A recap, some more gripes about Rudy Gay, some praise for Lebron and a note on basketball strategies.

[Quick Reaction post]

Okay, so the Raptors lost to the Heat by 9. There’s no shame in that, right? Everyone loses to the Heat (except the Sixers and the Nets, apparently). Let’s go over how this game went down.

1st Quarter

Raptors make a concerted effort to give Jonas the ball in the post. Jonas responds by pouring in 10 points on 4-7 shooting from the field, including a put-back, a dump-in (off a nice pass from Amir) and a sweeping right hook from the post. Valanciunas feasts on the Heat’s lack of size on the interior (Bosh was away because his wife gave birth; congrats Bosh!) and collects three offensive rebounds in the period.

However, JV was not the best player in the post – Lebron James was. With Bosh out of the line-up, James set up shop on the mid-block and went to work against an over-matched Rudy Gay. Lebron makes 5/6 shots from the post in the first, and creates a handful of open looks for his teammates. Raptors lead 25-23 after one.

2nd Quarter

Casey puts in the bench unit while Spoelstra does the same. Hansbrough brings his usual hustle and frustrates the Birdman, who was out-worked for rebounds. Hansbrough also chips in with some nice interior defense while the wings bomb away from the perimeter (qu’elle surprise!). Terrence Ross provides some instant offense as he splashes home a pair of threes, matching Michael Beasley output (he also sunk two).

The starters came back in, but didn’t fare too well. Demar looks off JV in the post, electing to drive + kick it out to Terrence Ross with three seconds left on the shot-clock, which predictably results in a missed shot. The Heat bust out in transition and Demar’s man, Ray Allen, sinks a wide-open three with Demar trailing the play. Sigh. Dwyane Wade sinks a tough turn-around jumper with time expiring to give the Heat a 52-50 advantage going into the half.

3rd Quarter

All the starters were back for the start of the third. Wade and Lebron torched the Raptors, pouring in a combined 18 points on 9-12 shooting, but the Raptors’ starters hold their own. Valanciunas threw down a HUGE DUNK over Lebron James, Demar scored 8 points on 4-5 shooting and Rudy Gay catches fire momentarily (an And-1, driving layup), but then immediately regresses to his usual form (long-twos for dayysss). Heat lead by a score of 78-74 after three.

4th Quarter

Seeking to give his starters a breather, Dwane Casey turned to the bench to hold the fort at the start of the fourth, but everything went south in a hurry (like the Heat will after last night’s game). The Raptors turned it over on four straight possessions, that went like the following:

1. DJ Augustin dribbles the ball off his foot with no pressure on him

2. Fields dribbles down the court in transition, slips on wet-spot, loses ball

3. Gay gets stripped, loses ball

4. DJ Augustin throws a pass out of bounds because he’s one of the worst players in the NBA

While all this was happening, the Heat extended their lead to 12 points. The starters came back in (BTW every time I type out “the starters”, I want to pour one out for #TBJ) at around the 8 minute mark, but Miami had this one dude named Lebron who was really good at putting the basketball in the hoop. The Raptors brought it to within 6 points with two minutes left off some free throws from Demar, but Lebron kicks it out to a wide-open Ray Allen in the corner, and Allen promptly sinks it to put the game to bed. Game ended 104-95 in favor of the defending champs.

Rudy Gay’s Struggles Continue

Oh boy. I know I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but Gay was miserable in this game. Aside from the momentary burst he had in the third, he just listed on the court. He settled for way too many long-jumpers (in other news, water is wet) and did a poor job containing Lebron James. Look, he’s had a rough go of it, and I’m sure he’ll turn it around sooner than later, but coming into last night, Gay’s true-shooting percentage was 15 percentage points lower than Bargnani’s. BARGNANI!!!

Here’s his shot chart from last night:

gay sc

Lebron James is the Best Basketball Player on Earth

The King had the whole arsenal out on display tonight – the post game, the play-making, the defense, attacking the rim, everything. He didn’t ever look like he was putting in 100% effort, and he still put up 35/8/8 on 65% shooting. That’s crazy. As someone who was too young to remember the Jordan era, I can unequivocally state that Lebron James is the best basketball player I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

He also made the discombobulated Raptors defense pay with his passing, like so:

Small-Ball and Game Theory

“Game theory” sounds really cool because game theory is really cool. At the core of it, game theory is the study of strategic decision making, and it’s applications have permeated across political science, biological science and economics.

By in large, game theorists look to find the best-response in certain scenarios. This could be simple, like analysing the best responses in rock-paper-scissors, or it could be something far more complex, like end-game scenarios in chess. Either way, the idea is to find the action that will best suit you given a set of parameters.

Implicitly, basketball is a bit like a chess match. The Heat decided to go with a small-ball lineup against Toronto’s regular-sized lineup because Bosh was out. Given their strategy, Dwane Casey was forced to make a decision; stick with the big lineup, or match theirs with small-ball? What’s the best response to the Heat’s small-ball lineup?

Truth be told, Casey couldn’t have been sure. Staying big would theoretically have given the Raptors more of a presence in the paint, contesting shots in the paint and the ability to score in the post, while going small would have allowed the Raptors to be quicker at chasing the Heats’ shooters off the three-point line.

After the first, Casey decided to lean heavily on his small-ball lineup. What was the right answer? Nobody really knows, but it was fun to watch Casey tinker with line-ups to match the Heat. However, what I did notice is that the Heat rarely ever reacted to Toronto’s lineup changes. The Heat knew where their bread was buttered, and they stuck to it.

Anyway, if my little blurb on game theory in basketball interested you, you can read more about it:

General game theory in basketball

On sitting a player in foul trouble

On crunch time

On line-up construction

But I will say one thing; Miami struggles the most when they have to adapt their game-plan to yours (ie: the Pacers). Personally, given Valanciunas’ dominance in the early going, I would have liked the Raptors to play their game and force the Heat to adapt, rather than the other way around.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Classic Amir, leading the team in plus-minus at +7 on the game
  • Hansbrough is a pretty solid defender in the post. He won’t block very many shots, but he’s where he needs to be and he makes opponents take tough shots. Looks like Ujiri got what he paid for.
  • It was tough to evaluate Lowry’s performance in tonight’s game. He’s best when he’s in pick-and-roll situations and the Miami Heat completely took that option away from the Raptors tonight. With the Raptors’ offense becoming more and more wing-polarized, Lowry’s prowess in the P&R is less valuable and he is not suited to an off-ball role in the offense.
  • Demar is a more savvy offensive player. He’s more calm, less hurried and he’s doing a good job using his pump-fakes and post-moves to create space for himself.
  • Dwyane Wade is such a heady player. I will always remember him as the guy who dragged the Heat to the playoffs during those lay-away years before Lebron and Bosh came along, crashing and tumbling his way to multiple years of 26/6/6, but now his game is 90% “old-man-game”

  • Stephen

    DJ’s boxscore is one of the most fascinating I’ve ever seen. 13 minutes, three TOs, and nothing else. Take away those 3 TOs and that’s a 13-minute Trillion. Impressively awful.

    • Adriiian

      I miss Jose… :/

      • KuH

        I miss Jose too … but he’s getting older, and his hamstring was bothering him again at the start of this season. If we had signed him to a reasonable ‘lets get you to retire with this team’ contract at say $5M a season, that would have been great. At the price Dallas is paying him, I’m not sure.

        P.S. I miss Eddie Davis too.

        • What the

          I miss “Barnyani” so i’m reading everything Knicks and it’s not good and i love it.

          • 2damkule


        • Adriiian

          Ok, fine, but his game doesn’t really depend on athleticism, I think you could almost compare him to Andre Miller. He’s not an iron man like Miller, but he passes and shoots, which he could do at 35-37 no problem.

          And he’s been playing well for Dallas. They will make the playoffs I think.

    • RobertArchibald

      Take away those 3 TOs and you have a classic Sam Mitchell line “zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. Do everybody a favor, just quit.”

      • 2damkule

        i miss smitch.

        /is struck by lightning

  • Andre

    My problem is this team may be to good to lose and too bad to win anything worth winning. hopefully we continue on the losing path. What I dont understand is while JV and Ross are not playing more min. (i get the played more this game) but how can JV and ross be our future, but they barely play? Landry fields is eating up ross’ mins. Do you think anyone would take fields contract?

    • guest

      I wonder the same thing and my guess is that right now Ujiri and Lieweke have given instructions to Casey to just got out there and try to get wins, however he thinks he can. This will give them the chance to evaluate everyone’s performance, including Casey’s. But looking at things from big picture perspective, definitely JV, Ross, and possibly DD seem to be our future.

      • What the

        or mybe we are being too hard on cASEY? i’m gonna ease up on him cause he’s got no bench 20 points wow! on a nite when rudy is trying to hold down the best player in the NBA maybe the blame should be on the 2013 EOY cause 20 points is just not going to cut it.

        • Andre

          No, were not hard on casey. He has the talent. His Xs and Os are horrible, defense is better but when it comes to a fluent offense, its not there. That is his fault.

          • Steve Lam

            if our best backup PG is dj augustin, we definitely do not have the talent.

            • Raptorsss

              Ross is in the same position as Ed Davis, good young prospect that might get it all together, but not necessarily. You save him for the chance of trading for a star.

    • Raptorsss

      It’s a .500 team in the east. Too much talent to be terrible, pretty good hustle work ethic. Basketball IQ is just way too damn low for them to be good and getting it all together.

  • pran

    “It was tough to evaluate Lowry’s performance in tonight’s game. He’s best when he’s in pick-and-roll situations ”

    crediblity gone.

  • elkabong

    it looked to me like Casey played right into their hands and they got away with 22 minutes of Haslem and 17 minutes of birdman so they were extremely happy to go that route. maybe it was fun for you to watch Casey try and match but it was painful for me since he seems to have no clue where our bread is buttered, makes head scratching substitutions/benchings, head scratching brutal play calls after time outs after head scratching no clue when to call one. are we in the Heat class of team? absatootly not but we should be capable of giving them a much tougher game than we did last night

    • What the

      somebody on this coachin staff has got to see where our bread and butter is/or what’s working in a game and relay this to cASEY.

  • Milesboyer

    It’s pretty amazing that none of the wings or PG’s can run a simple pick and roll with Valanciunas. The number of times I saw JV set a pick on Demar’s man, creating a double team on DD for a few seconds only to have him hold onto the ball and wait for things to clear up or try to dribble out of it. Why can’t he anticipate this and make the simple pass to the rolling or popping Valanciunas? Oddly enough, the best passer out of a double team is Amir Johnson. He sees it coming and creatively gets the ball to his frontcourt mate JV. With the athletic skill Rudy Gay has this should be a huge part of his game – drawing a double team and finding the open man. It’s what makes Lebron the best in the game. Sadly, both Rudy and Demar are incredibly poor in this area.

    • SR

      Rudy does the same thing. There’s literally no point to setting the screen when you dribble into the double-team and then wait for the big to follow his man away from the play.

      • 2damkule

        it’s almost (ALMOST!) as though they are fundamentally deficient basketball players. who coulda fucking guessed!?!?

        • Raptorsss

          Jose to Amir pick and roll was my favourite Raptor play of the last 4-5 years. I don’t know if Lowry can’t do it because of his height, teams are taking it away or Amir is just floating around on offense, shooting 3’s and put-backs. Of players who qualify he has the best TS% in the league. Yes, that’s incredibly misleading, but I wish they would use him more as an offensive option.

      • Andre

        Rudy is the worst at this. He only looks for his shot, regardless of the situation. I blame the coach for that. I have a feeling the “pick” is only to get the ball handler open so he can have a mis-match. But there needs to be less tunnel vision when it comes to running an offense.

    • GLF

      THANK YOU!!!! THIS CONFUSES ME TO NO END! This is the kind of thing that makes you miss Jose. But who would have known that running a pick and roll was sooo hard. It seems like such an easy thing.

  • What the

    HansBro needs to be on the floor at the start of each quarter to set the tone/intensity for the Raps even if it’s just for 2 mins.
    MEMO: to CASEY JONAS V. is not Barny, you know Dirk 2.0 come hell or high water,he’s my guy,mr 2 rebounds per game so please play the guy. thank you What the

  • guest

    Dear Santa, please give us a new starting PG for Xmas…

  • Pong

    At the end of the day, even if DC played the right line ups, we weren’t going to beat LBJ when he’s on like that. The fact that he didn’t even look like he was trying speaks to that. We’d only look better in defeat.

    BTW is it me or is this whole Rudy packed on “15 pounds of muscle” reminiscent of Bosh’s muscle gain. Rudy just looks sluggish at times. It’s like he’s now stuck in no man’s land where he’s not as fast as other 3s and he’s not strong enough against 4s.

    • SR

      I thought the same thing about Rudy/Bosh after this last game. If he’s not gonna use his strength/bulk in the post, he’s better shedding the weight and using his quickness.

  • database_666

    1. Casey’s coaching decisions are questionable: while rolling in the first quarter, he decided to disembark the good performing five and introduce an inept, less athletically gifted group which started the demise. Casey’s voice has no more credibility in that locker room. Lackaidascal performance should have been brought to the point and sharply criticized in the first quarter, in particular the fact that all players now effectively refuse to drive to the basket.
    2. Demar Derozan is back to the ‘jump shooting’ mode only: i could not count deliberate drives to the basket further than 2 last night. Again, this coach tolerates uniformly made decision that everyone’s shooting, including Amir, Aron Gray, and the rest of the team. I expect Hansbrough to attempt his first career three in Charlotte.
    3. Rudy Gay is way to nonchalant: being relaxed and easy going is ok. Up to a certain limit. A goof that shakes shoulders and does not play defence consistently loses credibility fast with the opponents. And with the teammates.
    4. Play other players we have: i was screaming last night during the second quarter, try out Valenciunas, Acy, and Buycks, because current selection does not work. Want to see Acy earn the keep by playing defence and rebounding. In one sequence, Valenciunas was fully opened under the basket and Derozan shot a three which he missed. What would it take to change the coaching and playing mindset?
    5. Where is that defence they talked about all summer: another dismal defence performance on display, and players do not seem even concerned about it – nobody is holding them accountable, or at least, nobody they could care about. Who is the voice of the locker room?
    6. Toronto Star writing about Raptors: Doug Smith is getting on my nerves. For a few years now, his writing about Raptors became apathic, morose, and disinterested. The texts he writes about his dog, favorite coffee shop at Queensway/Hurontario, baseball, and such, are full of exclamation points and elation, but when writing of Raptors matters, his style is disinterested, docile, and dominated by words such as ‘status quo’, ‘nothing new with the heroes of the hardcourt’, etc. If you are displeased, like most of us, stop writing. We need more critical and more observative pair of eyes, sharp mouth, and well connected in the world rumours. Why is Dave Feschuk not writing about Raptors basketball anymore?
    7. Whatever happened to the team rebranding: still same old loser jerseys and uniforms, with those side arrows pointing downwards, towards the bottom of everything. And that confused court side service which makes repeated mistakes on calls, on players names, on music they play…

    • SR

      #2 – DeMar is developing a post game, and I thought he looked better going at the rim and absorbing contact these days. So I went to NBA.com to check out his shot distribution charts. What did I find? Disappointment.

      DeMar’s shot attempts at the rim, as a percentage of his total FGA:
      2009-2010: 55.27% (283/512)
      2010-2011: 42.63% (492/1154)
      2011-2012: 34.66% (313/903)
      2012-2013: 32.58% (401/1231)
      2013-2014: 23.94% (17/71)

      He actually peaked attacking the basket in terms of total shot distribution as a rookie, and peaked in terms of total attempts at the rim in his 2nd year.

      Anyone else surprised by that?

      • 2damkule

        could be a bit misleading…haven’t looked at the numbers, because i’m incredibly, incredibly lazy, but if he’s drawing more fouls when going to the rim, it would reduce the FGAs from in close, and skew the numbers. but as with most things demar, his ‘improvements’ tend to be overstated and reflect, more than anything, an increase in playing time &/or usage.

        haha, holy shit, never mind…just took a peak at his raw stats, and uh, yeah.

        • SR

          His FTA are pretty consistent, as is his FG% both at the rim and his 2P% overall. No real development anywhere, statistically.

          His overall 2P% has fluctuated from 44%-50% with no real trend one way or the other, his FTA have steadily been 4.9-5.3 since his 2nd season, and his FG% at the rim was 60% his rookie year and 56% for the next 3 seasons straight. No real statistical changes anywhere.

          I thought the quality of his shots at the rim have looked better, so I must say I’m surprised that,
          a) his FG% at the rim didn’t improve at all in seasons 2-4, and
          b) his FGA at the rim have been dropping every year without any real improvement (statistically) in his J’s, which are replacing the shots at the rim.

      • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

        Post ups don’t generally happen at the rim, though. Most happen between 5 and 10 feet. Where exactly did you find this data, because I can’t, myself. It would be interesting to look through and see where he’s getting most of his shots, from. I know right now he’s taking mostly 15-19 footers (3rd in the league).

        Looking at this page…

        …it does not appear he’s getting many shots from the 5-10 foot range, so maybe his post ups are within 5 feet.

        Interestingly, Gay has taken one more shot within five feet, and Aaron Afflalo has taken one less.