting a very perimeter-oriented 24%.  The difference in attacking mentality is reflected by the shot charts of the first two quarters:


The chief culprits in the jumper-heavy second were Rudy Gay and Austin Daye.  Kyle Korver (5-8 3FG) was left inexplicably open by DeRozan, and rotations to the sharp-shooter were a secondary thought in the Raptors paint-protecting defense which was increasingly conceding penetration.  The first/second quarters also included the weirdest sub of Terrence Ross who entered with 1:15 left in the first and departed with 9:11 left in the second, seemingly without any reason.  So, familiar story with the Raptors down 10 at the half with the third quarter waiting to test their resolve.

The Hawks started the third with a plan of putting the game to bed and executed with a purpose, where as the Raptors aimlessly wandered around with Lowry trying to create offense out of nothing, and nary a touch for Valanciunas, who on last check remains the only big who can actually do something down there.  Instead, there was a play with Tyler Hansbrough dribbled his way into a turnover, which although is hilarious to watch, is painful at a deeper level.  Casey remained silent as the lead climbed to 12, 13, 14 and finally decided to call a timeout down 16 with 4:31 left.

Contrast Casey’s timeout decision with the Hawks’ rookie coach: the Hawks were on an 8-2 run when their defense broke down and DeRozan fed Johnson for a lay-in underneath.  Timeout.  I thought it was a great decision because they came out of it with a play for Korver who nailed the three.  Great stuff.

As this game teetered on the cusp of being a blowout, DeRozan decided that he was going to take advantage of the shorter and talented-challenged Atlanta shooting guards.  Some “in the zone” stuff followed and although it was basically me-ball coming at the expense of any and all team play, it helped the Raptors stay within a shout. Hey, it’s like not like we were playing as a team to begin with so I saw DeRozan taking the game over as a net-positive.

This trend continued in the fourth where Casey made a successfully substitution of having Augustin and Buycks play alongside DeRozan to some success.  Unfortunately, he brought Gay back putting my Twitter contest into play:

Two things happened which killed the game for the Raptors.  Rudy Gay missed an 8-foot jumper with the Raptors down 6, which was converted into a Hawks score.  With the Raptors down six again with 54 seconds left, DeRozan stepped out of bounds.  I cannot, in good conscience, blame that last play on DeRozan because Casey’s “play calls” in the last two minutes were non-existent to the point where there wasn’t even proper screening for the receiver to catch the ball in a safe area off of an inbound pass!

As this is the first road game (and the home-opener for the Hawks) I’m going to opt out of discussion regarding Amir’s threes, the unfortunate and avoidable abuse of Valanciunas at the hands of Horford, the suppressed use of D.J Augustin despite his effectiveness, and look ahead to tonight in Milwaukee.

So far we’re on course.

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