Despite their best efforts down the stretch, Brooklyn was unable to hand the Atlantic Division leading Juggernaut that is the Toronto Raptors a win last night. The Raptors vacillated back and forth between terrible and impressive play last night, until finally deciding with about three minutes left on the clock that they would actually like to win last night’s game. The Nets, content with 45 minutes of decent play and ever the gracious guests, spent those final three minutes wearing Raptors rally caps, and they came within 2 inches on an Amir Johnson 3-pointer of securing a loss and a happy home crowd. Alas, the dreams of a commanding Atlantic Division lead and a free single topping slice of Pizza Pizza from a participating Toronto Area location for fans retaining their ticket stubs was not meant to be. What follows is a list of the 10 things I took away from the game instead.
1. The TSN pre-game promo’s are out of control. They’re produced as emotionally gripping dramas with story-lines about a team that’s undergone drastic change and is now poised for greatness. It was unclear if I was about to watch a basketball game or a serialized network drama. Show me some highlights and story-lines to get me excited for the matchup and maybe learn something about recent team trends, but let’s not turn this in to the CW network please. So help me god, if Chad Michael Murray subs in off the bench, I will lose every conceivable fragment of the proverbial ‘it’.
2. Kyle Lowry is locked in to that spot midway down the left side of the 3pt arc. Like a white guy two-stepping at a wedding, it’s his home-base, and he is absolutely killing it! Lowry is very quietly having a really good season. He is embracing his role as a point guard well and shooting the lights out in spot-up opportunities. He is still freelancing too much (though his defence and two key steals were huge in the 4th) and getting caught out of place on defence , but really, wouldn’t it be rude of him not to? Its kind of Amir’s thing to be the only guy who plays positionally disciplined defense. A true leader knows not to step on his teammates toes.
3. I’ve been making the case for more Jonas Valanciunas post looks. But Jonas needs to establish position in the post first. He routinely lets smaller guys push him too far out. Jonas Valanciunas is not better than Kevin Garnett. He is MUCH stronger than the grizzled ole’ vet though, and theres no reason for Garnett to be able to bully him five feet off the block.
4. I’m really enjoying Terrence Ross getting big minutes and making big contributions to the team. He struggled to guard Joe Johnson, which is a sentence that has been applied to almost every NBA shooting guard at some point over the last 9 seasons. He knocked down shots, got to the rim and continued to look like a nicely developing player.
5. Rudy Gay made a nice pass in the first quarter in the pick and roll to a rolling Amir Johnson. No, seriously though. Unfortunately, Amir was just as surprised as everyone watching at home as he recoiled in astonishment as the ball bounced out of bounds. He literally had not mentally prepared himself for a Rudy pass to the roll man. Feel free to draw your own conclusions here.
6. DeMar DeRozan is playing with as much offensive poise and confidence as I’ve ever seen from him. When the Raptors were the 3-10 team playing against Brooklyn a season ago, DeMar looked like a player uncomfortable carrying the offensive burden of being the number one scorer on a team and uninterested in trusting his own 3pt shot. His confidence, comfort and ability to deliver have all come a long way since then.
7. It’s almost fun to ironically watch Steve Novak on defence. I feel morally obliged to mention that Steve Novak had a nice offensive game here. He isn’t a bad basketball player by any means. He’s just unquestionably a DH. Brooklyn had some extended success running the heralded ‘run a pick and roll to get Novak to switch on to the ball handler, then have that ball handler score over Steve Novak’ offence.
8. The Raptors were curiously abandoning the 3 point line on defence. If you move the ball inside, kick out and then pass once, you will get all of the open 3 pointers against this team. I don’t know if this was undisciplined individual play, a lazy zone scheme or a conscious decision to pack the paint. While the latter is a great defensive strategy against a shooting deficient team like Memphis, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson probably aren’t he most ideal players to let set up for wide open jumpers.
9. The crowd started throwing some boos at Rudy Gay last night. What has happened to this Toronto crowd? Where did this sudden quick trigger booing come from? There are some serious unresolved anger issues with this fanbase.
Vince Carter hurt us. Our anger and vitriol was justified, and it felt good showing him. But now we boo any player who leaves. We’re better than that. We took Rafael Arajao (I know, we’re not supposed to bring up this name. I’m sorry) instead of Andre Igoudala. Then we showed patience with Andrea Bargnani. And then we showed more patience with Andrea Bargnani. And then we showed even more patience in Andrea Bargnani until finally, by the end of last year, our Primo-pasta-‘n-sauce induced rage finally boiled over. We’d been repressing our growing anger and holding our tongue when we should have spoken out for too long. It’s not healthy, and once we let it out, we couldn’t stop. I get it. I was a part of it. Even if it was an over-compensation, it needed to happen. Even if it got awkward and uncomfortable in the pre-season, it was something we had to work through. But at a certain point, we need to take some responsibility. It was our fault too for putting up with too much, but we shouldn’t over react now. That kind of knee-jerk passive aggression is unbecoming. It’s embarassing and it’s unproductive. You know what’s probably not going to boost Rudy Gay’s confidence? Booing him whenever he touches the ball when he’s having a bad night. Stomping on lemons is not how you make lemonade. If you can’t manage moral support, how about at least one season of suffering in muffled silence?
10. I loved Rudy Gay’s decision on the final play. I didn’t like the play, which was an example of the lack of creativity ‘give it to Rudy and just let him figure it out’ play that typically leads to him getting lost in the midst of a double or triple team. But when Garnett collapsed off of Johnson to Rudy for the inevitable double team, he dished out a perfect pass to Amir Johnson for an open corner three. That’s a great decision by Gay, and the best available shot on the floor in that 2 second window. It’s not always going to go in. Let’s not blame Gay for not taking the shot that everyone hounds him for taking all game though, because he made the right basketball play.