Raptors 100, Cavaliers 102 – Box
Some corrections need to be made ASAP if the Raptors want to continue their forward progress this season, because if this mini-slide continues, we’ll be routed in the playoffs.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow details against Cleveland and leave it at this: Defensively, the Raptors were a write-off in the paint as both Valanciunas and Johnson put up no resistance to their individual checks, or any cutters cruising the paint. Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan were torched to a crisp by Dion Waiters and Luol Deng, making for frustrating viewing as those two are supposed to be part of the “core”, yet can’t put a consistent defensive shift in a game where there’s all to play for. The Raptors were down 21 in the third, were seemingly rescued by Lowry as they took a one-point lead, but lost in the end as Vasquez turned it over on the final play.

Offensively, the team-oriented offense that we all enjoyed in 2014 thus far has disappeared and replaced with sets that seem congested due to lack of side-to-side ball movement, and aimless half-drives that only serve to setup the defense for a good shot-contest. To top it all off, the Raptors have developed a nasty habit of getting off to slow starts and thus playing for behind, which takes a mental toll that requires a Herculean effort to overcome.

More from RR:

Against Cleveland, a team that had lost four of five coming into this game, and have all but shutdown for the season, the Raptors felt they could afford to come out with a nonchalance about them and get away with it. I suppose you can’t blame them, they escaped playing a single half of basketball against the Pelicans and repeated that against the Hawks, and Cleveland is arguably a much worse team than both Atlanta and New Orleans. Except that this time there wasn’t a stretch of near-perfect basketbal to save the day, and inevitable mistakes such as missed FTs and wasted possessions ended up costing the Raptors a win, and could ultimately cost them home-court advantage.

Given the gravity of the situation (Chicago now in 3rd with the Raptors tied in the loss column), how Dwane Casey couldn’t get the team to show up for the game is concerning. Our big men were in a haze, perplexed at Spencer Hawes and Tristan Thompson’s movement, and caught unawares by Cleveland sending a barrage of guards right down the middle, who all went untouched on their way to the rim. The wings, DeRozan and Ross specifically, were thoroughly outplayed by their counterparts in the scoring, defense and effort categories. It was left for a Kyle Lowry-led resurgence in the third, which was supplemented by a shot-happy Vasquez and, of all people, Steve Novak, to close the game from 21 to eventually a one-point lead.

Take this deplorable defense of the pick ‘n roll where Spencer Hawes, an established shooter, is left wide open. This play has it all: miscommunication, wrong-side screen defense, backs turned to the ball, and best of all, little idea of what the plan is to counter this sort of situation.

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Then we have this little peach where Cleveland scores on an inbound play after Tyler Hansbrough is caught between two minds, and nobody informed Valanciunas that he’s supposed to rotate down (Or is he? No idea):

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Missed free throws, long jumpers and defensive miscues cost the Raptors the win in a tight affair, which you can almost accept. What is hard to move past is how the Raptors managed to get down 21 to this Cleveland team? I’ve already pointed to our passive big-man play and porous perimeter defense, yet that doesn’t account for what we saw on Tuesday night. There are some fundamental issues with the rotation that result in a very low margin of error, which if an opponent exploits, the Raptors quickly get in trouble.

Jonas Valanciunas, as young and inexperienced as he may be, is being counted on to provide a consistent effort as a starter. And when he doesn’t, the drop-off down to Hayes is catastrophic, especially if it happens early in the game. Valanciunas needs to get back to becoming a contributor even when his offensive usage rate is low, as it can be with Lowry, DeRozan and Ross in the lineup. He has to provide help defense while maintaining defensive rebounding position without picking up fouls. That is ultimately Valanciunas’ responsibility on the team, and I realize it may be a tough ask, but that is what the situation is given our lack of options. His offense has to come from three areas: pick ‘n roll play, offensive rebounds, and dump-offs from guards. Him posting up and the Raptors working off of him are a bonus, because those sets are also ones where we tend to see the worst of Valanciunas, i.e., the needless pump fakes, the turnovers, the wasted seconds off the shot-clock. Where I’m going with this is that Valanciunas needs to have a defense-first approach for the Raptors collective team defense to be strong enough to compete against the likes of Noah, Gortat, .Jefferson, or even Mason Plumlee.

Much like Valanciunas, DeRozan’s defense needs to improve where he can cancel out a player like Luol Deng. In the playoffs, that guy may be Bradley Beal or Joe Johnson, and if those two have games like the one Deng had (and I’m talking impact, not necessarily just points), the Raptors will be swept. If he’s playing poor defense then his offense has to be pristine to make up for it. And when he does neither (like against Cleveland) he becomes a huge liability and can only be counted upon to hit the occasional jumper, which is gut-wrenching to watch.

One of the issues he needs to correct is where he dribbles to after using a screen. Earlier in the year we saw him using a ton of baseline screens to get open near the elbows for jumpers, or duck inside for a short, straight jimmy. Now defenders are brushing against the screens, pushing him out further knowing that he has a tendency to take the longer jumper, or hang on to the ball sizing a pull-up, or even resetting the play by dribbling it all the way back out. The quick passes out of these situations are rare, and part of it is the lack of player movement around him, not to mention the absence of the ever-moving Patrick Patterson.

The Raptors managed to run some very effective pick ‘n rolls against the Cavaliers, but it wasn’t a play that featured enough. For the Raptors to get back to swinging the ball side-to-side, they need to collapse the defense. If DeRozan’s drives aren’t doing that, then they need to look at alternate options of making the defense make difficult decisions, such as collapsing and risking kick-outs. Right now, it’s too easy to defend the Raptors without sending any help, and for a team that relies on ball-movement to be successful, stretching the defense is key which is exactly what the Raptors are not presently doing: stretching the defense and testing its elasticity.

WIth Patterson out, it seems that Greivis Vasquez has taken upon himself to supply the missing offense to mixed results. If Vasquez is the top offensive option off the bench then the Raptors are in trouble. When the Raptors were running off strings of wins, their one character trait was that the bench scoring was evenly distributed across Vasquez, Patterson, Salmons, and to a lesser degree, Hansbrough. We have seen a departure from that trend and in its stead Vasquez has increased his FG attempts by more than two with Patterson out (7.6 with Patterson, 9.7 without), while increasing his usage rate. He’s taken it upon himself to account for Patterson’s absence.
Instead of the bench working cohesively, it’s become the Vasquez show which is, at times, entertaining in the short-term, but detrimental in the long. The Raptors need to exploit the Johnson/Vasquez combination much like the Johnson/Calderon combo. The Raptors, if they plan their rotations accordingly, can yield good results from these two pick ‘n roll specialists.

Throw in Nando de Colo into the mix and you’ve increased the tempo and pace of the second unit. He threw a couple passes behind Valanciunas in tight-quarters last night and even though they resulted in turnovers, the idea was right. If de Colo is able to sync up with the bigs, his sheer movement, keenness to make plays, and defense can add some bite to the second unit.

The Raptors have wasted an opportunity and the loss should serve as a wake-up call of how poor the team has been playing. The cracks of last week were covered well with two improbable wins, so if there’s one positive to come out of this loss, I hope that it’s the team recognizing their wayward ways and applying corrective measures. That starts with fixing the defense, because when the league’s 23rd rank offense, which averages 97.3 points drops 102 on you in a clutch game, it’s time to look around and smell the stench. We got three more games this week, all three need to be had.

  • ballaballa

    “The Raptors have wasted an opportunity and the loss should serve as a
    wake-up call of how poor the team has been playing. The cracks of last
    week were covered well with two improbable wins, so if there’s one
    positive to come out of this loss, I hope that it’s the team recognizing
    their wayward ways and applying corrective measures. That starts with
    fixing the defense, because when the league’s 23rd rank offense, which
    averages 97.3 points drops 102 on you in a clutch game, it’s time to
    look around and smell the stench. We got three more games this week, all
    three need to be had.”—–AMEN

  • golden

    The last play of the game needs to be crowd-sourced.

    • Adriiian

      Right when my appreciation for Vasquez was growing,.. He fucks up the game, Salmons style.
      I think the only positive here is that right now the team is unpredictable, and they can beat any team on a given night. They are tougher games, but so far this season they have played to the level of the competition in most games.

      • Steverino

        Wait, so DeRozan fucks up the game numerous times and he gets a free pass? Now it’s Salmons style? Salmons only did it once.

    • llaen

      Shitty as that play was, it should have never come to this.

      That said, the idea of Vasquez as starter next year really scares me.

  • morgan c

    DeMar is just bad defensively. Straight up terrible. His improved offensive game has fooled many of us into thinking he has started to become at least competent / avg defensively, but he’s absolutely abysmal. This isn’t just about last night, either. He may outpace Harden as the worst defensive starting 2 guard in the league, who has offensive game. What I can’t seem to understand is why is he so bad? He clearly cares about winning and we know he’s a hard worker. He is athletic and fast. If Casey, the defensive guru, can’t get him playing better D, then what the hell…??

    I’ve gone so back and forth on JV, I won’t keep playing that game. He was playing better, until recently, and that’s great. But the maddening inconsistency in not just performance but EFFORT is simply inexcusable. I don’t care how young you are; effort does not need to be learned. One step forward, two back for this guy. And yes, even though he’s “young” it’s okay to expect more. We need more. He has been a disappointment this season, no question.

    It is losses like last night that really make me question why Casey should get an extension. He has got the team to play well for most of the season, and kudos are deserved in that regard. However, this team’s lack of focus and execution for games at a time against what they view as weaker competition points to coaching in my mind. If he can’t get the players to buy in to the fact that they need to keep on it, then that’s a huge problem. And the late game situations are inexcusable. That is on the coach too. He’s had three years; that’s enough time to learn how to draw up an open shot for a Novak, Kyle, or whoever. I sense that in the coming years, he could actually be holding us back. Extremely nervous about the probable extension coming.

    • Bob

      DeRozan is my guy. And it pains me to see him get trashed so often on this site and by this Fanbase. However your criticism was fair, and well thought. You didn’t just say “oh long jumpers he sucks, what’s wrong with him” which is more than I can say for most people. Here’s hoping that he can pull it all together, and Lowry can lead us to the promised land!

      • Kitchy

        Bob, I like DD too….but he’s got to go to the basket and if its not there dish it off more often than he has. His defense is the problem though, he’s made great strides on offense

    • Kitchy

      It’s just too bad he continuously gets a free pass from Matt and Leo. They both seem oblivious to the fact he really is passive on the defensive side of the ball

      • Steverino

        Matt, Leo and Jack are all employees of the team. You can’t criticize co-workers publicly without fear of getting fired. You have to just hint at negatives, or make a “shit sandwich”, where you say a nice thing, then a negative thing, then another nice thing.

    • Adam

      I agree in principle with a lot of the things you’re saying, but in general, I think a lot of it is over-exaggerated and probably the product of coming fresh off a really ugly loss.
      First of all, to suggest Casey somehow doesn’t deserve an extension because of a lack of execution or a failure on his part to get the team to perform is crazy talk. If we take a step back and think about where we were at the beginning of this season, it’s clear that this team has both far over-performed and developed a reputation as a high effort team throughout the league. There are obvious exceptions to this — especially in the past couple of weeks — but it’s tough to argue that Casey somehow hasn’t encouraged this team to perform at a high level.
      With regards to DD, I agree that his defense is overrated (which is saying a lot, seeing as though most label him as average-at-best), but I do not think this has to do with a lack of effort on his part. Despite his ball handling, shooting, and jumping abilities, the guy has never had a high level of lateral quickness considering his athleticism and likely never will. I think this is a big reason why we don’t see him go to the hoop on drives more often — he’s just not good at dribbling around people and often ends up hitting a wall when he gets to the paint. Coupled with the fact that he has a skinny frame, and you have a recipe for a poor one-on-one defender, which is what we’ve seen all along with him. He’s never going to be a great defender, and it makes you wonder how he was selected over Lowry for the All Star Game. Saying that, he’s by no means a TERRIBLE defender — I think we should reserve this word for the likes of a certain Primo pasta eating five which we all may or may not remember.
      Speaking of fives, yes, JV also had a horrible game. I agree his effort wasn’t there last night, but we still have to remember that he’s still only a second year player, and is simply not used to the minutes he’s getting. I think we should all have a level of patience with him, as he’s outpacing the development of most big men at his age.

      • morgan c

        Yup, I can’t disagree with your point about the “product of coming fresh off a really ugly loss.” Haha, definitely some venting going on. That said, I do wonder if there isn’t someone out there who could take this team to another level. I think we may be maxed out under Casey.
        DeMar was terrible last night, and puts up some terrible defensive performances. But ya, saying he’s terrible defensively period is a bit harsh.
        And I am supporting JV and agree long-term he may be fine. But the second year player and effort have nothing to do with each other I think.

      • morgan c

        Yup, I can’t disagree with your point about the “product of coming fresh off a really ugly loss.” Haha, definitely some venting going on. That said, I do wonder if there isn’t someone out there who could take this team to another level. I think we may be maxed out under Casey.
        DeMar was terrible last night, and puts up some terrible defensive performances. But ya, saying he’s terrible defensively period is a bit harsh.
        And I am supporting JV and agree long-term he may be fine. But the second year player and effort have nothing to do with each other I think.

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    mini slide that we have been having is only cause 2pat is out

  • Paul

    People expecting a rusty Patterson to fix this team’s woes will be sorely disappointed. Yes he will help the 2nd unit on both sides of the floor, but this team’s issues right now are much deeper than that. The problem is that this team is baby shit soft on the inside. Valanciunas’ offensive development is far beyond his defense at this point. Amir looks hobbled. Derozan is a lazy defender who doesn’t fight through screens, and Ross is very inconsistent. When the wings are allowing blow by’s, we get exposed on the inside. If we don’t get back to playing solid D, we are an easy first round out. The next few weeks will be very telling.

    • Kitchy

      Paul….you’ve hit the nail on the head! DD is a very lazy defender who becomes a liability when his shots aren’t falling. You have to love the effort but when he has the ball its a lets stand around and watch iso ball for the rest of the guys on the floor.

  • DC

    Not playing Fields not only deprives the team of some much-needed hustle off the bench, it also depreciates Fields’ trade value in the off-season. Would think that MU would remind Casey of the latter. I wonder why he hasn’t??

    • arsenalist

      Because he may not be a GM that steps on his coach’s toes? No idea. Off-season trade value aside, Fields’ size would’ve matched up better with Deng.

  • Maputo88

    Once again we have seen that we have only 3 competent bigs, JV, Amir & PP. Hansborough & Novak are not really NBA bigs and Chuck Hayes is a 5th or 6th big, good for a few minutes a game. I am really hoping we can fix this in the upcoming draft with maybe Jarnell Stokes, Dwight Powell (with the 58th pick) and if we are lucky, the guy from Louisville at 18/20. Right now we have to hope PP can get better soon. Nando de Colo needs to play more, he is really good at defence

  • Rap fan 2

    They need to have the mindset of winning each quarter and they need to keep the opponents to scoring below 24 points a game. They have to protect the paint. Otherwise it’s easy high percentage baskets. If the opponents are getting easy buckets and you are getting mostly tough lower percentage shots from the outside then your are in trouble. It’s growing pains for the Raptors right now. We are coming down the stretch. Everyone is playing tighter playoff intensity basketball. The Raptors need to pick up their intensity. Every possession counts. They need to make defensive stops.

    • Rap fan 2

      Sorry typo here… they need to keep the opponents to scoring below 24 points a quarter.

  • plaid coast

    “Defensively, the Raptors were a write-off in the paint as both Valanciunas and Johnson put up no resistance to their individual checks”

    this seems like a joke. if we had sunk a few more of those free throws, this article would be written about what a wonderful win we had and how we won it with our gritty defence down the stretch. i can go back and check but i’m pretty sure we were down by 20 because we were shooting 36%. yep, i checked it out, that’s what happened. i’m not saying the raptors played their best defence, but i just get a kick out of these sweeping statements. everyone on here just wants to throw the whole season out the window when we lose a game. ya’ll need to relax and just watch they games, they’re pretty good. have a beer.

    they played defence (hawes missed his other two three-point attempts). they just needed one more stop.

  • FLUXLAND

    “The Raptors didn’t give him his requisite touches, but he shouldn’t need those to be a factor night in and night out.”

    “Valanciunas needs to have a defense-first approach”

    So, everything some of us have been saying since the start of the season is only becoming apparent now? But back then we were haters who hate everything.

    • Steverino

      What do you care what needs to happen? You’re a Lakers fan. Or are you saying you’d be a Raptors fan if they were just really good? (i.e. bandwagon jumper)

      • FLUXLAND

        I’m not playing the “true fan” game with you. And I have no idea why you keep bringing up the Lakers. e.i. you are shill of the p00ka kind.

        • Steverino

          No, I honestly don’t get it. Nor do I get “shill of the pooka kind”. Here’s what I don’t get: From what I can gather, you’re not a fan of the Raptors. Am I mistaken? If you aren’t, then you’re just here to stir shit up. If it’s a matter of you wanting to be a fan, but just can’t support a team that is still bad in your opinion, then you’re a bandwagon fan, but that doesn’t seem to be the case because you’re still a fan of the Lakers. So it must be the former. You don’t like the Raptors and never will, so why waste your time here? Please elucidate. There’s no such thing as a “true fan” and I never once used that term.

          • FLUXLAND

            I am a fan. Your are mistaken, on many fronts. Simple as that. I have had this conversation plenty of times on here, I am tired of explaining myself. Not to mention I have explained things to you already in the other post. You can easily counter the basketball talk with basketball talk, but you want to turn this into a conversation about me. And with what purpose, I don’t know. If you don’t like my opinions/post… here’s a tip: skip them. No one is holding a gun to your head or forcing you to reply.

            • Steverino

              Nope, you’ve never explained anything to me before. You made cryptic references about being a Laker fan. I recall nothing about you being a Raptor fan. Pardon me if I just forgot. I’m not really making this about you, but it’s instructive to know where you’re coming from. When you post on a Raptor site with a Laker jersey and never once say anything positive or even neutral about the Raptors, it just becomes about you and your intentions. And the way you come across, whether it’s accurate or not, is grumpy. You dislike the Raptors because you don’t consider them good, correct? If so, you’re a bandwagon jumper. If not, why do you only post negative comments about them? It makes no sense. I know you want to pretend you’re a rational basketball guy who’s just looking at the facts, but it really doesn’t look that way to anyone. Instead of always looking outward to all the idiots on this board, maybe it’s time to look inward to see if it’s anything you’re projecting.

              • FLUXLAND

                I’m not sure if you should be spending that much time concerned over my form or “where I am coming from”. We have been over this before. And I don’t need to explain or apologize for what you interpret as negative comments. Or are you just having an issue with replying to said comments with something other than optimistic projections about the future? Also,you should have realized by now that I have very little concern about how it looks to anyone, which really begs the question…what’s it to you? Why are you so invested into how I come across or how I comment? Why is it difficult for you to focus on the basketball points being brought up? That’s what doesn’t make any sense here, at all. Instead of countering the points I bring up, you want to turn the conversation about you and how you interpret what I post. This will be the last time I am commenting on this, we are going around in circles and you keep ignoring the answers I have given you already. If you want to discuss the Raptors I am all for it.. but this conversation if futile and not even remotely entertaining for anyone.

                That is a Kobe jersey, btw. If I wanted to rep the Lakes, maybe there would be a Lakers logo there instead?

                • Steverino

                  You don’t *need* to explain to me or anyone, but you can if you want. Not asking you to apologize (you tend to put words in mouths just as you accuse others of doing it). Also, I’m not saying everything should be lollipops and roses. But surely some things might be, right? Not everything needs to be negative. Hell, even when they beat the Celtics, you comment with an immature crack that it was just the Celtics, followed by some teen computer giggle.

                  So the issue isn’t you but who you pretend to be. You can say all you want that you’re a fan, which is why you’re on this forum daily, but you’re lying. And no, I’m not saying there’s only one way to be a fan, so don’t play that game. You can be a critical fan, as many on here are — they’re critical of Casey, they’re critical of JV, they’re critical of Vasquez, they’re critical of Salmons, they’re critical of DeRozan, they’re critical of Hayes, they’re critical of Ross, they’re critical of Fields… And that’s all fine. Fans have the right to be critical. But fans also have an obligation, by the very definition of the word, to actually, you know, like the team. You may have noticed (although it’s doubtful with your reading comprehension skills) that I’ve never slagged anyone else here for being critical. I’ve disagreed over the point, but never called into question why they were criticizing, or accused them of just poking and prodding (aka trolling).

                  By the way, “begs the question” is not the phrase you’re looking for. It’s “raises the question.” If you want to sound smart, you should learn the difference. Begging the question means to assume the truth of something that has yet to be established. For example, you could say I’m begging the question by saying you’re not a Raptors fan, when that hasn’t been established. But all I can do is go by your posts since you’re loathe to reveal your intentions.

                  Who cares if this is entertaining for anyone else. It might be for some. For the others, they can skip over it, just as we all skip over some comments.

                  And so it’s a Kobe jersey, not a Lakers jersey. My sincere apologies for assuming you’re a fan of the only team he’s ever played for.

                • FLUXLAND

                  If things are roses and lollipops, for you, so be it. I told you already, if you want to celebrate the progress from brutal to average, have at it.

                  Pretend to be? Lying? What are you talking about? Some misconceptions and misguided conclusions you have drawn based on comments I make on the Internet? You’re welcome to your own interpretations, I suppose, as misguided as they may be.

                  Where exactly are you drawing your rules regarding how one is to conduct himself as a fan? Or are you implying you are the authority?

                  No, I have zero obligations of any kind. Did it ever occur to you that I may be supportive of a franchise in Toronto, but not of this edition of the team or this regime? Am I to just like the product regardless of my opinion of it? You are questioning if am a fan, based on some definition you came up with and now you want to do what exactly? Impose or demand I act according to what you see as the right way to discuss a team? I don’t live in your world, perhaps you have me confused with someone else.

                  Thanks for English lesson. Seeing how English is the 4th language I learned to speak and write, I’m not concerned over how you interpret the level of my intellect, based on the use of one phrase or expression. Am I to conclude you are petty? Or did my use of the phrase take away from your ability to comprehend the point I was making? What does that tell us about your intellect, I wonder.

                  Apology accepted, at least you can admit you assume. And often, at that.

                  And trolling – like you replying to my post game comment last night? Spare me.

  • im sorry

    im sorry, but why is casey running the final play for lowry. im sorry but lowrys a midg and won’t be able to get anything of other than his infamous clutch step back 3s which is bricks or gets stuffed by ibaka. if not for dd, run something for ross he can jack it from anywhere. jeez