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Although this team certainly has chemistry, sometimes there can be opportunities that are just too good to pass up. That doesn’t mean that the chemistry is suddenly lost, but it can certainly inhibit the team’s functionality. By wondering what targets should the Raptors consider, I’m wondering either underrated players or players who are good but in a bad situation.
James: If I was the president of the Milwaukee Bucks Nutjobbery Society, I would have pointed to (a) the development of second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has as much potential as anyone in the NBA and showcased significant signs of offensive improvement at summer league, (b) the possibility of bounceback seasons for Larry Sanders O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley, (c) the Jason Kidd new coach bump and (d) the addition of passing supergenius Kendall Marshall.In retrospect, had I nutted that job or jobbed that nut, I’d be in a position to be gloat about some of this. Now, excuse me while I step into the garden, drink iced tea and eat some peanuts.
James: Yay! I prefer it very much to the other options: Buckyouths, Mini-Bucks and the Bucks of Little Experience.
James: I’ll buy top-10, at least. Milwaukee hasn’t played many good offensive teams, but Kidd has these guys playing hard and the length is real. That’s enough to win 35 if we’re assuming the offense will improve throughout the season and the East remains mostly terrible.
James: He’s awesome. The Bucks are really having him attack the basket lately. They’re going to him late in games. The numbers are cool, but the real difference is in how confident and comfortable he is. Antetokounmpo grew — literally and figuratively, ha! — from the beginning to the end of his rookie season, and he’s made an even larger leap now. The assists declining is actually a good thing; naturally a distributor, he has to be reprogrammed a bit to take advantage of the matchup nightmare he presents as a scorer.
James: Parker is fine. He was always only “NBA ready” as a scorer, and there was no reason to expect anything different. Kidd’s done a good job in alternating him between forward spots depending on the matchup, and he’s capable of doing good things with the ball. There are some questionable habits in terms of defense and shot selection, but he’ll put up numbers as long as he keeps getting these minutes.
“It’s very difficult to do, to play at home this many games in a row,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters on Thursday. “Psychologically, it’s tough to go through the grind, the monotony of every other day or whatever the schedule was. I think our guys mentally fought through that. That’s something that’s a credit to them. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them, fight through things mentally, be focused, don’t let outside distractions get you out of what you want to do. I’ve been relatively pleased.” Due to the nature of the league, the Raptors’ schedule is set to turn dramatically. Following the Milwaukee game, the Raptors play the Cavaliers, Suns, Hawks and Mavericks, four teams that range from playoff threats to championship contenders. They will then go on a three-game western road trip, albeit against three of the Western Conference’s weaker teams, depending on your opinion of the upstart Sacramento Kings. The schedule does not get truly gruesome until Christmastime, when the Raptors will go on a six-game road trip that includes games in Chicago, Portland and Golden State. The Raptors are yet to play a Western Conference road game, and a record approaching .500 in those 15 contests would be a massive accomplishment.
“Even though the playing time hasn’t been there, I’m just as involved as DeMar (DeRozan) in the (team scouting meetings.) I’m just as involved as Kyle (Lowry) in the pre-game planning. They ask me for my opinion, I give it, if I see something, I’ll make a recommendation.” Hayes knows what he is talking about. Giving up half a foot every game, for nine years, is something very few NBA players have ever been able to carve out a long career doing. But Hayes has a sky-high basketball IQ and is a master of positioning. Superstar Memphis centre Marc Gasol, a 7-foot-1 bruiser, raved about Hayes’ defence after the Raptors stunned Memphis with a lock-down performance in the fourth quarter. “There are certain games that matchup to my skill-set, there’s some that may not. Regardless, I’ve still got to be ready,” Hayes said, admitting that he had a feeling he’d see some time against Gasol or Zach Randolph. “I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season (and) I’ll be read
A match-up with the Grizzlies’ intimidating frontcourt is one Hayes generally has circled. In today’s changing NBA, forcing most interior players to adapt their game and step out to the three-point line, there aren’t many teams that feature a physical, throw-back style big man who makes hay in the post. Memphis has two of them in Gasol and Randolph. In his 10th NBA season, Hayes says he doesn’t have to watch much tape or do much research to prepare for an opponent like this. “It’s all up here,” he said pointing to his head. “They don’t do nothing different than they did the last four, five years. I learn from experience. I knew there was a high possibility that I would go in last night, so I was ready, but I’ve been ready the whole season and I’ll be ready tomorrow.” “He knows who he is and what match-ups that he’s needed [in],” Casey said. “There’s certain match-ups that he’s good [in] and he knows that before we know it because he’s been in the league so long. That’s why you have veterans. That’s why veterans are so important in this league, in those positions. He has a good idea of what he’s supposed to do.”
“We have a deep team,” Greivis Vasquez explained. “We have guys that can do it on any given night. It’s a team effort. We are doing a good job at being focused and just waiting for an opportunity and we are taking advantage of that as a unit, as a team. T Ross came through tonight. He was struggling at first and then in the last quarter basically he took over. Lou (Williams), he scored for us too. Chuck (Hayes) came out – he hasn’t played in like 5 games – and did his job. So, it’s totally a team effort.” The Raptors have been led in fourth quarter scoring by Jonas Valanciunas, Ross (3x), Kyle Lowry (2x), DeMar DeRozan (2x), Lou Williams (1.5x) and Patrick Patterson (1.5x). It quite literally feels like a different player has been stepping up in crunch time each and every night. The voices from the Raptors locker room last season still ring true. There are no egos on this team. The players are here to win games and are ready when Casey calls their number, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to sit, watch and cheer when someone else’s number is called. They are playing for something bigger than themselves and it shows.
The Bucks needed triple overtime to beat the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, but at 7-5 Milwaukee has to be considered one of the early-season surprises around the league. . . . Prized rookie Parker averages 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 46 per cent from the field. . . . Antetokounmpo and Parker form one of two sets of teenagers to start for NBA teams this season. Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the others. . . . Milwaukee’s Wednesday win in Brooklyn came a day after a victory over New York. In 21 back-to-backs last season, the Bucks failed to win both games even once. . . . Toronto will once again be without backup forward James Johnson, sidelined with a severely sprained right ankle although he was out of a walking boot on Thursday.
The Bucks (7-5) have won three in a row after not winning consecutive games last season. They can earn their eighth victory 29 games earlier than in 2013-14 after not reaching that mark until Jan. 22. Milwaukee had dropped five straight overtime games going back to last season prior to Wednesday’s 122-118 triple-overtime win at Brooklyn. Brandon Knight made a tying 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the second overtime and free throws with 5.6 left in the third overtime. Knight was 5 of 20 from the field and missed what would have been the winning layup with two seconds left in the first extra period. “My teammates trusted me to make the next shot to force a third overtime, so that’s really what it’s all about,” Knight said. “And we stuck through it as a team.” Rookie Jabari Parker scored a season-high 23 on 8-of-13 shooting and is shooting 55.1 percent over his last seven games after hitting 36.1 percent in his first five. At 3-4, Milwaukee is already two road wins shy of its total from last season. The Bucks haven’t won three in a row away from home since their first three road contests in 2012-13.
Having depth is something that teams must have down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, and it has made the difference for quite a few championship winners over the years. Toronto has built their team very well around having a deep roster, and there aren’t too many teams better than them in that category. The scoring off of the bench could use some better play, but they have the potential to make that improvement. It’s going to be very intriguing to see whether or not the Raptors’ bench can begin playing up to their potential. They have the ability to take control of games against opposing second units, but they have’t been doing that as much as they could be. Expect to see their bench continue to improve this season as the year moves along.
Despite all the breaks that have gone the Raptors’ way, their record still sits at 9-2.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t championship contenders. No, the Raptors don’t have a superstar. No, there isn’t an all-consuming rim protector anchoring the defense. No, their young players haven’t blossomed into stars quite yet.
But their record is 9-2.
Yes, some things have broken right for the Raptors this season. Yes, they’ve played an easy schedule so far, ranking 26th in Basketball-Reference’s strength of schedule metric. Yes, they pulled a few wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies out of the fire. Yes, the Grizzlies were stricken by a team-wide flu that KO’ed five of their rotation players. Yes, the Raptors have caught a number of teams on the wrong end of a back-to-back.
But their record is 9-2.
No, the Raptors’ success isn’t necessarily indicative of their team’s strength. No, the Raptors won’t continue to shoot an absurd number of free-throws. No, Toronto’s offense won’t continue to produce like the second-best attack in the league. No, the Raptors’ defense isn’t as robust as their sixth-ranked defense suggests. No, Amir Johnson and his papier-mache ankles won’t continue to mask the team’s defensive flaws.
But their record is 9-2.
Yes, Raptors fans are excited about the team. Yes, this team’s success came out of sheer luck. Yes, the Rudy Gay trade galvanized the squad in a way that continues to baffle most fans. Yes, the Raptors have a few players who are overperforming their career norms. Yes, the Raptors’ best back-up center is Chuck Hayes. Yes, Chuck Hayes is a f*cking boss that saved the day last night. Yes, we love everyone in this town, even Vince and Chuck Hayes.
But their record is 9-2.
No, the Raptors didn’t take care of Chicago at home. No, the Raptors didn’t beat Miami on the second night of a back-to-back. No, the Raptors could not sink free throws to save their lives in that game. No, it’s not preferable that the Raptors aren’t 11-0 right now.
But their record is 9-2.
I know I’m being repetitive. I know that. I know that process is more important than results because process determines future results. But it doesn’t mean we should just throw away everything this team has accomplished because things aren’t perfect under the hood.
Regarding the schedule, the Raptors can only play who is on the court. They’ve played some shitty teams, snagging two wins against Orlando, a win against the Celtics, a win against the Sixers and a win against the depleted Oklahoma City Thunder. But they’ve won every single one of those games. They’ve done what is asked on them in those games. It wasn’t always pretty, but they won. They’ve taken care of what they can control. How can you really ask for more? The Bulls (without Derrick Rose; big surprise there) lost against the Pacers and Celtics. Games aren’t played on paper. Good teams do lose to bad teams once in a while.
And yes, there are some big holes on this team. Amir can’t stay healthy, and he’s the anchor of the defense. Greivis is struggling, big time. James Johnson can’t possibly sustain this level of production. The hockey lineup changes by Casey is baffling. DeRozan is struggling to score efficiently besides toeing the line a million times per game. Valanciunas looks winded every time he’s left out on the court for too long and his movement is still incredible robotic. Terrence Ross is wildly inconsistent. And yeah, they’ve been extraordinarily healthy for most of the last two seasons.
Ask any reasonable fan, and they’ll tell you as much. For all the good vibes surrounding #WeTheNorth, Raptors fans are still the same bitter cynics at heart. We know this is a pretty good team that falls two or three steps from being elite. We know that. We understand everything isn’t going as well as their record would belay.
We’re allowed to be excited about the team’s success — they’re 9-2, have you heard? We don’t know how exactly it’s happening. We just want to enjoy it for what it is. We’re not out there telling people we’re threats to dethrone Cleveland and Chicago. Wins are fun. People are excited. That’s it.
What we don’t need, as a fanbase, is to be constantly put into place for being excited. We don’t need condescending reminder of the team’s flaws. Yeah, we know. We watch every friggin’ game. Have you seen the comment boards after games? It’s littered with critiques and nitpicks.
But thanks, anyway, for giving us the perspective we so sorely lacked, Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball and the Hardwood Paroxysm network (who, aside from this recent episode, I thoroughly enjoy and respect as a basketball analyst). What would we do without your sobering takes on the Raptors? I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’d rather be excited about found money than I would be bitterly gripping about how my income can’t reliably come from change off the street.
Three things happened last night that would have seemed all but impossible a mere 18 months ago. First, the Raptors honoured Vince Carter with a video tribute in a moment that brought tears to Vince’s eyes and felt like it genuinely mended the past between the Air Canada Centre fans and the former hero they once called ‘Air Canada.’ Second, the Raptors got an impressive win over arguably the best team in the league thus far this season. Third and finally, the Raptors and their fans became engulfed in a derisive flame war on NBA Twitter that had nothing to do with Vince Carter, and everything to do with NBA fans and writers feeling like Raptors have gotten too big for their britches, sort-of-speak, and feeling compelled in turn to argue how this does not prove that the Raptors are definitely title contenders. Last year’s poo poo platter of an NBA roster in Philadelphia beat the Miami Heat in the early season, before setting the all-time record for consecutive losses, so I would have believed at least the second item of the previous list to be possible if prognosticated a year and a half ago to me. But the first and third would have seemed comically far away. But now here we are, cool with Vince, battling for first place in the NBA and being argued about in the spotlight about whether or not we’re contenders and mocked for believing too much in our team. This is completely new, completely fantastic territory.
Putting that narrative aside, let’s get to what we saw last night.
It turns out that James Johnson has been just as big of a presence on the bench unit as we all thought he was. Landry Fields got four minutes of run in his stead and the audition all but definitely won’t be getting him the part in Casey’s ten man rotation. The 5-man bench unit had some of their least effective run together last night, especially in the first half. Vasquez unleashed a trio of shots at one point that each refused to have contact with the rim: an air-ball attempt from 3, a floater that bonked off the side of the backboard and a banked-in 3 pointer that, as much as we might mock, represents ¾ of the Raptors margin of victory. Tyler Hansbrough fell hard on his shoulder again last night, taking him out of the game. Valanciunas got some 2nd quarter minutes with the bench unit in a game where he struggled to contain Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, who went for 18 and 18, and 22 and 12 respectively. Those two are a nightmare for any big man, which is to say that that’s exactly what they were for Jonas as well. The best way to contextualize the Raptors awful 2nd quarter is to bring up how the basketball artist formerly known as Prince(Tayshaun) drove casually past his man, through the lane and dunked on Valanciunas. There’s never been a reason to be proud of that happening, but if this was 2005, there at least wouldn’t be as much reason for embarrassment. In 2014, when Tayshaun Prince’s offensive game is barely a whisper, that can’t happen. He shot 6 of 8.
It’s not surprising that the Raptors struggled offensively against the grit and grind Grizzlies for much of the game last night. Gasol seemed to scare the Raptors out of the protected area. DeMar didn’t have to face Tony Allen or Courtney Lee, as both were out with a virus, but he struggled instead with himself. DeMar forced his game at times last night, scrambling with the ball, forcing long jumpers before the end of the shot clock and fishing for free throws on pump fake jump shots that just weren’t being called. He battled through, put up 21 points and finally started finding his way to the rim in the 4th quarter. But the Grizzlies were able to take away his efficiency by only sending him to the line twice.
This game, as with any other impressive win the Raptors have had against a top opponent the past two seasons, came down to the 4th quarter. It turns out that the Raptors are kind of great in the 4th. You might have heard a little something about this trend mentioned somewhere between once and a hundred times in between Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins playful flirtations on Raptors broadcasts. It’s a thing. And so is the Raptor’s play in the 4th. The Raptors defense in the 4th quarter locked in, and did so last night with some uncommon lineups. Chuck Hayes, brick wall extraordinaire, had his number called, and he played great. Post defense is tough, especially against freight trains like Z-Bo and skilled 7-footers like Gasol. Hayes gives up at least 4 inches to both players, but did a great job against both. Hayes forced Gasol into taking some very difficult turn around jumpers that, just because he looked like Dirk in hitting, doesn’t mean he wasn’t very well defended. Defense in the post is all about quickly shuffling your feet into position, taking away space and staying on your feet. There are people who can do this well. The reason why Hayes can guard low post big men so much more effectively than others is because while doing those things well, Hayes is also impossible to shoulder out of the way or back down in the process. Gasol threw shoulder after shoulder into Chuck’s chest, turning from side to side in an attempt to widdle his way into the low post. He didn’t budge an inch. Marc Gasol is around 280 lbs.! Hayes kept his ground and maintained his footwork, challenging every shot or fake without jumping. This should be appreciated.
Hayes wasn’t alone with his 4th quarter defense, as Amir Johnson’s hobbled ankles allowed him ten minutes of his best basketball so far. Amir played important minutes on Gasol, cut inside off of a screen for a crucial late basket, blocked Z-Bo at the rim late and was perhaps the only Raptor last night to understand the importance of boxing out and rebounding.
The Raptor’s biggest basket of the 4th quarter, unsurprisingly, was a beautiful layup from Kyle Lowry. Lowry drove hard, twisting his body around the Grizzly defender in place to draw the charge and dropped in the highlight reel layup. What was surprising about the 4th quarter offense was Terrence Ross taking over. I don’t know what got in to the young man, but he had a confidence in his game and a swagger in his step that we haven’t seen this season. Ross drained 3s off the dribble and in the face of defenders. He drove to the basket. He was taking alpha dog ‘I got this’ shots and drilling them, putting up 14 4th quarter points. Maybe he did it for his hero, Vince. Maybe he did it for himself. Maybe he did it for Lisa Ann. I don’t know, and I don’t care, but god damn do I want to see him do it again.
It’s a stretch to say that the Raptors proved their title contention in last night’s win over Memphis. Yes, the Grizzlies were without two key starters in Tony Allen and Courtney Lee and missing multiple bench guys as well. But guess what, injuries and illness happen in the playoffs too. One game of the regular season should never been seen as a macrocosm of who any one team is or what they’re ultimately capable of either way. You’d be a fool to discount this game or argue it as a sign of a forthcoming Larry O’Brien trophy. It was an important, quality win over a very good Grizzlies team. I feel good about this game, I feel good about Vince Carter, and I feel great about this team. Nobody needs to worry about May and June. That’s more than enough for now. Who’s up next?
If the Raptors are to hit their ceiling as a franchise, they need Valanciunas, a potentially excellent two-way big man, to be able to defend the Gasols and Randolphs of the world. There are not many of those players, but good teams — the teams you play in the playoffs — tend to have one. It can be argued, with some merit, that Valanciunas needs those minutes now, even if it costs the Raptors a win. It is impossible to say what the right move, long term, is. But at least Valanciunas is paying attention. “He plays really good defence. He’s an experienced player. He has the timing,” said Valanciunas, who was a team-worst minus-12 in his 22 minutes of play despite some positive moments. “As you have the touch in the shooting, he has the feeling on the defensive end.”
“No matter the start, it’s all about the finish,” Kyle Lowry said of Toronto’s blistering early-season 9-2 record. Lowry added 18 points while Lou Williams finished with 13 and Jonas Valanciunas added 10 points. Marc Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were missing five players. Zach Randolph added 18 points and a game-high 18 boards, who boast the NBA’s best record (10-2). “I am really proud of our guys, they gutted it out, played for each other, and encouraged each other,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. The Grizzlies were missing Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih. The five were treated in hospital for dehydration, and flew back to Memphis on a special charter flight.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Grizzlies’ lead down to four, Dwane Casey countered the return to the floor by Gasol with his move of the night — bringing in Hayes. From that point on the Grizzlies’ twin towers found the going extra tough, scoring just nine points between them. And, truth be told, that was too much as far as Hayes was concerned. He played textbook defence on Gasol on one possession only to see him hit a turnaround fade-away jumper from 11 feet. The next time down, he pushed him out a little farther, this time all the way to 19 feet and Gasol did the same thing. “I was about to kick the scorer’s table when he made that (second) shot,” Hayes said. “I’m happy I kept my cool.” Hayes said it was all a matter of know-how and experience that made this particular night such a successful one for him and the Raptors. “I’ve played against those guys a while,” he said of Gasol and Randolph. “I’m familiar with their tendencies. I do my best and interpret it to my teammates, give them a heads-up. Be ready as if they need me to go.
As the Raptors’ offense cranked up, as Kyle Lowry made big plays (he had 18 points) and DeMar DeRozan kept the team in it (he went for 22 points), as Vince got to tearfully appreciate the Toronto faithful, it was Hayes’ presence that moved the Raptors. He slowed the two-man wrecking crew of Gasol and Randolph. It’s been these kinds of unlikely performances that have been the story for this team so far in this young season; the depth of the roster finding ways to win. “I was bummed because they said they made four field goes in the fourth and two of them came on me,” Hayes said. “I was kind of irritated by that.” At least Chuck is keeping a level head.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger on the snowstorm before the game: “The weather is awesome. I’m from Minnesota, so I get it.” Joerger also had kind words for the Raptors. “They play the way I think good teams play. They take care of the basketball, they’ll guard you, they rebound very physically and they get to the free throw line,” he said. “Everybody knows their role, they’ve got a good starting five. They’re very solid all the way through and what I think that’s going to lead to through their season is they are not going to have that big hit where you lose four games out of five.”
And they did it when Casey dusted off the 31-year-old Hayes and his Old Man Strength. Hayes hadn’t played a second in three of Toronto’s last four games — his role is mainly going to be mop-up all season — but he was out there grinding against Gasol and Randolph down the stretch. His stats were hardly startling — one rebound and no points in 10 minutes — but his contribution was off the charts. “He’s an old vet and you’ve got to have those kind of guys on your roster, on your bench, ready and willing to accept his role,” said Casey. “He knows who he is, he’s one of the better big men defenders in the league, he’s got a low centre of gravity and he does a great job. He was our MVP coming in and slowing down Gasol and putting a stop to him.”
Memphis got out to a six-point halftime lead, riding a physical second quarter from Zach Randolph. Toronto trailed by six heading into the fourth, but that’s when Terrence Ross caught fire. The third-year forward poured in 14 points in the period, and Kyle Lowry drilled a tough step-back to ice the game with eight ticks remaining. Though Memphis was missing several players (including Tony Allen and Courtney Lee) because of a bug making its way through the team, this was a major statement win for the Raps. Marc Gasol piled up 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, and Randolph contributed 18 points and 18 boards. The Grizzlies didn’t give this one away by any stretch. Toronto took it. In big-picture terms, the Raptors’ win should eliminate any lingering concerns about their staying power. There was a sense that Toronto hadn’t done enough over the summer to improve its prospects, and with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers getting stronger, there was reason to believe Toronto would fall short of the franchise-best 48 wins it amassed in 2013-14.
Wing defense. A guy like Terrence Ross is one of those players who, especially when the Grizzlies are so shorthanded, could wind up going career-night against the Beale Street Bullies (TM with apologies to the Flyers). Well, he didn’t, but he and Derozan combined for 16-of-36, and Derozan’s 21 was huge in keeping the Raptors in it when the Grizzlies built leads of 6-8 a time or two. Derozan’s length made it hard for the Grizzlies-an ace like TA can play several inches up to guard a guy with a two-mile wingspan, but for QPon/Carter/even Conley a time or two, it’s tough to contest with any effectiveness. Could Derozan be trying to show John Hollinger the error of his ways ?
I am learning as I do more and more grades that the A+ is reserved for amazing games that should be remembered. I think this is one of the single best coaching performances that the Memphis Grizzlies organization has seen since Hubie Brown roamed the sidelines. Being down five key rotation players against what is possibly the best team in the Eastern Conference and competing is an amazing feat. He blended the starters with the rookies and gave Tayshaun Prince ample opportunities to be successful. It would have been a much deserved Grizz win if not for fatigue and Kyle Lowry’s massive stones.
It can be successfully argued that Memphis has the most dominant frontcourt in the entire NBA. With James Johnson sitting out due to injury, the Raps were left shorthanded in stopping the bigs from scoring. While Mike Conley and vetern Tayshaun Prince had solid offensive performances of their own, it was the Raptors’ signature ability to close which stole the game from the River City. Hayes and Amir Johnson successfully congested the paint and limited their opponent’s opportunities around the rim. The only complaint here is continuity. This team needs to apply their fourth-quarter defensive mentality to all 48 minutes- it’ll save us all the stress of a valiant comeback.
While this game showed how far Jonas Valanciunas still has to learn about playing against the NBA’s best, our team also demonstrated its resilience, and our coach his flexibility. The psychological value of this win can’t be overstated. After the second-half bellyflop against the Bulls, the Raps needed this victory – and got it.
First off, the Grizzlies were undermanned, playing with only 10 players due to five players being out with a stomach virus. The most notable of those players was Courtney Lee, who has been the catalyst to this team’s early success. Had the Grizzlies had his three-point shooting, his defense, and his 15 points, they probably would have won this game really easily. Secondly, the Raptors are a really good team. They improve to 9-2 overall and 7-1 at home. Winning in the Air Canada Centre isn’t easy for any team in the NBA, and so the Grizzlies can take great comfort in knowing that a lot of teams are going to lose in that building this season. What this really means, is that this is a game that they weren’t supposed to win.
DeMar DeRozan was fired up after the win and was yelling while walking up the tunnel and into the locker room. What was he saying? I couldn’t really make out exactly what he was yelling. All I could decipher was a bunch of excited smack talk about beating one of the NBA’s top teams so far this season.
Forget thawing, a near decade of animosity vanished in a flash, as the video of Carter’s high-flying Raptors days was met with a standing ovation from the ACC crowd, along with loud cheers. Carter, looking surprised, mouthed “wow” and had to dab away tears from his eyes with his shirt. Fittingly, once Carter checked into the game, he was booed every time he touched the ball, marking a return to normalcy. “It was an amazing feeling to relive it as it was happening. As each play was happening, I could remember it like yesterday,” Carter said afterward, calling his tears “an honest reaction.” “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful.”
Moments after the montage began, the sellout crowd – still filing in at the time – rose to their feet. If there were boos they were drowned out by an overwhelmingly positive ovation. Carter stood and watched from the visiting bench. He used his warm-up shirt to wipe the tears running down his face as he pointed to his heart and waved to the fans in appreciation. “It was a great feeling,” said the 37-year-old, who played in 403 games over six and a half seasons with the Raptors. “I couldn’t write it any better. I’m extremely thankful for it.” “They asked me earlier how you would feel, how you would react and you can’t prepare for that, whether that was a surprise or you knew it was coming. It’s just an amazing feeling, amazing just to be in the moment and to see it, and to kind of relive it as it was happening. You see all the stuff and you see all the people that you played with and as each play was happening, I can remember all that stuff as if it was yesterday. It was awesome.” Toronto’s current players were among those standing for Carter.
No matter how much revisionism we exercise on this subject, the basic fact is that Carter gave up on this team. He engineered the fallout with management. Three years on, he was still the knucklehead who decided to fly to his college graduation ahead of the biggest game of his career. He was an undeniably great performer, and a so-so teammate. Even in his athletic dotage, he retains that odd combination of genuine charm and spasmodic denialism. He’ll tell you he takes the blame, but nothing’s ever really been his fault. It’s a very human trait, one that’s amplified in professional athletes. What makes it weird is Toronto’s tortured insistence on wrenching some sort of dramatic reconciliation out of this guy. “Tell us you didn’t mean it, Vince.” It smacks of desperation.
Getting into late November the best player on one of the best teams in the league record wise…
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Vince Carter, Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez after Toronto’s 96-92 win over Memphis.
|Amir Johnson, PF 34 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-1 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -2The guy just brings his lunchpail and goes to work, no matter the opponent. His issues – along with Jonas – on keeping the Memphis bigs off the glass can’t be excused, but he provided his usual brand of up-tempo basketball and made his presence felt. He impressed me most on the pick and roll, where he made smart passes when necessary and made the slow-footed Z-Bo pay when he didn’t close out in time.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 34 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -3Was a complete non-factor for the first 3 quarters, but exploded in the fourth, almost single-handedly getting the Raptors back in the game after going on his own 8-0 run. That brings his grade up a couple notches, but I can’t get over the fact that Tayshaun Prince basically “son”-ned him on both ends for most of the game.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -12Interesting game for Jonas in that he seemed absolutely content to bang in the blocks on the offensive end – and did so quite well, besides missing a bunny in traffic – but on the defensive side of the ball, he seemed passive, particularly after the shot goes up. Against a team like Memphis, we need Jonas to really have a nose for the ball in order to keep the rebounding numbers somewhat even. Tonight, that didn’t happen, which is why Chuck Hayes finished the game.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 7-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | -5I’ve run out of superlatives for this guy. No matter which way the game is turning, he plays his signature hard-nosed style of basketball, makes the right plays, gets in the middle of every play (one contest against Z-Bo in the fourth was particularly brazen), and hits a dagger with 8 seconds left, of course. When he’s out there, you never feel like this team is out of it.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 10-22 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +3A quiet, effective game from DeMar, which is not something I thought I’d ever type about him a year ago. He seems to be making better and better decisions with the ball each game, and attacked the rim with aplomb once his shot stopped falling in the second half. The refs did him ZERO favours tonight, either. He must have loved the fact that Tony Allen wasn’t out there, but for my money, this was one of his more impressive performances against a really tough opponent.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Surprisingly effective defensively against Marc Gasol in the minutes he played, but he was – rightfully – replaced by Chuck Hayes on the bench unit in the fourth quarter. On nights like this where the opposing players simply have him outmatched size and skill wise, he’s going to struggle, and he was a non-factor for the most part.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +10Hit his open looks in the first half, where he was the primary offensive weapon against his slower-footed Memphis check. His man defence has always been impressive, and he got a few stops one-on-one against Marc Gasol that he had no business getting.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8Entered the game in the fourth, and the Raptors immediately went on a run that brought them back into the game. Coincidence? I think not. Took a huge charge late in the game with the Raps struggling to hold onto their lead. The guy is who he is, but he always seems to find a way to impact the game in a positive way.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | +6Made some questionable decisions with the basketball at times – you can’t just run under the hoop and expect your pass to make it back out to the 3 point line – and had his issues with Carter defensively. Patterson and Williams picked him up offensively, but this wasn’t his night.|
|Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +11He’s DeMar, with the size dial turned down and the circus shot dial turned up to maximum. VERY impressive tonight offensively – got a chance to handle the ball in the second quarter and did a good job speeding up the Raptor offense, which had been a problem for them all game. Hit some shots he had no business making, and got fouled when he had no business getting fouled. He’s a great weapon to have off the bench, and tonight, he was a difference maker.|
|Landry Fields, SG 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +1Came in in the first half as an ostensible James Johnson replacement. Touched the ball once, promptly lost it, and we didn’t see him again.|
Struggled somewhat in getting the game turned around to the Raptors’ tempo, but he made a key substitution late – getting Hayes into the game – and stuck with it, which is not an easy thing to do. Made his usual smart decisions on timeouts, and managed the rotation reasonably well with Johnson out, minimizing the damage Fields could cause.
Four Things We Saw
- This game felt like a heavyweight fight the Raptors were never really in – until they were. The first 3 quarters were characterized by slow-tempo basketball and a huge rebounding advantage by the Grizz, with only a few shooting runs keeping the Raptors in it. In the fourth, though, the tempo picked up, the crowd got into it, and the game completely turned around.
- The refs really swallowed their whistles tonight, didn’t they? Going into the fourth, the Raptors had just 8 free throws, and ended with 13 total for the game. I don’t think it affected the outcome at all, but it gave the game a really gritty feel, which helped make it seem like it was the Grizzlies’ to lose. When Mark Gasol got hit in the eye and the home crowd thought he flopped, I half expected a riot.
- I’m trying to stay diplomatic in the whole Vince argument, but the tribute the team did to him tonight was really classy and not as over-the-top as I expected. I’d imagine the over-the-top one will come at some other point.
- Yes, Memphis was missing a couple key guys, but this was a statement win – a comeback against the team with the best record in the league – made all the more impressive by the fact that it was Memphis who took the heavy punches for the first few quarters. When you can beat good teams playing THEIR style, you know you’ve got something. A great win that this team should be proud to hang their hat on, and unquestionably their most impressive of the season.
DeRozan was solid, Ross came alive, but here are the two plays that iced the game.
Chuck Hayes’s magnificent, glorious chargeDirect Link
Kyle Lowry’s late bucket to ice it and make it a two-possession gameDirect Link
More TearsDirect Link
Video of tribute as seen on TV:
Memphis arrives in Toronto with an NBA best 10-1 record on the heels of a rout of Houston. Timing is everything in sports and unfortunately the offensive explosion by the Grizzlies over the Rockets came at the worst possible time for the Raptors.
While Toronto has been idle since defeating Utah on Saturday the Memphis game versus Houston seemingly offered Toronto a small advantage. Unfortunately Memphis jumped out to an early lead en route to a Rocket thrashing allowing all their starters rest and simultaneously provided critical minutes for their bench who capitalized by appearing to finally gel. Prior to Monday the Grizzlies bench has been arguably their main weakness having been outscored in all but four of their eleven games.
More worrisome and disappointing for the home team will be the absence of James Johnson thanks to a severely twisted ankle courtesy of a camera woman’s annoyingly close placement to the end line. Any hopes we had of James Johnson being available were obliterated when Johnson was observed wearing an air cast Tuesday. Further compelling this frustration is Johnson historically has his best games facing former teams.
Certainly the Raptors will need to produce a full 48-minute effort on both ends, attack the boards with abandon and learn from the lessons of the Chicago loss to make up for Johnson’s absence. This season’s team has been touted as deeper and this match-up will test that assertion.
It may seem odd to place so much importance on one player’s absence given the new depth of the Raptors, but James Johnson has arguably been the second best player (sometimes best) on court through the Raptors 8-2 start.
With another test waiting in Cleveland this weekend the added pressure to win rests on the East’s top team who has yet to convince some pundits their record is more than favorable scheduling.
To that end, you might find the comparison of these two teams surprising; while I assumed Memphis would have huge advantages, analysis of their stats highlight two teams with virtually not much separating them.
Strength of Schedule:
Toronto has definitely benefitted from the unusually high number of home games to start the year and the caliber of talent they’ve faced. However their strength of schedule listed on ESPN.com as .483% is literally only one percentage point higher than Memphis who is listed at .482%.
Through the first 10-games of each team their opponents’ records are eerily similar:
- Toronto: 47-61
- Memphis: 42-66
Note: for comparison sake I omitted the Houston game which would push Memphis’ numbers to 51-68
Points For/Points Against:
- 1060 total points scored – 106.0 per game
- 964 total points against – 96.4 per game
- Point differential of +9.6
- 1083 total points scored – 98.4 per game
- 1006 total points against – 91.4 per game
- Point differential of +7
Note: Memphis’ numbers prior to the Houston game were: 96.4, 91.3 and + 5.1, so the win vs. Houston saw their numbers jump in offense and point differential by 2 points in their average.
Key Ranking Stats:
Points per game: 5th
Rebounds per game: 25th
Assists per game: 28th
Opposing points per game: 9th
Points per game: 18th
Rebounds per game: 24th
Assists per game: 18th
Opposing points per game: 1st
Traditional Stat Comparison:
- Field goal percent for both teams is 45%
- While Memphis has a better 3-point shooting percentage Toronto has been climbing the ranks after a poor start. In addition, Toronto averages an additional +7.1 attempts and +1.7 makes per game.
- Though Toronto gets to the line close to 4 additional times, don’t expect the whistles to be as friendly facing the Association’s number one team
- The area I was most shocked by was rebounding; I anticipated Memphis to have a huge margin on Toronto however they are fractionally better in every rebounding category.
Advanced Stat Comparison:
- The crux of tonight’s match-up on paper comes down to the slimmest of margins between the Raptors offensive advantage per 100 possessions: +3.7 versus the Grizzlies defensive advantage -3.5 per 100 possessions.
- Toronto plays at a quicker pace (+2.7 possessions per 48-minutes) than Memphis who will try to grind the Raptors into a slower pace.
Miscellaneous Stat Comparison:
- Examining the intangible factors once again Toronto has the edge on the offensive side and Memphis has the edge on the defensive side.
Note: The chart links take you directly to NBA.com, unfortunately the charts appear too small when copied as pictures
Positional Break Down:
Guards: Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan vs. Mike Conley/Tony Allen
Conley is arguably the most under rated point guard in the league and very adept at controlling pace, but this type of game is one Lowry has prepared for all summer. Expect Lowry to come out with that look in his eye with the goal of energizing the defense and getting everyone involved on offense early especially Valanciunas and Ross.
DeRozan faces another defensive specialist in Allen however DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble should tip the scale in his favor especially if his shot is falling early which will open the lanes for everyone. Historically Allen has played DeRozan tough holding him to some of his poorest scoring performances, however last season it appeared DeRozan was beginning to figure out Allen scoring 16 and 18 points respectively in the series.
Edge Raptors: Though Memphis will clog the paint the tenacity of Lowry will be the difference
Front Court: Terrence Ross/Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas vs. Courtney Lee/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol
Lee has been off to a blistering start shooting 56.6% from the field and 62.1% from behind the arc, so Ross will have his hands full. Ross has been steadily improving on the offensive end actually hitting the same number (2) of three’s as Lee per game. The key will be for Ross to keep Lee busy on the offensive end and to take the challenge of limiting him on the defensive end.
Without James Johnson available Amir Johnson will need to forget about his ankles and have one of his prototypical nights we’ve become accustomed to. Cagey vet Randolph defies all logic by his ability to pull in rebounds and score with equal aplomb while defying anti-gravity by barely ever jumping.
Valanciunas will best be served by remembering what the older Gasol brother did less than a week ago at the ACC and channel his effort from Saturday versus another European. Last year Valanciunas had two games at opposite ends of the spectrum vs. Memphis initially scoring 4 points with 7 rebounds and in the second excelling with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Gasol is already being cited as a potential MVP candidate and for good reason. Last season Memphis sputtered when he was injured, but his return ignited them to one of the best second half records. Gasol is arguably the best passing center and he captains the best defense of the Association.
Edge Grizzlies: This has the makings of an all out battle under the rim especially if Valanciunas and Johnson can utilize their younger bodies to protect the rim and take the battle to the grind house front court of the Grizzlies.
Greivis Vasquez/Lou Williams/Patrick Patterson/Tyler Hansbrough (Chuck Hayes/Landry Fields) vs. Beno Udrih/ Vince Carter/Jon Leuer/Quincy Pondexter/Kosta Koufos
Prior to James Johnson’s injury the Raptors had a distinct advantage in this area. While Memphis’ bench has only outscored their opponent four out of eleven games the Raptors in contrast had done so in all but one game. Besides, the thought of seeing a psyched up Johnson was ever so appealing.
Through the first 10-games our hockey line bench has scored an average of 35.9 points per game with a plus 10.1 point differential and our lowest scoring night was 27 points. In contrast Memphis’ bench averages 29.6 points per game with a negative 4.7 point differential and their lowest scoring night was 10 points.
The non-game related question regarding Memphis’ bench will center on how the ACC crowd responds to Vince Carter. A special film tribute scheduled to occur sometime during the first quarter will hopefully quell the boo birds who fairly have that right, but entering our twentieth anniversary this young franchise needs to start embracing and showcasing our history. Regardless of whether you like him or not, Vince Carter is the defining star of this young franchise. Personally, I can’t imagine recalling the franchise early years without referencing his historic slam dunk win or the associated pride many of us felt when it occurred.
Edge Raptors: Even without Johnson available the numbers are just too strong in Toronto’s favor. This would be the ideal night for Vasquez to break out of his slump and replicate his effort vs. Memphis from a season ago: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 of 5 from three.
Memphis will be looking to avenge the 2-losses the Raptors served up last season: 103-87 and 99-86 while the Raptors will look to make their own statement by continuing their current win streak vs. the Grizzlies. For this to occur Toronto should look to take advantage via their bench and potential three-point prowess which were keys to their success last season when the Raptors held Memphis below 28.6% and 25% respectively from three while they shot over 50% on both occasions. The boards will also play a big factor as whoever controls them will have the distinct advantage.
The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 194.
I’m antsy to make a call on this one in lieu of jinxing them but my gut says Memphis is due for a loss and the Raptors want to prove their mettle so I’ll predict a close game with the Raptors taking the win via a typical dominate fourth quarter.
As for Dwane Casey’s statement he won’t be making snow angels whether the Raptors win or lose – not to be contrary, but if Toronto manages to hand the NBA best Memphis squad just their second loss I’ll be the first to don my parka and make an angel, snow or not!
Enjoy the game and be sure to check back here for the post game quick react.
So far, the Raptors have succeeded in easing the burden on Lowry and DeRozan. Through 10 games, Lowry is playing a smidge more than 33 minutes compared to 36 last year, while DeRozan is at 34 instead of 38. The math is simple enough to figure out: Following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors were particularly thin on the wing last year, with the unreliable John Salmons as the primary backup to both DeRozan and Terrence Ross. That led to Casey playing DeRozan more often and also using two-point guard lineups frequently, which led to increased time for Lowry. Lou Williams and James Johnson have effectively replaced the exiled Salmons. Johnson’s versatility has given Casey more options on the wing, while Williams has played next to backup point guard Greivis Vasquez more than Lowry has. Johnson has a severely sprained ankle, and there is no timetable for his return. That will complicate Casey’s task, surely.
While talented, Memphis prides itself on its “grit-n-grind” identity, its throwback style of basketball. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol live in the paint, a pair of old school big men who can shoot the ball, but love backing down overmatched opponents. The Grizzlies also love to get after the opposition, pressing them into turnovers with quick hands and athleticism. Few do that better than Mike Conley or Tony Allen. “They are playing very, very well offensively and they play that grab, hold and hit style of defence that wins in the playoffs,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They’re one of the top teams in the league right now.” For Hansbrough, the biggest challenge will be containing the Grizzlies on the backboards. “It’s going to be a challenge, especially when you’ve got Zach Randolph and Gasol down there,” he admitted. “You’ve got to keep them off the glass, I think that’s going to be the most important part, kind of limit their easy touches down low and try to prevent them from getting the ball for offensive rebounds.
How will it go? No one can possibly know for sure. With Carter and his new team, the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, in town for a match-up of unlikely conference leaders, the Raptors will honour VC in a video tribute sometime during the first quarter as part of their continued 20th anniversary celebrations. It’s a decision that’s sure to spark controversy and awaken an ongoing, decade-long debate in and around Toronto: Does Carter’s Raptor legacy merit any kind of salute? And if so, to what extent and at what time is it appropriate? The breakup was unquestionably ugly, something that neither party is especially proud of, although no one has fully embraced their share of the blame. The franchise mishandled Carter for most of his tenure, especially towards the end. They failed to build a contender around him and alienated him with botched draft picks and the hiring of Rob Babcock.
It’s been buzzing around on Twitter for most of the afternoon: When the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Raptors tomorrow for their game at the ACC, the arena is set to play a video montage to honour Carter.
The team plans one of the many video tributes they are paying to icons of the past to help celebrate its 20th anniversary and no one is iconic as Carter, who will be honoured during a first-quarter timeout. Guessing the reaction is difficult because there are those who will not let go of a decade-long anger at Carter and how vociferous they will be can’t be told. But there is a greater context that should be taken into consideration. “Never mind what happened with him 10 years ago,” was the gist of the point the high-ranking team staff member made. “They should cheer him for what he did for basketball in Canada.” It’s tough to argue with that logic.
But I don’t want to see the Raptors become the Maple Leafs or, in some ways, the Toronto Blue Jays – the latter of whom have, mercifully, realized in recent years that there is a fine line between honouring back-to-back World Series winners and hitting the current group of players over the head with it. It wasn’t just “Flashback Fridays,” which led to underground printing of t-shirts that read “Turn The Page Tuesdays” by players in response. It was the constant reminders on the Rogers Centre video board; the constant feting. It is interesting that it took the return of Paul Beeston as president and chief executive officer for a new balance to be struck. It was Beeston, one of the faces of those back-to-back titles, who decided to low-key the 20th anniversaries of the 1992 World Series and the follow-up 1993 win.
The right ankle sprain suffered by Toronto’s James Johnson has been termed “severe” by the team. He’s out for this game and for the foreseeable future . . . The Grizzlies come in with the best record in the NBA — 10-1 after drubbing Houston in Memphis on Monday night . . . Conley left that game against Houston in the third quarter after getting hit on the shoulder . . . Grizzlies are considered the best defensive team in the NBA and up a league-lowest 91.5 points per game.
Entering his third year in the league, Valanciunas was expected to see an increased role in an offense that’s relied heavily on the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. As Lowry told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat back in September: “We can’t just do all guard-oriented types of things. We have to make sure he’s more involved and have to put a little pressure on him to score the ball.” While his numbers haven’t taken an enormous hit, Valanciunas has yet to establish himself as much of a low-post presence because, frankly, he hasn’t had enough of an opportunity to do so.
Lowry, who was a free agent this past offseason, could have signed elsewhere but elected to stay in Toronto, which finished with the No. 3 seed in the East last year. “I think the situation was perfect for me,” Lowry said. “We had 11 guys coming back. The continuity was there. Overall, I think it was the best situation for me to win and (be) a big part of it.” Lowry, 28, was a star at Villanova in the mid-2000s. He was drafted by Memphis, spent three seasons there, and then spent three seasons in Houston before signing with Toronto in 2012. Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds last season. This year, he is averaging 18.3, 5.8 and 4.8, respectively. Why did it take him so long to find his niche in the NBA? “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s just a thing where I took the right situation. The NBA is all about situation and opportunity. I believe the opportunity came and the situation is the right one. A lot of people go through that same type of situation and try to find themselves. For me, it took a little longer, but I’m happy I found it.”
“Faried was a fan favorite in Denver, but multiple sources with knowledge of the Nuggets’ thinking maintain the team “isn’t crazy about him,” particularly Shaw,” Arnovits reported. “But with Faried’s boffo showing last summer with Team USA and a loyal following in Denver, the media-conscious Nuggets caved, adding yet another imperfect 4-man to their lot.” The Raptors are expected to be one of the leading suitors for Faried because of the player’s association with general manager Masai Ujiri, the guy that drafted him 22nd overall in 2011.
The past few years have been tough on Raptors fans. Underwhelming performances, head-scratching trades and free agent signings, a long playoff drought; it seemed that almost anything that could have gone wrong, did. Things have changed for the better now. The Raptors have become a team that is expected to win their division and one that should be able to move past the first round of the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, fans can actually be optimistic about the season at hand. With the way the roster is structured, this feeling should become the norm for the next couple of seasons. Breathe it in and enjoy, Raptors fans, it’s been a while.
It is impossible not to notice the massive amount of Leafs history hanging from the rafters, but the arena and team have gone out of their way to ensure Raptors fans feel at home. There are large murals at the ends of the 500-level seats and a ring of ‘We the North’ banners top the 100-level section. Before entering the arena, fans will notice the massive black and white ‘We the North’ banner on Bay Street and this theme continues throughout the public-access Galleria as well as in the concourses. The arena’s exterior facade does well to incorporate the building’s history as the postal terminal for the city and ornate carvings of canoes, airplanes, and other historical delivery methods grace the stone walls. At the west end of the arena is Maple Leaf Square, rechristened Jurassic Park during the Raptors’ playoff run where tens of thousands of supporters packed the square and overflowed down Bremner Street to watch the game free on the big screen mounted to the side of the building.
Theyr’e going to play a video of Vince Carter at the ACC in the first quarter to “honour” him for his service to the Raptors. So, basically they’re doing what all Raptors fan do every few weeks or so on YouTube: nostalgically drool over Carter reverse-dunking on Chris Mullin, feeding Theo Ratliff his crotch, and having Dikembe Mutumbo smell his armpits, to name only few of the NSFW acts that Carter performed in his early but oh-so-memorable career.
<insert some generic lines here about the fractious relationship between him and the fans over the years and how Rob Babcock’s the real villain>
The whole saga has been regurgitated so many times that it’s lost any relevance it might’ve had, and this is coming from a guy who burned a jersey in New Jersey. The club, when it was sadly and somewhat reluctantly honouring former players on its fifteenth anniversary during a 40-42 season, chose to quietly ignore and thus deride Carter. It was a cringe-worthy elephant in the room which we all avoided eye contact with. Now, five years later, under a new regime keen on retrospectives and desperate to seek out historical relevance, the franchise is looking to formally mend it’s relationship with Carter, perhaps even paving a way for a retirement party held at Real Sports, which would be hosted by @MatterOfKat dressed in a purple Carter jersey, Oy vey.
I’d like to offer some more suggestions.
It’s fine to honour Vince Carter for the moments of joy he’s provided us, but I’d suggest that equal measures be taken to ridicule Rob Babcock for his contribution to my high blood pressure. Perhaps we can organize an effigy burning at halftime, complete with a rioting mob. We could even have Wayne Embry make a guest appearance to light the ceremonial first match, and have Chuck Swirsky do a live play-by-play as a crude version of Babcock is set to fire. At the end of it, Vince can collect the ashes and do a LeBron powder thing as the crowd goes nuts.
I’d say take it a step further and induce Level 99 nostalgia by having Vince play the first two minutes of the second quarter in a Raptors jersey. That just might bring the ACC crowd to the fetal position whilst sucking on their thumbs. Just as they’re recovering from seeing their long-lost hero throw one down on a confused Tyler Hansbrough, execute the ultimate encore by having Mugsy Bogues parachute down from the rafters to throw a perfect alley-oop to Vince, who, wanting to test the fans’ psychological limits, chooses to not dunk but lay it in, sending the crowd into sheer delirium.
It wouldn’t be a proper ceremony without a classic Vince injury so it’s best that perennial crock, Landry Fields, present Vince with specially made crutches which he can hobble off with as well-orchestrated jeers rain down from the ACC upper deck, with Drake looking on disappointingly. These jeers, of course, would be brought to you by BMO.
With the actual game now a distant memory, a man sitting courtside who everyone had noted as odd but ignored, tears off his suit, throws away the monocle, and tosses his bowler hat into the second row and reveals himself to be Tracy McGrady. A picture of Carter and McGrady is projected on the big screen and on to the court – the two hug and the game is called a draw. What a night!
Who would’ve thought that the health of James Johnson would hold such significance so early?
The former Raptors-reject is quickly becoming a cult hero of sorts, with his brazen approach to defense giving the Toronto faithful the type of hero we so subconsciously crave. Johnson’s defiant personality lends itself well to emboldening the “We The North” company line that the marketing department so wants us to subscribe to. Always inflamed, never feeling respected, and a man unto his own, Johnson is the poster-child for the type of identity the Raptors are trying to manufacture.
The bigger reason we’re talking about him isn’t, of course, his personality or his neck tattoos, it’s that he’s been playing very good two-way basketball. He’s recognized that the Raptors roster, though talented and brimming with potential, lacks a steely presence on the wing and has made the role his own. DeMar DeRozan may bring the scoring, Terrence Ross may occasionally delight with his mid-air theatrics, but neither are players that another wing in the league would fear being defended by. If anything, the opposite might be true: wings would seek out opportunities to play against them.
Not so much with James Johnson, at a mobile 6’9″ and 250 lbs, Johnson is 30 lb and 55 lb heaver than DeRozan and Ross, respectively. The unique bit about his size is that it doesn’t affect his lateral movements on defense because plays the angles and anticipates movement, rather than purely reacting. His lower body strength makes it very difficult for offensive players to back him down, meaning that the only variable that can fluctuate with him is effort and discipline, and he’s been stellar on both fronts.
The risk that accompanied his signing was that he may not accept his role and strive for something more than his talents afford, which is behaviour symptomatic of being on a losing team, something the Raptors were in his first stint. The tide has turned, though, and the Raptors are currently on winning ways, which serves to check Johnson’s innate but so-far controlled desire to ball dominate, in favour of team basketball.
The dearth of options at the wing will also exacerbate the impact of Johnson’s injury. Terrence Ross has shown very little in the way of being a defensive option, and even though he’s only in his third year, his defensive demeanour doesn’t exactly fill you with any hope that he’s going to bring the D in the 3-and-D. If a player like Avery Bradley can build a reputation of being a good defender in year two, there’s no reason that Ross – who has arguably better tools – should be this far behind.
Dwane Casey has completely lost trust in Landry Fields, and I’m sure the latter’s injury history isn’t helping either. On last check his elbow was as fragile as a dry twig. After that it’s Bruno Caboclo, who can’t get ahead of Fields. Even if he somehow managed to find his way into a uniform, Dwane Casey isn’t the type of coach that’s about to trust a 19-year old.
And so we find ourselves lamenting the potential loss of James Johnson, a player that you may have felt could be quite easily found on the periphery of the league, drifting between the D-League, Europe, and the association. Maybe the hurt felt by his potential absence speaks more to what the rest of the roster has to offer, than what Johnson brings, but one thing is definite: despite shooting only 20% from three (which was supposed to be his main offense) the Raptors need him.
Surprisingly, he’s featured mostly at power forward in Dwane Casey’s tempestuous flirtations with smaller lineups, which is different than last season in Memphis where he primarily played the three. It’s this versatility in combination with his defense that has him sitting firmly within Dwane Casey’s circle of trust. The offense he’s provided has been bonus, and has come at times where the team desperately needed a boost, likely due to Casey fielding all-bench lineups that went through scoring droughts.
What’s also attractive about Johnson’s offense thus far is that it’s a product of his defense. You won’t find many instances where he’s taking over a possession, or going rogue midway through the shot-clock. Instead, he’s managed to find his points in transition, usually after helping to create a turnover or low-percentage shot. It’s this pressure that he puts the offense under that is going to be missed, because the Raptors don’t have a like-for-like replacement for it. Kyle Lowry is the only wing player that tends to hound players above the free-throw line, and in combination with Johnson, it presents a formidable challenge for wings when Casey does decide to pressure.
With rebounding an issue, the Raptors have been relying on this pressure to anchor their defense, and it’s worked out to a 7th ranked TOV% of 14.1. With Johnson out, this prospects of the Raptors defense wills suffer, resulting in more possessions that the team will actually need to defend.
There was a pseudo-debate in the summer about what the greater area of concern was: backup center or small forward. As it stands right now, both are issues due to the mixed results put forth by Tyler Hansbrough, Patrick Patterson’s early season inconsistency, and Terrence Ross’s single-dimension play. James Johnson has, until now, done well to mask the deficiencies at small forward and provided a rather unexpected offensive thrust, but going forward who fills that role remains to be seen.
Injuries bring opportunities as well. In the podcast we talked about whether Ross would see more minutes or whether Casey would opt for stretching DeRozan. The latter is a risky ploy, especially with the new trend of reducing minutes in favour of fresher legs in the playoffs. With that in mind, testing Ross in extended minutes (currently playing 26.5, on par with last season) against a toughening schedule isn’t exactly attractive, but if there’s a time where you want to see what the third-year man is made of, this might be it.
“His ankle is tender,” Casey said on Monday. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. It’s a pretty good sprain on his ankle.” Casey would not give a timetable, and the Raptors do not have to say anything definitive regarding his health before Tuesday afternoon, the day before they play host to Memphis. However, nobody with the Raptors sounded particularly optimistic about his status. Johnson was on crutches after the game on Saturday night. It will be interesting, then, to see how Casey responds. The next-man-up philosophy would have Landry Fields in line to absorb most of Johnson’s 19 minutes per game. Casey has used a five-man bench unit a lot, to the frustration of some fans. Nonetheless, the group of five reserves — Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — has outscored opponents by an average of 26 points per 100 possessions in their 49 minutes together.
Johnson had been playing extremely well in his second tenure with the Raptors. He leads the team in blocks per game, ranks fourth in steals and assists and first among regulars in field goal percentage (57%). Casey said replacing Johnson would be “a gang effort” and indicated that DeMar DeRozan might spend more time at small forward, or little-used Landry Fields might see some minutes. “Someone’s got to take up that slot. Next man up: just because a man is down, the next guy behind him has got to be ready to play, to perform. Whoever that is. “Injuries are part of the NBA. That’s why you have 15 men to a roster.”
While the same size is still unquestionably limited, in the 194 minutes that Johnson has played this year, the Raptors are holding opponents to 89.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark of anyone on the team. They’re allowing nearly 19 points more (108.3) per 100 possessions in the 286 minutes he’s spent on the bench. Of course, so much of that is a testament to his versatility – his ability to switch off on almost any player, defending nearly every position on the floor and co-existing in whichever unit he’s out there with. Offensively, he’s been a pleasant surprise. “James has been playing very under control, within himself is what I like to call it,” Casey said ahead of Saturday’s game. “He watches film diligently and studies the film. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s cut down on a lot of those mistakes and playing within himself has really, really given him an opportunity to score more and have the ball in his hands and build the trust with him teammates.”
What makes this group click is they work together to find the best shot. Much of that has to do with the backcourt creating opportunities and then making the right decisions about when to shoot and when to pass.
This is a bit of an adjustment period for Vasquez, as he deals with slightly reduced minutes (21.5 to 18.5) and he’s struggled with his shooting (.340 FG% and .250 3P%) and he’s only averaging 2.5 assists per game. He seems to be pressing a bit when he’s out there, because opportunities are tight with the addition of Lou Williams and James Johnson in the perimeter rotation. I look at it all as a positive problem team-wise, yet something to keep an eye on to see if Vasquez will earn a bigger role (he and Kyle Lowry were quite effective together last season) as the season progresses. I love his energy, guts and swagger, but this means there’s lots of internal competition, which is good. Terrence Ross must be feeling it, too – if he’s inconsistent, I have no doubt that Dwane Casey, with greater options now, won’t hesitate to play a Vasquez, Williams or Johnson in his place, with which I agree. Again, this is a nice issue to have.
While Vásquez’s international connections will be a benefit to MoPals, the young guard indicated that his decision was partially motivated by his newfound Canadian connection. “I am committed to Toronto and to Canada,” he said. “I want to win championships and would love to stay here for as long as possible. I think Toronto is one of the greatest cities and Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. And this is my way of supporting my new home!”
Let’s be honest, outside of that seesaw opener against the Atlanta Hawks and the crushing of the Beal-less Washington Wizards, the Raptors opponents have been, ahem, lacking. Sure, they beat up on Orlando twice (and once, just barely), annihilated Utah in a fourth quarter assault, muscled their way past both Boston and Oklahoma City, and took a break playing that team from Philly (was that a regulation NBA game?) But they lost to Miami – a team they haven’t beaten since pre-Lebron 2010 (a team that “featured” Jermaine O’Neal). And they lost to Chicago – a team that will definitely be standing in their way in the playoffs.
I don’t get why he is riding the pine for the Raptors this season where he could get a lot of playing time and develop in the D-league.
“He’s cool under pressure,” Casey said recently. “He can get his own shot most times without screens, without help. . . He did that in Philly. He really didn’t have a chance to do that in Atlanta because of injuries. We have all of the confidence in the world that at the end of the quarter when the clock is winding down, that he’s going to get a good shot.” Williams — listed generously at 6-1 and 175 pounds — learned how to make up for his slight stature from another undersized player: NBA legend Allen Iverson. Williams played with Iverson in Philadelphia where the Sixers drafted him in the second round, 45th overall, right out of high school.
Entering the fourth week of the 2014-15 season the Toronto Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied with Golden State for the third best record in the Association. Though 10-games is a small sample size, looking at the numbers we can decipher some interesting facts as to why the Raptors have ascended to the upper tier.
Offensive Rating: Toronto ranks fifth in the NBA with 109 points scored per 100 possessions. A closer look has the Raptors in a virtual 3-way tie with New Orleans and Portland while Dallas is first and Cleveland has surged into second. Boston and Chicago are the two other Eastern teams who crack the top ten.
Defensive Rating: Toronto is tied for seventh with 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Eastern Conference has five teams who rank in the top ten defensively of which Milwaukee who ranks second is the only Eastern team in the top five. Washington ranks sixth, Indiana is ninth and Chicago completes the top ten.
Teams Ranked Top Ten in Offense and Defense:
Only four teams rank top ten in both offense and defense with an equal split of East and West representatives and once again Toronto makes the grade:
- Golden State: seventh in offense and third in defense
- Portland: fourth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
- Toronto: fifth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
- Chicago: ninth in offense and tenth in defense
Net Rating: Using the formula of taking a team’s offensive rating and subtracting their defensive rating provides the overall net rating. This principle reveals Toronto (8.4) as the highest ranked Eastern team sitting in fifth overall. Chicago ranks eighth, Washington is ninth and Cleveland tenth.
The net ranking isn’t necessarily the best way to isolate the top ten teams especially with teams who allow their opponent to score above the league average. Conversely a team who ranks in the top ten defensively and can put points on the board has a greater propensity to rise up the chart. For example, Houston was in the top ten offensively last week but following the low scoring game vs. Oklahoma on Sunday (69-65) they fell out of the top ten offense however still find themselves first in defense and third in net ranking.
To be fair this early in the season one game like this can completely skew the numbers and subsequently a team’s placement. Case in point the offensive explosion by Cleveland this week versus New Orleans (118), Boston (122) and Atlanta (127) found them jumping to second in offense (110.7) yet they rank twenty-fifth in defense allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions and of the 3-games above only held Atlanta under 100 points.
Turnovers: Toronto ranks first for fewest turnovers with 11.6 per 100 possessions. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider the amount of individual ball handling the Raptors utilize. Three other East teams rank in the top ten: Cleveland (4), Detroit (7) and Washington (8).
Free Throws: The Raptors rank second for Free Throws Made (24.4) and Attempted (31.4) behind Sacramento who ranks first in both categories. Cleveland (7th in attempts/5th in makes) and Chicago (9th in attempts/makes) join Toronto as the only other Eastern teams in the top ten. The Raptors get to the line because they aggressively take the ball into the paint and have three players in DeRozan, Lowry and Williams who are masters at drawing fouls from outside the paint.
Points: Toronto ranks fifth in scoring with 106 points per game. Two other Eastern teams in the top ten are Cleveland who ranks third with 107.9 ppg and Boston who is fourth with 106.6 ppg.
Plus/Minus: A category every team aims to be in the top tier is plus/minus differential which highlights how much a team is winning or losing by. Toronto rank second with a plus 9.6 per game average and are the only Eastern team in the top five. Chicago (4.3) and Cleveland (3.8) also make the top ten however their point differential is less than half of Toronto.
Opposition Turnover Rate: While Toronto is taking care of the ball with the fewest turnovers in the Association they are also forcing turnovers on the defensive end ranking third by forcing 18.9 per 100 possessions.
Steals: A category the Raptors have shown improvement in over last season is steals. Through the first 3-weeks Toronto is tied with Memphis in sixth with 8.5 steals per game.
Fourth Quarter Dominance: If there was one area Toronto wanted to carry forward this season it would be their league leading fourth quarter dominance. Happily this trend continues with the Raptors ranking first with a plus 4.9 point differential. Though other Eastern teams made the top ten none of them (Atlanta, Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte) factor into the top ten of the other main categories.
Clutch: Looking closer at how the Raptors perform in clutch situations we find the Raptors are by far the best team in the NBA with a 143 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. Looking at the top Eastern teams (Chicago, Cleveland, Washington) their closest competitor is Cleveland almost 30 points lower with 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Putting this into perspective Toronto’s clutch net ranking is plus 38.4 while Cleveland has a plus 9.6 differential.
Intangibles: This is another area the Raptors are showcasing their growth. Specifically, the Raptors rank third for the points they score off turnovers with 20.9 per game, sixth in scoring off second chance points with 14.8 per game and are tied for eleventh in fast break points with 12.9 per game.
Arguably more impressive is Toronto ranks first in not allowing teams to score when they do turn the ball over holding teams to 12.6 points per game and rank sixth for the amount of points their opposition scores on the fast break with 10.3. While there are definitely areas of the defense to clean up these stats highlight teams are not scoring as much this season in transition and Toronto is quick to respond on the defensive end following a turnover.
Miscellaneous: Other areas the Raptors are performing above average are PIE where they rank eighth, Pace where they rank eleventh and while they rank sixteenth in three point percentage this is a huge jump considering they’ve climbed from almost dead last the first week of the season.
Kyle Lowry: I’d love to take credit for my constant tweeting on the subject, but regardless of how it occurred Kyle Lowry climbed into the top ten MVP candidates this week. He makes his inaugural appearance at number 7 on the list. Considering the fact Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are ranked after our team captain it’s actually pretty heady company he joins.
Terrence Ross: Though there has been great debate on the boards regarding Terrence Ross’ growth or lack thereof this season the stats showcase some interesting numbers which point to his improvement:
- First in offensive rate – when Ross is on the court the team scores 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
- Defensive rank: of the starters Ross has the second best defensive rank (teams score 104.2 points per 100 possessions) which ranks him above DeRozan (104.5) Lowry (105.2) and Valanciunas (106.3) respectively
- Second in net rating for the starters with a +9.9
- Second on team for Pace behind only Vasquez meaning the team scores more often when he is on the court
- Ross’ 57% true shooting percentage and 51.8% effective field goal percentage ranks first on the team
- Surprisingly Ross ranks second in rebound percent with 51.3%
*Note: though Greg Steimsma and Landry Fields do register at the top of some categories they were removed from this analysis based on their lack of playing time.
Amir Johnson: Yes we all know he is playing injured, but the fact remains he is still the defensive mainstay on the Raptors even with James Johnson giving him a run for his money in some defensive categories. Amir ranks first in all rebound categories: 28.2% in offensive rebounds, 77.4% in defensive rebounds and 54% overall. His +11.9 net rating ties with James Johnson as team best. And, he ranks second in effective field goal percent (51.6%), third in true shooting percentage (56.1%) and has the highest PIE of the starters with 56%.
Raptors Who Rank in NBA Leaders:
- DeRozan ranks 16 with 21.2 points
- Lowry ranks 32 with 18.3 points
- Valanciunas ranks 28 with 8.0 rebounds
- Lowry ranks 20 with 5.8 assists
- DeRozan ranks 7 with 1.9 steals
Field Goal Percentage:
- James Johnson – 57.4% *10
- Amir Johnson – 55.8% *14
- Valanciunas – 50% *tied 32
- Lowry ranks 44 with 48.5%
Free Throw %:
- Vasquez – 93.3% *6
- Ross – 90.9% *10
- Patterson – 83.3% *42
- DeRozan ranks 46 with 82.8%
Three Point %:
- Amir Johnson- 50% *9
- Patterson ranks 24 with 42.9%
- Ross – ranks 29 with 41.7%
- James Johnson tied at 21 with 1.4
- Amir Johnson tied at 22 with 1.3
- Valanciunas tied at 22 with 1.3
*Note: these players do not appear on NBA.com leader board likely due to the number of attempts however their stats rank them as listed
Moving forward there are clearly areas the Raptors need to clean up, specifically lowering opposing team field goal percent as well as improving their rebound and assist totals. An argument can be made however that Toronto has been successful at driving the ball and getting fouled, affecting those assist totals. Certainly we’ll be watching closely as we move into the next ten games with a close eye to see which of the above categories improve.
For now the fact the Toronto Raptors find themselves once again in the top ten of both offense and defense in the league is definitely a positive to build upon. Today NBA.com and ESPN ranked the Raptors as the eighth best team behind only Chicago in the East.
Perhaps the best pronouncement of the early season came via Mike Fratello dubbed the Tzar and Rick Fox who exclaimed Saturday on NBA’s Game Time:
Fratello: “Excuse me, ah Chicago, Cleveland: Toronto is the number one team in the East!”
Fox: “Say it again – We The North!”
Enjoy the games this week as the Raptors face first place Memphis on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Friday and offensive juggernaut Cleveland on Saturday.
The podders look to make sense of Dwane Casey’s rotations in the aftermath of a week that saw the Raptors punch out the Magic and Jazz, but fail another early Eastern test against the Bulls.
- Bulls game
- Not doubling Gasol
- DeMar DeRozan v Bulls
- Big man lineup v Bulls
- Bench effective – but in a different way, assists down
- Hockey shifts again – does it work – analytics response?
- Magic/Jazz 1-3 quarters vs 4th quarter
- James Johnson injury – what’s the impact? Who steps up?
- Does Terrence Ross have it in him to step up?
- Lisa Ann talk
- Freedom given by Casey to Ross
- Jonas Valanciunas – best rebounder, worst playing time
- Valanciunas playing with fear…of the coach
- Reasons why JV’s playing time is reduced
- Completely uninformed speculation on JV’s personal life
- Is JV’s lack of mobility being addressed the right way?
- Going small – conditions where it works; tradeoffs
- Big man depth coming back to bite
- Rebounding to be tested vs Memphis
- Vince Carter boo birds will be out
- DeMar DeRozan vs Tony Allen – Will DeRozan do anything different?
- James Johnson availability vs LeBron James
- When will Bruno play? The politics of veteran presence
- Under what scenario will Landry Fields play
- Raptors excellent FT shooting – reasons for excellence – not just DeRozan
- TNT’s wrong analysis
- Zarar shows his age again
Two things I’d like to see Valanciunas change in his game: (1) Stop with all of the shot fakes. He can hit a mid-range jumper. If you are open, fire away, without hesitation. Faking, putting it on the floor and attacking isn’t the best option for Valanciunas given he is a 7-footer without ridiculous speed and athleticism and because he also doesn’t protect the ball well enough. Again, he can make those shots and should take them. The exception would be when he is closer to the bucket and can use an up-fake to set up the driving hooks which have turned into a solid part of his game. (2) Valanciunas must take better care of the ball. He brings it down too low too often — something players are usually taught not to do — which leads to strips, steals, caroms off of feet, etc. But he’s getting there and the more confidence Casey and his teammates show in him, the better he will be.
Consider the player efficiency rating that ESPN uses to gauge and compare individual rating based on per-minute productivity. Despite being a defensive specialist, which is one area that outside of blocks and steals doesn’t really get measured by this formula, Johnson is still the second-highest rated Raptor on the list behind only Kyle Lowry. Johnson’s PER is a stunning 20.91 which is 37th best in the NBA. Lowry’s PER of 23.08 puts him 18th overall in the league. It’s not a perfect stat but it is the best one in terms of measuring the impact on a game a player has. Johnson’s per game average of 7.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and almost a steal a game doesn’t sound like a huge deal but when combined speak to the impact he has had on the Raptors’ early-season success.
It remains to be seen how this coupling of a young yet old man and very much the same guider will take the Raptors, but it’s impressive to consider how far they have come. DeRozan is an NBA all-star, Casey is mentioned these days in discussions about the better coaches in the league and it’s large part because of the relationship. Those values, those traits they unequivocally display, have everything to do with where they are and how far they’ve come and will be the thing they most remember. “I think you appreciate a person even more when you go through the tough times with them,” said DeRozan. “When you see success after that, it’s special.” Special, like the two old souls from different eras who are far more similar than they are different.
To date, the Raptors have done just that by accumulating a record of 8-2, and putting themselves alone atop the Eastern Conference at the ten game mark. But where things appear to be going swimmingly for Toronto, a problem exists below the surface … DeMar DeRozan is struggling to match his output from last year. This isn’t to say that DeRozan is playing poorly (his Player Efficiency Rating is higher than last year), but he has yet to show the regular improvement in production that has defined his career to date. A notoriously hard worker, both in and out of season, DeRozan is renowned for his work ethic and ability to add to his game each offseason. So far this year, DeMar has instead displayed a regression in a variety of different areas.Simply put, prior to Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, there has been something wrong with DeMar DeRozan this season.
Most of the Raptors fourth quarter scoring differentials have been 5 points or less, however, what is worth noting is Toronto’s tendency to pour it on when needed at the end. Toronto only led the Thunder by 3 points heading into the final period and used a 27-18 quarter to pull away for the win. At home to Orlando, Toronto trailed by 11 after the third and used a 32-17 outburst to pull out the 4 point win. On Saturday the Raptors used a strong third quarter to get a 4 point lead over the Jazz and then blew the game open with a 35-21 fourth quarter.
Last night’s game was the perfect example of the difference between a winning team and a losing team.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
In the NBA, just about any team can stick with any other team for three quarters. This often gives fans of losing teams a poor indication of just how far they are to being a winning team. We saw it last night, with the Jazz keeping pace with the Raptors for most of three quarters, last night, before succumbing to lack of talent, youth and poor decision-making.
If you just watched the first half of the game, then what you saw was a Utah Jazz team that might have looked on the same level as the Raptors. At halftime, the Jazz were ahead by three points, were shooting about the same from the field and were more than doubling them in assists (more on that later). In fact, the Jazz really looked like they were in control for most of the game, up until that point.
The clue was the fact that despite the Jazz looking like they were doing everything they wanted and appeared as though they were outplaying the Raptors, Toronto was always hanging around. Because that’s what good teams do.
Raptor fans can probably remember being on the other end of that, when the Raptors would look like they were outplaying one of the better teams in the league, except they could never put the game out of reach, and most of the time the better team ended up winning.
Now the Raptors are one of the better teams.
In my pre-game analysis, there were three things I highlighted to watch for, and all three made appearances in the first half. After a couple of poor shooting games, DeMar DeRozan went 5-8 in the first quarter, including making a very nifty pass to Valanciunas on a drive. And Valanciunas went 3-4 and grabbed five rebounds, playing as aggressively as we’ve seen him all season. In fact, he had, by far, his best game of the season, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds while playing a season high 34 minutes.
Casey has apparently attributed Valanciunas’ lack of minutes to matchups and the opposing teams playing small-ball, but my feeling is that Casey too often lets the other team’s coach sets the tone rather than force him to adapt to what Casey wants to do. It obviously helps if Valanciunas is playing well, because when he is there aren’t a whole lot of teams that can match up with him.
While the first quarter did look good for DeRozan and Valanciunas, it was also a continuation of two troubling trends for the Raptors. The first is the team’s penchant for one on one play. We saw that in the just 2 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and the 15 assists on 43 field goals for the entire game, for an assist rate of just 35%.
On the other side, the Jazz had 10 assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter, and 22 assists on 33 field goals for the entire game. That’s 67% of their field goals off of assists.
If the Raptors want to get to that next tier, then that’s going to have to change.
This also brings up the other trend, which is teams driving the ball on the Raptors and getting open shots. At the beginning of the season, one of the things I mentioned I wanted to see on defense is less help and less scrambling, which tends to lead to more open looks, especially from three. And we saw that last night, with the Jazz getting a ton of open looks early before getting cold in the second half.
But the Raptors did end up winning, and let’s look at some of the reasons for that.
As I said, the Raptors’ play for most of three quarters was not all that much to write home about. But like all good teams, when it mattered most, guys like Valanciunas, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez all came up big, hit big shots, grabbed big boards and made big plays. And keep in mind three of those four players are bench players.
With the game on the line, the difference between the Raptors and Jazz was glaring. While the Raptors made plays and did what they needed to do, the Jazz too often resorted to forcing plays and trying to do too much. Suddenly the passing stopped and the one on one play began. In fact, in the second half, the Jazz only had 6 assists to the Raptors’ 8.
This is the difference between the teams that win and the teams that lose.
The Jazz may have some nice, young talent (and I was very impressed with what I saw from Dante Exum, despite his turnovers- I think he may be starting by this time next season), but they are still a ways off from being a winning team.
The Raptors are already there.
Last time I saw a guy get this high, Keon Clark was on the team.
|Amir Johnson, PF 23 MIN | 0-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +9He looks like he’s playing at 60% so the couple of days off will do him some good. I still think the starting unit plays better defense when he’s on the court, especially Valanciunas and Ross. His stats don’t jump out at you, but a key block and assist (when they were in short supply) in first half were pivotal.Came out more aggressiveness defensively in second half. In conjunction with Jonas they manned the paint much better which forced Kanter and Favors into more outside shots. The minute he left the game in the third quarter the Jazz got back to back scores inside the paint.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +9Held Gordon Hayward scoreless in first quarter and to just 12 overall which is big considering Hayward averages 19.9 PPG. Delivered a sweet pass to Jonas in the paint. He tweaked his ankle, had to get it re-taped, but returned late in the second. Obviously the ankle wasn’t that hurt based on that awesome dunk in the third.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 34 MIN | 7-12 FG | 3-6 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +20It’s no secret Jonas gets up for games versus Enes Kanter and tonight was no exception. We’ve been urging him to go up with force at the rim and tonight he delivered in that regard both in scoring and rebounding. Near the end of the second quarter he fought off three Jazz players for the offensive board and got the score (off a goal tending call).His BEST game this season.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 8-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +19Distributed the ball early specifically making sure to get Valanciunas and DeRozan rolling. Attacked the paint but the refs weren’t obliging with the whistle.Came out to start the second half with a purpose after the half making sure to move the ball up court quickly, ignited the team with his energy and spearheaded the scoring which saw the Raptors overtake the Jazz on the score board.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 10-17 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 27 PTS | +17If you think he doesn’t care or isn’t aware he’s had two consecutive tough games his 10 point first quarter tells you otherwise. Three times in the first half when the Jazz collapsed on him he passed out of the double and triple teams quickly.After a first half with zero trips to the line he was determined to get there in the second half (5-6 in 3rd).|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2It’s hard to knock someone who plays with so much intensity. We know every game what we’ll get from him: he’ll fight for every board and attempt to block every shot whether he’s successful or not you can’t deny the effort.|
|James Johnson, PF 14 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +1What superlative can I use that hasn’t been already said. He has become the main defensive presence on the floor and is using solid decisions with the ball in his hand. If he keeps this up he’ll need to be considered for Defensive Player or Sixth Man at year end.Turned his ankle pretty badly which affected his minutes late (or I’d rate him even higher). Hope he’s healthy for Memphis game because he epitomizes a player who gets up to play versus his old teams as witnessed against the Bulls|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +9His shot wasn’t falling from behind the arc in the first half but he was aggressive on the offensive boards and we saw him work inside the paint more. Overall a workman type effort.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +1He was better than his last outing however it still feels like he is looking for his shot more than distributing. Lets hope over time he will develop a chemistry with his court mates which will make the bench even more deadly. Got his shot rolling in the 4th.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +7Was missing in the first half, but as he showed in the fourth quarter he can still get hot at any time. Kind of reminds me of the old adage shooters who miss, just keep shooting until they hit. Giving him an extra mark just for taking a charge with the Raps up 16.|
The win ties Lenny Wilkins for second most in Raptor history (113). Now he’ll set his sights on Sam Michell who ranks first with 156.It’s hard to fault him for the Raptors defensive lapses because as always he is on the sideline screaming at them to pick it up. Gets a higher than average score for playing Valanciunas extended minutes and for tying Wilkins with second most wins in Raptors history.
Five Things We Saw
- Raptors are now 5-1 at home and 4-1 in their current home stand. Of note: last season Toronto got their eighth win on December 13th.
- Raptors still have a tendency to relax against teams they feel they can beat. On more than one occasion tonight they got up by 5 or more points only to relax on the defensive end. This was specifically notable when both Amir and Kyle weren’t in the game which showcases how pivotal they are to the teams’ energy and defense.
- Raptors didn’t get a free throw until 2:54 remaining in second quarter. Got 21 in the second half to make up for it.
- Utah Jazz have a young athletic team who is playing with a great deal of confidence. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would likely be a playoff team.
- Don’t ever underestimate DeMar DeRozan! He is a student of the game and a hard worker so the fact he was looking to pass out of double teams and mix up his offensive variety tells me he’ll do whatever it takes to make the team better.
Let’s face it, the Utah Jazz aren’t generally on most people’s must-watch list, even when they were a good team. Back when Stockton and Malone were pick and rolling their way around the NBA, they were most people’s definition of boring (truth be told, they were actually one of my favourite teams, then). And now that they aren’t winning, no one is lining up to see the team. On Grantland’s annual NBA League Pass rankings, the Jazz came third last (the Raptors came 11th).
That’s not to say there isn’t reason to watch this game. First of all, it’s likely the Raptors will get a win, since they aren’t likely to lose two in a row at home, after losing a tough one against the Bulls Thursday.
The Jazz have some nice, young talent and their future looks fairly bright. Gordon Hayward may not be underpaid, after striking it rich in the offseason, he’s rarely mentioned among the top young players in the league despite his all around talent. This year might change that. Although it’s early, he’s averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding, seems to have regained his shooting touch he had early in his career and is doing his best to earn his paycheque.
Another player who seems to finally be living up to his potential is Derrick Favors (or Favours, when he plays in Canada). The key player coming back to Utah in the Deron Williams trade, Favors improved marginally each year, but never made the leap most expected of him. This year he’s scoring 16.3 ppg on 53% shooting, while still being a force on the defensive end and on the boards.
Enes Kanter has not improved nearly as much as one would have hoped, since the Jazz took him at number three, in 2011 (two spots ahead of Valanciunas), but he’s still a serviceable center who can rebound, defend and score a little bit. And he’s still only 22 years old, so it’s a little early to write him off just yet.
And then there’s the Australian.
When the Jazz chose Dante Exum with the 5th pick, it certainly wasn’t unexpected, but there were many who pegged Exum as a bust. The entire basketball resume consisted of a Nike Hoop Summit and a few international games, which made a lot of people very uncomfortable about making any judgements on him.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose touted him as the next lottery bust.
But then in preseason, he started to turn heads. That’s not to say he’s going to be an All Star anytime soon, and his numbers certainly don’t jump out at you, but he’s definitely got talent. And five years from now, it’s doubtful the Jazz will regret taking him where they did.
The Jazz are sitting at just 4-6, but they are coming off a big win in New York last night. But the Raptors are going to be on a mission after their loss.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Is DeRozan Slumping?
As William Lou already pointed out, we’ve seen a drop in DeRozan’s offensive production, so the question is whether he’s slumping, or team’s are starting to figure him out. In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. DeRozan is a good scorer from inside the arc, but he’s still not a consistent threat from three and his defense still leaves a lot to be desired.
He’ll no doubt figure it out soon and return to his regular production, but until then the Raptors need to make sure they get offensive production from elsewhere.
When Will Casey Unleash Valanciunas?
Jonas hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in a game so far, and is now averaging fewer minutes than in his rookie season. But while his shooting percentage is down, his production is actually career highs in just about every other category. He just can’t stay on the floor.
Valanciunas has struggled defensively, this year, and he’s still got the maddening habit of bringing the offense to a grinding halt when he gets the ball in the post, which makes actually going to him counter productive.
Despite the WInning, Are There Things To Be Concerned About?
The Raptors are in 5th and 6th in Defensive and Offensive Rating, and are tied for first in the East, so does that mean there’s nothing wrong?
Apart from DeRozan’s struggles, the Raptors are right near the bottom of the league in assists, which tends to mean a lot of one on one play. Teams can defend this unless you’ve got a Kobe or LeBron, so improving ball movement should definitely be a priority.
The Jazz actually have a decent starting five but the Raptors could be better at every single position.
The Jazz’s bench is very young and very shallow. No contest.
The Jazz don’t Tyrone Corbin, anymore, so no matter what, this is a plus over last year. Quin Snyder might be a good coach, but it’s too early to tell.
The Jazz may give it a run, but are overmatched.
Score: Raptors 105 – Jazz 98
DeRozan’s 3-for-17 performance last night highlighted many worrying trends.
It’s been a trying season for DeMar DeRozan.
Saddled with the responsibility of carrying a team with playoff hopes, DeRozan is struggling to find the tricky balance between being assertive and being stubborn.
Small sample size caveats apply, but his numbers though nine games bare out his troubles. 20.6 points and 8.8 free-throw attempts per game is nice, but they’re underscored by a nasty mix of a career-high 29.4 usage rate with a career-low 50.1 true-shooting percentage. Even more worrisome, his assist rate has dropped back to near career-norms at 13.3, down from 18.9 last season. He’s shooting worse, shooting more, and passing less.
To be fair, it’s very early in the season, and DeRozan has plenty of time to turn his season around.
But some worrying trends are emerging. His trying performance last night against the Bulls — in which he scored 10 points on 17 shots — highlighted many of his struggles this season.
Settling for jumpshots
He is one of the best midrange shooters in the league. I know, he’s an analytical nightmare.
DeRozan’s heavy reliance on the midrange game is ultimately his most divisive trait as a player. It’s his bread and butter, and when his shot is falling, his game looks utterly unstoppable. And as noted by Casey, DeRozan is a decent midrange shooter. He regularly shoots over 40 percent on shots between 10-16 feet out, putting him in the company of players like Carmelo Anthony in terms of midrange accuracy.
In the abstract, the shot is fine. DeRozan usually gets decent separation from his defender on his attempts, and it’s an easy play for the Raptors to run. However, DeRozan runs into trouble when he becomes over-reliant on his jumper.
Take the play below, for example. DeRozan receives a hand-off from James Johnson, sets his feet, and pulls up over Jimmy Butler.
Again, the shot is fine. But pay close attention to how Butler is playing the shot. He dares DeRozan into the attempt, being perfectly content in sitting back to guard the drive. It’s all about process — 40 percent on a two-point shot is a good outcome for the defense.
Even more important is the context. The Raptors were trailing by 16 midway through the fourth, and DeRozan had only hit one jumpshot on a dozen attempts up until that point. Settling for semi-contested jumpers early in the shot-clock isn’t the ideal way to revive a team.
It’s all about balance. DeRozan isn’t going to stop shooting midrange shots, nor is anyone suggesting that he abandon his favorite weapon. It’s a matter of him picking his spots. Against the right match-ups, pulling up is fine. But settling for jumpers with the team in a hole isn’t smart.
Put it another way: DeRozan is averaging 7.3 pull-up attempts per game, connecting on 34.8 percent of his attempts thus far. Conversely, Rudy Gay is also pulling up 7.3 times per game, but he’s shooting 39.4 percent. When you’re shooting worse than Gay on jumpshots, it’s time to reevaluate the strategy.
Relying on the whistle
DeRozan’s greatest strength on offense is undeniably his ability to toe the stripe. He is averaging 9.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes played, which ranks fourth among all players this season. The only three players ahead of him are two unstoppable centers in DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, and the Eurostepping, head-whiplashing James Harden. This is a really strong trend.
The endeavor for free-throws is good. Aside from open shots around the basket, free-throws are an extremely efficient result, especially for a good shooter like DeRozan. Drawing contact and going to the line is something DeRozan does well, and something he should continue doing.
However, DeRozan has made a habit of sometimes driving wildly in hopes of the bailout. At times, it works, especially against weaker defenders. But when the whistle doesn’t come, like on the play below, DeRozan has no counter.
Therein lays the struggle with hunting for free-throws. The outcome of being awarded with two free-throws is good, but being solely reliant on the whistle isn’t. DeRozan doesn’t have a second option on the play above. It’s either get fouled, or launch a bad shot. It’s made worse by DeRozan’s incessant complaints to the officials.
Posting up bigger players
DeRozan’s hard work over the summer added a new weapon to his arsenal: the post-up game. He flashed signs of a decent post-up game last season, but he abandoned it after the Rudy Gay trade.
This season, DeRozan has made a point to attack in the post, bearing mixed results. Against smaller defenders, DeRozan has looked solid. Here’s a breakdown I wrote about DeRozan punishing Magic guard Evan Fournier. His footwork is solid and his strength allowed him to back Fournier deep into the paint.
However, against bigger players, DeRozan’s post game amounts to little more than fadeaway jumpers.
Using the fadeaway as a counter is fine. DeRozan gets good elevation and the shot is mostly clean. But ultimately, it’s the same dichotomy with all his midrange shots. Jimmy Butler knows exactly what he’s doing on the play above. He takes away DeRozan’s ability to step through by leaning on his left, and giving him the fadeaway, just like two GIFs prior, when he took away the drive leaving DeRozan with only the jumper.
The trouble is, the fadeaway is DeRozan’s only counter in the post against bigger players. DeRozan either shoots a low percentage shot, or kicks it out to reset the offense. It’s a bad outcome either way. He either needs to develop a more effective counter, or scrap the idea of posting up bigger players altogether.
In all fairness, DeRozan has improved significantly on defense through the first six seasons in the NBA. Although he isn’t a lockdown defender by any means, DeRozan has progressed to the point where he isn’t just a defensive sieve.
However, there are occasions where DeRozan takes nights off defensively, mostly in an effort to save energy for offense. That was the case last night.
Here’s DeRozan making a feeble attempt to fight through a screen.
Here’s DeRozan caught slipping while ball watching.
Conserving energy on defense is a fine idea in general, especially because DeRozan is counted upon to shoulder such a heavy burden on offense and in terms of minutes played.
But on nights where the match-up is clearly swung out of favor, DeRozan needs to admit defeat and find ways to contribute otherwise. Getting shut down by Butler is fine — he’s one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. Constantly falling asleep on defense is not.
As a closing note, it’s early in the season, and I’m confident that DeRozan can turn it around. However, there are a few worrisome trends starting to emerge. Hopefully, DeRozan can nip them in the bud, and return to all-star form.
It’s a shame that the Raptors and Bulls had to play the second half last night. Had the game ended at half, this post would have essentially been a James Johnson celebration with .gif after .gif of James Johnson casually eurostepping over and around Doug McDermott to bucket after bucket. Unfortunately for us all, both teams came out for the third quarter, where one team played basketball, and we’re left instead with a second loss in the column and an empty void where that James Johnson love letter would have been.
The Raptors played their first game on national US TV since 2002 last night. Perhaps in an effort to show viewers what they’d been missing in that time, the team seemingly tried to pack in the entire Raptors fan experience over the previous twelve years into that one game. They came out going shot for shot with a championship contending team: the 2014-15 Raptors. In the second quarter, their bench unit went on a surprising and highly entertaining tear by James Johnson and the backup point guard to take them into the half with a 7-point lead: the 2011-12 Toronto Raptors. The team then came out for the third and got slapped in the face in the third quarter, getting trounced at both ends, with DeRozan unable to sink anything and the defense looking as unorganized as it ever has under Dwayne Casey, with strange lineups and substitutions only seeming to make things worse: the 2002-12 Raptors. After curiously keeping most of the starters on the bench until well into the 4th quarter, the Raptors fought back into the game, got hot from 3, locked down on defense and got huge plays from Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson to bring the game to where you started getting excited that they might pull off the comeback, only for them to run out of time and lose a close one: the 2012-14 Raptors. It was an interesting collage of teams on an emotionally draining run down memory lane. Hopefully next time we can just watch the 2014-15 Raptors the entire time; they’re a lot more fun.
Let’s keep our Toronto sports fan DNA in check for another couple of days if we can and try not to overreact to a second straight bad-shooting night for DeMar. They happen, and they especially happen against Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibideau. Jimmy Butler vs. DeMar DeRozan was billed on TV as the key matchup coming in to the game, and Butler came out the decisive victor in that category. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Butler is really, really good defensively. DeRozan struggled against his size backing him down into the post and trying to create space to shoot over him. Butler is too smart and the Bulls too well coached to give up free throws to DeRozan in the mid range, which is something he is often able to do against other opponents. And the Thibideau defense has always given Toronto’s side attacking offense fits in the paint, where it’s weakside rotations are always able to bring in help to bolster an already waiting Noah or Gibson, who are terrors at the rim on their own. DeRozan couldn’t find any space in the paint and only took 4 free throws all game. It happens. Enes Kanter is not Noah, Quin Snyder is not Coach Thibs and the Utah Jazz, while spry, are very much not this Chicago Bulls team. So keep those overreactions in check and look for DeMar to bounce back against the Jazz on Saturday.
The stories of Pau Gasol’s demise have been wildly exaggerated. He destroyed us last night. Anyone who watched Gasol in the 2012 Olympics or 2010 finals shouldn’t be surprised. He is a really, really good scorer. If you know any Lakers fans, you might enjoy showing them Pau’s highlights from last night and asking them how they’re enjoying the Carlos Boozer experience in his stead. Mike D’Antoni is starting to look better and better to Lakers fans everyday right now, but as helpful as a comparison to Coach Byron Scott might be for one’s legacy, let’s not forget how dead wrong D’Antoni was about Pau. D’Antoni essentially put Pau out to pasture the last two seasons. Crazy. That guy can still play. Gasol killed us last night on 12 of 19 shooting for 27 points with 3 blocks and 11 boards.
The Hansborough & Patterson Defensive Experience
Yikes. I hope Hansborough is OK, after falling hard in the 4th quarter trying to bail out a spectacularly bad defensive possession with one of his patented fouls. But he was as bad as he he’s ever been on the defensive end last night, against a Chicago offence that, while improved (they’ve topped 100 points in every game but one this season) has been well outside the league leaders under the current regime. During the Bulls 3rd quarter surge and early in the 4th quarter, the Bulls badly exposed Hansborough and Patterson while Casey steadfastly sat Valanciunas and rested Amir’s ankle. While rim protection is usually the hole in this pairing, the Bulls exposed them individually. Hansborough got completely out of place on defense repeatedly, and was left scrambling after easy layups like an oddly enthusiastic, forever beardless version of James Harden. Credit to the Bulls for briefly looking like the Spurs over this stretch, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Bulls were running simple movements off of one or two actions with their big men and turning it into uncontested layups at the rim for a big. That can’t happen. Hansborough was sprinting out to the 3 point line to challenge a Joakim Noah 3-pointer that is never going to happen. Two possessions later he left Noah wide open to cut to the rim in an attempt to double team an 18-foot Gibson jumper. There is no reason for any of that. Patterson, for his part, was problematic in the other direction. He was borderline laid back about switching and unconcerned with denying space or the ball. It’s as if he feels like he has to be the unproductive chill ying to Hansborough’s less than helpfully frantic yang. Casey’s face vacillated between anguish and rage whenever the camera would show him during this stretch. It wasn’t enough for him to, you know, make a substitution, but I can guarantee it’s going to come up in practice.
Amir Johnson has been the glue guy on this team forever. But the difference defensively when he is on the court, and offensively when his ankle is letting him run as he did in the comeback 4th quarter last night is absolutely huge. I dream of a world where a healthy Amir can play a Thibideau-inspired 40 minutes a game.
Jonas found himself burdened with a spot on the bench through most of the second half, despite being on pace for a comfortable double-double with 8 points and 8 boards in just 23 minutes. Jonas is so close to putting so many different parts of his game together, but admittedly still not quite there on much of it. One thing that stood out last night was his screening. Jonas approaches the perimeter with enthusiasm—he is more than willing to play his role. But just as he handicaps his post game by hesitating upon catching the ball, he’s similarly hesitant to establish his picks. There may be reasons for this, such as to keep the defender guessing as to which side the screen is coming from, but it isn’t working out. More often than not Valanciunas ends up a full half step behind where his screen should be or find that the wing defender is able to jump around it before he’s even set. Valanciunas is enormous, this shouldn’t be happening. Kyle Lowry has adapted to Valanciunas’ style of screen and used it to dance around for open spot-ups. That can get some open looks, but there is a pot of gold waiting to be found if they can figure out the pick and roll. Marc Gasol is no more limber on his feet than Jonas is, and of similar size, and his screens consume defenders whole. Valanciunas needs to focus on setting firmly into place earlier and ensuring his seal. Right now, he’s losing out on pick and roll opportunities and too often relying on the ball handler to carry him through the play. Valanciunas is scoring on floaters and 4-foot push shots instead of dunks when rolling because he’s allowing both defenders to be an active part of the pick-and-roll defense. It looks as if he understands this; but he’s just a little hesitant or unsure of himself. He’ll get there.
James Johnson is our silver lining of the night, going 6 for 6 in the second quarter and completely ruining Doug McDermott’s night. James Johnson has perfectly filled the defense/scoring/aggression void at the forward spot in the roster. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Johnson was an interesting but tempered and inefficient player during his first run with the Raptors, and his subsequent stint in Sacramento, where smart basketball spent the last near decade going to die, didn’t help. Sacramento has, until this season’s start, been a place where interesting and highly redeemable players (see: Patterson, Patrick and Vasquez, Grievis) go to be forgotten in a myriad of chucking, bad defense and worse chemistry. But as anyone slugging out the second half of the season watching the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies on league pass last year can tell you, James Johnson was a wildly underrated part of that team’s dominant post-all star game stretch of play. So far Toronto has gotten the Memphis Johnson and not the Sacramento one. At this rate, if Masai is able to get anyone who’s wasting away on the Sacramento Kings bench, I’m automatically typing him in as a key contributor (I see you Carl Ladry, I see you).
To bring things to an end: yes, the Raptors lost. For the most part, it was not an overly well played game either. They got beat. But let’s walk away from this game with this possibly insane and absolutely biased question. Looking at the whole picture and the season so far, am I crazy, or are you completely OK and maybe possibly even happy to have Kyle Lowry instead of Derrick Rose on your team?
The Chicago game clearly showed that we’re not a top tier team in the East yet (let alone the league as a whole) and are solidly second-tier. So what do we need to reach the next level? What’s your solution?
You prove something every night, but Thursday night was a test. It was the first time the Raptors had a regular season game on national TV in the United States since 2002, in a game where Hakeem Olajuwon was a Raptor, and Patrick Ewing played for Orlando. As someone who was there put it, “oh, it was sad. They were blocking their own shots.” This was a big stage, and the best team Toronto has faced. Before it started, Masai Ujiri looked out at the court and wondered what would happen, what he would learn. Tim Leiweke bounded around like a great puppy, hugging people and laughing. Amir Johnson bounded out of a room saying “Big game, TNT baby, TNT.” It’s a small thing, a Thursday night game, in the grand scheme of the league. For some teams, it’s routine. Not here. And there were no evident nerves, not really. There wasn’t any stage fright. DeMar DeRozan forced some shots, and Greivis Vasquez tried to dunk on the six-foot-10 Nikola Mirotic, but at least those were aspirational mistakes. The officiating let some heavy contact go, but that’s the game. That’s one of the central challenges of Chicago — you have to match their will. “It’s a Chicago team with the toughness and physicality that you’ve got to defeat,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, beforehand. “They added a cerebral winner in Pau Gasol, who’s won championships before. But they’re a team that we compete well against as long as we meet their level of intensity and physicality on both ends of the floor. Everybody talks about defence, but against this team, you’ve got to be physical on offence, and bust through their grabbing and holding and that type of thing.”
Casey spent the better part of the past two days talking about the physical challenge the Bulls presented and how his Raptors would have to match it to have any hope of staying with them. Through the first half, and certainly the fourth quarter, the Raptors did just that but the 35-14 pounding the Bulls put on them in the third settled the matter for all intents and purposes. “You know that is the kind of game you’re going to have against (Chicago) and it’s a hard game to play,” added Casey. “But you have to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps and grinds.” The Raptors actually had a seven-point lead at the half and were feeling pretty good about themselves before the Bulls stole every bit of momentum and then some back in the third. “We let them get in a rhythm,” shooting guard DeMar DeRozan said. “I think we kind of had the game under control until the third. They just came on strong. They got a couple of turnovers and a couple of fouls and that got them going. Before you know it, we are trying to slow them down and play catch-up at the same time.”
So the question – after the Raptors were fairly convincingly dismissed 100-93 despite having a seven-point lead at half time – what does this say about a club that is well on their way to be providing Toronto basketball fans with their best ever November? Are they the guys who failed to meet the dress code? The one’s who got too rowdy and got sent out on their butts? They went down fighting, but you know they would: After trailing by 16 with six minutes left the Raptors cut it to seven with two minutes to play after a stumbling Derrick Rose turnover resulted in a Terrence Ross triple. A Lowry steal and an Amir Johnson dunk cut it to five 20 seconds later and the crowd at the ACC could be heard through the television sets of our great neighbour to the south, but that was a close as they got. But the encouraging ending aside, the truth Friday morning will be that the Raptors couldn’t close the deal on their home floor. Was it because the bright lights crept into their focus as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey feared? Or are the teams inside those ropes simply better, bigger, tougher, more experienced?
By the end, Butler had hit 7-of-10 for 21 points, including a clutch jumper late, while DeRozan had struggled mightily. When playing against stellar defenders, DeRozan has a tendency to try to fade off of them, often fruitlessly, instead of trying to create for his teammates or looking for second-chance buckets. However, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said afterward that DeRozan missed a lot of shots he would normally make and urged him to keep taking those shots. DeRozan was coming off of a 4-for-15 shooting performance against Orlando, though he had shot well in the previous two games. He said he isn’t worried and knows there will be “nights like this” and added: “If this was two years ago, I’d think it was the end of the world, but we’re only nine games in. I’d rather have (these) games now than later on.” Before this one, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had called DeRozan a “legitimate superstar” and he certainly game-planned against him like he was. Butler forced him into mistakes and shots with an extremely high degree of difficulty, instead of DeRozan forcing the action.
In the end, it turned out to be more of a lesson than a test. To compete with the big boys, the elite teams in the NBA – to which Chicago is among – they can’t live like this. You can’t lose focus for even a few minutes, let alone an entire quarter. Leading by seven at intermission, and with the US spotlight focused on them, the Raptors looked like a team out of Chicago’s league in the third quarter. Going into the game they had not scored fewer than 20 points in any single quarter this season. On Thursday, the Bulls bested them 35-14 in the third, effectively ending the game 12 minutes before it became official. “We withstood their punches in the first half but in the third quarter they got us on our heels and we stayed on our heels,” Casey said. “You know that’s the kind of game you’re going to have against them. It’s a hard game to officiate and it’s a hard game to play but you’ve got to make a muscle and fight through the physicality, the bumps, the grind. And we didn’t meet that challenge in the third quarter. It’s a four-quarter game and that third quarter did us in.” The Raptors’ offence – crisp in the second frame when they shot 55 per cent – went dormant in the third. Chicago’s trademark physicality forced Toronto out of its comfort zone. They shot just 29 per cent while the Bulls, led by the veteran savvy of Gasol, hit 12 of their 18 attempts from the field.
“For me, if want to be acknowledged, you have to win. It’s very very simple. If you’re not a winning team, I don’t care what city you are in, you’re not going to be noticed. If you want to be good, you take this as a regular game, a normal game. I love that the feeling (of excitement) is out there. But if you want to be good, this is what you aspire to be. You aspire to be noticed, to be great, I don’t want to make this (appearance) a high for us.” The Raptors game was on TNT in the U.S. Thursday night. On the broadcast they mentioned the snow. “I knew they would,” said Ujiri. “My wife was in Washington today. It was snowing. I’m not sure what would be mentioned there.” On TNT, Charles Barkley couldn’t help but mention hockey and Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, just to fit in. We are nothing if not a country of sporting cliches. A country that Ujiri has come to embrace. “We’re one team, one country,” he said, part of the WeTheNorth mantra. “We have to continue to grow and grow our fan base. The other stuff, it’s all excuses. It’s snowing, so what? It’s snowing in other cities. We should be appreciated and stand tall for what we are and what we’re doing.
“That’s a good experience for us, you know, we coming off the win streak,” Jonas Valanciunas said afterwards. “So that’s good like a cold shower for us.” It was Valanciunas with eight rebounds (four offensive) in the first half. He added eight points but watched again and again as Pau Gasol, who finished with 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting, carved the Raptors’s interior D. Jonas watched the rest of the game from the bench. Cold shower, indeed. James Johnson, the hero of the Orlando game on Tuesday, looked to build on his hero status with 16 points in the game (12 in the first half) on 7-for-9 shooting. Despite a defensive fury exhibited in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, Johnson’s effect seemed to shrink as the game went on. His words of wisdom? “Just move on,” said Johnson. “A lot of shots that we take and make didn’t go in.” A simple lesson.
Dwane Casey on Pau Gasol’s big game: “One of the things we wanted to do was take the 3-ball out and to a certain extent we were able to do that as they were 4-15. Coming into the game they were one of the top 3-point (shooting) and transition teams in the NBA. We just felt like we were going to make him score and make it as hard on him as we could, but not go into a double team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all of those guys open on the weak side. We went to more traps there in the fourth quarter, but, again, he’s good at what he does and he made it hard on us.”
The Bulls went into the half down 7, but they used suffocating defense to hold the Raptors to just 14 points in the third quarter, while racking up 35 points. As a team, Chicago shot 66.7% from the field in the third. They just got seemingly whatever they wanted. Pau was cooking, Dunleavy was hitting from outside, Taj was flushing easy finishes off of smart passes by his teammates. It was all working. This continued up until there were about 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, as the lead peaked at 18 points on this Rose fast break finish.
The Bulls managed to slow down Toronto during an all-around team effort and eked out a 100-93 victory without their floor general. It took until over four minutes into the second quarter for Rose to score his first field goal, and he only had seven points at the halfway point with Pau Gasol leading the way by scoring 19. The second half was when Chicago truly turned on the jets, though. They outscored the Raptors in the third quarter 35-14, and Rose hit some vintage floaters and layups in the fourth quarter before his injury sent him to the sideline.
The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third frame, which is too bad, because they out scored the Bulls 79 – 65 in the other three. “I think we just didn’t play our game from start to finish.” Lowry said. “We played our game in spurts tonight.” The ugly third quarter was one problem, but another problem was Pau Gasol who scored 27 points on 12/19 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. The Raptors just had no answer for Pau. “We were going to try to make it hard on him (Gasol), but not go and double-team and leave (Mike) Dunleavy and (Jimmy) Butler and all those guys open on the outside. We went to more of a trap in the fourth quarter but, you know, he is good at what he does. He made it hard on us.” Dwane Casey said.
However, the Raptors would have trouble blaming the referees for this loss as too much of the damage was either self-inflicted or handed to them by Gasol in the paint. The veteran big man looked like he had found the fountain of youth in this contest as he posted 27 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The Raptors came out flat offensively in the third quarter, let their 7 point first half lead quickly slip away and then let the Bulls finish the period on a 10-0 run for an 80-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Gasol continued his dominance over Valanciunas and sent him to the bench in less than 5 minutes for all but 11 seconds the rest of the way. For some unknown reason after Johnson carried the offense for the Raptors in the second quarter, Toronto didn’t go back to him in the third and fourth quarters and he only scored 2 more points on 3 attempts. Johnson did add 3 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks for a very solid line of 16 points on 7-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks in 24.3 minutes, but it looked like he could have done more if given the chance.
Last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in shots (both made and attempted) in the restricted area. But they also ranked sixth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), getting to the line 31 times for every 100 shots from the field. That (and shooting those free throws at the league’s fifth highest percentage) helped them rank ninth in offensive efficiency. “There’s a knack by our guys to get in the mid-range area and get fouled,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in the preseason.
The problem with Toronto’s drive-at-all-costs offensive approach is that it doesn’t lend itself to great fluidity. Toronto doesn’t have many players adept at setting others up for shots. Lowry, as brilliant as he is, leans toward the shoot-first spectrum among point guards. DeRozan has improved his reads, but he, like Williams, is a scorer. Vasquez fits the profile, but has become more shot-happy since coming to Toronto. Terrence Ross is a spot-up player without much vision. All this explains why Toronto is in the bottom half of the league in passes per game for the second straight year and trending downward. Toronto was 17th in total passes and 22nd in assist opportunities last year; they’re down to 21st and 29th in those categories, respectively, this season. This is the flip side to being a low-turnover team: fewer passes means fewer chances to throw errant passes, but it also means fewer passes. This isn’t a fatal flaw in the regular season, but it could hurt them come playoff time when teams lock in on top offensive options. The Nets provided a blueprint for opponents in last year’s playoffs, shutting off DeRozan’s easy passing reads on post ups and forcing Lowry to create offense for himself.
“You don’t come back to the injuries that he’s come back from without (caring). I’m just watching the power that you guys have,” Noah said. “You guys (the media) can really just portray somebody as something that he’s not. Because I know how much he cares about this game. I see it every day. We’re all in this together. This is not a one-man team. “I know sometimes it’s frustrating he gets injured. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world. That’s so f—— lame to me. Relax. He’s coming back from two crazy surgeries … everybody needs to chill the f—- out. I’m sorry for cursing, I’m passionate. I don’t like to see him down, he doesn’t say that he’s down. I don’t like people portraying him and judging him because it’s not fair to him.” Rose had declined to apologize at shootaround on Thursday morning when asked if he could understand why some people have questioned his commitment to the Bulls and his teammates. He responded, “no, but I could care less. “Really I was just being myself. As long as I’m being myself, that’s the only person I can be.
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Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan after Toronto lost 100-93 to Chicago.
Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (06:05, 5 MB). Or just listen below:
Paul Gasol dominates the Raptors as the Bulls make a statement at the ACC.
|Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 5-7 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -6Other than a momentary third quarter offensive resurgence, didn’t do much. Forget checking Gasol, he couldn’t even get the weakside rebounds available to him, and appeared to be firmly rooted to the ground in every situation where, perhaps, jumping might help. He was on the floor as a center when the Raptors made a small but ultimately fruitless run, during which he looked far more engaged.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 32 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +1I can’t point to a single positive quality other than making the occasional open jumper, and you have to be disappointed in the overall impact he’s having on the game. 3-and-D? How about just sticking with Mike Dunleavy, and when he did try to close-out, he did it in a way which would make Jose Calderon shake his head. Right now he doesn’t deserve to start, his three-shot foul on Dunleavy with the Raptors down 5 and the clock ticking down sealed our fate.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -11Strong to start the game and got weaker as the game progressed, which coincided with Gasol getting stronger. Got benched in the second half, somewhat unfairly, cementing my feelings that he’s become the coach’s favorite whipping boy. He was one of the few bigs actively fighting for rebounds but defensively, eaten alive by the much more experienced, Gasol, who has a variety of moves to get his shot on the rim in 1v1 situations. But that’s as much on the coach as anyone. I could not understand why he got benched in the second half, given he was the only big man able to rebound in traffic.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 8-19 FG | 1-3 FT | 8 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -3Needed to take the game over in the third when things went south, and instead deferred. Rose got past him a few times in the first half, and Lowry had a few good moments of his own, but overall, as the best player on the Raptors, he was missing in that crucial third. Sensed the Bulls stepping off the pedal in the fourth and propelled the team to a late comeback. I thought he had a chance to attack the wobbly Rose much more often than he did, and force the Chicago defense to come out and not just camp out for easy rebounds.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 3-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -2Shot the Raptors out of the game in the third. On the weekly pod I mentioned that this game was going to come down to how he would handle Jimmy Butler, and that was a big part of the game. He got shut down again by a lengthy wing (remember DeMarre Carroll) who pressures his dribbling with constant reaches, forces him further out than he likes, and is quick enough to stay with him. Didn’t have enough catch-and-shoots or hand-off plays and was reduced to a jump shooter, and a poor one at that. The defense sucked, too. I’m actually quite OK with him trying out his jumper as long as the shots are clean. But when they’re not going in and the opposition is feeding off of your misses, it’s time to drive.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3Came in, got injured after falling on his back and left. At least while he was in there he tried to get rebounds, which already gives him an above-average grade.|
|James Johnson, PF 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -1Very energetic first half where he pressure up top causing turnovers and scoring, played excellent one-on-one defense, and played very intelligent offense by schooling rookie, Doug McDermott, and even chewing up Butler in the block (DeRozan, take note, that’s how it’s done). Unfortunately, his coach iced him in the third quarter and he didn’t see the floor until three minutes left in the third, by which time the game was out of hand.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -7Victim of extremely poor court spacing, meaning guys like Dunleavy, Butler, and Hinrich were always available to cover his potential looks, and the guy doesn’t have a back-down game where he can take guys who are checking him outside, inside. He had one meaningful shot, a three in the second quarter when Gasol didn’t come out. Other than that, useless on offense and impotent on defense, the latter of which I forgive since Gasol had already warmed up by the time Patterson had his shot on him. Also, got stripped twice under the rim on plays he should’ve scored on.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 7 PTS | +2Completely irresponsible. Had a brief stretch in the second where the bench shined, mostly thanks to James Johnson. The rest of his night was filled with bad passes, lazy defense, and poor decisions. The no-look pass pass he threw behind his head right under the basket was converted to a three-point play on the break, which might be the silliest play of the night.|
|Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -9Good second quarter stint, but by the time Casey called on him in the second half, the game was out of hand and all he could do at that point was start jacking up shots. He did, and he missed.|
|Lucas Nogueira, C Has not entered game MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Direct Link|
No plan to tackle Gasol, who continued to abuse every Raptors big with nary a help defender in sight. Iced our best player on the night, James Johnson, in the third during which time the Bulls took complete control. Couldn’t figure out what the court balance should be, resulting in the Bulls dominating the boards. It’s almost like he had no plan, or at least a poorly communicated plan, for the Bulls’ interior strength.
Five Things We Saw
- The Raptors were outscored 35-14 in the third quarter. Some stats from that frame:Points in the Paint: Bulls 16, Raptors 8
Second Chance Points: Bulls 4, Raptors 0
Fastbreak Points: Bulls 6, Raptors 0
Rebounds: Bulls 12, Raptors 8
Assists: Bulls 8, Raptors 3It was the quarter from hell
- The rebounding has been a major issue all season which has been masked by maintaining a positive turnover ratio and shooting a high percentage, but when you come across a team that’s actually rotating out to shooters and pressuring the ball, the number of possessions become a much greater factor.
- This crazy notion of playing small against a big Bulls lineup didn’t compute. I get that you want to play “your” game, but not when it comes to rebounding. The Raptors were doing well with Valanciunas in there fighting for rebounds, all we needed to do was send some help against Gasol to contain him. Instead, we tried to bring Gasol out by playing a lineup featuring Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson, which just meant Noah and Gasol/Gibson would be able to control the paint. Once we started missing jumpers from the outside (the potential advantage of going small), it all back-fired.
- The Raptors did supply some excellent pressure defense in the fourth quarter to get back in the game down 5. I realize you can’t play 48 minutes like that, but we really need to see much more of that, especially since we have the personnel that are suited to that kind of play.
- A loss isn’t the end of the world. The Bulls have what the Raptors don’t: experience. That’ll come with time, and these games, if nothing else, are a learning experience for both the players and the coach. The Raptors didn’t quit in this game which is very important, they fought back and perhaps if the game was 5 minutes longer, would’ve won. What’s important now is the response. After the Miami game, it was great. Let’s do that again.
Halftime Raptors talk on NBA on TNT. Raps were up in the game, down presently.
The Raptors enter tonight’s game versus the Chicago Bulls as top dog in the East, tied for best overall record, unbeaten at home and the longest active win streak in the NBA. Many attribute Toronto’s early season success to their consistency of personnel and ease of schedule. While constancy does lend itself to a short hand on court, perhaps the greater x-factor is the much improved second unit who has coined themselves The White Squad.
Chicago arrives with an extra day of rest and the law of averages would seem to favor the Bulls since the Raptors have won 5-straight. Regardless of the victor, the game will offer an initial idea of how Toronto stacks up against a team favored by many to represent the East in June. As much as I join those excited to see how our starting-5 measures up against the Bulls, it’s actually the benches I’m most eager to compare.
A busy summer of free agent movement included the much touted arrival of center Pau Gasol to Chicago and given their leap in offensive ranking his addition is delivering on its intention. Raptor General Manger: Masai Ujiri, added two key players that didn’t receive nearly the same hype, but are paying dividends similar to the major trade of 2013.
Lou Williams appears to be returning to the form he displayed three years ago when he won the Sixth Man Award and has gelled quickly in his scoring role with the team. Williams never fully recognized his potential in Atlanta owing to an ACL injury. Now, 18 months later Williams more closely resembles the player he was in Philadelphia. Veteran leadership is a commodity every team values, but few teams have 10-year vets who haven’t reached their prime on the payroll. Williams joins Amir Johnson as the second such vet 28-years old and under.
James Johnson is proving to be the key defensive cog the Raptors longed for last May with his ability to guard virtually any opponent or position. The older and wiser Johnson is showcasing a new maturity and acceptance of the role Coach Duane Casey envisioned for him in his first stint in Toronto. On more than one occasion this season Johnson has been the best player on the court and his energy off the bench has sparked the team in a manner only Kyle Lowry consistently demonstrates.
Less than a tenth of the way into the season the Raptors have already established some early trends:
- Scored 100 points in all 8-games ranking first in the NBA with an average of 107.00 PPG.
- Get to the line 33.4 times per game (2nd in NBA)
- Taking care of the ball averaging 11.4 turn over’s per game (3rd in NBA)
- Conversely the Raptors force their opponent into the third most turnovers with 18.6 per game.
While these stats are exciting there are arguably two other factors which highlight why Toronto has gotten off to such a hot start:
- In review of the top ten ranked offenses and defenses only 2-teams appear in the top ten of both: Toronto and Houston. The Rockets rank first in defense and eighth in offense for a net ranking of first overall. The Raptors rank seventh in defense and third in offense for a net ranking of second overall.
- In seven of their eight games the Raptors’ bench has outscored their opponent. The lone game this didn’t occur was versus Washington when Coach Randy Wittman elected to rest his starters and play his bench extended minutes.
We often don’t know the full ceiling of a team until a quarter or half way into the season because new additions need time to adjust to systems and teammates. Since the Raptors new players form almost half the bench it stresses how impressive the above fact is. Certainly there are still kinks to be worked out as Greivis Vasquez is still adjusting to his new line mates and has yet to return to last season’s form.
And, while Coach Casey’s use of the hockey type line-up change came under great scrutiny the fact it’s producing these results while simultaneously offering rest for his starters is encouraging.
Personally I’m reminded of the 2003 Detroit Pistons bench nicknamed the Alternators who famously utilized the hockey line-up change and dominated opposing benches. Of note, that Piston team resembles the current Raptor squad in that they were extremely deep, but featured no typical franchise star. They surprised many by winning the East and were considered heavy underdogs in the finals facing the Lakers. As we know the Pistons became champions and Chauncey Billups became the first non All Star to win MVP. Coincidentally Billups has served as a mentor to Kyle Lowry who has firmly taken the captaincy of the Raptors in hand.
While a deep bench offers security in the case of injury the other aspect it ensures is it creates a more competitive environment. In Wednesday’s media scrum Casey pointed to Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan’s improvements as being aided by the presence of James Johnson in practice. In fact the nickname The White Squad came about because of the white shirts the bench dons in these sessions.
While I await tonight’s heavy weight battle I know a win or a loss won’t signal the inevitable end of season outcome, however it will for the moment offer an initial gauge for the Raptors to build upon.
For those of you wondering how the team is feeling regarding this blistering start perhaps it was best described by another of the key bench contributors: Patrick Patterson. Following Tuesday’s win, Rod Black asked “How does 7-1 sound?” Patterson’s response: “Should be 8-0, but 7-1 sounds good. “
Enjoy the game and check back here for the Quick React immediately following the game.
This is the big one: win or lose, how the Raptors play against the Bulls tonight will either validate their hot-start, or add fuel to the fire of spite from those claiming 7-1 because of poor competition…if only life were that simple, right? The reality is that Raptors handled business against weaker teams in a gifted start to the season. What we also saw in those games was that even though they were playing lesser teams, they were still playing NBA level talent, and displayed a ton of grit when things weren’t going smoothly. You have to appreciate if nothing else.
Regardless of outcome, the expectation is that they don’t rollover and let the Bulls walk over them, that they put a full four-quarters of effort, so that jokes like this aren’t told anymore…funny as they are…
This Bulls team has a lot of its own ifs as well. If Rose and Noah are healthy, if Gasol plays like it was 6 years ago, if Butler can be that second shot maker they so desperately need, if Thibs can draw up an offensive play that is inspired…in spite of all those ifs, this Bulls team has started 6-2 while Rose and Noah missing a handful of the games to injury. Concerned? You should be. Insurmountable? Nope.
Both teams have dominant point guards. Both teams have elite wings. Both teams have a big-mobile front court. Both teams are deep. Both teams are confident heading into this game. The stage is set for a solid game between two well-matched teams. Must watch national TV.
Sam Holako: He’s missed a couple games, but Rose has looked good early; what’s been your assessment of him?
Jason Patt: The fact that there has been Rose drama this early in the season is disappointing, but when he actually has played, he has looked much like his old self. We can throw the Bucks game out because he wasn’t close to 100 percent and probably shouldn’t have played in that game. Otherwise, he has been aggressive and explosive, and his presence is felt on both ends of the court.
Rose is currently on a minutes limit to preserve his body, so his individual numbers don’t look all that impressive. (17.5 and 5.8 on 45.3% shooting) However, he’s putting up 22.9 and 7.5 per 36 and the Bulls have been absolutely dominant when he is on the court. In the 110 minutes he has played, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
Rose’s full arsenal has been on display, including his array of floaters and crazy drives to the rim. The only real complaint about his offense is some questionable shot selection, as he’s taking nearly five threes a game despite making just 31.6 percent of them. Less PUJITS, please.
While most think of Rose has an offensive guy, he has made great strides on the defensive end. Heading into Monday’s game against the Pistons, Rose’s opponent counterpart PER was 6.1, according to 82games.com. Kyle Lowry will provide one hell of a test and that matchup should be fun to watch.
Sam: So as someone who took a risk on Rose in fantasy, is this early drama soreness from lack of playing the last two years, or something to be more concerned about?
Jason: First off, I took Rose in fantasy, too, so I feel your pain. I think what’s going on with Rose is basically just a new mindset he has, as evidenced by his quotes today. He’s not going to gut things out in the regular season if he’s not feeling right because he’s thinking long term. Not great for fantasy peeps for sure, but hoping it’s great for the Bulls’ championship hopes. The fact that he sprained BOTH his ankles at the same time is somewhat odd, but hoping it was more flukey than anything after landing on somebody’s foot.
Sam: So lets assume that he and Noah stay healthy, Gasol continues his beast mode, and Butler continues his early audition for the all-star game; can this team win it all this year?
Jason: If they stay healthy, the Bulls can absolutely win it all this year. They have star power, depth and the ability to be elite on both sides of the ball. Some of the kinks are still being worked out with Rose, Noah and the newcomers, but there’s some serious potential here. If things go right, they’re more balanced than the team that went to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and may be the favorites because of the Cavs’ weak defense.
The growth of Butler is huge. The Bulls have been looking for a legit second shot creator alongside Rose going back to when he was the MVP, and Butler might be that guy. Butler has always been able to get to the line at a solid rate, but he has improved his playmaking abilities off the bounce and his jumper looks improved after really struggling last year. If the Bulls can rely on Butler to create offense when the going gets tough down the stretch, that’ll be huge for their championship chances. I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet, and that elite wing D will be super helpful against the likes of LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan.
Sam: Klay’s assertion that he’s the best two-way shooting guard in the league clearly isn’t a forgone conclusion. So I noticed you mentioned they are favourite against the Cavs weak defense, but nothing about the Raptors…I will forgive you, but how do you match-up with us after a handful of games under our belts?
Jason: When I was writing that, I actually thought about including the Raptors in there. Heading into the season, I figured they were in that second tier, and while I ultimately think it’ll end up that way, they’re certainly making the case to join that elite tier in the East.
I haven’t had the chance to really watch the Raptors yet, but I know the team is largely the same as last year plus a couple nice additions in Lou Williams and James Johnson.
I do know Kyle Lowry continues to be awesome, and obviously the Lowry vs. Rose match-up is the one to watch. But there are good match-ups all over. The Bulls have a wing defender in Jimmy Butler to match up with DeMar DeRozan. Terrence Ross will have an athletic advantage over Mike Dunleavy, but Dunleavy is a wily vet. The starting frontcourts are both solid, and while Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are the bigger names, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are underrated. Both teams also have quality depth.
When you look at some of the numbers thus far, both teams are quite similar. They’re both near the top in ORtg, with the Raptors a tick more efficient because they don’t turn the ball over. On defense, the Bulls haven’t been quite as good as usual thanks to some struggles on the defensive glass, but they’re still good and the Raptors haven’t really been killing teams with offensive rebounding.
All in all, these are two evenly matched teams at the moment. I think a healthy Bulls team is better in the long run, but both teams should finish in top half of East.
Sam: What can we expect the game-plan to be tonight?
Jason: Rose always seems to rise to the challenge when playing other top point guards, so I would imagine he’ll look to be super aggressive against Lowry and try and get him in some foul trouble. Lowry means so much to the Raptors, so getting him out early would be helpful.
The Bulls have also looked to Pau a lot on offense, and I’m sure that’ll continue, although how he’s used could depend on who’s guarding him. I would think Jonas because of size and length? If that’s case maybe we see Pau on perimeter more and have Noah try and use his size advantage on Amir.
The Bulls have also been a much improved three-point shooting team this year, so watch out for that on drive-and-kicks, passes out of the post and a few bad threes that Rose will likely take.
Defensively, Rose and Butler will be counted on to shut down Lowry and DeRozan, and the bigs will try and replicate the rebounding performance from the other night when they out-rebounded the Pistons. The Bulls will ICE the crap out or PnR, so there likely won’t be many good three-point looks available, but there should be plenty of mid-range open.
I know the Raptors don’t turn the ball over much, but they gotta watch out for Butler in passing lanes. He seemingly gets a couple steals a game by aggressively playing those lanes.
Sam: There was some rumbling in the summer linking Taj with the Raptors; can you see the Bulls trading him in an effort to improve given Pau’s addition, and what would you want in return?
Jason: Even with the addition of Pau, I can’t see the Bulls trading Gibson. He has improved so much over the past few years and is very important to the what the Bulls like to do defensively. While Noah and Gasol are the starters, Gibson will still see plenty of minutes and will likely close some games depending on match-ups. Noah and Gasol also have a history with injuries, so having Gibson around is great insurance in case one or both miss time.
IF the Bulls even thought about trading Gibson, they’d likely seek some wing help. If we’re talking about a deal with the Raptors, DeRozan would obviously be the guy the Bulls would like to get, but I’m assuming that’s simply out of the question. So then you move to a talented young player in Ross, who would be intriguing. I personally wouldn’t make that trade (there would also have to be another player involved to make money work), but that’s the kind of deal I think would make some sense if they were shopping Gibson around.
Rose has already missed four games for a myriad of reasons, but has been aggressive when in the lineup. Lowry needs to attack him and keep him on his heels from the tip. Much like Rose, Lowry has a history of rising to the challenge; the key here will be for him to fight Rose off while creating for others in the flow of the offense. In the second unit, Vasquez will have his hands full with the speedy Brooks and wily Hinrich, but meh, I’m not so worried.
This needs to be stressed since he’s more than just a defensive presence: DeRozan will have to make do with chasing him around the court on defense, after be hounded defensively himself by Butler. I like DeRozan in this match-up with his ability to get the line, but it feels like this will be more of a wash in terms of advantage. The bulls can dress Hinrich at the two and give the Raptors something to think about with two ball handlers, but that doesn’t really strike fear into my heart either. I like Hinrich, but am surprised the dude is still playing.
Ross has shown flashes so far this season, but nothing resembling consistency which is exactly what can be expected from Dunleavy. Dude is taller, and can shoot over Ross, but will have to deal with him off the bounce which may not work out well for him. Johnson can be expected to step in and provide suffocating defense and the occasional brick from behind the arc, but he deserves it. While it feels like the Raptors have the edge here, i’m not convinced it’s enough to sway the game one way or another.
Lets just lump PF an C into one big category and be a bit worried. Replacing Boozer with Gasol has been tremendous. Adding Mirotic, who could be starting, has been tremendous. Having the luxury of Gibson, who is very much like Amir, is tremendous. Lets not forget Noah. Probably the best front court in the league, and a major reason for their early season success. Amir is not 100%, so we will see a rotating door of rotation in an effort to find what works. Expect to see 2Pat and Stiemsma get extended run.
Both teams are deep, and both benches have come through in a major way so far this season. I like the Raptors on the wing a bit more, but the Bulls might have clawed some of that advantage back in the front court
It’s nice to have stakes so early in the season, a measuring stick if you will. The Raptors have had the easier schedule, but have shown quite a bit of grit and determination; attributes that are KEY to a winning team. The Bulls have dealt with their own injury problems, but still stand at 6-2, a game behind. The fear here is that the Raptors wont come swinging out of the tip, and expect to grind their way back in the 4th quarter, which would be a bad idea. It feels like this is a game against well matched opponents, who both need to make an early statement to each other. This has the makings of a great game. The gamblers have the Raptors as 2.5 point favourites, in a low scoring affair with an over/under of 196.5, which means this is a wash with the Raptors hosting. I expect this game to come down to the wire, and be a close, defensive affair. Lowry with the game-winner; Raptors by 2.
This week on Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry take a look at the red hot Raptors. With the team doing well, the guys look at ways to keep the good times rolling. It’s a good time to be a Raptors fan!
-Retro Jerseys, Camo Jerseys, Sleeves on Jerseys.
-Other people starting to notice the Raptors in a big way.
-Confidence and is too much a bad thing.
-The Terrence Ross revival and a possible connection to Lisa Ann.
-After whistle goaltending habits.
-Players and their Instagram activity.
They also talk about Dirk, Kobe and their respective milestones. The Chuck Hayes Minute and more.
Thanks for listening and enjoy!
The new-look squad has not needed much time to gel, rocketing out to a 6-2 start and looking far more potent than usual offensively. Rose, playing in four of the eight contests after suiting up just 49 times over the past three seasons, has averaged 17.5 points and 5.8 assists (Kyle Lowry averages 18 points and 5.8 assists for the sake of comparison), shooting 10% better from the field than he did during his brief, 10-game return last year. Gasol has looked rejuvenated following his shaky finish in Los Angeles, the supporting cast is excellent and Tom Thibodeau remains one of the finest coaches in the game. Not surprisingly, the 7-1 Raptors see this one as a barometer of just how good they really are. “You’ve got to give them credit, to have a player like Rose back and the success they had last year without him. You’ve definitely go to continue to put them up there,” DeMar DeRozan said following practice on Wednesday.
It’s easy to get carried away in November and December about where you think [a team will end up], but the truth of the matter is it all depends on the health in April, and I’ve been through this with the Raptors many, many times. I went through this with Vince on a couple of occasions. In 2002, coming after the 2001 [Eastern Conference semi-final appearance], and I’m looking at the club and we had just added [Hakeem] Olajuwon, and I thought, “You know what, maybe we can squeeze just one year out of him and get to the Finals and this is worth it.” But it didn’t happen. If the teams [this season] stay healthy in the East I think you’re looking at the Bulls, the Raptors, the Cavaliers, the Heat, and Washington. This thing is going to be so competitive come playoff time that it’s going to depend on, again, health. If everyone’s healthy then I think this thing is wide open.
This one’s for all the marbles. Well, all the marbles less than an eighth-way through the regular season; Chicago is 6-2 and nipping at the heels of the 7-1 Raptors . . . Rose should play barring any morning mishaps; his sprained ankles were good enough to let him play Monday against Detroit . . . All Gasol has done so far is average about 19 points and 10 rebounds as one of the top free-agent acquisitions anywhere in the league . . . Chicago’s defence isn’t operating at its usual other-worldly level but the Bulls still allow teams to shoot only 42.7 per cent against them, fifth-best in the league . . . Six-foot-10 rookie Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls is a solid stretch four who could cause serious matchup problems for the Raptors.
The Raptors finished with the same record as the Bulls last season (48-34), so their fast start isn’t a big surprise. The team is well-constructed, beginning with rising star DeMar DeRozan. A college teammate of Taj Gibson at USC, DeRozan is averaging 21.9 points. Point guard Kyle Lowry is off to a good start. There’s another athletic wing in Terrence Ross, and size in the middle with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. The significant new addition is guard Lou Williams, averaging 10.9 points off the bench. Depth became a strength last season when Toronto landed Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade. “They have a really solid 10-man rotation,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Lowry is terrific. I had a chance to be around DeMar DeRozan with Team USA and he’s a legit superstar.”
“[We're] all about protecting home court,” stressed Patrick Patterson. “Having the fans out there be behind us 100 per cent is not something we take for granted. Every single night we step out on that court here in Toronto, we want to win, we want to play hard, we want to protect home court and we feel like we have the best home-court advantage in the league. Every night we step out there we want to show the world why.” The Raptors have sold out three of their first five games at the ACC this season and rank seventh in the NBA in average attendance. After losing eight of their first 12 games at home last season, the Raptors became one of the league’s most daunting teams to face in their own arena once Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and company arrived in the trade from Sacramento. Since the start of the 2014 calendar year, Toronto owns a record of 26-7 north of the border. With four games left to go before they hit the road again on Nov. 22 – visiting the Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back – Dwane Casey has stressed maintaining a consistent approach and routine. Hosting games on alternating days, Casey has been holding practice at the same time each afternoon. The same can be said of morning shoot-arounds on game days.
Chicago has significantly rolled over their roster, and highly regarded coach Tom Thibodeau deserves credit for successfully integrating the new faces. He’s done so while welcoming back point guard Derrick Rose, whose last 2 seasons were lost to serious injury. Whether Rose can ever again be the unstoppable scorer he was in his MVP season of ’10-’11 remains an unanswered question, but he’s averaging over 17 points and 5 assists in ’14-’15. If he’s a spent force, you can’t prove it with those numbers. His backcourt mate is Jimmy Butler, who started his career as an energy & defense guy, but is displaying some serious scoring touch these days, averaging over 19 Points Per Game [PPG]. Pau Gasol moved over from the Lakers, and both he and his new team are happy he did. Chicago has had a reputation for years as a team of muckers who win ugly, low-scoring games, but not this year. They rank sixth in PPG at 104, three points behind the league-leading Raps, while still holding opponents under a century. Pau scores and rebounds at a double-double rate. He’s complemented nicely with another veteran gunner, Mike Dunleavy. Joakim Noah jumps centre, and everywhere else. He’s a perpetual motion machine on the boards, a fine passer, and will drive you up a wall when you try to score on him.
The Bulls’ supporting cast has had to step up at times as well with Rose being bothered by two sprained ankles that have limited him to half of the club’s eight games. Chicago (6-2) has gone 3-1 without Rose, but he was in the lineup Monday and scored 24 points in a season-high 32 minutes of a 102-91 win over Detroit. Rose said in an interview this week that his decision to sit out games has to do with thinking of his future and not just this season. He’s been a game-time decision since suffering his ankle injuries against Cleveland on Oct. 31. “Derrick’s a (heck) of a player,” said Joakim Noah, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. “To have your best player on the court, floor general, means a lot. When he’s out on the court, he demands so much attention it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everyone else.”
Dwane Casey raved to the media how DeMar DeRozan has evolved as a player the past few seasons.
“We all know what a big-time market Toronto is in and of itself, never mind having the whole country, which has become increasingly basketball crazy… I wouldn’t be shocked if Masai [Ujiri] goes really hard at Kevin Durant in a couple of years and gets in the mix. I’m not saying they’re gonna get him but I think he’s unafraid in that way to really pursue the great player and sell them on a situation where there’s pieces around you, you can win here, we can chase championships, you can get all the big endorsements, all the big outside things that you want are available to you here.” Sure, we’re probably reading way too much into this little comment, a comment that doesn’t come from Durant’s camp, or Toronto’s camp, or anyone else’s. But just the idea of Durant in Toronto is exciting. If Durant is going to move on, Toronto’s roster is a great fit for him (a backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with Durant at forward sounds deadly), and the fan base proved this past postseason that they’re arguably the most passionate in the league. It just makes sense. Now, we’re a long way away from Durant’s free agency, and the Raptors will likely join every other team in the league in vying for his services if and when the time comes. But if Washington isn’t a lock to get him, Toronto should be the next team up.
“I think the big play for me today was either the throw ahead to Patrick Patterson or when I dropped it to Greivis or when I dropped to Patterson for the three-pointers,” Johnson said. “It changed the momentum of the game.” Those were all big plays and Johnson gave up his own potential run at the rim to drop a pass to Patterson for the uncontested three-pointer that capped an 11-0 run and tied the game at 83 early in the fourth quarter. What is surprising is Johnson had his own huge scoring play late in the game with a big time slam that put the Raptors up 97-95 and that wasn’t the play Johnson wanted to reminisce over. As has been noted before, this isn’t the same Johnson the Raptors saw two years ago. This Johnson knows and accepts his role and he has been excelling because of it.
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With the Raptors playing the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in advance of a highly anticipated showdown on Thursday (nationally televised in the US!) against the Chicago Bulls, every tuned in basketball fan north of the border was thinking “trap game.” The Raps had already beaten the Magic handily earlier in the season, and with the team tops in the NBA at the moment, a win seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
So, too, did me writing a full-fledged recap of this game, until I was pulled into work late last minute (quick tangent: if you value your sanity, DON’T work election campaigns). Instead, with time and words at a premium, you get a running diary (click here for Zarar’s quick reaction). Let’s get down to it.
- Two quick notes here: first off – does anyone out there like these camo uniforms? I realize the significance of them and all (it is Remembrance Day), but good lord almighty are they difficult to take. If you genuinely like these, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
- Secondly: Rod Black informs the viewers that BRUNO is in the active rotation tonight! Excitement level for this game just went from “meh” to “Mehhh????” Here’s hoping we see a blocked 3 pointer.
- 12:00: No surprises in the starting lineup for the Raps. Orlando goes with Payton/Fournier/Harris/Frye/Vucevic, which is long on athleticism and, well, length, but short on defence.
- 11:00: Lowry with a neat drop-off to T-Ross for an early 3 pointer. I like what’s appeared to be the Raptors’ ongoing strategy of getting him involved in the offence early – he needs it to stay engaged. The team is completely different when he’s hitting out there.
- 10:10: Jonas goes one on one with Nik Vucevic for the first time. It’s arguably the game’s most intriguing individual matchup. Jonas shanks a dunk attempt but is able to corral the rebound and finish strong.
- 8:55: I can’t decide if I like Elfrid Payton’s hair, or if it’s just too Sideshow-Bob-ey. Leaning towards the latter.
- 7:57: Channing Frye cans a 3 – he has 11 of Orlando’s first 13 points, and they have an early 13-9 lead. Match-ups like this are going to be nightmares for Amir, and with the league tending towards shooting bigs, it’s an area that the coaching staff is going to have to work to address. James Johnson, methinks.
- 6:30: Vucevic with a nice jumper from just outside the painted area, and Jonas tries to answer with the exact same shot on the next possession. Guess how that turned out? Know your limit, play within it, big man.
- 6:00: We’re into the first commercial break, and the Magic lead 18-14. Early thoughts: the Raptors need to tone down the sloppiness – Terrence Ross, in particular, has missed two breakaway layups, and, for the love of Bruno, will someone please get out on the perimeter and contest a 3?
- 5:10: We get the tip that Elfrid Payton’s dad was a bit of a CFL legend (second all time in sacks!). Dial is turning a bit more to “like the hair.” What can I say, I’m a sucker for Canadiana.
- 3:30: Vucevic beats Jonas easliy down the floor for a breakaway dunk, and Evan Fournier scores on the fast-break on the next possession. Casey calls for Hansbrough to try and up the effort level. He’s now checking Vucevic – I have a feeling this won’t end well.
- 3:10: Hansbrough HACKS Vucevic on what should have been an uncontested dunk (captured in the article photo). Winds up being called a flagrant 1. Casey, you brought this on yourself.
- 3:10: Vucevic misses both free throws. Hansbrough: “That was my plan all along!”
- 2:50: We head to commercial break after a Lowry turnover leads to Evan Fournier free throws. So this is where all the turnovers have been hiding. 26-19 Magic. Too early to be worried, but this doesn’t look good so far.
- 1:00: Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon check into the game, much to the joy of fans of NBA Live ’04.
- 0:00: A missed DeRozan jumper (he’s 2 of 8 to start the game) ends the quarter. 32-24 Magic. Two big things to look at here: first, Channing Frye is en fuego (he’s 5 of 7 for 13 points), and second, can someone do something about this turnover situation? The Magic are scoring at will in transition, mostly because of sloppy possessions that are giving this athletic Magic team lots of easy looks. Slow it down, take your time, everything will be alright.
- 12:00: The Raps go with their 5 man bench unit to start the second, and, aside from a really scary individual matchup in Hansbrough/Vucevic, I’m happy to see them. These guys do play a lot of iso ball, which should limit the turnovers somewhat. Here’s hoping someone heats up.
- 10:02: Aaron Gordon is a more hyperactive version of James Johnson. In related news, he might be my new favourite player.
- 9:30: Vasquez, surprisingly, seems to be the one who has settled things down a bit for the Raptors, driving through the lane to set up a Patterson 3. Seven point game. An in-game graphic says the Raptors only have four turnovers thus far, which seems impossible.
- 8:45: Lou Williams draws fouls like Bob Ross draws little trees. Dude is a wizard. He heads to the line as we come back from a commercial break. Jonas has replaced Hansbrough, with Casey hoping for a size advantage after Vucevic comes out. He’s guarding Channing Frye on the defensive end, which scares me to no end.
- 7:26: Frye, mercifully, misses an open 3. James Johnson misses an open layup on the other end. Missed fast break layup count is now at 4 for the Raptors.
- 6:55: Missed fast break layup count now at 5.
- 6:20: The Raptors, realizing that it’s 2014, finally start taking the ball at Ben Gordon. James Johnson works him down in the post, which winds up with an Amir Johnson putback. Basketball’s an easy game, sometimes. Magic by 9.
- 5:14: In case you were wondering whether Lowry still has balls of steel, he just took an Aaron Gordon charge. The size of freaking globes, those things.
- 4:50: With the starters back in, a DeMar DeRozan jumper brings Orlando’s lead down to 5. Things seem to have settled down a tad, particularly when it comes to the defensive rotations. It helps that Orlando’s outside shooting has cooled off, too.
- 4:10: Jonas bricks a free throw before making the second. Something about him seems off tonight. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It might just be having to deal with a load like Vucevic in the post, who Orlando is clearly running their offence through.
- 2:59: Valanciunas gives up an easy rebound to Channing Frye, who pops out and hits an uncontested 3. Dwayne Casey calls a good timeout with the Raptors down 9, but something clearly has to change, here. There’s no fire in this team right now.
- 2:40: I know Casey’s handcuffed somewhat by the rotation, but it scares me that the answer to “we need more strength on the boards” is apparently “Tyler Hansbrough.”
- 1:50: Nothing makes me immediately discount a TV drama then when Matt Devlin’s plug ends with “ONLY…. on Bravo.” National TV against the Bulls, this is not.
- 1:29: DeMar heads back to the locker room early. No reason is given, though I have a feeling it might be simply due to frustration more than anything.
- 0:31: Kyle Lowry gets called for a carry as he single-handedly tries to pull his team closer before the half (he’s got the last 5 for the Raps). It’s almost surprising to type as I’m sure it is to read. Also, Evan Fournier more points than any Raptor. It’s just been that kind of half.
- 0:00: The half ends with the Raptors down 60-51, and it honestly could have been more if not for this team’s supernatural ability to continue to get to the line (they’re 11/13 at this point). Not a happy living room right now.
- 0:00: Bruno is seen heading to the locker room in his warm-ups. Living room’s a bit happier.
Halftime: Assistant Coach Bill Bayno points out the Raptors’ issues with transition defence and a lack of intensity as reasons for the Raptors’ early deficit: “we have a target on our backs, and they came out and punched us in the face.”
First off, let’s take a second to think about how shocking it is that the Raptors can be legitimately described nowadays as a team with a “target on their backs.” After the last decade, that’s nothing short of amazing. To add to Bayno’s comments, it’s clear that the Raps need to do a better job of chasing Orlando shooters off the 3 point line – their traditional-style bigs aren’t doing them any favors, matchup wise – and find a way to generate some open looks. With the long-armed Magic, perhaps it’s a bit of creativity in transition that’s lacking, instead of taking looks-open-oh-shit-it’s-not layups. Also, Bruno.
- 11:40: Evan Fournier twists through the lane for a layup. He’s making mincemeat of Terrence Ross right now – not for a lack of effort, which is concerning.
- 10:50: Kyle Lowry now has the Raptors’ last 10 points, dating back to the second quarter. You can always count on him to pick the team up when they need him. Let’s see if the rest of the guys follow.
- 9:00: I will say this for Terrence Ross: even though he’s struggled tonight on defence, his effort level has not wavered at all, and he’s contributing offensively, mostly as a kick-out option. It’s nice to see the maturity coming along.
- 8:22: Last 3 possessions for Jonas: blocked from behind, misses put-back at the hoop, offensive foul. It’s really not his night.
- 7:20: “DeRozan with 2 assists tonight… He’s got to… read… how they play him, and look for others at times.” Jack Armstrong informing us that passing the ball is, indeed, a part of basketball.
- 5:33: 72-62 Magic after a gorgeous turnaround jumper from Vucevic over Amir’s outstretched arms. He hasn’t put a ton of points on the board – he has just 9 – but his hands are all over this game. He’s got 5 assists to this point out of the low post.
- 4:20: “Honey, who is that homeless person on the floor?” “Oh, that’s just Luke Ridnour.” Good lord, man, get a shave.
- 3:41: After working the shot clock down to 2, DeMar throws up a contested 3 that is easily blocked. It seems that, apart from Lowry, the rest of the team is still asleep – they’re having a really tough time putting any sustained runs together, and at times they’ve just looked downright lost. Thank God for Lowry, though. Without him, this game would be over already.
- 2:25: Evan Fournier finally looks human, airballing a 3 and reminding us that, yes, this is indeed Earth.
- 2:00: Platoon swap out of the break with the Raptors down 9. Two consecutive turnovers to start their second half as a unit. Starting to get legitimately scared this game might slip away.
- 0:00: Raptors still down 11, 83-72, after 3 quarters. Very little positives to take from the 3rd, besides the fact that Kyle Lowry is absolutely playing his ass off on both ends. It might fall to him to bring the team over the line.
- 11:50: A Tyler Hansbrough and-1 is called back for a lack of continuation. I assume the ref had a stroke at actually seeing Hansbrough finish through contact at the rim, because that was a BRUTAL call.
- 11:00: Eugenie Bouchard outs herself as a Heat fan! I’ll have to have a serious chat with her once we’re happily married 5 years from now.
- 9:49: We’re tied. It all happened so fast – but an 11-0 run from the Raptors second unit out of the quarter has completely turned the game around. Lou Williams has been the catalyst (man, can get shoot in tight spaces), but it’s been a serious change when it comes to the team’s energy level on defence and out in transition that’s been the difference. The starters had better take these guys out for dinner after the game.
- 9:45: I’m still stunned about what just happened. Three quarters of bad basketball mitigated by a minute and a half. Man. This Raptors team.
- 8:45: Greivis Vasquez is such an emotional player, which both helps and hurts him. Running on adrenaline after the Raptor run, he bricks a way too early in the shot clock 3 on one end, and commits a careless foul on the other. Orlando’s back up 3, and he’s 1 of 8 on the night. He’s quickly pulled for Lowry, rightfully so.
- 7:15: I’ve been hard on Hansbrough, but he’s doing a really credibly job of keeping Vucevic away from the hoop right now. That, along with James Johnson doing James Johnson things, has really changed the look of Orlando’s offence. #AllHustleNoMuscle
- 6:40: Patrick Patterson hits a huge 3, giving the Raptors the lead, celebrates with the Tiger fist pump/scream combo. Reminds us, once again, that this team really, truly gives a shit. It’s my favourite thing about the Raptors right now.
- 5:30: Lou Williams draws a charge on Tobias Harris. He is EVERYWHERE right now. His best game as a Raptor, by far.
- 5:15: Lou Williams brings the missed open layup count to 6. I shouldn’t have said anything. Dammit.
- 3:50: Williams exits for Terrence Ross after some truly excellent minutes. I was hesitant to start the year, but if he can bring that most nights, count me as firmly on the bandwagon.
- 3:20: I was about to type out how I wished Casey had kept Williams in the game, but Terrence Ross just nailed a 3 off a DeRozan dish to tie the game at 95. Guess that’s why I’m not an NBA coach. Well, that, and my general lack of basketball knowledge.
- 2:20: Evan Fournier hits a 3 to give the Magic the lead back after a James Johnson dunk. Rrrr.
- 2:00: Can I also add: James Johnson is the Lou Williams of the Raptors’ defensive setup. He can, at times, completely change games on that end on his lonesome. This quarter, he’s stood up multiple Magic drives and also blocked Channing Frye in the post.
- 0:38: James Johnson misses a chance in the lane to put the game away with the Raps up 1. He’s probably not the guy you want taking that shot, despite his defensive excellence.
- 0:13: Johnson grabs a huge board, his 10th, after an Orlando miss, leading to an intentional foul to stop the clock. Patterson is ultimately fouled and sent to the line.
- 0:11: Patterson misses the first. Petey, my heart!
- 0:10: Patterson hits the second. If anyone gets the reference in that last line, post it in the comments. I’ll buy you a beer. No Googling.
- 0:05: Tobias Harris blows a weird turnaround jumper that would have tied the game. Oh, right. It’s the Magic.
- 0:00: Ross hits two free throws. 104-100. Ball game. Mood is happy, once again, in the living room.
- 0:00: No Bruno, though :(. Next time.
Well, there you have it. Three bad quarters, followed by one really good one to close things out, and the Raptors end up with a pretty forgettable victory. The biggest positives to take away from this were the performances of Lowry, Williams, and Johnson, who were outstanding. It also serves as another reminder that this team is never out of games, even when it feels as if they should be by all accounts.
That all said, a win is a win is a win, and regardless of how harrowing it was, the Raptors now stand at 7-1 with a huge matchup against the Bulls looming. I have a feeling that a lack of motivation won’t be an issue there.
“We’re going to win this game. If there’s any other thing on my mind, any doubt in my mind, then I shouldn’t be the one who’s going to guard him,” Johnson said of his mindset. “I’m confident. I like to be in those kinds of situations.” Sure enough, the ball was swung to Harris in the corner, beyond the three-point arc. Johnson did not bite. Harris dribbled to the middle of the floor and faked. Still no bite. Harris rose up for a contested shot, and missed. Ball game. The Raptors won a game they did not deserve to by a score of 104-100. Johnson’s role is narrowly defined. He is there, primarily, for those moments. Even in games in which he does more, like on Tuesday — he had a team-high 10 rebounds in 22 minutes, and operated as the screen man for a few Kyle Lowry pick-and-rolls — your attention is drawn to that aspect of his job. And it’s crucial.
For three quarters the undermanned Magic had the Raptors right where they wanted them. They were moving the ball and finding the open man and draining threes like they were a team of Kyle Korvers. Just when it seemed like the Raptors would finally pay the price for their early indifference with just the second loss in eight games, the Raptors bench arrived to save the night. Led by Lou Williams scoring , who continues to confirm his fourth-quarter credentials, and Patrick Patterson who looked particularly good himself in the fourth, the Raptors finally started seeing some shots drop. The defence, which had been so horrendous through the first half — Orlando had first- and second-quarter totals of 32 and 28 points — started to pick up in the third thanks in large part to Johnson, who had his most impactful game since re-joining the Raptors. Johnson was all over the court, defending his own man and helping when another member of the Magic got a step on one of his teammates. He also took over the rebounding duties almost single-handedly, finishing with a game-high 10 despite just 21 minutes of court time. Normally his contributions aren’t quite as obvious, but on this night there was no missing Johnson.
Finally giving the Raptors a defensive presence, and sealing off Tobias Harris on the game’s pivotal possession, Johnson helped spark a shocking fourth-quarter comeback as Toronto beat the Orlando Magic 104-100 for its fifth straight home victory. Johnson had just six points but he grinded out an outstanding fourth quarter as Toronto out-scored the Magic 32-17 in the final 12 minutes to get to a franchise-best 7-1 on the season. “Spicy to me is a guy who is always going crazy, doing some stuff,” Vasquez said of Johnson. “But I’ll tell you this man, he reminds me a lot of Tony Allen when I was in Memphis. You need someone crazy in the locker room. He’s not afraid to fight for you or anything like that. He’ll die for the whole team, including you guys.” With the starters mainly shabby — Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas were entirely ineffective and DeMar DeRozan struggled through a tough night, getting hammered at every turn — it was up to the Raptor bench to salvage the night.
When the second unit takes on the starters in the practice, the five reserves always wear white. The bench group embraces the competition. Individually they each know they could start on many teams around the league. Collectively they know they can give the starters a good run. “White Squad always gets it done,” Johnson boasted. “Pat celebrates by yelling ‘White Squad.’ And we all chime in with it.” On Tuesday, that unit changed the game. With all five reserves on the floor, Toronto opened the final quarter on an 11-0 run to erase the deficit and pull even with the Magic. Patterson scored nine of his 12 points in the frame, Lou Williams eight of his 14, giving the Raptors the spark the needed offensively. But Johnson was the unsung hero with his defence and rebounding.
“Our resiliency, never back down, never surrender, no matter what the deficit is,” said Patrick Patterson, whose 12 points (on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-for-3 from three), were crucial for the Raptors comeback. “We’re always going to fight hard, we’re always going to battle.” Patterson wasn’t the sole architect of the Raptors fourth quarter surge. Lou Williams exploded in the second half with 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, all in 15 minutes. He carried the team until Kyle Lowry could come in and deliver his usual heady, angry play. In 36 minutes, Lowry put in 19 points (while shooting 50 percent from the field, and humiliating Luke Ridnour a few times) to go with six rebounds and seven assists. But the key, as Patterson confirmed, was getting stops. And for that, the hero for the Raptors was none other than James Johnson. “He was huge, he was really huge,” said Coach Dwane Casey. “I thought he came in and gave us a disposition, a presence defensively.”
The Orlando Magic dropped their second straight contest Tuesday, 104-100, to the Toronto Raptors, squandering a lead they took in the first quarter and built to as much as 11 on several occasions. Toronto’s second unit went on an 11-0 run against Orlando’s reserves in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, tying the score and setting the table for its starters to take command. Orlando got 23 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists from Tobias Harris and another 18 points, with five three-pointers, from Channing Frye in Frye’s best performance since joining the club as a free agent in July. But the Raptors’ hot start to the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the game.
In July, the Magic attempted to sign Patterson when Patterson was a restricted free agent. Orlando executives sought Patterson because of the long-range shooting he can provide from the power-forward spot, and Patterson displayed that skill Tuesday night, sinking all three of the 3-pointers he attempted. One of those treys provided the ninth, 10th and 11th points of Toronto’s fourth-quarter run and tied the score 83-83 with 9:50 to play. Vaughn immediately subbed Fournier, Harris and Vucevic back into the game for Aaron Gordon, Ben Gordon and Harkless. But the damage had been done.
Dwane Casey: “We can’t be annoyed when teams come out and give us their best shot.”Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross appear to be in a battle to see who has the flashiest kicks. Both players had bright neon kicks in their lockers.Speaking of kicks, you probably can’t tell on TV that Vasquez takes a Sharpie to his shoes and writes motivational stuff on ‘em. Pretty cool, though.
Toronto let Magic big man Channing Frye get entirely too open too many times to start the game, and he piled up 16 points by halftime, making four of his five 3-point attempts. The Raptors entered the fourth quarter trailing by 11, then scored the first 11 points of the period en route to a 104-100 win. Orlando deserves credit for competing, moving the ball and finding good shots for Frye and Tobias Harris — who had a 23-13-5, by the way — but Toronto is too talented to keep messing around. At least in Toronto head coach Dwane Casey’s eyes. “Where we want to go as a team, we can’t be playing like that,” Casey said, indicating that his post-game speech to his team probably wasn’t positive. This was later confirmed. “[You] probably would have thought we lost,” guard Lou Williams said. “But he’s our coach. He expects a high standard from us. He expects us to play at a high level. And tonight was no different — he didn’t feel like we played a great game; he let us know it.”
It will not bode well if the Raptors take 3 quarters off against tougher teams. It was simply a matter of intensity tonight, and when the Raptors needed to really turn it on defensively, they did. Sure, there were some calls that didn’t go there way, and the Magic hit some incredible shots, but for the most part, the Raptors defense sucked until the fourth quarter. If they played with that 4th quarter intensity to start the game, the result would have been similar to the past two contests against Washington and Philadelphia. Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Channing Frye, and Nikola Vucevic combined for 84 points. I don’t know what it was, but the Magic kept making the extra pass and finding these guys open. The Magic shot 48% from three – pretty indicative of how the night went.
The Raptors were having the same struggles they had in Miami before they nearly came back and won that game (somehow): Lack of ball movement and bad defense. They pressed onward though, and when the fourth quarter rolled around, the Raptors were a different animal. Led by Patterson and Lou Williams (who had a combined 17 points to start the fourth quarter), the Raptors went on an 11-0 run and erased Orlando’s 11-point lead in two minutes. Two minutes was all it took for the 11-point cushion to vanish.
DeMar DeRozan had a rough night, shooting 4-15 from the field and scoring 16 points. Kyle Lowry did his best to hold the starting unit together as he scored 19 points on 16 shots and collected 6 rebounds and 7 dimes. Terrence Ross had a nice shooting night, hitting 4 three-pointers and scoring 17 points. However, the accolades in this game belong to the second unit. Lou Williams was huge, scoring 14 points in 15.6 minutes. Patrick Patterson played big minutes because of his defense and was 3-3 from deep and 4-5 from the field for 12 points. James Johnson was all over the place, dishing to open teammates, playing defense, grabbing 10 boards and slamming home a go ahead dunk with less than 3 minutes left in the game.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons take a look at the problems with the L.A. Clippers, marvel at Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, and ask whether the Raptors could make the Finals.
The second unit, which was considered a weakness last season after averaging the fourth-fewest points (26.1, per Hoopsstats.com) in the NBA, has stepped up in a major way. The additions of Lou Williams (10.9 points) and James Johnson (6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds) are a huge reason why it now ranks fifth in points (36.0, after seven games) and eighth in efficiency (40.0). While several members of the bench have experience as starters earlier in their careers, the players understand their roles and why it’s important to remain sharp.
More significantly, the Raptors know that the hot start is not indicative of a team that is playing flawless basketball. Tuesday’s game was a perfect capsule of what has occasionally plagued them this year: they allowed the Magic to rain three-pointers — they hit 12 on 25 attempts — and were trailing by nine points at both the half and three-quarter marks. Stiff defence in the end and typically brilliant play from Kyle Lowry in the fourth allowed the Raptors to escape with a 104-100 victory and push their record to 7-1. “We are making a lot of mistakes at both ends of the floor, but the good thing is, we are finding a way to win, which is progress for us,” said Casey. “Last year, two years ago, we would have kicked those games in a heartbeat. But our guys have developed and learned how to find a way … to get on to the good end of the scoreboard.”
The Raptors were expected to be among the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but they are looking to do more than just that. Kyle Lowry continues to display the kind of leadership this franchise has never had, not even during Vince Carter’s glory days. And the role players on this team are not only talented, but they have the pain of losing in the first round last season as added incentive to play at the highest of levels, all the time. But what really separates them from a lot of teams here in the early going, is how they have been able to impact the game at both ends of the floor. Toronto’s averaging more than 107 points per game this season which is tops in the NBA. Defensively, they’re just as tough as they were a year ago. They are limiting foes to 95.9 points which is positions them eighth in the league in scoring defense.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, general manager Masai Ujiri will be doing everything within his power to make this dream become a reality. The Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports NBA Insider was making an appearance on a Tuesday segment of TSN Drive with Dave Naylor: “I wouldn’t be shocked if Masai goes really hard at Kevin Durant in a couple of years and gets in the mix. “I’m not saying they’re going to get him, but I think he’s unafraid in that way to pursue the really great player and sell them on the situation…You can win here, chase championships and have all the big endorsements and outside things available to you. I think that’s a big part of Masai’s plan.”
I can haz yo linkz??!? [email protected]
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson after Toronto’s miraculous 104-100 win over Orlando.
After the game tonight against the Magic, Greivis Vasquez compared James Johnson to former teammate, Tony Allen. Vasquez played with Allen his rookie season in Memphis, when he featured in 71 games, playing 12 minutes:
“Everybody knows he’s a little crazy,” Vasquez said. “But personally, I love his craziness. Should’ve gave him a couple ISOs today. I’m just playing, don’t let Casey know that.” Vasquez was then asked to expand on what he meant when he referred to Johnson as “spicy.”
“Spicy, to me,” Vasquez began, as everybody’s ears perked up, “is a guy that is always just in his own lane, going crazy, doing his own stuff. But I tell you this, man: he reminds me a lot of Tony Allen when I was in Memphis. You need somebody crazy in a locker room. He’s not afraid to fight for you or anything like that. He’ll die for the whole team.”
When Johnson, who also played with Allen in Memphis, was prompted for a response, he was pleased”
“I’ll take that all day,” Johnson said. “I love Tony Allen. I got the chance to play with him last year and I learned a lot from him. I’m just trying to bring it over here and carry it over here.”
Johnson was instrumental in the Raptors comeback. He had 6 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal, in 22 minutes of playing time. He was also a game-high +13 against the Magic, a game in which the Raptors lost three quarters but managed to outscore Orlando 32-17 in the fourth. Johnson also defended the seemingly unstoppable Tobias Harris in single coverage on the final play, forcing the swingman into a contested shot. Read the Quick Reaction for more.
You also might recall Tony Allen being discussed in the Raptors lockerroom indirectly when Rudy Gay referred to DeRozan as the best shooting guard he’d played with.
With the Raptors up two, they were called upon to defend a Magic offense that was shooting at 48% clip and was 12/25 from three. Here’s the full play with analysis right after:Direct Link
No pressure on the inbounder: Casey didn’t risk the inbounder (Channing Frye) finding a way to a shooting position after receiving the ball back after the pass.
Sticking to perimeter shooters: DeRozan sticks to Frye – notice that he didn’t even help on the drive by Harris for the shot. No help is provided from Lowry either on the Harris drive. Earlier in the game the Raptors were getting burned with their guards helping, on this play they stuck with their checks. Same is true for Ross.
No switch: Johnson and Patterson did not switch, Johnson did very well fighting through the somewhat mediocre screen and getting into a face-up defending position against Harris. At this point in the play, the odds are already in the Raptors favor given that Magic have not gained any advantage thus far. In the case a switch had happened, no doubt the ball would’ve been dumped to Vucevic for a post-up against the smaller Johnson.
Patterson does not come out: Patterson was tempated to help on Harris driving, but trusted Johnson to come into position and defend the play. If Patterson had helped, a pass to Vucevic would’ve been a layup.
Patterson boxout: In the case the switch did not happen (which it didn’t), the Magic plan was to crash the offensive boards and Patterson’s box-out on Vucevic is supreme.
Raptors rub one out against the Magic despite playing horribly.
|Amir Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -5Trash game. On his heels all night and slow-footed on rotations, both interior and ones on the perimeter covering Channing Frye. Maybe the Raptors were better off giving him the night off because he hurt them out there. Got benched thankfully. Did run the hi-lo on this play with JV which the Raptors should do much more of.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | -2Hit his threes including a huge one in the fourth, but just not enough for me. Defensively missing for long stretches, wasn’t able to contain Fournier, and seems to be drifting on offense, not attacking and only waiting to be setup. There needs to be a target set for him in terms of getting to the line, because he’s way too passive and isn’t slashing enough. It may sound harsh given his offensive game, but I really expect a little more in areas other than shooting from him.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 20 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | -9Basic rules to follow: don’t bring the ball down. Ever. Don’t switch off on defensive boards. Expect a pass when you’re open in the paint. Read the scouting report for the guy you’re guarding. He was absolutely awful on defense against Vujevic and in help situations. The only saving grace was a couple in-traffic rebounds, but even that was offset by missing chippies.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 8-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 7 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +1Turned it on when it counted, again. I felt like, if he wanted, he could’ve scored when he wished but chose to pick his spots against Ridnour and Payton. The latter’s length caused some slight issues, but his hard drive forward, stopping on a dime, and then pivoting for a pass or shot is quite unstoppable. His charges are becoming invaluable, and without him nipping those Orlando runs, this could’ve been an insurmountable lead heading into the fourth.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 4-15 FG | 8-9 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -3Too many low-percentage jumpers and was in the refs’ face too much about them. He did keep the offense ticking in the first half but the refs soon caught on to the fact that he was, first and foremost, looking for the foul. Got absolutely eaten alive by Tobias Harris, who he was too light for on both ends. Did hit two big FTs late in the game and one thing you have to admire is that he’s zoned in for 48. He may not do the right thing every time, but I do appreciate him trying to push through when adversity hits instead of drifting off.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9Was brought in for Valanciunas after his early struggles but didn’t exactly make much of a difference. Not his type of game, what with the Magic running the break every chance, working outside-in and swinging the ball on the perimeter. He did try to take out Vucevic which I appreciate.|
|James Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +13Another strong game off the bench, missed a couple gimmes, but set good picks, passed up tempting looks which were undoubtedly bad shots, and supplied some measure of perimeter defense against the Orlando bigs who were running rampant against Johnson and Valanciunas. Great defense against Harris on the final play. This guy is a revelation.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 4-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +9Hit a couple big shots, especially the one early in the fourth that signalled the Raptors comeback. It’s encouraging to see his shot return, but much like the rest of the team, his defense was inadequate. Gambling for steals in post-up situations with no help behind you is a very bad idea. Still, though, him and James Johnson were the most effective Raptors frontcourt combo for the game, so there’s that. Missed a FT late, but made up for it with a blockout on Vujevic on the last Magic possession.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 1-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +4Horrible shot selection, that three with 21 ticks left on final possession of the quarter has to be the dumbest thing he’s ever done. Defensively, he didn’t just try. I can’t count how many times he gave up on the screen ‘n roll. The Magic guard were just way too nimble for him.|
|Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +3Awesome. Huge lift off the bench in that late third, early fourth. The jumpers were going in on the pull-up fades, hit a huge three-pointer, and most of all for me, quelled the Orlando wing threat by playing the passing lanes, getting a steal, and disrupting their flow. What a trade!|
Couldn’t get the team to wake up for this one, which pisses me off. Didn’t really plan for Frye, because he was getting wide open looks, and probably should’ve switched to the smaller Johnson/Patterson front court earlier. But at least he did switch. I don’t know whether the Raptors coverage was a coaching or execution issue, but I do know that he didn’t have the team up for this game.
Five Things We Saw
- Three-point defense was not there. Magic shot 48%, Frye had clean looks all night, and not until the fourth quarter were the adjustments made. This is dangerous living, and even with JV and Amir in there, the effort should’ve been better. I found too many players were switched off to start the game which scares me.
- Lou Williams and James Johnson are providing a major boost off the bench. The later is active and playing intelligent basketball, and the former is finding his offense just when the Raptors need him. The Magic were running on made FGs in the first half and absolutely ramming it down the channels and the Raptors were struggling to cope. Johnson and Patterson helped cope with that in the second half.That all-bench lineup Casey plays isn’t looking too shabby, despite defying common logic.
- The Raptors bench outscored the Magic 36-14 – they bailed the starters out. DeRozan was being blanketed by Harris, JV was just off, Johnson was non-existent, meaning guys like Patterson became even more critical.
- Once again, taking care of the ball with only 12 turnovers offset the lack of assists (only 16) and overcame the often one-on-one play. This isn’t a recipe to succeed, but at least it’s holding us over while we find our feet in this early season.
- Ugly win, probably didn’t deserve it since Magic won three quarters. But hey, I’ll take it. We’re 7-1, heading into a statement game at home against the Bulls who have Derrick Rose back. That too, on TNT. Bring it on.
A solid listen via TSN Toronto 1050 with Dave Naylor and Bruce Arthur. Woj even goes on to call the Raptors “the sleeping giant in the NBA”. That’s a BIG statement.
When the Orlando Magic were on the verge of losing their second All NBA center to free agency in less than 20 years, the Magic decided to take matters into their own hands and trade him instead of risking losing him for nothing. Rarely do teams trading away a superstar end up “winning” the deal, but with Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala bolting their new teams after only a year, that’s exactly what happened with Orlando.
The big prize for Magic was Nikola Vucevic, a young 7-footer with rebounding and scoring skills who had shown a lot of promise in Philadelphia.
Fast forward 2+ years and Vucevic has blossomed into possibly the best true center in the Eastern Conference, leading the Magic in scoring and second in the league in rebounding. He’s also become a nifty passer. If Vucevic doesn’t make the All Star team this year, it would only be due to the Magic’s poor record and certainly not his play.
In fact, against the Raptors in their first meeting, Vucevic hurt them whenever he was on the court with his inside play and ability to hit the outside jumper. In just 33 minutes, before fouling out, Vucevic scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, many of those in traffic.
While Orlando is just a couple of years into their rebuild and still a year or two away from being a playoff team, they aren’t without their talent. Although much of it is young and inexperienced.
Casual NBA fans will probably look at the Magic roster and wonder who the hell these guys are, but players like Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Maurice Harkless are young with lots of potential. and anyone who watched the first game saw Dewayne Dedmon, an undrafted 7-footer who has played on three NBA teams in two years, as well as having a stint in the D-League, look like a monster, blocking 4 shots, grabbing 4 rebounds and scoring 6 points in just 16 minutes of play. In fact, in only 9 minutes per game, Dedmon is averaging 1.2 blocks per game.
Plus, the Magic have a few veterans, in Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour and Channing Frye.
While their record is only 2-5, the Magic are not only a team with promise, but an entertaining one to watch. And a lot of that has to do with rookie Elfrid Payton, who I profiled before the draft. While the two weaknesses he displayed before the draft, shooting and turnovers, have continued in the NBA, he’s the second most important player on this team, behind Vucevic. Despite being a rookie, he’s shown himself to be an absolute pest on defense and has the makings of an excellent floor general.
It’s the other first round pick that is a little more of a puzzle. Aaron Gordon became one of the biggest prizes in the draft with his athleticism, work ethic, high basketball IQ and underrated skills, so when he became the fourth pick in the draft, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t seem to have figured out quite what to do with Gordon, giving him inconsistent minutes and no identifiable role. He has the makings of a Kenneth Faried-type energy player, but with better defense and a better jumpshot.
Of course, Gordon won’t have much of an impact, yet, and not against the Raptors tonight.
The Raptors are on the other end of the scale than the Magic. They’re currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 record and the biggest point differential in the league. They have a top ten offense AND top ten defense. That’s not to say the Raptors can take the night off, however.
In the last game against Orlando, the Magic stayed with the Raptors until the final few minutes. As mentioned earlier, they had their hands full with Vucevic and despite Valanciunas making more progress this season, Vucevic had his way with Valanciunas in their first game. Jonas needs to faceguard Vucevic when the ball goes up and keep him off the boards at any cost. He also needs to guard him tighter on the perimeter. Vucevic shoots more than 50% from the field outside of 16 feet, where he shoots more than a quarter of his shots. Jonas tends to be tentative when defending that far away from the basket, so that’s something the Raptors are going to have to keep an eye on.
On the other end, the Raptors have to go to Valanciunas in the post to try and draw fouls and get Vucevic out of the game. Vucevic’s defense has improved, and Valanciunas only shot 2-8 from the field, in the last game, but getting Vucevic in foul trouble should be the main goal.
The other thing to look out for is three point shooting. While the Raptors have one of the better defenses in the league, they still struggle to contain opponents’ three point shooting, and Orlando is one of the league’s better three point shooters. A lot of the Raptors’ struggles, in this area, has to do with the help-style defense the Raptors play, collapsing on opponents’ drives to the basket and inside play. If Vucevic comes up big again and causes the Raptors problems, it might leave the Orlando shooters open.
While the Raptors are unbeaten at home and should win again tonight, it could end up being a close game.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
What’s Up With Valanciunas?
A lot was expected of Valanciunas this year. Now in his third season, a noticeably stronger Valanciunas had worked hard all summer to take a bigger role this season, especially on offense, but so far his production has dipped over last season and he’s still showing the same tendency to bring the offense to a halt when he’s got the ball in the post. He’s only reached double digits once, in rebounds and he’s actually playing fewer minutes than he did last season.
Expecting a big game against Vucevic is probably asking too much, but we need to see more from him.
What Happened to the Three Point Shooting?
Last year, the Raptors were one of the better three point shooting teams in the league. This year, they are below average and the only Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson are hitting consistently from beyond the arc. Lowry, a career .349 shooter, is only hitting .269. DeRozan still hasn’t learned to shoot consistently from three. Vasquez is shooting a career low from three and Lou Williams doesn’t seem to have regained his shooting form he had pre-injury.
When Will Aaron Gordon Be Unleashed?
As mentioned above, Gordon hasn’t quite found a consistent role on the Magic, but he’s actually producing very well in limited minutes. If he can gain the trust of Coach Vaughn and get more minutes, Gordon could be one of the more entertaining and impactful players in the East.
The Raptors have more talent. Period. While they don’t have an All NBA talent, they have two potential All Stars, one of the better role players in the game, in Amir Johnson, and a potentially great big man, in Valanciunas. Plus, Ross is showing himself to be a very good three-and-D guy.
The Magic have some good players, but they are young and mistake prone.
The Raptors have one of the deepest teams in the league and while Orlando has some talent off the bench, in Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour and potentially Aaron Gordon, they’re simply no match for the Raptors’ bench.
Dwayne Casey may not be one of the best coaches in the league, but he’s one of the better ones. Jacque Vaughn, on the other hand, might be out of a job before the All Star break.
I don’t think it will be as close as the game in Orlando, but it should be entertaining.
Score: Raptors 110 – Magic 94
There is ample reason for optimism, though. The Raptors are third in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating. They have shot the second most free throws in the league, and their starting lineup has outscored opponents by an absurd 46 points in just 63 minutes — the best raw total in the league. In playing the likes of Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia and the undermanned Thunder, the Raptors have had a soft schedule so far. However, despite DeRozan’s protestations, it might indeed mean something. “If you’re leading early on, I think that just breeds confidence,” guard Lou Williams said. “Especially with a young group of guys that set a goal that they want to be good, they want to be at the top of the East, they want to be one of those teams that’s talked about.”
You can bet that Terrence Ross got up 500 shots last week and stepped up his game considerably because he knows full well that James Johnson has been giving the team strong minutes behind him. The depth has also helped when injuries have struck. Patrick Patterson has come in for Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough and the other big men have helped spell Jonas Valanciunas and Johnson. Hansbrough has been far more effective this season and his offensive advanced stats are stellar. Dwane Casey is enjoying the options his front office has provided. “James (Johnson) has played his role very well, as a defensive player (guarding) multiple positions,” Casey said. The coach says Johnson’s ability to guard every position but centre has allowed him to be more creative and to use Vasquez and fellow guard Lou Williams at times alongside Kyle Lowry in a three-guard lineup.
That being said, the Raptors are 6-1, tied with Houston and Memphis for the league’s best record, with the best point differential in the NBA, before you take the Sixers exchange rate into account. The Raptors are in first place. Everyone be cool. “It don’t mean nothing right now, honestly,” says DeMar DeRozan, who is scoring more per minute than he has in his NBA career. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re seven games in, honestly, we know we have a lot more to improve on.” “We’re still working on a lot of stuff, trying to figure out what we are, trying to figure out our identity,” said coach Dwane Casey, who only had to introduce two new offensive sets this season. It’s early, he kept saying. It’s early. “You going to tell me San Antonio, look at their record right now, you going to tell me they’re not going to be in the money?” Yes, this is true. There is so far to go. But let’s hold onto this moment for a second, OK?
he Raptors current seven-game homestand features three games worth circling on the calendar. The first resulted in a 103-84 win over the Washington Wizards on Friday night, while the second and third are Toronto’s upcoming dates with the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors will have no problems getting revved up to play those marquee matchups, but before those two games they host the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz—teams that, on paper, the Raptors should handle. Will Toronto be able to fight human nature and stay focused on the task at hand against the Magic and Jazz?
Lowry embraced the position as the Raptors’ social planner to help build chemistry. He organizes team events such as trips to the bowling alley and the movies. When the Raptors play against the 76ers in his hometown of Philadelphia, he invites the entire squad to his house the evening before the game. Forget about hotel room service, the Lowry family delivers five-star treatment. “We have a nice big home-cooked dinner,” Terrence Ross said. “His wife and his mom cook for us. It’s good, too. He brings his barber in … He’s got pool tables, video games, we watch the games there. We’ll get to Philly around 6:00, get to his house around 9:00, won’t leave until 11:00. It’s fun being at his house.” For as many group events as Lowry plans, he also develops one-on-one relationships with his teammates. Just as he formed bonds with veterans when he was a young player, he does the same with those starting their careers.
Number four might be the unlikeliest of our five candidates to actually win the award when all is said and done. Nonetheless, Lowry has really emerged as a star in this league. He’s a hidden gem north of the border, but he’s really come out this year as a man on a mission to put Toronto right back into the playoff mix. Now that he’s getting paid like a top guard, Lowry is proving himself worth every penny. Through seven games, he’s our fourth ranked player with a nERD of 18.5. Lowry’s the main reason his team sits pretty at 6-1. He possesses a 29.6% share of his team’s total nERD of 62.5. As the “King of the North” and leader of the Raps, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowry is in and out of our top five throughout the season.
He produced consecutive eye-dropping performances this past week against two of the NBA’s elite point guards: the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo (35 points, including a key steal late in the game) and the Washington Wizards’ John Wall (triple-double, his Raptors-record fourth). “I think he’s a stud,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the muscular 6-foot-1, 204-pounder. “He’s a bowling ball. He’s a pit bull. . . . He’s grown on me.”
Lowry averaged over 29 minutes a game in his first season with the Raptors and last year started 79 games while setting career highs in minutes (36.2), points (17.9), assists (7.4), rebounds (4.7) and three point field goal percentage (38%). This past summer, he signed a four-year deal, reportedly worth $48 million and is one of the key components on what is considered one of the best young teams in the NBA. “I really thought Steve was the kind of guy that could have helped and taught Kyle some things. But Kyle’s a bulldog,” said Colangelo. “He’s an type A personality, I’m really glad to see the coach (Dwane Casey) letting him go a little bit and allowing him to express some of that freedom out on the court. And he answers the bell.” Colangelo said when the Raptors traded for Lowry they projected him to become a top-10 point guard in the NBA, in the hopes that he could eventually push that to top 5. Turns out, he is nearing that status now and along with DeMar DeRozan gives the Raptors one of the best guard tandems in the league.
Adam Silver owes Masai Ujiri a thank-you letter. He should accompany it with a hefty donation to the Toronto Raptors general manager’s Giants of Africa Foundation. And while he’s at it he should arrive at James Dolan’s door with some flowers and a vintage guitar for the wannabe rock-and-roller and owner of the New York Knicks.
Vucevic always has been impressed with DeRozan’s game. Last season, DeRozan earned his first All-Star selection and helped the Raptors win the Atlantic Division title. This past summer, he played for Team USA when it won the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Meanwhile, DeRozan and the Raptors continue to improve. DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, is averaging 22.7 points per game. Toronto, which is off to a 6-1 start, will enter Tuesday night’s matchup against Orlando with the best record in the Eastern Conference. “You always want to see people that you know well do well,” Vucevic says. “DeMar is a guy that I was pretty close with in college. We were in the same class. We were both freshmen. He really improved his game a lot, and I’m very happy for him. He’s a guy that works really hard and spends a lot of time in the gym. It’s really great. I’m happy for him.”
“Shot fakes? I don’t pump fake,” Williams said after Sunday’s victory, in which he scored 16 points in 18 minutes. “Nah, I just create contact.” Williams’ methodology is a little different than we are used to in Toronto. He does not have the series of moves and counter-moves that DeRozan has, nor the head-down, just-try-to-stop-me approach that Lowry uses. Williams’ ability to draw fouls is as much both art and science. It is effective. Statistics from John Schuhmann at NBA.com show DeRozan was sixth in the league last year in free throws attempted per field goal attempted in the restricted area — a quick way to determine a player’s ability to get fouled in non-traditional spots on the floor. (Atlanta’s brilliant Kyle Korver was first). Williams was eighth in the same category.
Magic are still without promising young guard Victor Oladipo, out with a facial fracture. . . . Orlando comes in off a loss in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon despite 27 points and 12 rebounds from Vucevic, who is turning into an excellent young centre. . . . Mississauga’s Andrew Nicholson has fallen far out of favour in Orlando, a Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision in four straight games. . . . Orlando’s two wins have come on a Tobias Harris buzzer-beater over Philadelphia and in overtime against Minnesota. . . . To commemorate Remembrance Day, the Raptors will wear camouflage jerseys, with a twist. They will be the short-sleeved T-shirt-style jerseys in camouflages so they’ll be even more hidden. . . . The Raptors have never started a season with five straight home wins. . . . Toronto has won eight in a row over the Magic, including earlier this season in Orlando.
Toronto (6-1) Pace: 97.1 (10), OffRtg: 109.4 (3), DefRtg: 99.9 (7), NetRtg: +9.5 (3) With no Bradley Beal, we didn’t get an answer on the better-backcourt question, but the Raptors’ easy win over the Wizards on Friday was a good way to start a seven-game homestand. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been consistently good, but Terrence Ross’ 3-point shooting (8-for-13 over the weekend) is more noteworthy.
Team off to best start in franchise history at 6-1. Think back to the dark days of the 4-19 start during the 2012-13 season and how far they’ve come. From that point on, his teams have gone 84-64 and that includes a 6-12 start last year. Nice to finally have a good start this time around. Bottom line, the Organization has stayed patient with Coach Casey and they’ve been rewarded for it. Lots of work still to do and ground to cover with 75 games to play yet it’s nice to briefly reflect on how far they’ve come. Leadership has had a lot to do with it. Coaching does matter a whole lot and Casey has paid his dues and deserved a second chance after the plug was pulled way too early on him in Minnesota. Good things happening for a good guy.
“The attention is not taking my humbleness,” Valanciunas responds when we ask him about the added focus on him going into this season. “I haven’t proved that I’m the best centre in the league, so I have a lot of things to do.” That response would more than likely be reiterated by Raptors coach Dwane Casey, a guy who isn’t short on praise for his big man when he performs, but someone who also isn’t shy about doling out criticism and restricting minutes when he slips up. Last season Casey kept his centre on a relatively short leash—Valanciunas has a tendency to get into foul trouble and Casey has shown a reluctance to let him play through early fouls. He’s also had issues defending the pick-n-roll during his early going in the league and Casey, a defensive-minded disciplinarian, has let the media know when he’s been unhappy with Valanciunas’ defence.
As they look to extend the best start in team history, the Raptors will try to open 5-0 in Toronto for the first time in 11 years as they continue a seven-game homestand against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night. Toronto (6-1) is averaging an NBA-best 107.4 points after shooting a season-high 56.6 percent in Sunday’s 120-88 home win over Philadelphia. The Raptors moved alone atop the conference for the first time in their 20-year history. “They are one of the best teams in the East right now,” 76ers guard Tony Wroten said. DeMar DeRozan needs 21 points to pass Andrea Bargnani for third on the Raptors’ all-time list. He hit 8 of 12 from the field and all eight free-throw attempts against the 76ers for 24 points.
“It feels good to start good like this,” center Jonas Valanciunas said. “We’ve got to do this every game.” Toronto, seeking its best home start since going 5-0 in 2003, faces an Orlando team that has scored 90.3 per game while dropping three of four on the road. The Magic (2-5) have also averaged 90.0 points during an eight-game losing streak to Toronto and have reached 100 four times while going 2-29 in their last 31 on the road. Both road wins in that span have come against the woeful 76ers on Feb. 26 and on Wednesday. The Magic were outrebounded 45-31 in a 104-96 loss at Brooklyn on Sunday as they failed to win a third straight. The Raptors held a 50-40 rebounding edge in a 108-95 win at Orlando on Nov. 1. ”A lot of times, rebounding is position, your early work,” coach Jacque Vaughn said Sunday. “I think we can continue to address that and take care of that.”
Photo Credit: Casey Campbell
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Alot of criticism of Casey’s substitutions and rotations so far this season. So much that we’re curious to know what the fans think of it? If ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Or is there still an area of improvement Casey can make at this point?
The Raptors are tied for the best record in the NBA.
They possess the third-best offence in the league at 109.4 points per 100 possessions and have leaped up to seventh in defence at 99.9 points per 100 possessions against. They are best in the NBA at taking care of the ball, they are second-best at getting to the line (using free throw attempt rate as a metric) and their club’s starting five has the fifth-best plus-minus rating in the NBA (for what it’s worth, their five-man bench unit is sixth-best).
It’s tempting to dismiss all of this since we’re only beginning the third week of the season, but that would be overly cynical in this context. Any NBA observer worth his or her salt knows that a seven-game stretch hardly represents a large enough chunk of a season to draw meaningful conclusions from, and if we were talking about a team with a history opening seasons like this I’d be quick to dismiss it — but we’re not. What these Raptors are doing is unprecedented in their history. They are tied for the best record in the NBA. If you’ve been suffering through most of the last 20 years of Raptors basketball, you know that’s worth something.
Expectations can do funny things to teams. The Raptors have fallen victim to the pressures of expectations many times before. Usually they spend summers after successful seasons overplaying their hand — and overextending their resources — trying to prove they belong by importing expensive new talent. The pressure to make it all work has, historically, crumbled the foundation of the team rather than reinforced it. So to watch a Raptors team, coming off of one of their most successful seasons ever, jump out of the starting gates on the way to a 6-1 record is meaningful, even if it has only been two weeks.
When the club was struggling on defence in that first week, and guys like Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams and Terrence Ross were struggling to make an impact on the court, the team still took care of business and won games. Sure, it was generally against bottom-feeders like Orlando, Boston and the injury-ravaged Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s not like this team has a history of consistently dispatching clubs below them in the standings (Charlotte, anyone?). When teams can struggle and still win games, that’s meaningful, too.
Dwane Casey talks a lot about disposition. He came to Toronto talking about changing the club’s disposition back in 2011. Just about every coach that preceded him said the same stuff with different words, and so really there was no reason to expect that Casey would actually be able to do what he set out to accomplish. It’s hard to articulate exactly how pervasive the malaise that surrounded this team was. Perhaps the best way is to point to the fact that it is only now, in his fifth season with the organization, that can one start to accept the fact that he may have actually succeeded. He made a point of singling-out the focus the team executed with after last night’s thwacking of the Sixers. They are the ultimate cellar dweller in the NBA, but the Raptors got up for them, buried them early and kept them down. They weren’t distracted by Philly’s horrid record or D-League-calibre roster, they came to play and treated them as though they were any other team in the NBA. Disposition.
Now, of course, the club has to do it over a longer period of time. They have to maintain the attacking style that’s seeing them live at the free throw line. They have to ensure that the tight defensive rotations that allowed them to pummel Washington and Philadelphia are a nightly occurrence. They have to continue taking care of the ball, because this team will never be a killer assist team (they just don’t have the passers for that). They have to find a way to improve on the glass, because they are just getting beat there too consistently (they are ranked 18th in the league in allowing offensive boards). They can get away with that against the clubs they’ve been playing but elite teams will obliterate them there. The Raptors also need to start hitting their three-point shots with more consistency. They’re down at 31.5% right now, good for fifth-worst in the league, and that’s going to need to improve because they can’t always count on officials giving them friendly whistles (nor can they expect that team’s won’t adjust to their attacking style) to prop up their offensive attack.
All of that is for the weeks and months to come, though. Right now, the Raptors are tied for the best record in the NBA. They’ve lost only once since the season started back in October and they are in a great position to give themselves an early cushion with this seven-game home stand the league gifted them with. There will be plenty of time then to pick through the minutiae of Valanciunas’ wonky around-the-basket percentages or James Johnson’s impact off of the bench. Right now, the Raptors re tied for the best record in the NBA.
Take time to pause. It’s worth acknowledging.
Huge win, huge dunks, huge grandma glasses.
Toronto demolished Philadelphia by a score of 120-88. DeRozan was awesome. Ross was great. James Johnson ended some random Sixers’ career before Sam Hinkie could end it for him (for a future second-round pick, of course). Hugs and daps all around to the Raptors for not taking their opponents lightly.
The win pushes Toronto into a three-way tie for the league’s best record at 6-1. The lopsidedness of the win also bumped up the Raptors’ plus-minus on the season to +11.3 per game, tops in the league.
There’s not much else to say. Raptors good. Sixers bad.
Thoughts on the Sixers
You have to hand it to the Sixers. It takes a lot of balls to tank this blatantly. There is a legitimate chance that this team could set a new NBA record for futility, which is ironically already owned by the Sixers.
There’s a sick ingenuity to their plan. Having monopolized the draft through hook and by crook, the Sixers managed to keep their cap clean, and boast a bounty of prospects and picks. They could become anything.
If they wanted to, the Sixers could cash in all at once and rebuild overnight. They lived through the struggle so another team didn’t have to. Say, in a few years, the next Kevin Love or Dwight Howard – whatever disgruntled superstar of the day – becomes available. The Sixers could trade in their blue chippers and get off the schnide. In effect, they are renting out misery for the hope of a better tomorrow.
Or, they could simply hold onto their prospects and cash in. A core of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Michael Carter-Williams and whichever prospect they land next summer would rival that of any other team. They could take the bird in the hand, or the two in the bush. Either way, the future looks bright.
That plan is well and good on paper. It might work, or it might not. Either way, it’s the decision that Sixers ownership and management chose.
But I do want to say a peace for their fanbase, of whom are bearing the full brunt of losing. Whether fans like it or not, the Sixers’ plan is being thrust upon them. Each loss, each fill-in Brandon Davies, each future-for-now-Thaddeus-Young-for-a-middling-pick trade is a bitter pill imposed on the Sixers’ paying customers.
It’s not that the Sixers are unique in their decision to rebuild. Plenty of teams have, and are, employing this very strategy in hopes of a come up. I’m not slagging the Sixers for their choice. It’s probably the best move for their future.
Rather, I’m denouncing the unflinching fashion in which they have chose to employ this strategy. A fanbase and its team are one in the same. They’re supposed to be pulling in the same direction.
But that’s not what the Sixers are doing. They haven’t made a single concession to their fans. Not one. Not one legitimate NBA player signed this offseason. Ticket prices weren’t lowered. Fans don’t even get to watch the fruit bore from last season’s impotence, as Joel Embiid is out for the year with a broken foot and Dario Saric is trapped overseas. Not one concession. The Sixers have the fanbase by the ears, and are willing to drag the fans kicking and screaming to whatever promise land may lay ahead.
Again, I want to reiterate the positives in the Sixers’ plan. Given their situation when Hinkie and a new management group took over, the path beneath their feet is absolutely the correct one. It’s the ruthlessness that I take exception to. Sixers management is dictating to fans when games matter, and when winning matters. That’s fundamentally wrong. Fans, players and coaches decide when games matter, and to have it robbed from them is wrong.
And at the very least, don’t make jokes about the situation. Seriously. Y’all just lost by 32 and your own Twitter account is making jokes? Come on.
Hold on we’re going home. pic.twitter.com/7GwFIl6qBY
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) November 10, 2014
Terrence Ross and confidence
It’s nice to see Terrence Ross breaking out of late. When he’s engaged in the offense, his defense follows suit. He’s the bridge that takes the Raptors from good to great. When he is confident, his mind is set to attack, rather than his default placidity. Shots like the one below isn’t good in the abstract, but it signals Ross’s confidence, which is so very good for the Raptors.
DeRozan’s hard work paying off
DeRozan’s post-game is really emerging as a legitimate weapon. He can bully smaller guards on the mid-block and create a decent shot whenever he wants. His footwork is much improved, which led to improved balance. The improved balance has allowed DeRozan to more easily generate separation on his fadeaways, allowing him to make plays like this.
Act like we’ve been there
I’m noticing a trend. After every loss, the comment sections flare up, searching for sacrificial lambs. Questions about the team’s long-term success gets called into question. Conversely, after wins, comment sections light up in positivity, the team is hailed as one of the elite in this league, daps all over.
The point isn’t to not react. That’s what we’re supposed to do. I’m a fan like everyone else and we ride on the emotional roller-coaster together.
But we should aspire to the attitude of “act like we’ve been there, even if we haven’t,” because it really does apply. All this success is new to us, and we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not an elite team just yet, nor is the squad fundamentally doomed to fail. It’s early in the season, and as much as we would like to yell and scream, let’s keep perspective. Plenty can change between now and the playoffs. If we’re going to yell and scream after every game, we’ll be exhausted come time for playoffs.
Let’s just take a second to appreciate that Drake chooses to lay his head in our bed. We’re truly #blessed to call him our own.
Apologies for the incoherent and sloppy writing. It’s 3 a.m. and there really isn’t much to be said about the Sixers. Raptors won, as they should have. Good on them for taking care of business.
A 4-0 week and we’re still at home for the next one, things are setup for things to happen. The only thing sweeter than the Raptors is the mood in the pod.
- Review of Philly, Washington, Boston, and OKC games
- James Johnson impact
- Terrence Ross over the week
- Kyle Lowy – MVP?
- The streak against Orlando
- Lookahead to Chicago on TNT
- Utah Jazz preview
- Raps earning the refs respect
- Throwback jerseys – what’s next?
- Best and worst
They didn’t slip at all, jumping out to a 33-20 first-quarter lead and coasting home. Casey called the performance “professional” and it was from the aspect that the Raptors got a bad team down and didn’t let it get any hope. “We’ve been in a lot of games where we had big leads and we lost them, especially with a team like that, that’s not going to give up,” said DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 24 points while playing only 26 minutes. “We’ve been (trying) to put our foot on people’s necks when we get a lead and not give them any hope. We didn’t let up, at no point. They probably hit a couple of threes, two threes in a row, and we picked up the defence again. . . . That’s the way we have to play when we gain leads.” The Sixers were, in a word, awful. They started a lineup that would perhaps contend for a D League title and brought even more suspect talent off the bench. They were missing key pieces in the injured Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, but it’s hard to imagine two more young players making any kind of difference.
The team moved to 6-1 for the first time and more importantly, took sole possession of top spot in the Eastern Conference after seven games or more for the first time with a 120-88 annihilation of the Philadelphia 76ers. Sure, it is pretty early to point out these things, but considering it has taken 20 seasons for it to happen, the Raptors might as well live it up. To the credit of the team, the high-flying Raptors did not get stuck in a dreaded “trap game” on Sunday against the woeful Sixers, now 0-6 and looking like a smart money pick to shatter the NBA’s all-time record for fewest wins in a season. Toronto shot 69% in the opening quarter and 61% in the first half, compared to Philly’s 40%. The Raptors also got to the free throw line at will, building a 17-5 attempts edge in the half against the overmatched Sixers defenders.
Similar to the Washington game, the Raptors looked better defensively out of the gate. Help defence was flying, as the Sixers regularly settled for 1-on-1 play with Tony Wroten, who led Philadelphia with 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Chris Johnson chipped in 16 off the bench, but may be remembered better for getting denied by Terrence Ross. This one was never all that competitive (fans got their pizza with 8:10 left) – those looking for entertainment elsewhere could look to Drake’s eyewear or Karter Lowry’s outstanding varsity jacket. Props to Dad for raising a patriot.
“I thought we were very professional and took a very professional approach,” Dwane Casey said following his team’s rout of the 76ers in a 120-88 victory. “Those guys are a young team and I knew they were going to come out and play hard, and they did that in the first few minutes of the game. Our guys played the way we should play.” Facing a cast of characters that even the staunchest hoops head would have difficulty picking out of a line-up, Toronto took the lead less than two minutes into Sunday’s contest and never relinquished. DeMar DeRozan was the first to identity and exploit a glaring mismatch, welcoming JaKarr Sampson – an un-drafted rookie – to the league, attacking him to the tune of seven points in three minutes. By the end of the opening quarter, they had scored 33 points, two days after dropping 28 on the Wizards, shooting 69 per cent – a percentage that didn’t drop below 60 until early in the third frame.
Just an incredibly efficient night at the office from DeRozan. The All-Star shot 8-for-12 from the field and hit all eight of his free throw attempts on his way to a game-high 24 points to go with six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 26 minutes of work. Not a second of that floor time was in the fourth. Head coach Dwane Casey took notice of his leading scorer’s refined approach. “One thing I thought DeMar (DeRozan) did a great job with is he took what the defence gave him. If they gave him a drive he took it; he didn’t force things, he kicked it out and found shooters and his spacing was good. There are going to be nights where he’ll have the match-up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to score.”
McDaniels is clearly the second round keeper the 76ers hoped they could lock up at a below market rate for multiple years before the season started. They may not have gotten the four-year deal they wanted but the 76ers have to be happy with what they have after nights like tonight. There were a few missed defensive rotations and ugly three point attempts but the highlight-worthy blocked shots and willingness to attack the rim more than made up for it. At a point in the fourth quarter the chance of catching another K.J. highlight was the only 76ers-centric reason to still have the game on.
After years of despising everything Lou Williams stood for, I found myself watching him today and not totally hating it. Sam Hinkie has helped us all move on, and the Lou Williams Hate Advisory Index (LWHAI) can be retired for good. This truly is a new era at LB.
Do you have a beer-league team at work? A bunch of friends, every one of them well into the middle-age slide? Usually only practise 10 minutes before games? Do you usually draw those mutants from Maintenance, most of whom you are pretty sure are ringers? Right, well, you’re still better than the 76ers. The 76ers are an exaggerated version of Raptors squads past. The key difference – they were purpose-built to lose. Fielding a roster of promising greenhorns and D-League scrubs, they’re doing a hell of a job at it. This is no longer an NBA team. It’s a human study into the long-term effects of tanking. To their credit, they are triers. Most of their trying involves taking hopeless fouls and missing free throws. They were down 19 early, at which point the Raptors engaged their autopilot. They haven’t had the opportunity to test that much this year, so it’s good news to find out it still works. It finished 120-88. Standouts for the Raptors: Everyone. Standouts for the 76ers: the team psychologist, his therapist and everyone in their lives who has to listen to them talk about basketball.
The 76ers were getting carved up defensively, and without exaggeration it can be said their defense was completely non-existent at times. The Raptors did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to do it. At one point in the second quarter, Amir Johnson was so wide-open from three that he actually took about five seconds to shoot the ball before sinking it from behind the arc. The Raptors went into the half up 60-45, shooting 17/17 from the free throw line. There were flaws though – the Raptors had 12 turnovers at the half and 20 overall. That’s nine more turnovers than they’ve had in any game this season.
The Raptors had some fun tonight as they hosted the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. The Raps showed no mercy as they thrashed the tanking squad by a score of 120-88. The W puts the Raps at an impressive 6-1 to start the season – giving them the sole position at the top of the Eastern conference. Feels good. This game wasn’t particularly close at any point. The Raps were up by 41 points at one point. All dressed players got a chance to contribute tonight, and it was definitely a good opportunity for the rotational players to log some rest after a relatively heavy past couple of days.
Toronto was led once again by the ultra-efficient DeMar DeRozan, who needed a mere 25+ minutes to amass 24 points. Several of his buckets were spectacular, and he continues to draw fouls, hitting all 8 attempts from the charity stripe. Kyle Lowry is still struggling with his 3-point shot, but hustled and defended in his usual fashion. His turnovers outnumbered his assists 4-3, but that won’t happen often, and was moot against the punchless 76ers.
Outside of that simple logic, the other elements of DeRozan’s game are anomalies in today’s NBA. Last season, he attempted only 210 three-pointers, 106th most in the League. He’s a maestro of the mid-range; often taking five or six dribbles before cocking the ball above his shoulder, fading away from the basket and launching a 17-foot turnaround over his defender. Through five games this season, 40.8 percent of his shots have come from 15-19 feet, the zone otherwise known as the anti-Houston Rockets long two. “I don’t care about analytics at all. I could give a hell about ‘em,” DeRozan said. “I don’t try to base myself off machines, I just try to take advantage of everything within that arc.” It’s a strategy coach Dwane Casey is comfortable with. “I know he’s an analytical nightmare, but he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the League because he does get to the free-throw line,” Casey said. “So it kind of equals itself out and I don’t have to fight with the analytical people all the time.”
I want to start off by saying that I”ve been watching the Raptors for as long as I can remember. Players have come and gone, but no one has influenced me in the way Demar has. Lets forget for one second all the negatives we criticize his game for here on realgm. But just his work ethic how has it influenced your life? I used to be a lazy S.O.B not caring about my health or what I wanted to do with my life. Since Demar was drafted I followed him closely I immediately fell in love with his work ethic. Staying at home watching game footage instead of partying on New Years or using his left hand all off season just to get an edge on the court. I admired his work ethic and decided I wanted that too. I changed my life I hit the gym I studied hard I didn’t let anything get in the way of what I wanted. I went from 210lb to 165lb. My first year of university I did horrible, but second year I improved a bit by third and fourth year I was thinking of medical school. I am now a UFT med school student. I want to take this time to thank Demar Derozan for showing me just how far hard work can get you even if you don’t have the natural talent.
There is a long list of very good players who refused to play here, demanded a trade or simply left without a goodbye. Three of them might go into the Hall of Fame. We developed them as kids and gave them freedom to learn through mistakes. We loved them. They didn’t love us back. Not Kyle Lowry though. He came back. Like his mother said, “How can you not want to go back to a city that showed the kind of love they showed?” There is no team without Kyle. Love brought him back.
The surprising Raptors play their next 5 games at home and face the 2-5 Orlando Magic on Tuesday. Since Toronto defeated the Magic in Orlando 108-95 a week ago and neither the Rockets, Grizzlies nor Warriors play on Monday, Toronto’s stay atop of the NBA standings may not be short-lived. Argue all you want about strength of schedule, teams can only play the opponents scheduled in front of them and the Raptors have taken care of business through their first 7 games. First place overall is theirs to enjoy – for now and when fans are used to seeing their team fighting for position in the NBA Draft Lottery, it would be just plain wrong to not let them celebrate when things are looking this good.
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The North Remembers, and so will Brandon Davies.
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Alt Angle, Drake Reaction:Direct Link
Raptors crush Philly to take Eastern Conference pole position.
|Amir Johnson, PF 18 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +4
Was listed as questionable for the game but figured, meh, better get a shootaround in. He’s pacing himself this season, taking the precautionary rest, taking a possession or two off when he sees fit, and taking the long view for the season and the playoffs.
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +28
Had a play where he drove the ball into traffic and didn’t pull-up, lean sideways, or stop short, and actually layed it in. More of that please. He’s already a good spot-up shooter, and we need to see more than just three-point shooting from him. Had a couple steals, but Philly’s passing is so careless that that’s the least he could do. Thought he let his checks get off too many threes, which is ironic since he talked about the importance of scouting reports after the last game.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 5 TO | 12 PTS | +11
This guy’s angry at the world and it shows. He’s pushing guys walking back up on defense, getting a little too aggressive in post-up situations, and quite sure if he saw a gun lying around on the scorer’s table during the game, he’d use it. Finished his gimmes today, had the usual couple post moves, and was also starved for touches. On that note, one play that I fully expected the Raptors to run more this season was him and Johnson in hi-los, I think I counted one pass between the two this game, and for that matter, all season.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 5-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 14 PTS | +15
Must be tough to get up for a game like this and kudos to him for showing up. If you blame him for being sloppy with the turnovers again, realize that he sees who’s guarding him and will take chances that he normally wouldn’t. He is the ultimate stop-gap for the Raptors right now, in that if things are teetering even slightly, bring Lowry in and he’ll put an end to it.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 26 MIN | 8-12 FG | 8-8 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | +10
Quietly efficient again. Guarded by some lanky defenders, the type he has known to have trouble with, he made good use of pump-fakes and step-ins to get himself into areas where the defense has to either let him take his shot, or foul him. Defensively somewhat suspect in the first quarter against Wroten, but picked it up and closed out the shooters going forward.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 19 MIN | 2-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +27
They passed him the ball a bit more today, and he sure did disappoint. Not that he missed shots or turned it over, just that once he caught it he didn’t quite know what to do with it. You basically have to hit him in perfect stride on the right hand with just the right amount of velocity on the pass for him to finish. Still, we’re not judging him on that here, and let’s take a bow to Tyler for slugging it out and being the most energetic Raptor on the court (well, maybe James Johnson aside).
|James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +19
Hallelujah! This guy continues to be the opposite of James Johnson V1. I’d say he’s gotten a few upgrades, to name a few: new and improved brain processor where he realizes when it’s his time to shoot, and when it’s not (note: it’s usually not). Increased RAM which allows him to try harder for longer stretches of the game and give consistent effort, and a PCI slot which enables his coach to communicate with him. The guy’s bringing the defense, getting up in people’s faces, and basically causing havoc. Also, this.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +25
Another meh game, I feel that his threes need to be falling for him to get back to his full confidence. Still leaves his feet too much on defense, and since he’s a guy who needs his offense created for him, needs to be in-sync with Vasquez off the bench to be effective. Right now, he’s a man somewhat lost in the rotation, especially when Hansbrough’s in there killing the spacing for him.
|Chuck Hayes, C 6 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -6
|Greg Stiemsma, C 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9
I miss Jordan Hamilton.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +18
Came in as part of a three-PG lineup and did well running the show. I find him fairly easy to grade because he’s measured on how well the offense runs when he’s on, and it did fine today. He did get torched on defense multiple times, but whatever.
|Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 5-9 FG | 5-6 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +24
Forced a few shots and rightfully so, this was the game to do it. Slowly getting his rhythm back and we’re all very happy for him. Hit another end-of-quarter three which has become somewhat the norm.
|Landry Fields, SG 6 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -6
We finally know the answer to the question of when Landry Fields gets to play: when we’re up 30 at home against a winless team.
Three-PG lineup with Vasquez, Lowry and Williams. Scored on 3 of 4 possessions. Boo for not activating the Brazilians for this foreseeable blowout. Had a chill night where little thinking was required.
Four Things We Saw
- Raps shot 69% in the first to assume control. Good to see them get a quick start again, obviously, the pre-game speech was about not taking the opposition lightly and they didn’t.
- Philly shot 34 threes, that’s double of what the Raptors shot. Clearly their strategy is to hope that they get hot and stay in the game, worked for about 8 minutes
- The Raptors were up by 41 in this game.
- You can’t really read much into this game, so I won’t. I’ll leave it at this: in year’s past the Raptors have been known to drop a stinker at home in a game they were expected to win, and it’s encouraging to see a level of professionalism in the team.
Lazy Sunday in effect, so I thought we look at some stats over the first few games of the season.
- Raptors have shot more FTs than their opponents in 5 of the 6 games (they were -1 against the Wizards); Related: they’ve been called for less fouls than their opponents in every game. Also related: the Raptors are third in the league in FT Rate (the number of free throws they attempt for every field goal attempt) at .44. Teams ahead of them are Sacramento (.503) and Houston (.44).
- The Raptors are best in the league in terms of ball protection, with only 9.1 turnovers being committed every 100 possessions. Dallas is second at 10.4, and the worst are the undefeated Golden State Warriors at 18.7. The Raptors have turned the ball over fewer times than their opponents in 5 of 6 games, in the other against Washington, both teams had 13.
- Despite not shooting 50% in any game this season, the Raptors have the league’s second-best offense with a rating of 112.7 (Dallas is #1 at 115.6). They have also scored 100 points in every game.
- The Raptors have had more steals than their opponents in 5 of 6 games, in the other against Washington, both teams had 5.
- We don’t take too many long jumpers! The Raptors are firmly in middle of the pack at 14th in terms of average distance of shot, 12.8 feet. The shortest? Pelicans at 10. 5 feet. Longest? Clippers at 14.8 feet.
- The Raptors are fourth for corner three attempts – 30.3% of their threes are from the corner (they’re shooting 35% from there, which is a really poor rate). Related to shooting: only 44% of their 2-pt field goals are assisted (Suns, Nets).
- The Raptors have the fourth highest margin of victory at 8.17. The three teams ahead of them are Golden State (15.75), Houston (14.67), and Portland (8.6).
- The Raptors are the fourth-worst rebounding team in the league at a DRB% of 71.1% – teams worse than them are Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago.
The Toronto Raptors are off to their best start in franchise history at 5-1. They rank second in the NBA in offensive efficiency (third on an opponent-adjusted basis), 12th in defensive efficiency (10th on an opponent-adjusted basis), have decided to never, ever turn the ball over ever again, and appear to be back on track on defense after a startling blowout win over Washington.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic now provide a potential pair of trap games ahead of Thursday’s nationally televised (!!!) game against the Chicago Bulls.
The Raptors have been good, but they’ve been susceptible to poor stretches far too often. Rather than taking their foot off the gas for a few games to ease into Chicago, it’d behoove the team to instead hit the throttle and lay waste to the 76ers on Sunday. It’s the first game of the year I’m attending, so part of me hopes they play poorly enough that it’s a close win in the fourth quarter, but I’d be disappointed at a higher level if that were the case.
There’s no question the Sixers have been bad, though their defense has been surprisingly spry without Michael Carter-Williams and, for one game and perhaps Sunday, Nerlens Noel. They also have some fun pieces who are playing for their basketball lives, which should mean their “compete level” (ugh) is generally high. They’re bad, but no NBA game is a certainty.
To help set the stage for this oen, I reached out to Andrew Unterberger of The 700 Level (and many more cool basketball and music places). Dude knows his ball and is always a blast to catch up with. If you don’t walk away from this pregame with a new appreciation for the Sixers, well…I guess I still can’t blame you because it’s the Sixers, but still.
Raptors Republic: It’s Year 2 of a pretty terrible situation for fans in Philly. With perspective and distance, the strategy they’re employing makes a ton of sense, and it’s always fun to watch rookies develop, but how frustrating have the past, oh, 18 months been, and has it changed how you approach your relationship with the team?
Unterberger: Actually, I’ve enjoyed the last 18 months immensely. The 3-0 start to last season was basically the high point of my basketball-watching life, but even during the 26-game losing streak, I greatly enjoyed the experience of watching this team of forgotten cast-offs, draft refugees and other NBA ephemera trying to figure out how to win games with a virtually empty toolbox. I’ve found that it’s thoroughly possible to enjoy basketball without caring abut wins and losses—you fall in love with the players who cycle through, you appreciate the little developments in the players who may one day be part of your team’s core, you get tickled when they do better than expected, and when they fail they usually fail hilariously. It’s kind of fun to watch basketball for its own sake, with no immediate hopes or expectations.
The only really frustrating part is the injuries. Michael Carter-Williams keeps taking longer than expected to return from various maladies, if Nerlens Noel was ever fully healthy for more than a week at a time it’d be pretty shocking, and who knows when we’ll actually get to see Joel Embiid on the court. But otherwise, unless you’re a casual fan or a beat writer, I’m not sure how you couldn’t love this team at least a little bit.
Raptors Republic: There’s been a ton to like about Nerlens Noel so far. He causes chaos defensively, he can pass much better than I expected, and he seems to be some instinct development away from being a contributor at both ends. He may not play Sunday due to a bum ankle, but just in case, fill us in on the Noel experience so far.
Unterberger: Nerlens has been a pretty mixed bag so far, though one of those mixed bags where if you feel like you’re patient enough to get through all the raisins and cashews, it’s mostly chocolate chips at the bottom. He has no real post moves and a terrible jump shot, he’s a smart passer but he’s not that accurate yet, he’s pretty lousy at catching the ball and his rebounding instincts are downright terrible so far. But even as a super-raw rookie, he can still impact a game like few players in the league–his defensive presence in the paint is a game-changer, and his hands on the perimeter are just as good. Watching him shut down Dwight Howard in the post the other night was pretty eye-opening as well.
One way or another, Nerlens blows up defensive possessions like few other big men, and it’s very exciting to see what he can do on offense once he’s playing with longtime BFF Michael Carter-Williams. You know, an actual point guard.
Raptors Republic: Someone who WILL play on Sunday is the man I wanted the Raptors to take at No. 20 in June, K.J. McDaniels. He is the goddam best. What have you seen from him so far?
Unterberger: KJ is a shot-blocking athletic marvel with enough smarts and physical dexterity to also shut down James Harden on the perimeter. He’s shown pretty nice shooting tough so far, and even some minor ball-handling stuff, and he just always seems to be where the action is in the half-court, skying for offensive rebounds, scrumming for loose balls and just getting after it. He was third among rookies in scoring for a while, practically without even trying.
He can basically be everything to all people, he still has a ton of room to grow and I am really irritated that the Sixers didn’t lock him down for more than his rookie year and don’t sell his jersey in their team store yet. How every NBA team passed on this guy this summer is totally flummoxing.
Raptors Republic: There’s “a looter in the riot,” and then there is “a team full of looters competing to loot the most in a riot with shit burning all around them.” The latter is the 76ers. How difficult does their situation make it to evaluate individual players? Of the non-MCW/Noel/KJMcD players on the team, who seem like legitimate, looting-free keepers?
Unterberger: It’s tough, but it’s not like anyone on the team last year besides MCW put up any real stats, even with all the opportunity and playing time in the world. Tony Wroten has certainly played like a keeper so far this season—through six games, his numbers are legitimately All-Star-ish, and his ability to get to the net even when every defense in the world knows that all he really wants to do is incredibly impressive. He might not be able to coexist full-time with Michael Carter-Williams, but he could make himself a mighty interesting trade piece soon enough.
Hollis Thompson, we’d like to see something more from him fairly soon. He ended last season on a three-point shooting tear and had a strong summer league, but his stroke from deep has mostly eluded him this year and he shoots free throws like a kid being forced to eat Brussels sprouts. We hoped he could be a 3-and-D specialist someday and he still might be, though K.J. now seems already further along that path.
Otherwise, we like Jordan McRae (currently playing in Australia for no clear reason) and Jerami Grant, but the latter hasn’t even played yet with ankle issues. Shved has been frisky and Luc Mbah a Mote had a double-double Friday somehow. Best not to get too attached to some of these guys, though—I still haven’t gotten over Hinkie cutting Royce White last year before the season even began, and I can’t go through that again.
So there you have it. My dude K.J. McDAMNiels filling the highlight reel, and a few other intriguing pieces to keep an eye on. Obviously, reading that, the impression you should come away with is that this game is eminently winnable for the home team.
I couldn’t find a line as of this writing (it’s Saturday afternoon), probably because the statuses of Noel and Amir Johnson are unclear. Last season, the Raptors won all four meetings between the teams, winning at home by eight and 11, and on the road by 10 (pre-trade) and 11. This year’s Raptors team is probably a shade better while the 76ers are a shade worse (don’t forget they’re without Thad Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Carter-Williams compared to a season ago). I’d guess the line comes in at low double-digits, and the Raptors should probably win this by 15 or so on home turf.
Instead, I’ll throw objectivity out the window and call for a six-point win, so that I can see a game with a semi-decent closing stretch. Selfish, sure, but this is my pre-game. Enjoy the game, everyone, and just remember as you watch the Sixers: this is what a lot of you wanted for the Raptors’ franchise after the Rudy Gay trade last season. I prefer where we’re at currently, myself.
Oh yeah, the game’s at 7 p.m. on one of the Sportsnets.
Sixers vs. Raptors: There’s no word yet on whether Nerlens Noel will be active for Sunday’s contest, as he’s rehabbing a sprained left ankle suffered against theOrlando Magic. The Chicago Bullsattacked the low block well with Pau Gasolin Nerlens absence, which is a good sign for Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is averaging 11.2 PPG and 7.6 RPG. It’s a perfect matchup for Toronto, the fifth highest scoring offense in the NBA versus the 23rd overall defense. Expect Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to put on a show at home.
(1)…start fast. Can they replicate the Q1 demolishment of Washington? Perhaps not, but it’s a noble goal. (2)…pay attention to Tony Wroten. If Terrence Ross can’t hold this guy down, James Johnson will be in the game on the trot. (3)…beat up their second unit. Greivis Vasquez is overdue for a big game, and Lou Williams should have some fun against a short-handed gang of D-Leaguers.
Amir Johnson (ankle) managed to practice Saturday and is considered questionable for Sunday’s game against the 76ers, TSN Sports reports.
“Since I’ve been in the league I’ve been the type of guy that gets to the free throw line,” DeRozan said. “I take pride in getting to the free throw line and being top 10 in attempts. It’s just my style of play. It makes the game come easier if you get to the free throw line.” DeRozan only got to the free throw line 2.5 times per game as a rookie and he had the bruises to prove he was trying to get there more often. The next three seasons were better, but consistent at about 5 free throw attempts per game. DeRozan needed to work on his handle, outside shooting and earning the required respect of the league and its referees. It might not be fair, but it’s harder to earn that respect on bad teams, fortunately DeRozan developed a reputation as a player that worked hard and kept coming. He really wanted to be a top 10 free throw shooter in the NBA and he was learning more every season.
The Sixers have lost six in a row to open the season, including a three-point loss to Chicago in their last outing. . . . Guard Michael Carter-Williams is on the shelf with a shoulder injury, while rookie big man Nerlens Noel missed Friday’s game after spraining his left ankle on Wednesday night and is questionable for Sunday’s game. And their top draft pick last June, Joel Embiid, is out with a right foot injury. . . . Amir Johnson sat out the second half of Friday’s Raptor win over Washington with recurring pain in his left ankle, but was pronounced fit to play by coach Dwane Casey after Saturday’s practice. . . . In sweeping last year’s four-game series with the Sixers, Toronto averaged 111 points per game.
Drake playfully tagged Wale in a scoreboard image of the Raptors defeating Folarin’s favorite team, the Washington Wizards. At the time the pic was taken, Drake’s face appeared on the jumbotron and the score was 86 to 64. Drizzy’s simple caption? “@wale.” The Raps ended up taking a 103-84 victory to remain undefeated at home. Drake might just be a lucky charm for the 5-1 squad.
It’s a great time to be a Raptors fan. In what was easily their best game of the season, the Raptors beat the Wizards 103-84 on a night that felt electric from the get-go.
The Raps, who were giving up almost 30 first quarter points a game coming in, came out very active on both ends, forcing the Wizards into a number of long twos early and holding them to 18 points on 8-of-26 shooting in the opening period. Offensively, Derozan and Ross set the tone connecting on a combined 7-of-10 shots for 18 of the team’s 28 first quarter points. Ross, who opened the game with a 3, was especially impressive going 3-for-3 behind the arc for the quarter. The Raptors didn’t just shoot well; they also created a number of scoring opportunities off of penetration, including two easy baskets for Amir off of dump off passes.
The second unit held down the fort for almost 4 minutes to start the second period. Lou Williams looked very comfortable as the second unit’s primary offensive weapon, finishing with a team leading nine points in the quarter, including an and-1 three from the corner.Direct Link
Derozan continued to let the game come to him, finishing a perfect 2-for-2 from the field and 4-for4 from the free throw line. For the half Derozan finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Kyle Lowry, who didn’t take his first shot until 4:20 to go in the second quarter, ended the half with seven assists and 5 rebounds. Defensively the Raptors were once again locked in, holding the Wizards to 17 points in the quarter and 35 points on 27.9% shooting for the half. This is especially impressive considering the Raptors allowed 35 points in the first quarter against Boston a game earlier. Below you see the Wizard less than impressive shot chart from the first half.
The Wizards, down 24 at the half, came out fighting in the third by going on an 8-0 run early in the quarter. Lowry showed that he is one of the best floor leaders in the league by responding with a 7-2 run of his own, pulling the Raptor’s lead once again above 20.Direct Link
The Raptors lost Amir in the third to a pre-existing ankle injury. He did not return but he stressed after the game that he did not reinjure the ankle and he expects to play in the next game.
Things were pretty sloppy in the 4th and the Wizards climbed back to within 16 points before Casey reinserted the starters midway through the quarter. The only positive was that this enabled Lowry to collect his fifth triple double his career on an assisted Patterson three with 1:14 left in the game. A wild Raptors crowd closed out the game with a very loud “Let’s Go Raptors!” chant, capping an awesome night of Raptors basketball.
A couple of other random thoughts on the game:
- Jonas still clearly has a bad taste in his mouth from when Gortat torched him for 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 134-129 triple overtime loss to the Wizards in their final meeting of the 2013-14 season. Jonas looked downright angry most of the night. I thought he channeled the energy well, finishing with 9 points and 9 rebounds in 28 hard fought minutes.
- The only minor gripes I have about the game were that the Raps allowed 16 offensive rebounds for the second straight game. Also, they were actually a little too pass happy on some of their drives when they forced drop off passes instead of taking the easier shot. Ross was especially guilty of this, but his ability to get past defenders tonight was awesome.
- Lowry is just SO good at picking his moments and leading this basketball team.
- Really nice job on both ends for Demar. Nothing was forced and it was an all-around top notch performance from one of the best shooting guards in the league.
The only negative note occurred whenAmir Johnson tweaked his ankle at some point in the third quarter. He gamely tried to play on it afterwards but, with the score ballooning away from the Wizards, ultimately sought the bench as a precaution. The Wizards, let by John Wall's eight point, 3-for-13 performance, played from behind the entire night. They shot 3-for-19 from three as a team, and 36 percent from the field. Every other team stat between the two squads broke fairly even, but when you shoot like that you're not going to win many NBA games. "Over the long run they understand we can't start games the way we've been starting them," Coach Dwane Casey said after the game. And while a coach's job is never quite done, Casey had to be pleased with the game's outcome.
“It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping,” confirmed Head Coach Randy Wittman after the game. Washington started out missing 10 of their first 11 shots and only scored 35 points in the first half as the Raptors cruised to a 24 point half-time lead that they rode to the 103-84 victory. Terrence Ross played his best game of the young season, scoring 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had a game high 25 points, but the night belonged to Kyle Lowry. Fresh off a 35 point performance against the Celtics, Lowry recorded his first triple-double of the season with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Ross bristled briefly and appeared flustered when he was asked what it was like matching up against Paul Pierce again. His teammates, however, howled as the question was asked. My assumption is Ross took that playoff series against Brooklyn to heart and there’s a chip on his shoulder to prove he can stop Pierce. Mission accomplished tonight as Pierce was held to eight points while going 3-11 from the field.
Defense: A+ Finally. After shoddy defense through the teams first five games, the Raptors were locked in from the word go. The Wizards shot 36.1% from the field and 15.8% from three. John Wall in particular was shut down, registering eight points on 3-13 shooting. Granted, some of his shots were just off regardless of the defense, but give credit where credit is due, the team from the north played their first great game on the defensive end. The rotations were on point, they swarmed to the ball and they held the opposition to under 85 points. A great effort all around.
“Man, I’ve said everything positive I could say about him. I’m about to start saying negative things,” DeMar DeRozan said of his back-court mate. “Nah, I’m playing. I love him. Love Kyle Lowry.” The Raptors did it with a great first quarter for the first time this season. After letting teams score at will almost every night, Toronto harassed Washington into eight straight misses to open the game, led by 14 points eight minutes in and was never really threatened. All the harping coach Dwane Casey had been doing was worth it, just in the nick of time. “It was definitely important, especially the way we have been starting off games and the way we started off in Boston (a 16-point first-half deficit),” said DeRozan, who led all scorers with 25 points. “This is the way we have to be all year. We have to rely on our defence and the offence will come. If we play that way defensively every night, we will be fine.”
“Amir and [Valanciunas] really came in and gave us that rhythm that they have as a first unit: their screening, their spacing, their running the floor, their understanding how to screen DeMar [DeRozan’s] man, how to screen Terrence [Ross’s] man,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “No disrespect to Pat [Patterson] and Tyler [Hansbrough], but there are angles and understanding of feel for how they like to do it. Amir is one of our best players at doing that.”
"I think we played well from start to finish. I think we still made some mistakes but I think there’s a lot more positives than negatives to take from this game, finally we can say that." – Kyle Lowry, on the Raptors total team effort "It's a collective effort. All five have to try and slow him down in transition. Show him five bodies every time we got back and not just leave it up to Kyle (Lowry) to try and get in front of him." – DeMar DeRozan, on the defensive effort required to stop Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall "I got to the gym last night and just kept getting shots up to try and get my touch back. Anytime your shot starts to fall it feels like one of those nights. I guess things just went my way."- Terrence Ross, on regaining his shooting touch
“Personally, what he’s done for my career as far me passing the ball and getting out of the way. He’s done a lot not just for us for a team, but just for this country. You see the Canadian players now that are in the NBA … they’re all a testament to him. That shows what he does, not only for the Raptors, but what he did for this whole country.” Carter, now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, will make his lone visit this season on Nov 19, but so far, the team has only honoured former players. Davis said he takes pride in being on the formative squads with Carter that helped build the game of basketball so much in Canada. “You never know what the affects are going to be,” Davis said. “If what we were doing can inspire a young basketball player or a young kid to want to play basketball, then, yes, you have to feel extremely proud about that.”
How times change. Grunwald is now the new athletic director at McMaster University in Hamilton and lives in Burlington, Ont., a long way from the power and panache he once enjoyed. His budget is $12-million (Canadian) and he has to concern himself with a student-athlete population of around 700, encompassing more than 30 teams, everything from ultimate Frisbee to the cheerleading squad. “I can’t say it [McMaster] was the place I thought I’d wind up, but you never know where life takes you sometimes,” the affable 56-year-old said in a recent interview. “I’ve been fortunate to have been taken to a lot of good spots. And this is the latest one.” And it begs the question: Can a man who has spent 22 years of his working life as a senior NBA executive find contentment toiling in relative obscurity as a Canadian university sports administrator? “It just seems like the right fit for me at this time in my life,” Grunwald said, insisting he could see the McMaster job being “long term.”
Davis, who played 310 regular season games for the Raptors, admitted “misconceptions” about coming to play in Canada may have hurt the team in signing some free agents but believes the word is spreading about how good it is in Toronto. “Winning kind of solves everything,” Davis said. “If you’re winning, guys want to come here.” Williams said he thinks the current version of the Raptors has “the same type of togetherness” as the teams of the early 2000s. The big difference was earlier teams had more experience and Vince Carter. “I think we had more vets that had been through the wars, that had been through the battles,” Williams said. “And, we had a young superstar, so we had a little more I think.”
2. The bigs came up small: It's unfair to some degree to tie a player's production to his salary, but I'm going to do it anyway. Nene and Marcin Gortat will make over $24 million combined this season. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson make about $16.5 million. Yet it was the latter trio that dominated the painted area, as they often do in Wizards-Raptors games. How do your starting big men go a combined 3-12 in the paint? How does Gortat only shoot two free throws? Two plays stood out to me. On one, Nene made a beautiful baseline spin move on Valanciunas, only to lose his balance and wildly fling a sidearm spin of some kind off the side of the backboard. So much for going up strong. On another, John Wall forced Kyle Lowry into a wild floater, only for Valanciunas to wedge rebounding position and beat Gortat to the ball.
The starting five, which has looked stuck in mud despite getting off to a 4-1 start, were looked in from the tipoff. The game was more than three minutes old before the Wizards managed a basket as Paul Pierce, the guy who ended the Raptors first-round playoff hopes with that block of Kyle Lowry last spring in Game 7, connected with a jumper. The Wizards would only score 18 in the first quarter and be held to just 31% shooting while the Raps were humming along at a 55% clip and had a 10-point lead after 12 minutes. Dwane Casey’s second unit, which has been as big a reason as any that the team came into the game 4-1, continued their fine form of the early season so when the starters returned they did so with a 17-point cushion.
Davis, who retired in 2006, fit that bill, at least near the end of his tenure in Toronto. When he was traded to the Raptors in 1999 from the Indiana Pacers, the Oakland, Calif., native was thrilled because he got a chance to start. But after five seasons in the Great White North, it became clear he wanted out. You’ll recall how he famously groused about how his eight-year-old twins weren’t getting a proper “American” education in Toronto (never mind with his salary he could have flown in an MIT professor to be a tutor and put the dude up at the Four Seasons). “You know, the metric system, when they go to school every day and they’re singing the (Canadian) national anthem,” Davis said. “Some of those things are going to pass as they’re kids. As they grow older, there are some different things they need to learn. “I’m a little worried about it now because they’re really starting real school — first and second and third grades — and I think those grades are very important”.
he post game is kind of dying. More and more centers are inching away from the paint and the 3-pointer has become a widely accepted and necessary weapon in the NBA. So who are the kings of the low block? Believe it or not after your Al Jeffersons and Kevin Loves and Blake Griffins, the best player on the low block might be a guard. Lance Stephenson and DeMar DeRozan are taking up the mantle left by long time post savants from the guard position like Andre Miller and Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson. It is a rare gift to have the footwork, size and strength to play in the post — and it takes the right team able to appropriately space the floor — as a guard.
Here’s audio from Amir Johnson, Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross after Toronto’s 103-84 win over Washington.
The Raptors blowout the Wizards in purple jerseys.
|Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +17His ankle-roll to rebound ratio was solid tonight. Got caught flat-footed for a couple rebounds in the first quarter but did a commendable job of defending without fouling. Remember when we used to complain that he couldn’t stay on the floor because of fouls? Once he left the game, the defense dipped, which is to be expected.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 7-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +19Started off hitting his threes and keeping Pierce in front of him, even picked up a charge against Wall after which he looked winded. If he’s going to be one of those players that’s only useful when his three-point shot is going in, it’s a problem, so I was more happy that he played a role on defense, which is probably what Casey is more pleased to see.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 3-5 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +19Didn’t get many touches and when he did, made use of them. It feels like he’s got a beef with Gortat, maybe it’s a European thing, or maybe he saw this as a benchmark game which he’d be measured against. Battled on the boards, and managed to prevent picking up a third foul after being hit with two early. Here’s an example of bad defense, and to even it out, here’s him doing the sky hook.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 10 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 13 PTS | +17He’s like a dad teaching his little girl how to ride a bike. He lets her go but keeps his arms right around her shoulders in case she stumbles, so he could catch her and show her the way again. If you think of him as a quarterback, he was handing the ball off to the running back most of the game, and in the moments where the team needed him, he threw a 50-yard pass. Some uncharacteristic turnovers, but otherwise another complete game, topped off by a triple-double, and that’s after he got elbowed by Pierce. Also, got to love how he hits the boards in traffic.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 7-13 FG | 11-11 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +12Another composed and efficient evening where he didn’t let riff raff like Garrett Temple slow him down. He was amazing off the ball with his misdirections (1, 2) and got at least three hoops based on pure intelligence. Keep shooting the jumpers man, it’s what’s going to make you a big time scorer in the league.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -1A couple silly fouls, and I really feel he’d get more rebounds if he just normally extended his arms to catch the ball instead of flailing at them like a toddler. The ball’s right there, he has position, yet it manages to go through his arms, hit his shoulder, go between his legs, hit his ankle, and then he somehow gets called for the foul. I like the hustle, keep it up, and note to everyone else: throw this man a pass on the ‘roll once in a while. Good job battling their physical bigs, it’s a “tall” order. Badum, tishh.|
|James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +1Good stuff all around. He really does increase the defensive intensity on the court. With Ross doing well, his minutes were cut short but still managed to have an impact in that third quarter when the Wizards were trying to make a run.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +9Poor defensively in face-up situations, left his feet a little too early, and I felt like he didn’t read any of the scouting reports. The shot’s slowly coming back and he looks more comfortable, but there’s definitely more to come from him. Remember, he was injured to start training camp so that’s something.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 16 MIN | 0-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2Came in and dropped some dimes, took some bad shots, and was more or less benign.|
|Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-5 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | -1Torched by Andre Miller and was the reason the Wizards weren’t getting completely blown out; made amends with a few scores but overall a defensively disappointing game. It’s encouraging to see him get some points on that move where he crosses over to left and leans back for the fade – it’s his bread and butter. Oh, had a four-point play.|
|Landry Fields, SG 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1He exists.|
Played the hockey units again which seem to work – they were plus in all the lineups. Called the right timeouts, and inserted Lowry back into the game during that early 4Q Wizards run. When you got things clicking like this, that’s all he needed to do tonight.
Five Things We Saw
- The Wizards shot 30% in the first half, and it’s not because they were missing shots. The Raptors D was intact, and you could tell they’d made a concerted effort to start the game better. The intensity, for the first time all season, was there to start the game.
- The Raptors were up by 28 in this game at one point in the first half, so the last three quarters were quite boring, and the Wizards never made a serious runs.
- The Raptors offense has another gear – if they ever figure out how to use Valanciunas’ post-game to setup the rest of their offense, much like they use DeRozan’s mid-range shooting, it could get scary.
- The rebounding was fixed with the Raptors being -1 at 50-49. Lowry was fantastic in helping out as he got his triple double including 10 boards, very much the best player on the court.
- The Raptors have now passed two out of three early tests this season, albeit this was one was against a depleted Wizards roster.
Best start in franchise history at 5-1. Now 6 straight home games, 4 of them against assumed cellar-dwellers. Good time to be a Raptors fan.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 8, 2014
Raptors demolish Wizards, improve to 5-1. Lowry with a triple double. Purple jerseys are back. Everything is awesome.
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) November 8, 2014
Conor Dirks of Truth About It drops by to answer some questions.
It’s about that time. The Washington Wizards swoop into town in a battle between two under-performing 4-1 teams. First up, here’s Conor Dirks of Truth About It to answer five pressing questions about the Wizards (neé) Bullets. You can (and should) follow Conor on Twitter, especially if you want to see RTs famous Wizards commenter Wzzzznutzzz. Also, on a personal note, congratulations to TAI editor Kyle Weidie!
1. How is Paul Pierce’s transitioning back to playing small forward? He spent most of last season masquerading as a smallball four. Is he holding up defensively?
Randy Wittman has been surly (even by his standards) when asked if Paul Pierce will ever get a chance to move over to that smallball four position he occupied during Brooklyn’s climb back up the standings last year. According to Wittman, the Wizards have too many big bodies in the frontcourt to loan minutes to Pierce. Then again, this is the man who told Kevin Love (and maybe Trevor Booker) to stop shooting 3-pointers. On Tuesday night in Manhattan, Pierce had his best game of the season, trailing Wall for above-the-break 3-point attempts, pushing the ball on offense, and pestering Carmelo into seven turnovers and 8-for-23 shooting. Pierce is no Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, but he makes up for it by adjusting over the course of the game. I was impressed to see him plant his feet on the spot behind the 3-point line that Anthony was headed towards, do his patented “no hands” showing, and force an awful shot that had to be launched off-balance.
2. Explain Garrett Temple’s new found success. How did he transition from D-League fodder to long-range sniper? He’s shooting 51.9 percent from deep on the season.
Garrett Temple walked into his local bookstore (if those still exist) and purchased a paperback copy of That’s Me in the Corner: How to Get Paid Playing with John Wall by Martell Webster, with a special foreword by Trevor Ariza. There’s been a certain amount of glee among long-time Temple defenders in his new-found shooting touch, but like your question implies: this evolution has been drastic and unexpected. The Wizards, without Beal and Webster, have relied almost exclusively on Garrett Temple to provide the corner 3-pointers that Wall creates with incredible frequency. It will be interesting to see if Temple, who spent his offseason working on his shooting touch, can keep this up until Beal returns.
3. What’s up with Kris Humphries? From the boxscore averages, he looks to be struggling. One would think that the marriage of Humphries with Randy Wittman’s mid-range heavy offense would result in the perfect union.
I’d been wondering the same thing. It was almost an universal assumption that Humphries and Blair would play ahead of Kevin Seraphin. It seemed that Seraphin, who struggled mightily until Washington’s game against New York, may have gotten the nod without much merit. But on Wednesday night, Marcin Gortat said something interesting in the locker room:
“You know, we have a few players on the bench that we want … them to get better. We need Kris Humphries to get in shape, get in the basketball rhythm. He’s a player we need, and we’ve got to help him out.””
So, maybe he’s still working himself into shape. Aside from that, I’m still looking forward to seeing what he can do in less limited minutes.
4. On a scale of 1-to-10, how much do you miss having JaVale, Swaggy, Blatche and Gilbert on your team.
This is such a complicated question. I don’t miss JaVale and 7-Day Dray at all. Nick Young the person, I miss. But Nick Young the basketball player? He never took the game, or this team, seriously enough to stick long-term He and our next subject, Arenas, once contrived a fake Gilbert injury story so that Young could play a few extra minutes. And as for sweet Gilly, one of the most unique NBA players of the last few decades…I wish it didn’t end like it did. That said, Gilbert is “living the life” after the NBA, still posting on Instagram frequently, with posts running the gamut from Wizards nostalgia to promoting his new infidelity app, Invisible Text. He’s becoming harder to like by the day, but I’ll always appreciate his candor,
If you couldn’t tell, you kind of tapped into a vein of coursing ex-Wizard neuroses. Sorry about that. Final score: 3.
BONUS: What is Jan Vesely up to these days?
I actually know the answer to this. Jan is playing for Fenerbache Ulker in Istanbul this season, after receiving (according to him) only one NBA offer in the offseason, which was contingent on him “proving himself” before being handed any significant role. From Jan’s perspective, he shouldn’t have to prove himself anymore in the NBA. Jan’s perspective is flawed, however. After three NBA seasons (two teams), 162 games (25 starts), and 2,455 total minutes, because he still hasn’t proven he can hang with the world’s best, he’ll always have to prove himself in the future.
Point guard – Even
John Wall, Andre Miller vs. Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez
Watching two of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference pitted against one another is going to be a treat. After turning in four somewhat passive performances to start the season, Lowry finally commandeered the offense Wednesday against the Celtics. The result was a 35-point performance on 12-of-17 shooting. Wall is scratching the surface of his potential — a scary thought because he’s already one of the league’s best playmakers. The two will likely play to a standstill, just as they did in four meetings last season.
Miller versus Vasquez should be hilarious, mostly because they both manage to be productive despite being slow as molasses. Vasquez tends to get up for games against his hometown Wizards. In the Raptors’ double-overtime thriller against the Wizards, Vasquez dropped a cool 26-point, 8-assist performance, carrying the load for Lowry who had fouled out.
Shooting guard – Raptors
Garrett Temple, Otto Porter vs. DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams
DeRozan and Williams haven’t exactly gotten off to tremendous starts. Both players are shooting under 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from deep. Williams hasn’t yet meshed with the second unit, struggling to generate offense on anything other than isolation drives, while DeRozan has been sunk by two weak shooting performances against Boston and Atlanta.
Luckily, both Williams and DeRozan have been unstoppable in getting to the charity stripe. Williams has done a great job of attacking off the pick-and-roll and drawing fouls on account of his herky-jerky jumpshot. DeRozan, on the other hand, has made an effort to leak out in transition, which has helped to inflate his already bourgeoning free throw totals. Both players are averaging over seven attempts per 36 minutes.
Temple and Porter are the Wizards’ interim fill-ins while Bradley Beal is out. They’re both limited to spot-ups on offense. As long as rotations and closeouts are on-point, Porter and Temple should be relatively easy to hold in check.
Small forward – Wizards
Paul Pierce vs. James Johnson, Terrence Ross
It’s no great secret that Ross has gotten off to a terrible start. Although his numbers (eight points, a couple of rebounds) look fine, Ross has mostly drifted in and out of games, rarely making his presence felt. For the most part, Ross has looked like the same player who took a giant stinking dump during the playoffs last season.
However, I also don’t entirely hold Ross’s struggles against him. The Raptors are almost never running plays for him to get open looks anymore. Ross is highly dependent on others to set him up, and the Raptors looked to have scrapped the double pin-down play that was once a staple of Ross’s offense.
As for the Wizards, despite how much I personally detest him, 37-year-old Paul Pierce still has it. He isn’t too keen on chasing guards around screens, so again, more pin-downs for Ross would be nice.
Power forward – Even
Nene, Kris Humphries vs. Amir Johnson (likely; ankle), Patrick Patterson
Nene is the Wizards’ version Amir Johnson. He’s the injury-prone big who holds the key to Washington’s success. Nene was a beast in the playoffs last year, badly outplaying Joakim Noah to help power Washington into the second round. He’s strong, he’s mobile, he can shoot and he has great defensive instincts. He just can’t stay healthy.
The battle at backup will be one to watch. Humphries posted a strong season in Boston last year, extending his range out to beyond 20 feet, while retaining his tenacity on the glass. His addition was supposed to add much-needed depth to Washington’s frontcourt, but he’s struggled thus far, losing play time to a suddenly rejuvenated Drew Gooden of late. Patrick Patterson has also struggled, though his 15-point performance against the Celtics was extremely encouraging. Patterson holds the key to the Raptors’ second unit, and without his presence, the bench is reduced to isolation play from its guards.
Center – Even
Marcin Gortat vs. Jonas Valanciunas (likely; hand)
Gortat is a mobile pick-and-roll threat who provides decent rim-protection. Having spent the majority of his career around two elite passers in Wall and Steve Nash, *pour one out* Gortat has learned to play with excellent timing and awareness on offense. He provides an interesting comparison for Valanciunas’s development. My thinking is that Valanciunas will eventually top out as a slightly better version of Gortat that is better at defending the rim.
A fully healthy Valanciunas should be able to keep Gortat in check. The key is to protect the rim and encourage Gortat to shoot the midrange shot, but he’s fairly decent at that too. Gortat connected on over 40 percent of his attempts from between 10-16 feet last season, mostly as a result of playing pick-and-pop with Wall.
3 Keys to victory
- Keep the Wizards out of the transition game
- Randy Wittman’s teams love to play in the midrange. As long as the Raptors get back in transition — no easy task with Wall pushing the pace — the Wizards will settle into a halfcourt offense, of which is largely designed around creating midrange looks.
- The easy solution is to trade offensive-rebounding opportunities for the ability to recover in transition.
- Screen Wall, repeatedly
- Wall is a diligent defender, but he loves grovelling for steals and cheating around screens to guard the drive. Running him around screens is an easy way to get open looks.
- Guard the corners
- Wall loves to create looks for shooters in the corners after starting the initial action out of a pick-and-roll. Leaving someone like Miller or Porter open is fine. Failing to check Temple is not. The challenge is on Lowry and Amir to effectively contain pick-and-rolls without needing help from a third defender.
Prediction: Raptors 102, Wizards 96
Vegas says: Raptors by 4.5, O/U 197.5
Destiny’s Child says: My name
Al Pacino says: *belligerent yelling*
Will says: Home court advantage and Beal’s absence hurts the Wizards. Temple and Porter have off nights shooting while Lowry does a decent job of keeping Wall in check. Amir makes his triumphant return with three put-backs and two twisted ankles.
Update: Valanciunas, Johnson “doubtful”
Valanciunas Amir questionable sliding to doubtful. "Don't want to risk it"
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) November 7, 2014
With the Raps off to a 4-1 start, Nick and Barry are back to give you their thoughts on the past 5 games. The season is in full swing and so are the guys.
On this week’s episode they discuss:
-Terrence Ross… What is going on?
-Stripes is unfortunately STILL in the building.
-SportCheck’s #MyNorth campaign.
-4-1…The good, the bad and the ugly.
-Israel Gutierrez, Kevin Durant and Wale.
-What’s happening with our defence?
They also check in on things going on around the league, like Lance Stephenson’s absolutely wonderful .gif.
This and more!
As always, thank you for listening and enjoy!
Today’s professional athletes are known to be hard workers, but DeRozan takes it to a different level, which is why he has been able to steadily improve, to the point that he made his first all-star appearance in 2013-14. Earlier this summer, former Raptors head coach Jay Triano said he was not shocked at all about DeRozan’s progression, since he had always been a relentless worker. “Even when I was coaching and he was a young player and we were playing him to gain the experience that he has now, the kid came back every night at 6 O’clock, it was like clockwork,” Triano told the Sun. “The door in the locker room would open and it was almost like a beeper on a watch going off. You’d look and you’d go, ‘it’s got to be 6 o’clock and it’s got to be DeMar,’ and sure enough, he was coming back and getting extra shots. The great players don’t just do what everybody else does, they find something else to do to make them better and DeMar was like that.”
“He was tough on me from the standpoint, I think he knew how good I could be,” DeRozan told Basketball Insiders. “I was the starting guard with him, (Hedo) Turkoglu, (Andrea) Bargnani, Jose Calderon. I was the only rookie out there. A lot of mistakes I made, he would just be hard on me about it so I could be better. He was a good dude. He’s a good friend of mine.” In what proved to be a changing of the guard, Bosh ended up leaving the Toronto Raptors to join LeBron James in South Beach with the Miami Heat while DeMar DeRozan took over as the franchise player in T-Dot.
The Toronto Raptors will play host to the Washington Wizards this Friday, November 7 in the first of seven 20th Anniversary Nights presented by Air Canada. The team will wear the original road purple jersey for the first time since May 4, 1999. All fans in attendance at Friday’s game will receive a special edition throwback purple t-shirt, which features the names of every player in team history designed within the claw logo. Former Raptors Alvin Williams and Antonio Davis will also be on hand to help kick-off the anniversary celebrations. Four Raptors alumni will be featured with a bobble-head giveaway throughout the season.
JAMES JOHNSON (Raptors): Been very impressed with his energy and play making ability. Has had some wonderful drives and neat passes so far. His defensive awareness and ability is top shelf and is a game-changer at the three or four spot off the bench. A good get the second time around. Just keep playing under control and good things are ahead for him.
With the caveat — and it holds for almost everything in this piece — that it’s early, the Raptors are allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which currently places them in the bottom third of the league. Early numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but just by the eye test, games like the first half about Oklahoma City and the entire game against Miami (save for a bit of the fourth) where guys were just getting to the basket at will is concerning. The lack of effort thing is another eye test measurement, but in the last three games, the Raptors have trailed 31-26, 30-23 and 35-23. This team is talented enough to fight back from these deficits, but it’s almost as if they know that, and succeeding from coming back to win (which they did against the Thunder, and last night against the Celtics) is a type of positive reinforcement for them. These poor starts will eventually catch up to them, and they’re not going to get away with that against better teams. It should be pointed out we’ve been working with a patchwork front court last few games, and the presence of Amir Johnson on both ends of the floor and how he solidifies the rotation has played a role in the inconsistent play. Casey should eventually figure out how to maximize his bench and the best five-man lineups to put out there in terms of mixing and matching all the pieces he has.
Of course, the Raptors’ goal is not only to get a head start on clicking during the regular season. They want to go deeper in the playoffs than last season, when they fell in the first round. Again, their familiarity should help. In the previous five years, four teams returned five players who started at least 60 games from a team that lost in the first round. All four – the 2011-12 Spurs, 2011-12 76ers, 2010-11 Thunder and 2009-10 Spurs – advanced in the playoffs. Obviously, there’s a selection bias. Only teams that believe in their starters bring them all back. But that’s the point. Toronto has a good general manager in Masai Ujiri, and he chose to keep this team intact. Maybe Lowry deserves the most credit. A free agent this summer, he received interest from the Heat and Rockets before re-signing with the Raptors. But after taking care of his team’s top player, Ujiri re-signed Patterson and Vasquez on player-friendly contracts in order to keep the core together.
Johnson learned the hard way that teams in the NBA don’t owe a player anything. After the Kings opted to let him go following the 2012-13 season, he was waived by the Hawks before the 2013-14 season started and Johnson ended up in the NBA D-League until the Grizzlies needed an injury replacement in December. Johnson played well for the Grizzlies, but didn’t make a big enough impression to stick after the season ended. He has good reasons for knowing he can’t take anything for granted. However, Johnson is better than before, picking up the nuances of the game from players like Zach Randolph last year and Kyle Lowry as he prepared for this year. Already Johnson has displayed the defensive energy that he has been known for and an unexpected ability to finish through contract, something he often struggled with earlier in his career.
Lowry’s rise is no longer news, though he shouldered the load in Toronto’s 48-win season beneath a cloud of doubt concerning his motivation. Once viewed as a cantankerous, combative figure in the locker room, few could absorb his development and maturation without remaining conscious of the carrot dangling at the end of the tunnel—unrestricted free agency, and the overwhelming likelihood of a hefty pay day. The Raptors returned the favour in kind during the offseason, committing to Lowry as the team’s defining personality, and locking him up with a four-year, $48 million contract. Five games in (small sample size notwithstanding) and with a handful of new point guard deals since doled out for context, and it looks as if Masai Ujiri’s valuation of the 28-year-old hit the mark.
But it is one of those bench players, Greivis Vasquez, who wondered earlier this week whether the absence of Amir Johnson – missing for three games with an ankle injury – wasn’t a large part of the explanation. Johnson was a good first-quarter performer for the Raptors when the team blossomed into a contender in 2013-2014, collecting more steals and rebounds and posting a higher field-goal percentage in the first quarter than any other player on the team. True, he logged more first-quarter minutes, but Johnson’s energy and ability to produce without needing plays drawn up for him is an important first-quarter asset for any team. Few players on this team have as many recipes for chicken salad as does Johnson, if you catch my drift. “Amir … we’re all just so used to having him out there,” Vasquez said. “It’s not just his energy. It’s what he does. He might not get 40 points but we need him for the rest of us to get baskets.
First of all, let’s look at who the Toronto Raptors have beaten so far this year. Atlanta, Boston, Oklahoma City, and Orlando aren’t exactly world-beaters this year. Those teams are 4-13 so far this season, so the Raptors should beat those teams. The one loss was at the hands of the Miami Heat who, at 3-2, are the only team above .500 that the Raptors have played so far in this early portion of the season. Now, there’s something to be said for beating the teams that you’re supposed to, but even those “easy” wins have been much tougher than they should have been. Atlanta was only down 4 with 35 seconds left, Orlando was down 5 with 4 minutes left, and Oklahoma City was down 7 with 3 minutes left. Boston had a chance to tie Wednesday’s game with a 3-pointer at the end of regulation. It’s great that the Raptors came away with the wins, but you’d like to see them put away those teams earlier.
The Celtics are hoping to replicate Toronto’s turnaround behind their own headstrong 28-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo and burgeoning young shooting guard Avery Bradley in the second year of coach Brad Stevens‘ tenure. The Raptors are recognizing their effort. “They’re definitely very talented,” DeRozan said after scoring 23 points on 25 shots in a 110-107 win in Boston. “They’ve got a great coach. They’ve got a hell of a point guard in Rondo. They’re still learning and still growing. You’ve got a talented kid in [Marcus] Smart, so they definitely have a chance and we definitely have to look for them, especially in our division.”
Tomorrow night’s contest against the Washington Wizards is marketed as the first “20th Anniversary Night” of the season. Players will wear vintage throwback jerseys and fans in attendance will receive a commemorative t-shirt reportedly featuring the names of every player to ever don the purple/red.
Washington has looked good early, despite being without gunners Bradley Beal and Martell Webster. Wall has picked up the slack, averaging a career-best 21.4 points per game, little-known Garrett Temple has played 35 minutes a night at shooting guard, averaging 13.8 points, hitting a ton of threes and big men Marcin Gortat and Nene have been excellent. Paul Pierce has been a nice fit, benefiting from the many open looks Wall sets up. Washington has won four straight since an opening night loss to Miami, including a two-point, overtime thriller over Indiana on Wednesday. This will be the Wizards third game in four nights and the fifth in seven nights for the Raptors.
The Raptors still have Jonas Valanciunas (hand) and Amir Johnson (ankle) listed as questionable but if they don’t go, it’s a tough, tough matchup for a smallish Toronto front court . . . Wizards are 4-1 after an overtime win over Indiana on Wednesday, even without injured guard Bradley Beal. Temple has filled in admirably and averages almost 14 points per game . . . Pierce is taking the place of departed free agent Trevor Ariza and gives the Wizards another grizzled veteran to go along with backup point guard Andre Miller . . . Antonio Davis and Alvin Williams will be at the game as part of Toronto’s 20th anniversary celebrations, and the team will wear the purple pinstriped road jerseys that debuted in 1995 . . . Washington is trying to start a season 5-1 for the second time in history; the Raptors have never been 5-1.
One difference which favours the Wiz is the presence of ageless Paul Pierce, last season’s Game 7 heartbreaker. He starts at small forward, where Terrence Ross has recently struggled. The Wizards’ bench includes rebounder Kris Humphries, savvy veteran point guard Andre Miller, smallish forward DeJuan Blair and underachiever Kevin Seraphin. The Raptors can win this game, but without Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson (both listed as “questionable”) are in tough.
I can haz yo linkz???? [email protected]
Raptors 110, C**tics 107 – Box
There are some games where if you lose the sky is falling, and if you win, there’s little celebration because that’s what you were supposed to do. This was that kind of a game, albeit with high end-to-end drama.
The creaky defense that has been giving way was at the forefront in Boston, with the Celtics starting a whopping 9-9 from the field. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were man-handling Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough in the paint, and the early rebounding discrepancies were only slightly less embarrassing than the 79% the Celtics shot in the first quarter (check out a Celtic grab a rebound with four Raptors standing around). The defense was a shambles with no coverage underneath, bizarre matchups presented to the Celtics right from the start of the set, and wildly unorganized rotations that yielded three-point shots which the home team was draining.
Here’s an early harbinger where there is no plan for providing help underneath. Not having Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson hurts, yet that’s not an excuse for this level of breakdown this early in a game:Direct Link
Another problem was captured in this frame, where Jeff Green is left wide open due to a baseline trap, with Hansbrough being tasked with a rotation that he’s extremely slow to make, and something he’s not used to doing:
Finally, to give you a taste of how poor the defense was, I’d like to point out two examples. First, in transition, the Raptors did not check their man, or communicate about Celtics leaking right after the shot. The example below has Kelly Olynyk beating everyone down the floor for an easy two after a missed shot.Direct Link
And here’s the absolute worst defensive possession I’ve seen this year. It’s got Lou Williams guarding Jared Sullinger for some reason, and then the Raptors conceding an offensive rebound for a Boston three.Direct Link
This was the kind of start that the Raptors had, and not surprisingly they were getting punished. The Celitcs backcourt likes to press and attack, they’re built for that kind of basketball and the Raptors obliged by taking quick one-on-one shots which gave the Celtics even more incentive to push the tempo.
They were up by as many as 16 in the first half, and it would have been more if it weren’t for DeRozan scoring some early buckets preventing 6-2 runs from becoming 8-0 runs. He was being covered by Jeff Green, making it now official that opposing teams prefer putting taller guys with good reach on him. Credit to DeRozan, he didn’t turn the ball over and took shots which you have to consider are high percentage for him. Yes, they’re jumpers, but they’re jumpers that will be his bread-and-butter when it’s all said and done. Learn to live with him as long as he’s mixing it up with his drives (5-6 FT).
Two Raptors helped make a dent in the second quarter: Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams. Lowry had 17 in the first half, including this massive three which quelled the tide. Williams, who saw himself playing the point instead of the ineffective Vasquez, added an element of stolidity which slowed the game down and allowed the Raptors to operate methodically instead of in a sense of panic, where the only thing to look forward to was the next wave of Boston attack.
As the steady offense lent confidence to a defense whose unlikely saviours became foot-soldiers like James Johnson (great dunk) and Chuck Hayes, the big comeback was almost made complete by halftime with Patterson draining this three in transition. A note on Patterson – he had some issues guarding Sullinger in the block, and even Olynyk at times, but unlike Ross, he provided enough offensive punch to warrant court time and played good defense on the final possession of the game.
I couldn’t understand why Dwane Casey even attempted to matchup Grevis Vasquez with Rajon Rondo, the latter was torching the former and it was entirely predictable. This was a very negative matchup for the Raptors, not just because Rondo was blowing by Vasquez, but because it fractured the already fragile Raptors defense, resulting in chaos. With little offensive output from the fledgling Terrence Ross who Jeff Green was eating alive, the last thing the Raptors could afford was giving up easy baskets and that’s what the matchup enabled the Celtics to do.
A three-point halftime deficit was a blessing, and the Raptors had to have felt that they’d been let off the hook.
James Johnson permanently replaced Ross in the third quarter because Jeff Green was having a picnic with him. There’s a moment of frustration for Ross that the camera was able to catch right before he was benched. The current problems with Ross’s play are as follows:
- He stop short on his drives and tends to either go for the floater, a leaner, or a pull-up – none of which he is particularly good at. Smarter thing to do is to just pull a DeRozan and try to get fouled. Go from there.
- Defensively, he struggles against players his size or bigger. Not because he’s a terrible defender, but because he’s not a strong one. He gets pushed, stuck on peoples hips, and is unable to recover.
- His three-point shot isn’t falling at a high enough clip for Casey to live with his defense.
The comeback was on in full force in the third, with Kyle Lowry leading the charge and DeRozan doing his thing. The decision-making on offense improved and the Raptors were giving what the aggressive Celtics defense was conceding, rather than shooting their way against a set defense. This play where Lowry realizes that he doesn’t have numbers, pulls back, waits for DeRozan bursting down the channel and laying it off is a perfect example of the smarter basketball the Raptors played in the second half:Direct Link
The spark the aforementioned James Johnson provided was also critical. His perimeter pressure paid of and directly resulted in points on multiple occasions, the best example of which was this score for Lowry:Direct Link
The icing on the third quarter was provided by our second-quarter hero, Lou Williams, who the Raptors cleared out for against Evan Turner to fantastic effect. The Raptors comeback was complete and they had reclaimed the lead after three quarters, which felt like an eternity ago from when they were up 2-0.Direct Link
This was always going to come down to defense and clutch playmaking, both of which the Raptors weren’t short of in the fourth. The Celtics continued to dominate the glass and ended the game with a ridiculous 55-24 advantage, which I understand to some degree since two of the Raptors’ best rebounders were out, but still, 31 boards? It’s mind-boggling.
The defense picked up and Lou Williams reading the play and playing the passing lane early in the fourth set the tone. After that, it was more of James Johnson pressure leading to points, and finally Kyle Lowry stepping up on both ends – his charge here galvanized the team and gave them that extra burst of energy needed to finish off a game on a back-to-back:Direct Link
Some credit needs to be given to Dwane Casey for managing his star players’ minutes over the back-to-back/3-in-4. Lowry and DeRozan were limited to 31 minutes apiece against the Thunder, which helped them play 36 and 40, respectively, last night.
I have to pause and give some credit to Chuck Hayes, he was the most effective in stopping Jared Sullinger. He battled him for position instead of settling for playing face-up defense, and bodied him in a way that Patterson and Hansbrough didn’t. He wore Sullinger down just enough that his shots started front-rimming and he didn’t have the energy to attack the offensive glass on some key possessions where the Raptors secured a rare defensive rebound.
The Celtics remained within a shout because of their three-point shooting and ended up tying the game after the Raptors had gone up by 8, and with the game tied, a statement was made:Direct Link
This was a perfect play and symbolized just what the second half was all about. Defense first and aggressive on offense. The whole “Lowry vs Smart” thing was put to bed on this decisive play, and DeRozan’s raw emotion after the thunderous dunk echoed both, relief and joy. The Raptors tandem had delivered. However, this was Kyle Lowry’s night, and it was only fitting that he alone came out for the encore to ice the game and a 35-point (12-17 FG) night:Direct Link
Let’s also not overlook the defense played on the last possession. I was nervous about this given how the Raptors were dropping back against driving guards, allowing kick backs to the top of the key for open threes. This time the pressure on the ball was good, the catch-point was further away, and Patterson did well to defend without fouling.
Did the Raptors play a great game? Absolutely not. They’re still finding their way on defense, integrating their reformed bench, and compensating for two missing starters. They were obliterated on the boards and once again gave up 50%+ shooting. Their saving grace turned out to be committing only 7 turnovers, and forcing 27 which led to 28 points. The Celtics backcourt are equally aggressive on offense as they are on defense, which cost them because you can’t go at a 100% clip all the time.
In my years of watching basketball, there are some things I never do and one of them is complaining about a road win on a back-to-back. You take those any chance you get. This Raptors unit may not yet have the consistency and chemistry it showed last year, but one quality has already shined through: when they’re down, they’re not out. There’s a spirit in them that believes no deficit is too large, and as a supporter watching, you just feel that there’s enough in there that you don’t ever want to change the channel.
Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Video Credit: TSN Canada, NBA
After every game, post the best three Raptors of that game. First place gets 3 points, second place gets 2, and third place gets 1. For each game one of our members will add up the points and then track the standings throughout the season to see who we as the fans vote as the most valuable team member come the end of the season.
The Raptors were out-rebounded by 31 on Wednesday night in Boston which was their worst margin ever. Here’s a list of games where the Raptors have been out-rebounded by 20 or more. In total, there’s been 25 such games, in which the Raptors are 5-20.
|Date||Opponent||Result||ORB||DRB||TRB||Opp ORB||Opp DRB||Opp TRB||Diff|
|11/5/2014||@ BOS||W 110-107||6||18||24||17||38||55||-31|
|12/3/1997||@ UTA||L 98-115||12||16||28||24||34||58||-30|
|12/1/2004||@ ORL||L 108-129||6||26||32||14||47||61||-29|
|1/23/2013||@ MIA||L 116-123 (OT)||7||21||28||16||37||53||-25|
|2/19/1998||v CHI||L 86-123||10||25||35||22||38||60||-25|
|12/6/2004||@ NJN||L 86-88||6||30||36||19||42||61||-25|
|1/22/2006||@ LAL||L 104-122||4||23||27||18||33||51||-24|
|10/29/2008||@ PHI||W 95-84||10||23||33||23||33||56||-23|
|2/5/2002||@ WAS||L 94-99||3||24||27||22||28||50||-23|
|1/4/1997||@ DET||L 74-118||11||17||28||14||37||51||-23|
|3/3/2004||@ WAS||L 70-84||11||27||38||14||47||61||-23|
|12/2/2009||@ ATL||L 115-146||8||21||29||15||36||51||-22|
|3/6/2007||@ WAS||L 109-129||9||18||27||17||32||49||-22|
|11/5/2005||@ DET||L 84-117||3||32||35||16||41||57||-22|
|12/10/2006||v POR||L 83-93||10||24||34||13||43||56||-22|
|2/27/2004||@ BOS||L 75-88||9||23||32||14||40||54||-22|
|11/18/2006||@ DEN||L 109-117||10||27||37||18||40||58||-21|
|2/26/2003||@ CHI||L 95-103||12||20||32||16||37||53||-21|
|12/26/1995||v MIL||W 93-87||13||14||27||18||30||48||-21|
|11/14/2001||@ GSW||W 89-82||11||27||38||20||39||59||-21|
|1/15/1996||@ NJN||L 83-108||6||28||34||19||36||55||-21|
|3/1/2002||v POR||L 81-91||10||27||37||24||34||58||-21|
|11/4/2002||v CHI||W 109-105 (OT)||15||33||48||29||39||68||-20|
|4/9/2005||@ CHI||L 97-110||6||27||33||21||32||53||-20|
|3/7/2001||@ LAL||L 85-97||8||25||33||17||36||53||-20|
Source: Basketball Reference
Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Head coach Dwane Casey mixed and matched until he found something that worked, which ended up being a smaller lineup, featuring Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez in the backcourt. Once Terrence Ross re-entered, the starters also played much better than they had in the first. The Celtics shot just 9-for-24 in the frame, while the Raptors found their form. After yet another Lowry bucket and a Celtics miss, Lou Williams raced down the court and sank a buzzer-beater to end the third, giving Toronto its first lead since Patterson opened the scoring. It was Boston’s turn to fight back several times in the fourth. The Garden has not been kind to the Raptors and it looked like another horror show in the making early on. Toronto had only snapped an 11-game losing streak in Boston last March. Casey said the 4-1 record is nice, but there is considerable work to be done. “I’m proud, but we can’t be satisfied,” he said.
The Raptors trailed by as many as 16 points but pulled away with some aggressive defence and clutch shooting down the stretch. Lowry was again a driving force for the Raptors, leading the team with 35 points. “The guys said (Tuesday) I wasn’t aggressive enough. And with us missing JV (Jonas Valanciunas) and Amir (Johnson), me and DeMar (DeRozan) had to be more aggressive tonight,” said Lowry. That aggression came at both ends of the court. Under pressure from the Raptors for the last three quarters, the Celtics coughed up 27 turnovers. One of the most impressive — and clutch — was a fourth-quarter steal by Lowry.
“The play of the game was the steal [Lowry] had at the end,” Dwane Casey said. As the whistle blew – DeRozan would go to the line to cap off a three-point play – Lowry turned to face the Garden crowd, arms spread at waist level, and let out a roar. At the moment, he had that look in his eyes. He had that same look, or variations of it, from the second quarter on. Most of the NBA is familiar with it by now and it doesn’t usually bode well for whomever is on the other side. “He’s got that angry face,” said Patrick Patterson. “That’s what he always looks like.” There was no way Lowry was letting his team lose that game. “Yesterday they said I wasn’t aggressive enough and with us missing [Jonas Valanciunas] and [Amir Johnson] I had to be more aggressive tonight,” said Lowry after scoring 35 points – his highest as a Raptor – on just 17 shots in Toronto’s comeback 110-107 road win over the Boston Celtics Wednesday.
The Toronto Raptors appear to be slow starters. On the second night of a home-road back to back, the Raptors were given all they could handle by a tough Celtics team that has been competitive in every game in spite of its record. After last night’s porous defensive effort, Amir’s continued injury absence was a cause for concern heading into tonight’s game. Once news came that Jonas Valanciunas would be out as well, this had the look of a game the Raptors would struggle to win.
I’m going to continue to laud Brad Stevens in this space: I really liked his late-game substitutions tonight. For example: After Marcus Smart dribbled too long and was ripped by Kyle Lowry, Stevens yanked him for the offensive possession following the timeout. On the next defensive possession, Stevens sent him back in to redeem himself. That’s a quick way of letting Smart know he messed up without sapping his confidence, and it’s the kind of thoughtful coaching we’ve come to expect from Stevens. So. ANOTHER A+.
Look, the Celtics did a lot of things well tonight. They moved the ball, they hit the outside shot, you’ve got to feel great about Boston’s enormous 55-24 rebounding edge, Jared Sullinger was an absolute animal with 19 points and 16 boards, Kelly Olynyk came through with a big double-double of his own (18 points, 13 rebounds), Marcus Smart had another solid night (despite the late turnover) and Rajon Rondo racked up his 30th career triple-double. Man, does Rondo look good or what? However, you can’t turn the ball over 27 times and expect to win a ballgame against a good team. Hell, even against a weaker team. Hats off to the Raptors, who battled all night and showed why they are such a tough team to deal with. Persistence and execution is what separated them from the green in this one. Had the Cs just taken better care of the ball, we could be celebrating a victory right now, but these growing pains are part of what comes with a youth movement.
The team experienced a bit of painful déjà vu on the defensive end early on. Much like the Thunder started 8 for 9 from the field on Tuesday, the Celtics made quick work of a lackluster Raps’ defense, jumping out to a 25-9 lead on 11/12 field goals. Sullinger in particular posted 8 points and 3 boards in the 1st quarter. A couple of and-1’s from Williams and Lowry contributed to an 8-0 run, but the improved ball movement did nothing to stop the bleeding; the defense allowed the deficit to increase to 12 by the end of the 1st Q. Boston commenced the second quarter by tackling the Raptors’ poor transition defense courtesy of an Avery Bradley three, and Rondo commanded the paint with several difficult layups. The team showed why they currently lead the league in fewest turnovers, but struggled to convert their jumpers, and the absence of the bigs attributed to a large discrepancy on the glass.
The Raptors were missing their starting frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, and it showed early, as the Celtics made a living of attacking the rim against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough. Kyle Lowry was an animal for the Raptors, leading all scorers with 35 points and kick-starting Toronto’s comeback. Lowry also came up with the play of the game when he stripped Celtics point guard Marcus Smart to set up DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning dunk. “He’s just really good,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the Raptors point guard. “I mean, he’s a bull. When he drives the ball, you can’t stop him from getting what he wants because he separates from his body. He scores the ball, he makes huge defensive plans like he did against Marcus late. I said before the game he probably should’ve been an All-Star last year, and it looks like he took that one seriously. Because he sure looked like one tonight.”
The Raptors fought their way back into the game during the second quarter by outscoring the Celtics 31-22, and most of the damage was done late. Toronto finished the quarter by scoring 20 points in the last six minutes of the half to go into the locker room down by just three points. The Raptors got a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter to finally take the lead, 88-86. Kyle Lowry did most of the damage in the middle quarters; he had 23 points in the second and third periods alone and 31 total heading into the fourth.
he raptors allowed the Celtics to score 35 points on nearly 80%shooting after the first quarter. There was a point where the Celtics converted on 8 straight field goals with the Raptors failing to make a stop. Luckily the Raptors picked up their defensive efforts after being down 16. They made the Celtics turn the ball over 27 times leading to 36 points off those turnovers. James Johnson, Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry all made concentrated defensive efforts to get Toronto back in the game. If the Raptors plan to keep winning their gonna need a complete defensive effort for four quarters as they’re not good enough yet to just flip on the switch and get stops.
This setback was the third in a row for Boston. It likely stung more than any other defeat this season since the Celtics so obviously gave away the win with their miscues. Boston had 28 turnovers on the evening, including nine in the fourth quarter. The Raptors scored 36 points on those mistakes, including a go-ahead three-point play from DeMar DeRozan following a Marcus Smart turnover that broke a 105-105 tie with just 28.9 seconds remaining.
Smart and Lowry have been facing off for about a month now, since the preseason when Smart admitted he gave Lowry too much respect during a loss in Toronto. So Smart has been itching to exact revenge, but Wednesday wasn’t the night. Lowry carried the Raptors with 35 points, including a fadeaway 18-footer with eight seconds left to give the Raptors a 3-point lead. Lowry, like Smart, is a muscular bowling ball who attacks the rim with vigor and finishes with a soft touch. Smart should attempt to emulate him. “Yeah, I definitely think he’s a guy he should look up to and learn from, but there’s a lot of guys in this league like that, and there’s only one Kyle Lowry,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s a unique player. He’s different than Marcus in a lot of ways, but Marcus can certainly learn from him, as well as many others.” Lowry was an afterthought when he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, traded to Houston to make room for Mike Conley. He was a victim of the Rockets’ salary cap binging and traded to Toronto in July 2012. He has turned himself into an All-Star-caliber player and understands Smart’s journey.
With big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas sidelined, Lowry took over for the Raptors in the second quarter and carried them from there. “He came out aggressive,” forward DeMar DeRozan said. “We need him to do that.” DeRozan had 23 points and Patrick Patterson added 14 for Toronto, but it was Lowry that Boston coach Brad Stevens praised. “I said before the game that he probably should have been an All-Star last year,” Stevens said. “It looks like he took that one seriously because he looked like one tonight.” It came after the Raptors fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter. “We can’t be that way,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It shouldn’t have to come from me to crack the whip at every turn to get us going.” Rajon Rondo led Boston with a triple-double of 13 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Jeff Green had 20 points for the Celtics, who have lost three straight after a season-opening win over Brooklyn.
Kyle Lowry and Evan Turner played really well for the Raptors tonight.
And, most importantly, he fought the urge to tank away the 2013 season, and was rewarded with a surprise playoff appearance and unprecedented expectations in 2014. Even with all that success already in the rearview mirror, Ujiri can barely watch the Raptors play. Not because he’s indifferent—quite the opposite—Ujiri can’t stand to watch because he’s so emotionally invested. “I do random things during the game,” he admits. “I just can’t watch. Sometimes I go up in my office and work. Other times I’ll drive home in the middle of the game. “Everybody around here refers to Game 7 last year. I didn’t see most of it. The big comebacks and lead changes against Brooklyn. I didn’t see most of them. I’m not sure why. It’s hard to explain. I just do random things to get my mind off the game.”
I can haz yo linkz? [email protected]
Game tied. Late. In Boston. Raps on D. This happened. Decisive. Reaction post here.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 24 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2Basketball players are creatures of habit and they flourish when given a defined role that doesn’t change. For Hansbrough, that’s coming off the bench and playing with reckless abandon. Before the game Dwane Casey talked about his hesitation in changing that role and Hansbrough’s play tonight showed why. He lacked his normal physical style of play and finished with four points and five boards in 23 minutes. Another scary stat is he finished with a +/- of -2.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -7You have to give Patterson credit for playing within himself and not trying to force things. He scored 14 points on only six field goal attempts. Impressive.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -4There was a bit of a buzz tonight on twitter about James Johnson bumping Ross out of the starting five. Sorry, I’m not buying into that. Yes, Ross wasn’t able to find his groove shooting the ball (1-5 from the field) and Jeff Green went off for 20 points against him, but I’m chalking this up to a bad game against an underrated player in Green. Plus, Green needed 16 FGA’s to score those 20 points.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 12-17 FG | 9-10 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 35 PTS | +4Lowry was a beast tonight. He had a tough time finding a groove in the first quarter due to being hounded by Rajon Rondo (taller player) and Marcus Smart (larger build), but he found his groove in the second quarter. He finished with a game-high 35 points and two big steals.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 9-25 FG | 5-6 FT | 0 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | -1DeRozan got off to a slow starting going 1-5 from the field in the first quarter. You have to give him credit for being relentless as he kept attacking all night (25 field goal attempts) and still managed to score 23 points. He stuffed the stat sheet with six boards and two steals.|
|James Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +10The idea was for Johnson to use his athleticism and size to give Jared Sullinger fits. Safe to say that didn’t work out as planned as Sullinger scorched Toronto for 19 points and 16 boards. To be fair, it’s tough for Johnson to battle Sullinger when he’s giving up 40 pounds.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 12 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +4Hayes only played 1:49 in the first half, but he managed a +/- of +8. So there’s that. He also played like a wrecking ball during his limited time on the court which was a lot of fun to watch. Poor Marcus Smart will be feeling the collision the two had for the next few days.|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 12 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +1He came into the game and made an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor for the Raptors. His modest stats won’t pop off the box score, but he was a big part of this win.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +10Has Vasquez met a three-pointer he hasn’t fallen in love with? Last night he went 1-7 from beyond the arc against Oklahoma City and tonight he went 1-2 against Boston. His scoring is usually a great spark for the second unit, but tonight he went 3-8 from the field. He needs to find other ways to contribute when his shot’s not falling.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | 0Williams came into the game and gave Toronto an instant spark as the Raptors went on a 9-2 run to end the first quarter. Williams scored five of those points and he finished with 11 points. It’s also worth noting the buzzer beater he had to end the third quarter and give Toronto their first lead since it was 2-0.|
Do you give Casey blame for yet another slow start by his team? Or, do you give him credit for another hell-raising halftime speech to rally the troops? I’m going to give Casey credit for waking up a lethargic team.
Five Things We Saw
- Toronto allowed Boston to start the game shooting 12-14 from the field while getting a lot of easy looks in the paint. Meanwhile, Toronto seemed to be afraid to even venture into the paint – despite Boston lacking an intimidating rim protector – and shot 7-17 during that same stretch.
- Kyle Lowry willed Toronto to the win and his steal in the final minute of regulation lead to the DeRozan dunk. Everyone will rave over DeRozan’s dunk – and rightfully so, it was filthy – but it was Lowry’s steal that set the entire sequence in motion.
- Sorry, I’m not buying into the idea of James Johnson bumping Terrence Ross out of the starting five. Johnson gives the team a great spark off of the bench and Raptors need the three-point shooting – or at least the threat of it – that Ross provides.
- Patrick Patterson is a silent assassin. Or maybe a ninja. He quietly scored 14 points including a huge three late in the fourth quarter after Boston tied up the game. He went 4-6 from beyond the arc tonight.
- Marcus Smart needs to work on his jumper, but the kid has a lot of potential. He hit a huge three late in the fourth to tie the game at 105. He went 3-7 from beyond the arc and scored 12 points. He’s a bulldog on defence.
He hurt his hand last night and is now out. This means Bebe is in full effect. And if he’s not available, Chuck Hayes and Greg Steimsma. My money’s on Steimsma getting the start. With Johnson already questionable, we’re looking at Patrick Patterson getting the start along with one other guy we simply don’t trust.
Jonas Valanciunas is doubtful for tonight's @Raptors game at Boston due to a right hand contusion.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) November 5, 2014
The Raptors face a pesky Celtics team tonight in Boston. The Raps handled their business last season against the Celtics, going 3-1. This year’s group appears to be a much tougher matchup with the return of Rajon Rondo and additions such as Marcus Thorton and Marcus Smart fortifying their second unit.
Boston Quick Facts:
- 1-2, with losses on the road against Dallas and Houston.
- Improved offense: 108 points per game — 2nd in the league. Offensive rating 108.4 — 11th overall.
- Defensive Woes: 109 points allows per game — 29th in the league. Defensive rating 109.4 — 23rd overall. They’ve protected the rim better than expected so far. Opponents are shooting 53.2% at the rim, good for 15th in the league.
- Bring your running shoes: 99.7 pace — 2nd highest in the league.
- Excellent ball movement: 2nd in assists per game, 3rd in points created by assists per game and 1st in assist opportunities per game.
Keys to success for Toronto:
- Win the free throw battle: This should be a lopsided matchup as Toronto averages the 2nd most free throw attempts per game and Boston averages the 2nd least FTA per game.
- Protect the ball: The Raptors’ excellent ball protection, a league low 9.8 turnovers a game, will be put to the test tonight. Boston has forced the 5th most turnovers and the 4th most steals per game so far this season.
- Transition defense: 19.4% of Boston’s baskets come off of fast breaks. This percentage is second only to Golden State.
- Protect the paint: Boston is among the shortest teams in the league and so far they’ve had their shot blocked more times per game than any team in the NBA. Nevertheless, the Celtics score a league high 51.9% of their points in the paint.
- Box Out: Boston is 2nd best offensive rebounding team in the league so far.
- Break out of the three-point slump!: Toronto has been collectively terrible from beyond the arc so far this season, ranking 28th in 3 point percentage at 25.5%. The good news for the Raptors is that Boston is allowing the highest 3-point field goal percentage in the league at 42.3%.
Look for Boston to come out aggressively after falling behind big in the first half of each of their two losses. Don’t be surprised to see Brad Stevens employ a havoc wreaking three-guard lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Rondo and Marcus Smart in spurts throughout the game. The Raptors are still very much the favorites in this one but a win on the road in the tail end of a back-to-back will not come easily. What’s more, most fans agree that something has been just a little bit off with the Raps so far this season, despite the 3-1 start. If the Raptors are successful in forcing Boston into outside shots, getting back on D and regaining the three-point shooting prowess they showed last season, then they should improve to 4-1.
All stats for this article provided by NBA.com.
Selected sound bites from the lockerroom after the Raptors beat the Thunder at the ACC.
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The real problem is on defence, though. Oklahoma City was pushing 70% from the field into the second quarter, with the Raptors failing to rotate in the half court and run back in transition. They won this game because the Thunder missed 11 free throws and turned the ball over 21 times, both of which could be casually related with being undermanned and overworked. “It’s not going to get it done,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “I told them until my eyes turned red and they’ve had that speech a lot. So, until it sinks in, it’s going to be a roller coaster.” At least when you’re on a roller coaster, you get to experience some dazzling heights.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came to town Tuesday night, dragging around suitcases full of bad luck. Durant, the reigning MVP, was sporting a walking boot. His shrieking bird-of-prey partner, Russell Westbrook, was nursing a broken hand. There were extras in the neighbouring hospital beds, and the Thunder had eight players active. It got worse, later. They were down to seven when Perry Jones left with a knee injury, and six when Reggie Jackson limped off with a thigh contusion. Jackson came back but Sebastian Telfair was ejected, and three of the six available Thunder players finished the game with five fouls. Kendrick Perkins sat alone on the bench, a great sad statue. After the game, Serge Ibaka had both knees and his left ankle in ice — he said he and Jackson were dealing with ankle injuries — and Steven Adams had ice wrapped around his right forearm. “It feels like a nightmare, and I’m ready to wake up,” said Jackson.
For a team that built its success a year ago on defence, this Raptors squad is paying scant attention to the concept. Yes, they can score. Hell, last night even with their starting five struggling to score, they still reached 100 points and that’s largely because of the depth that guys like Vasquez and Lou Williams provide. But defensively, the want-to just doesn’t seem to be there. Even after what many considered a wake-up call in that loss in Miami on Sunday, the Raptors came out and allowed a team with eight players, a number that was down to six by game’s end as Sebastian Telfair was ejected with two minutes go for treating Tyler Hansbrough’s head like a punching bag, shoot 61% in the first half and lay another 30-point first quarter at the Raptors’ sluggish feet. “Sometime this year we are going to find some defence from somebody somewhere,” head coach Dwane Casey said sounding more wishful than expectant of that. “I don’t know when but we are going to find it.”
Coming off their first defeat of the campaign, Casey’s club vowed to get off to a quicker start against a hurting, albeit scrappy opponent. Instead, the Thunder hit eight of their nine attempts and shot 71 per cent in a 30-point first quarter. It wasn’t until late in the third, early in the fourth quarter that the home team turned up the heat, or – just as likely – Oklahoma City ran out of gas. Any positives to take from the night? “No, I don’t think so,” Kyle Lowry responded. “A win,” said DeRozan, his team’s leading scorer with 16. “That’s about it. A win. Honestly. They hit a lot of open shots. We let them shoot a high percentage in the first half and we had to fight back and get in. We’ve just got to learn from it. We can’t keep digging ourselves a hole and expect to fight back and everything to fall in our hands. So that’s one thing we definitely have to take from it.”
Scott Brooks said he came away “encouraged” by the performance, and it’s easy to see why. The Thunder somehow had the game within reach, even nibbling the Raptors lead down to seven with 3:34 left. They got a stop, but a mistimed pass by Sebastian Telfair stopped the burst, and the Raptors came back with two points on a Patterson tip-in. After that Nick Collison layup that cut it to seven with 3:34 left, the Thunder scored just one point, coming on a Steven Adams free throw. They just didn’t have anything left to give. Quite an effort, and certainly positive in a lot of ways, but still: The Thunder are 1-4. And now might just have seven players available for Friday’s game against Memphis.
I cringed every time anyone went near the basket. Perry Jones left the game after colliding knee-to-knee with Patrick Patterson. Reggie Jackson was repeatedly on the floor grimacing in pain or getting attended to by trainers. At this point, I’m going to start taping my ankles and wearing a knee brace while I watch these games. It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse (that’s a positive, I guess?), but man, the Thunder can’t afford any more injuries. I’m just worried the basketball gods may go after the fans if they have no more players to go after. Be aware.
With the absence of the Raptors’ regular starting power forward and center, Patrick Patterson (14 points, two threes, eight rebounds, two steals, one block) and Tyler Hansbrough (12 points, seven rebounds) were big contributors, while Greg Stiemsma also got in some meaningful minutes (posting four points and three offensive rebounds). The other starters were mostly quiet, although DeMar DeRozan chipped in a team-high 16 points and Kyle Lowry added 5 assists and 0 turnovers, moving his season-long ratio to 23:2. Lou Williams put up 12 points in only 19 minutes, including 9 points in the fourth quarter. Terrence Ross did this (via Raptors Republic):
Lou Williams was struggling to unplug his phone charger from the top shelf in his locker. He had to get Chuck Hayes to give him a hand. #ShortGuyProblems
“It feels like a nightmare and I’m ready to wake up,” Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson said. The Thunder (1-4) are off to their worst start since going 1-15 to begin the 2008-09 season. Serge Ibaka had 25 points and 11 rebounds for a short-handed Oklahoma City team playing the second game of a back-to-back. Jackson added 13 points and a career-high 14 assists. Lou Williams scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and Tyler Hansbrough got eight of his 12 at the free-throw line as the Raptors improved to 3-1. The Thunder began the game with eight active players and finished with six. Less than a minute into the second half, forward Perry Jones went down clutching his right knee after colliding with Toronto’s Patrick Patterson. Jones, who banged his knee in Monday’s loss at Brooklyn, had to be helped to the locker room and was unable to return. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and evaluate it again,” coach Scott Brooks said.
To add insult to injury (literally), Perry Jones III and Reggie Jackson both got banged up mid-game. To put things into perspective, the Raptors were going up against 2, maybe 3 players that deserved to even have a spot in a rotation, while the Raptors pumped out their full rotation. Jonas Valanciunas left mid-way after getting bumped in the face, and Amir Johnson was also out once again, however it really was no comparison. The bottom line is that this game should have been over by halftime, however it wasn’t over until late in the 4th quarter. The outcome of the game was a 100-88 victory, which puts the Raptors at a cool 3-1. That being said, it took a strong fourth quarter to overpower a depleted Thunder team that literally had no options for their exhausted players. The Raps were clearly cruising for most of the game, however if there is one thing they should have learned from last season, it’s that every game should be tackled with 100% intensity.
In fairness, the Raptors played – for the most part – really well offensively. The ball movement was much ameliorated tonight. 22 assists were handed out, and there was constant slashing leading to open looks. The problems mostly stemmed on the defensive end. Those problems tended to fade away when James Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, and Tyler Hansborough checked in. Immediately when Stiemsma entered the floor, he grabbed a rebound, then contributed to forcing a shot clock violation on the ensuing defensive possession. Hansborough had his best game of the season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again – Tyler Hansborough is the most improved player on the roster this season. Of course, him and J. Johnson will still do things that will pull your hair out. James Johnson at random times thinks he’s Joe Johnson, and Tyler Hansborough took two three-pointers tonight: One of which hit nothing but thing air.
Coaches being coaches, before the game Raptors’ Dwayne Casey was trying to turn what should have been as close as a night off as you can get in the NBA – adding to the OKC woes was that Toronto was the second game of a back-to-back and the end of a five-game, 10,000 km tour to start their season – into some kind of dangerous trap. “It’s a nightmare,” said Casey before the game, ignoring the raised eyebrows in the audience. “Guys are looking at eight guys, they don’t know half of them, but they’re dangerous. It’s a wounded animal. Brooks, when told of Casey’s comment: “I’m sure he’d be thinking it would be a bigger nightmare if our entire roster was here.” Instead Brooks has been getting used to the NBA’s defending MVP sitting in on coach’s meetings and waving towels on the bench, where he’ll likely be until mid-December, most are projecting. “KD is an amazing player and teammate [but] I’m tired of having him in my huddle,” said Brooks, whose team dropped to 1-4 on the season.
“There were a lot of games last year where me and Kyle had to play 40-plus minutes at times because we had to hold a lead or fight back, just because we didn’t have as strong of a bench as we do now,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got a couple guys that can take the load off when it comes to that. There are some games when we might not have to come right back in at our normal time because the second group has got it going. I think that goes a long way.” Signing James Johnson and acquiring Lou Williams over the offseason helped Toronto to add depth to its bench. Williams brings reserve scoring and the ability to heat up quickly if the starters are having an off night. Johnson gives the Raptors an athletic wing defender to slow elite scorers and create his own baskets off of broken plays. Success in the NBA is rarely as simple as just adding players to your roster, though. Things take time. Chemistry has to be built and optimal lineups have to be discovered. The first few weeks of this NBA season will be about head coach Dwane Casey experimenting with his deeper bench to see what rotation feels best.
Entering the 2014-15 season, the Atlantic Division is again in shambles. The Philadelphia 76ers continue to tank, while the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks are sources of uncertainty. The one team without significant question marks: the Toronto Raptors. Toronto has never repeated as Atlantic Division champions, but this is a different Raptors team from ever before. It’s not dependent upon Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, nor is it star-oriented in its nature. This is a balanced squad. Toronto has improved upon a team that won 48 games in 2013-14. Not only are the young players one more year wiser, but the recent acquisitions are of significant value. In 2014-15, the Raptors will continue to be one of the most balanced teams in the East. It needs its stars to rise and its young guns round into form, but both of those goals are attainable. So long as the Raptors stay healthy, the team is built to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. It’s all about continued development.
“Some nights you are going to have it and some you’re not, it’s early,” Hayes said. “Obviously we didn’t have the spark when we needed it to start the game, really the whole first half. That’s why we play two halves.” The Raptors gave up 30 points and 70.6 percent shooting from the field in the first quarter to a depleted visiting Thunder team before the second unit came in and slowly changed the tenor of the game. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win and Hayes warns that a team can’t dwell on what’s past or this league will eat you up emotionally. “Some nights you are going to be in rhythm and some nights you’re not,” Hayes said. “It’s a marathon. It’s game four out of 82. Me or anybody else, you can’t dwell on it. You move on, we have another game tomorrow. “It’s a grind. It’s a marathon. You can’t wear your emotions on your sleeve in this profession because it will eat you up.”
The Celtics got off to a stunningly quick start to the year with 67 points in the first half against Brooklyn, but haven’t been close to that good since. In fact, these days they are suffering from the same one or two quarters of bad basketball that have hampered Toronto’s efforts this year. The Celts gave up 40 in the first quarter in Dallas and despite a valiant comeback effort came up five points short to suffer their second loss in three games.
The Celtics came close to an epic comeback against the Dallas Mavericks Monday night. Having trailed by as many as 31 points, the Celtics closed the gap to just a single point late in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t complete the rally. . . . Canadian 7-footer Kelly Olynyk is averaging just under 11 points per game for the Celtics. . . . Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup in time for the Celtics’ season-opener, despite breaking his hand in September, an injury which was originally expected to keep him sidelined until late November.
Average free throw attempts per game for the Toronto Raptors through three contests. The Raptors were one free throw attempt off tying their franchise record on Saturday, tossing 48 freebies against the Orlando Magic. They only reached the 40 mark once all last season and are now averaging exactly that per game, with both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry taking over 10 each per contest. That’s a pace they’re not likely to maintain, but the added aggressiveness in getting to the line bodes well for a team that has posted the league’s fourth-best offensive rating (113.3) through the first week of action.
Trade Koufus, Calathes, Allen for Ross, Nogueira, Chuck Hayes’ 5.5m contract.
I can haz your linkz? [email protected]
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 36 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +9After a bit of a rough start to the season, had a great statement game when his team needed him. Stretched the floor efficiently on offense, and got out of his three-point funk going 2-2 from behind the arch. Provided sorely needed defense on the block in Amir’s absence. Even though Ibaka had a solid showing, Patrick kept him in check better than we could have asked him too.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +10I’m somewhat conflicted with his performance. For me, his performance in the 1st quarter was unsure, rushed, and lacked polish, but he turned up the dial on defense in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, and hit a couple key shots when they were needed. Unfortunately, in a game where it was necessary to attack the Thunder zone, Ross did very little of that, choosing to live on the peripheral.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -6His beard makes me uncomfortable; too amish. Was able to get solid position in the low post on offense, and got his hands on more offensive rebounds than he had any right to. I got the sense that he was angry, and had Telfair not face-raped him, got the sense that a fist-fight may have broken out with Adams.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 2-7 FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +7Anybody else get the sense that he’s lost confidence in his shooting? We’ve become accustomed to him making the right basketball play with the ball in his hands, but on more occasions than I would like to count, the right play was a shot and he unnecessarily swung the ball to no avail.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 4-12 FG | 7-9 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +7Masterful at attacking the zone defense AND getting a good shot out of it (or went to the line). Seemed to be the only person to understand that the way to break the zone is to attack it. He did a lot of running around screens to get open, giving me the same warm feels I used to get watching a young Richard Hamilton constantly on the move around the court.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 27 MIN | 2-6 FG | 8-10 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +13What else do you want him to do? 8-10 from the line? Aggressive moves in the offensive paint. Crashed the boards. Bitch-slap to the face by Telfair. Yea, solid.|
|James Johnson, PF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2Bad shot selection aside, was instrumental in leading the second unit in the second quarter comeback. His on-the-ball defense was second to none, made aggressive moves to the rack, moved the ball around crisply (mostly). This is what we expected of him the 1st time around, but am very happy to be getting it now.|
|Chuck Hayes, C Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5This guys is not the answer to any question I would ask; bothers me to see him on the floor.|
|Greg Stiemsma, C Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +11Made 4 solid defensive plays in a row in the 2nd quarter as part of that run. Found 2Pat in the low post with a perfect feed for a layup. Drew a charge. Did it with grace. While I wanted the Raptors to keep Jordan Hamilton, it’s a great luxury to have Stiemsma as your fourth big.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 18 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7Along with DeMar, attacked the zone defense regularly, and got into the lane for his tear drops. Did a good job of anchoring the 2nd unit, but would have been nice to see him move the ball a bit more on the perimeter; 7 threes in 18 minutes is a bit much. More so when you miss 6 of them.|
|Louis Williams, SG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 4-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +5He likes being here, and we like having him. I was hoping for him to make an appearance earlier in the game with Ross playing like doodoo, but the dude is a pro. Knows his role, takes good shots, leaks out on the break, nice handles, nice jumper. Could make a case for 6th man of the year if he can get claw more of Ross’ minutes.|
|Landry Fields, SG Shot Chart DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | lol|
Did a fantastic job of managing minutes (was forced to play Patterson 36 because Ibaka was on a mission) with the Raptors heading to Boston tomorrow for a 4th game in 5 nights. Was able to fix the ball movement and free throw issue (I’m sure the Raptors shot hundreds of free throws over the last two days) from the Miami game.
Five Things We Saw
- Ignore that first quarter where the Thunder shot 70% (or whatever) from the field, and the Raptors were able to nicely clamp down defensively; 58 points over the last three quarters of the game. Contesting jumpers, not scrambling on the pick-n-roll, tight rotations…granted the Thunder were obscenely short-handed, but they are still a well coached team that were executing against their plan tonight.
- While the Raptors were brutal from the floor, they kept themselves in the game by punishing the Thunder off their turnovers (30), and hitting their free throws (28-33). It really was the small things that wont them the game tonight in the absence of a real offensive showing.
- Ross is a huge elephant in the room, and something really needs to be done.
- All the happy stuff out of the way, that was about as ugly a win as you can get against the 2nd unit of a team. While a win is a win is a win, don’t celebrate too hard because the Raptors should have been able to put this game away earlier and ore decisively. Again, too early to panic, but more urgency is needed.
- Steven Adams and Sebastien Telfair have to be two of my five least favourite players in the league.
- Almost forgot to talk about the ball movement…WOW. It was nice to watch the team throw the ball around, get everyone involved and try to get the best shot they could. I counted 5 times where everyone touched the ball at least once on a possession where a basket was made. 23 assists on 32 made shots is something to hang your hat on, and a great adjustment after the Miami game.
Earlier Telfair punched Valanciunas, now he does it to Tyler Hansbrough. The refs called it a Flagrant 2.Direct Link Direct Link
That blood you see trickling down his nose is from this little incident late in the first half. He was nursing a sore hand before the Gods turned on him once again, this time via Bassy Telfair:Direct Link
The Raptors have found themselves facing an OKC team that’s rather up for it, presently they’re down 7 early in the second quarter. There was this highlight from super-sub, James Johnson:Direct Link
If I told you the Thunder would arrive at the ACC without the services of All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have just eight healthy players and played the night before you’d guarantee a win right?
Well, consider the fact the Thunder lost a close one to the Clippers, beat Denver with an 8-man unit (just one point guard) and finished the week ranked ten spots higher than the Raptors defensively.
Monday, Reggie Jackson returned to the Thunders’ line-up in the blow-out loss to Brooklyn only to see another starter get hurt; Andre Roberson went down with a left foot sprain. As we discussed in this week’s podcast I was curious to see how Roberson (a younger version of Thabo Sefalosha) would affect DeMar DeRozan, but post game Scott Brooks said he won’t play tonight.
For the Raptors, the good news is this game comes on the heels of their first loss, so an undermanned Thunder team should offer the perfect elixir to fix some bad habits common through the first 3-games this season.
- Focus on defense: opposition has shot an average of 48% through 3-games. Toronto has stated their goal is to finish top 5, but entered the week ranked 23rd on defense.
- Lack of ball movement/assists: Assist vs. Opposition: Hawks-26, Magic-13, Heat-11. (*Raptors rank league worst 16.7 APG)
- Inconsistent rebounding
- Raptors propensity to turn their effort/energy on and off
True, we have a winning record and are a long way from April, however there is no time like the present to nip these bad habits in the bud. Coach Casey and the team can opine on the missed free throws, absence of Amir Johnson or the bench still learning to function as a unit costing us the game in Miami. The reality is the Raptors lacked effort, consistent defense and execution of basic fundamentals.
Line-up Break Down:
Jackson’s presence on the court Monday resulted in the Thunder abandoning the one thing that had kept them in 3 out of 4 games: defense. Jackson will be tasked with distributing the ball and carrying the majority of the offensive load. Of note, Jackson was one of the third-year players not offered a contract extension, and enters this season intent on collecting a max (or near max) contract as well as showcasing his talent as a starter.
Look for Lowry to lead the charge in correcting the early season bad habits. Lowry will be tasked with initiating ball movement, getting everyone rolling early as well as establishing defensive intensity. Also, factor in Jackson was forced to play almost 42 minutes in the loss to Brooklyn due to the lack of guards available.
This is a nightmare for the Thunder for copious reasons; Telfair joins Jackson as the only other healthy point guard available. He’ll be moved into the starting line-up at the shooting guard position though due to Roberson’s injury, the result of which should equate to DeRozan scoring at will.
If I had to pick one Raptor who needs a break-out game Terrence Ross tops my list. His assignment will be to show up on both ends of the court, shut down early scoring surprise Perry Jones (24 PPG, 44% from behind the arc the last 3-games) and keep him active defending.
Amir Johnson stated he’d be back in the line-up Tuesday which is great news for Toronto based on the lack of energy and poor display on the defensive end Sunday. Ibaka is a shot-blocking nightmare who is equally adept at scoring in the paint and from range. Alongside Jackson he represents the primary scoring threat.
Two talented young studs who’ll no doubt be amped to out-do one another. Since Adams isn’t about to drift out to shoot perimeter shots he offers the type of center Valanciunas prefers to face. In preseason Valanciunas bested Adams forcing him to foul out in 24 minutes, but he’ll need to win the rebounding battle this time round.
Vasquez, Williams, Patterson, Hansbrough, J. Johnson/ Collison, Perkins, Thomas:
The Thunder will host a bench of three barring additions via the NBA Hardship Exception or if Grant Jerrett returns. Sheer numbers dictate that a concerted effort by our bench to lower the hammer early and often should wear out the depleted Thunder.
James Johnson was the best Raptor in the loss Sunday and is giving Casey ample reason to consider additional playing time. Patrick Patterson is beyond due for a break-out performance; his basketball I.Q. has not been truly reflected through the first 3-games leaving me wondering if he’s still injured or just in an early shooting slump.
Toronto has 4-games this week including two versus division rivals, so tonight offers a unique opportunity. The key will be to get out to an early lead so the starters can get essential rest prior to Wednesday’s match in Bean Town which will feature Toronto’s fourth game in five nights.
In a perfect world the Raptors:
- Have a huge lead before half
- Ross and Patterson have break-out nights, especially from behind the arc where Raptors rank 26
- Apply a full 48-minute defensive effort
- Gather 25+ assists
- Demonstrate their killer instinct: step on Thunders’ throat early and don’t let them up for air.
The Thunder will be playing their fifth game in seven nights, so exhaustion has to be mounting. While it’s early in the season the Raptors can utilize this unprecedented opportunity to take the next step by beating the teams they should and capitalize on the ability to garner an advantage to rest core members prior to a back to back.
The line has Toronto favored by 11.5; I say Raptors take care of business early.
Enjoy the game, and make sure to drop in afterward for our post game Quick Reaction.
Getting to the free throw line and hanging on to the basketball can really help keep an offense afloat.
That’s the lesson three games into a Toronto Raptors season in which they’ve looked at times anemic, effective, and excellent, depending on the quarter. To watch the team play, the offense hasn’t felt all that in sync. Defense has been a far bigger issue, one for another day, but no game has left the viewer thinking “yup, the offense is already there,” I don’t think.
That wasn’t what was expected, and perhaps our expectations were just too high on an eye-test basis. With the team’s top-seven players carrying over from a season ago and only a few smaller wrinkles being worked into the playbook, the offense should have looked seamless. It certainly hasn’t been pretty, but on a numbers basis the offense has been really, really strong.
Through three games, the Raptors have scored 108.6 points per-100 possessions (PPC), good for fifth in the league, a mark that would have ranked fourth a season ago, and a rate that is 2.8 PPC better than the team produced last season (and yes, even 1.4 PPC better than the post-trade Raptors). It is, without question, the smallest of samples, but we have only small samples to work from right now, and we can’t simply shrug our shoulders until the 20-game mark. These games have happened, and the Raptors offense, however static at times, has been very effective.
The necessary caveats beyond sample apply – the Magic are young and learning, the Heat were missing two frontcourt players, and it’s unclear if the Hawks are going to be an above-average defensive unit (they’re probably about average). The Raptors were missing Amir Johnson against the Heat, too, and the Raptors have been uncharacteristically cold from long range (27.5 percent). In other words, we’re dealing with imperfect information, but it’s all we’ve got.
There is one primary reason why the offense hasn’t looked great aesthetically but has been effective nonetheless: the things they’re doing well don’t necessarily stand out. The two areas the Raptors are thriving are in ball control, which is more often picked up for its absence than presence, and getting to the free throw line, which is more noticeable but not exactly pretty, and at times irritating to watch (again, from, an aesthetic standpoint only).
The ball control shouldn’t be all that surprising. One would guess that continuity in roster and system would lead to fewer miscues, especially early in the season. So far, the Raptors are turning the ball over on just 9.9 percent of possessions, the best rate in the league by a sizable margin and one that would have lapped the field appreciably last season.
DeMar DeRozan has been the most impressive in this regard, using 31.7 percent of possessions when he’s on the floor and turning the ball over on just 9.1 percent of them. Even this early in Small Sample Size Theatre, DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the only players in basketball (minimum 40 minutes played) using that many possessions with so few miscues. DeRozan has always protected the ball incredibly well given his usage, but that’s been taken to another level in the early going here.
It’s a damn good thing, too, because his shot isn’t falling much. DeRozan is shooting just 42.9 percent from the field, the same rate he hit at last season, and he’s just 1-of-3 from downtown. He’s doing just about everything else well, though, like with the ball control – he’s grabbed 22 rebounds already, secured 11 steals, and posted a 24.7 player efficiency rating that’s leaps and bounds beyond the best he’s ever had.
And of course, we double back to an earlier point to explain how that’s possible: DeRozan, one of the league’s elite when it comes to drawing fouls, has lived at the charity stripe. In three games, he’s already taken 32 free throws, the third-best per-game rate at this early juncture. Right behind him on the leaderboard is Kyle Lowry, who has taken 31 free throws already (he’s also somehow committed just two turnovers all season, which, well: yeah).
As a team, the Raptors are averaging an obscene 40 free throw attempts per game, 2.5 more than the next closest team (‘sup, Rudy?). Even though free throws felt like an issue on Sunday because the team’s only hitting them at a 74.2 percent rate overall, getting to the line over and over and over and over and over is a really effective use of possessions. When the offense stalls or the designed action doesn’t bear fruit, the Raptors have been able to barrel their way to the basket or fake their men off of their feet, tallying 29.7 free points a night.
It’s not pretty, naturally. Free throws slow the game down, and splitting a pair of freebies can feel, when viewing, more frustrating than a missed offensive set. That’s not the case, though, and the Raptors are basically living off of their ability to draw fouls, something they’re doing better than anyone else. Having players like DeRozan and Lowry significantly raises the floor of any offense, and when things get ugly, they can be relied on for an easy point or two. That’s a pretty good option out of the gate, let alone as a crutch.
As a way to illustrate this impact, we can compare team stats in terms of field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating. FG% is what it is, eFG% incorporates the added value of 3-point shots, TS% incorporates the value of free throws, and O-Rtg measures all aspects of a possession (including turnovers and offensive rebounding, where the Raptors rank eighth). By looking at each, we get an idea of how much of the Raptors’ success is based on just shot making, compared to intelligent shot mix, aggression, and overall offensive performance.
So despite not hitting shots at a strong rate – made worse by the woeful long-range shooting, which in itself may be posing a problem, with the Raptors unable to stretch teams horizontally in the early going – the free throw rate, offensive rebounding, and lack or turnovers have carried the team. Luckily, those are three tenets of offensive production a team could be expected to perform consistently in. All three have at least some basis in strategy and player talent, and the post-trade Raptors a year ago were in the top-11 in each.
None of this forgives some sloppy early play, but if you saw the offense’s ranking and it didn’t exactly jibe well with your impression watching the games, there’s why.
Wins over Atlanta and Orlando, while commendable, were far from works of art. There were definitely quarters that impressed in those games but just as many that showed how much work remained to be done. Sunday they ran into a team functioning at a very high level and for two quarters were soundly beaten. The Raptors played the Heat even in the third and actually outscored them by five in the fourth but the earlier damage could not be overcome. Walking into the locker room after the game you expected some tension and definitely a quiet room of brooding young men kicking themselves for letting an opportunity slip away. Instead it was as if the Raptors knew this were coming. They knew they were playing with fire and now that they finally paid the price there seemed almost a sense of relief that now they could begin anew and heed their coach’s warnings of giving away quarters and giving away halves.
Injury-ravaged Thunder without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Mitch McGary and Grant Jarrett. Oh, and Reggie Jackson may play, but he missed the first three games of the season, too. . . . Oklahoma City played Monday in Brooklyn. . . . Thunder’s Perry Jones has had games of 32 and 23 points already, picking up some of the slack for Durant and Westbrook so far. . . . Steven Adams is rounding into a solid player. He’s the guy Oklahoma City took with the pick that was originally sent by Toronto to Houston in the Kyle Lowry deal, then shipped by the Rockets to the Thunder in the James Harden transaction. … Toronto’s Amir Johnson suggested Sunday he’d be good to go despite missing a game with a sore ankle. . . . While Thunder are on a back-to-back, Raptors will be playing their third game in four nights.
Patterson opened a lot of eyes in Toronto last season after he arrived as part of the Rudy Gay trade in early December. The physically imposing forward shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and was often seen chasing opponents around the three-point line at the other end with solid results. His ability to defend the perimeter wasn’t lost on Head Coach Dwane Casey and when opponents stop trying to go inside, Patterson is going to get the call over Jonas Valanciunas for defensive purposes on many nights. “I thought we needed more speed and quickness, (the Hawks) were coming at us pretty fast in transition,” Casey said after the home opener. “They weren’t trying to post up. I like Amir Johnson and Patterson for their athleticism and speed and quickness on the floor at the end. As long as the other team is playing fast, you may see that a lot.” It’s not really a surprise that Patterson doesn’t see himself as a great defender, he’s not a big steals and blocks guy, but Patterson is a mobile big man and in the ever quickening NBA, mobility has become a valued asset.
The numbers have exploded and the reasons are varied. That the Toronto Raptors are now in their 20th season in the NBA is a factor, while many of the first wave of the young crop of players in the league — Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, and Kelly Olynyk, for example — cite Vince Carter’s rise to superstardom in the late 1990s with the Raptors as a source of their basketball inspiration. For the youngest on the scene — Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis and Andrew Wiggins — they are simply the beneficiaries of a more robust and ambitious youth basketball scene in Southern Ontario when they were growing up. Each of them played extensively on summer teams that travelled in the US, as well as spent most of their high school years south of the border. Whatever the source of the wave, it’s washed up on NBA shores in significant numbers in recent years, with Canada providing the league eight first-round picks in the past three seasons, including the first overall pick the last two years.
“I will make you one promise,” Grunwald continued. “The Toronto Raptors will return to this arena and play a game within two years.” Those two years have now stretched into 11, and Grunwald is still lobbying to have an NBA game played in the Newfoundland capital, even though he is no longer working in the league. “I’m just trying to deliver on a promise – that’s all I’m trying to do,” said Grunwald, who in August was named the new athletic director at McMaster University in Hamilton. “And it makes good sense, too, because there’s great folks out there in Newfoundland and they really like basketball. That’s the main thing, right?”
His legacy rests largely on the basketball club’s turnaround. He went and got general manager Masai Ujiri – probably the signal achievement of his tenure. No Leiweke, no Ujiri. No Ujiri and the Raptors are still a hot mess in short pants. Q.E.D. Right now, the Raptors are the sexier of the pair. You’d find more charisma eavesdropping on one-half of an Amir Johnson phone call than in dozens of hours of conversation with all the Leafs combined. Well, maybe not Leo Komarov. If only we all spoke a little more Finnish. The Raptors are the better team. They catch more buzz on social media, thanks to the perfectly on-point “We The North” ad campaign (which might be Leiweke’s No. 2 accomplishment). The crowds? You can’t even begin to compare the crowds. Clearly, they drug the fountain drinks at the ACC. For the Raptors, amphetamines. For the Leafs, Quaaludes.
Most importantly, the Raptors are sticking it to the United States on our behalf. There is nothing so sweet for a Toronto audience as indulging our collective short-man syndrome vis-à-vis our southern neighbours. That we’re doing it with a team that’s 75-per-cent U.S.-born is – well, let’s just ignore that part. In the past year or so, the Raptors have done every single thing right. That’s up to and including losing Game 7 to the Brooklyn Nets. Imagine they’d won, then staggered off to Miami to get annihilated by the Heat? That would have been amazing – for me. I had the South Beach hotel booked and everything. Several people were near tears in that postgame presser. All of them were local reporters. However, it would’ve created an unreasonable expectation – and a downer on the way out. If you want to bring your fan base to a boil, it’s best done in increments. That’s how you maximize interest. The Jays’ slow, winning burn beginning in the mid-eighties is the instructive lesson.
First, let’s clarify something that the media gets wrong all the time. An extension is not a player re-signing with his team. That’s a new contract. There were plenty of reports this summer of Kyle Lowry signing an extension with the Raptors. Not true – he signed a new contract. That might seem like pedantry to some, but in terms of the limitations of what an extension allows a player to sign for versus a new contract, there’s all the difference in the world. A contract extension is when a player re-ups with his team by extending his current contract, obviously, before hitting free agency. What this means is that, for the most part, the contract has to look like it is the same contract, just longer. So, it has to follow the same rules as any contract.
BALLnROLL.com: You’ve made it to the NBA. What’s going through your head? Lucas Nogueira: My head? I don’t know, man. [It's] my first game of the year, my first game in the NBA, so I’m excited, because I worked all my life for this to get this opportunity today. I’m so happy to be here in this franchise. They give me their whole support here. I think this is big day in my life.
Leaning in Toronto’s favour is potentially being in NBAs weakest division, being the Atlantic, but that isn’t enough to get them celebrating, not if they fail to only make it to the first round again. “Honestly, we felt like we haven’t done anything,” Derozan said. “I mean, cool, we made the playoffs, but everybody on this team wants more than that. I think the work we put in this summer showed that. But honestly, we’re just not satisfied with anything we did last year.” The future lies in the Raps hands now, Coach Casey and GM Masai Ujiri were great this offseason in acquiring Lou Williams and James Johnson, along with players like Vasquez and Terrance Ross also gives them an amazing bench moving forward, especially with potentially players like Grevias and Lou Williams being potential 6th man of the year candidates. All we can do as ‘We the North’ fans now is follow along and hope for the best, as sports in Toronto haven’t had too much luck in recent years.
David’s appeal to Toronto is obvious, but why would the Pacers move him, particularly for the end-of-the-bench guys I’m proposing? Because David will be 35 by the time the Pacers have Paul George back. The Pacers can wave goodbye to Chuck and Landry after this season limps (from their point of view at least) to a close, and have West’s now-departed cash to wave under the nose of free agents. They are likely to finish as a lottery team, and should be able to draft some quality talent. The pain in Indy could be short-lived with this move, despite the screaming of Pacers fans.
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The Raptors missed 15 free throws against Miami in Sunday night’s loss, and digging into some historical data, this is quite the trend.
The Raptors have missed 15 or more free throws seven times in their history (1-6), and five of those times have been against Miami – all losses.
Here are the 10 worst FT shooting games for the Raptors, and Miami makes an appearance six times:
|2/14/1997||v MIL||L 102-106||24||43||0.558||19|
|10/30/2001||@ ORL||L 85-114||28||45||0.622||17|
|10/31/2001||@ MIA||L 92-97||24||40||0.6||16|
|11/22/1997||@ MIA||L 104-108||21||37||0.568||16|
|3/21/2006||@ NYK||W 114-109||25||40||0.625||15|
|11/2/2014||@ MIA||L 102-107||24||39||0.615||15|
|4/6/1999||v MIA||L 70-92||19||34||0.559||15|
|1/26/2005||v MIA||L 96-111||31||45||0.689||14|
|12/12/1999||v UTA||L 88-103||30||44||0.682||14|
|3/16/1997||@ LAL||L 90-98 (OT)||19||33||0.576||14|
Source: Basketball Reference
Patrick Patterson went home after yesterday’s game, opened up a bottle of aged French wine, poured it in an even more expensive glass and placed it on a crystal table at the edge of his condo window. He then sat down. He didn’t drink the wine, not yet, he calmly put it down and stared out the window. He stared, intently and with purpose, into the distance as the clouds covered the city with a faint promise of rain. Winter was coming.
Patterson’s thoughts lingered, and soon a stream of childhood memories, long thought lost, took over his being. From when he first shot the ball against a creaky wooden backboard in West Virginia, to when he led his high school to three straight state championships. He recalled how the crowd had roared his name, and how his heart had almost burst with pride and valour.
Lost in memories so strong that his heart began to ache, he broke his gaze out the window and caught a reflection in the glass. He saw a different man staring back. A man, older and larger in stature than the one dominating his memories at the moment, a man who had the same aspirations, the same hunger, and the same desire for excellence. His thoughts turned to the Miami game, and how he had failed the team, yet, that didn’t anger him. He realized, at that moment with sweat pouring down his neck, that it wasn’t the team he had failed. He had failed himself.
Patterson stood up as the night sky darkened, took the wine glass in his hand, and crushed it into a thousand pieces. The wine, like free flowing blood from a fresh wound, poured down his arm and onto the floor. His steely eyes pierced the night as he took out his phone, and tweeted:
I will fix this..
— Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt) November 3, 2014
Source: Raptors players on Twitter
These are the facts: Toronto shot 24-39 from the line, lost the rebound battle 43-28, shot 4-16 from downtown, allowed Miami to shoot 50% and still only lost by five.
And at this point in the season, where the hype and hope for this team are (rightfully) as high as ever, it is easy to be frustrated with the loss. Scour the Internets and you’ll see a combination of these sentiments: “Make your free throws!” “Get a [expletive] rebound!” “Why are you biting on a Dwyane Wade pump-fake?!”
It is not wrong to feel that way, but try taking the long view. Toronto has a long way to go, but we remained competitive in a game without our best help defender – Amir Johnson (sore left ankle) – and got production even without some of our starters performing well. Lou Williams got going for a bit, James Johnson is a defensive Swiss army knife and DeMar DeRozan is playing even better than last year. In the third game of the season, seeing signs of development and growth are positives, even if they come in a losing effort.
The first half was a wash though, and those who hold overly negative opinions about the game may be relying on those memories a bit too much. Toronto clearly missed Amir, and the Heat had their way offensively. Nearly all of Miami’s makes came in the paint in the first quarter, and they stretched in out with a variety of looks in the second. Statistically, the Raptors looked dead in the water. Outscored 64-54, outrebounded 24-10, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross throwing up useless performances — Toronto seemed lost.
[Also Read: Quick Reaction and Grades - Raptors at Heat]
[Listen To: Raptors Weekly Podcast - 2-1 Week Soured by Missed FTs]
[Watch: DeMar DeRozan destroying Luol Deng (GIF)]
[Check the Papers: Monday Morning Coffee]
Dwane Casey essentially benched Patterson and Ross in the second half, and that steadied the defence. The foot speed for Patterson isn’t there, and against a swirling Miami offence, it showed. Ross was middling defensively, but Wade was magnificent. Personally, I’m souring on Ross as the poor decision-making on offence is inexcusable with so many weapons around him. If he is not hitting threes, it is worth seeing what Grievis Vasquez or Lou Williams can give you.
With Jonas continuing to give good rim protection and players keen to run around screens and challenge shots, the Raptors chipped away. DeRozan and Lowry seem intent on winning the “angriest backcourt in the NBA” award if they can’t win the “best backcourt” one, and turning on that switch vaulted them back into this.
Stealing this game would have been nice, and a three-game winning streak to kick off the season would feel good. But we had that in 2008-09 before finishing 33-49. Wins at any point in the season are important, but they are not indicators of future success. The major issues remain on the defensive end and just what the hell is going on with 2Pat. Those two are related problems even if Patterson is not supposed to be a defensive savant.
With a banged-up OKC team on Tuesday, there is an opportunity to blow the doors off and get the bench guys going. We have not seen a full 48 from the squad yet, but there have been signs. Hosting the Thunder — who are coming off a game in Brooklyn the night before — gives us a chance to play up to our capabilities and gain some confidence.
- How long does Ross have before Casey adjusts the starting role? He played 17 minutes tonight and was non-existent for stretches. I don’t know if Ross really has any competition, since Lou and Vasquez bring unique skillsets off the bench, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
- Jonas’s finishing around the rim is a problem. Justin Hamilton tops out as a league-average defender at best, yet Jonas continued to miss bunnies and putbacks. It is only second game in a row we’ve seen this issue, so take it with a grain of salt.
- Vasquez had a nice game. A bizarre technical was called on him for a foul on Wade in the second quarter, but it jumpstarted him a bit and his play really pushed the offence to a higher gear. Which leads to…
- Our offence probably finishes top-7 in the league by offensive rating. The combo of free throw opportunities and effective post options will bear fruit all season. We were tenth last year, and you’ve got to imagine Minnesota drops out while we naturally improve.
- McBob is amazing
Recorded right after the Miami loss, the pod reflects on the decision and indecisions that cost us a 3-0 week. We look back at trends over the first week’s games against Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami, and of course, preview the 4-game week ahead.
- Miami game analysis
- Missed FTs vs Miami
- Jonas Valanciunas playing time in fourth quarter
- Lou Williams and Patrick Patterson vs Miami
- DeRozan’s strong showing
- Trends over Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami
- Dwane Casey’s hockey-line subs
- Kyle Lowry biding his time
- Amir Johnson influence
- Look ahead to the four-game week
- OKC hurting with injuries
- Boston ripe for upset
- Anticipated showdown against Washington
- Routine business vs Philly
- Ups and Downs of Week 1 – Winners and Losers
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
The 107-102 loss was the first defeat of the season for the Raptors, dropping their record to 2-1, and it was the 16th straight win for the Heat over Toronto. If nothing else, the Raptors got the wakeup call they needed courtesy of a Heat team that may no longer have LeBron James to lean on but still has a competitive group that looks like it can give any team in the NBA a tough night. They certainly laid one on the Raptors through three quarters, eventually holding on for that five-point win in a game that finished much closer than it actually felt.
It’s early — 79 games left is eons in the NBA world — but the time to nip bad habits in the bud can’t come too soon, and even a solid fourth quarter against Miami can’t provide any solace. “We have to play that way through the whole game and not just decide, ‘Oh, we gave up 60-some in the first half, now we have to play defence,’ ” said DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 30 points. “We can’t keep that mindset. We have to play like we did in the fourth quarter. We have to.” But they haven’t, and that’s the issue to be dealt with. Toronto hasn’t been crisp in every facet of the game any night this season, and it was more the skill level of opponents than anything the Raptors did that allowed them to get two straight wins. Even without LeBron James, Miami is good and exposed the Raptors. Dwyane Wade looked rejuvenated with 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Chris Bosh had 21 points and 11 boards and Miami put up a 64-point first half.
“It was a good win, particularly having to go through the motions of having to play against a very good opponent,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We didn’t even necessarily execute extremely well down the stretch, we just found a way and that was encouraging to see.” Put together with Saturday’s win in Philadelphia, in which five Heat players scored in double-digits, Miami seems to have settled into its “equal opportunity” offense, as Dwyane Wade called it. Every Heat player who saw minutes scored, and five different players again scored in double-digits. Bosh led for the third consecutive game with 21 points, Wade turned in 19 points, and both had 11 rebounds to end the night with a double-double each. Miami outrebounded Toronto by a whopping 43 to 28.
The Raptors went into Miami hoping for a 3-0 start to the season, but allowed the Heat to shoot near 60% from the field for most of the game (they finished 35-for-70, 50%) and played three lackluster quarters before putting in a much better effort in the fourth. By then, they were trailing by 10 points, and while they cut the lead to single digits and came close to making it a one possession game at various points, they weren’t able to make up for their lack of effort in the first 36 minutes, falling 107-102. The defense was so frustrating.
Toronto’s shortcomings did not appear in its field goal percentage (46.8%) or its final score (102). Instead, the nagging deficit was attributed to a surprising lack of output at the free-throw line from all players. The team shot 24-39 from the stripe for a startling 61.5%. It’s more than safe to assume that Dwane Casey addressed this issue during and after the game, and will instill its impact before the next game. Aside from foul line troubles, DeRozan and Lowry both did an excellent job of finding scoring opportunities and facilitating runs. Unfortunately, they received little help from the rest of the team. Patrick Patterson started in place of Johnson, yet failed to produce a single point or rebound in 15 minutes of action. Additionally, the team shot just 25% from three-point range. The sole reason for this game’s close finish was the ability of the star guards to penetrate and attack the basket. DeRozan also showed a consistent midrange jumpshot which further rounds his personal offensive game. The lesson learned tonight is: maintain your focus and aim for consistency on both ends of the floor.
While the rookies and reserves were very good it was through the offensive talents of both Chris Bosh and Luol Deng that Miami was able to maintain a consistent ten-point lead for much of the game and allow them to go into halftime with a 16 point lead. The Heat looked almost unstoppable in the third quarter where they went on offensive tear while simultaneously limiting offensive possessions for Toronto. Nevertheless, things appeared sloppy in the fourth quarter and through missed free throws and poor decision making Miami let Toronto slip back into the game. Regardless, they were able to close out in the final seconds and deliver Toronto’s 17th straight defeat in South Beach.
The Heat were scoring at will in the first quarter, shooting a scorching 67% and going on a 14-2 run. Dwyane Wade had a huge hand in that, turning back the clock and starting the game 4-of-4. It wasn’t until he checked out that the Raptors were able to go on a mini run and cut the lead to 31-26. Still, the Raptors weren’t getting any offensive production outside of DeRozan who had 13 first quarter points. The ball movement was shockingly bad, and the Raptors had just one assist in the entire first quarter. The Raptors made an adjustment in the second quarter by putting James Johnson on Dwyane Wade. It was a great decision. If you didn’t watch the game, James Johnson was the Raptors’ best player tonight, and really the only bright spot. His defense all night was stifling and his energy on the offensive end was productive.
…the Heat must have been drunk in that fourth quarter. They shot 4 for 17 from the field during the quarter, and their last make was a three-pointer from Williams with 4:29 to go in regulation. What’s particularly annoying is that only 4 of those field goal attempts came in the paint, as the Heat were settling for contested jumpers in the fourth and weren’t getting good opportunities in the paint. Not to mention the fact that Miami went to the line 19 times, but only made 11 of those shots. Even Bosh, a career 80% shooter from the line, was only 3 for 6. The Heat need to take care of these chances when they present themselves. Their saving grace was that the Raptors weren’t that much better at the line in the quarter (5 for 9).
That’s why Sunday’s struggle against Miami, while not definitive, was instructive, in terms of emphasizing how difficult this next step, from good to great, can be. At one point Sunday, the Heat had connected upon a comical 31 of 49 shots from the field, continuing the exceptional ball movement that they’d also surprisingly shown in the season’s first two games and causing Casey to later lament that “we’ve just got to decide collectively to guard people; I didn’t think they felt us all night.” The Heat recorded 22 assists to the Raptors’ 11 and generally looked like the team counting on its continuity—that word again—to propel it to early and sustainable success this season.
The Heat are the only undefeated team left in the Eastern Conference, picking up a 107-102 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. We knew they would be playing with a chip on their shoulders, but there have been plenty of questions about the health of Dwyane Wade and the readiness of Chris Bosh to step into the role of first option. So far, so good on both fronts. Bosh has been phenomenal since the start of the season, and finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Wade was terrific too, logging 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks against Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. Time will tell whether he can stay on the floor, but Heat fans have to be encouraged by the post-LeBron era so far.
The easy – and natural reaction – would be for fans to recall that Vince Carter reached the peak of his popularity at Air Canada while playing for the Raptors. It would also be easy to tell Wade to look a couple of lockers down at teammate Chris Bosh and remember that Bosh’s best years as a professional were played in Toronto. But the reality is those comments from Wade will sting basketball fans across Canada.
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|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 15 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -11With Amir out, he got to start, and quickly scored a big blow for the #TeamAmir followers in the long-term starting discussion. His impact on the court was next to negligible on both ends. I know he’s not a rebounder, but with this small Heat lineup, you have to be prepared to do all you can to take advantage. Really ugly game.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -13Liked his aggressiveness in going to the hoop early in the game, but had some serious issues checking Wade and was rightly benched down the stretch for James Johnson. Looked like he had the shooting yips, like most of the backcourt. Not a great night.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -11He’s a force down low offensively, and he was the Raptors’ only source of rebounds for big stretches of the night. It was a bad defensive matchup for him against Bosh, though, so he has to make sure Miami really pays on the glass and at the rim offensively, and he was only so-so at doing that. I really wish they looked for him more on the pick and roll – he seemed to be open almost every time, but got looked off by the backcourt more than once.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 7-11 FG | 7-13 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 22 PTS | -13Was his usual bullish self on offence, hitting most of his attempts from the field and getting to the line with aplomb. When he got there, though, he couldn’t seem to hit anything. Didn’t get any favours from the refs, who wouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt on a couple charge calls. Frustrating night for him, I’m sure.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 41 MIN | 11-22 FG | 7-12 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 30 PTS | -3It’s like he’s playing two games at the same time: in one, he’s an absolute superstar, hitting impossible shots and cutting through multiple defenders to finish and and-1. In the other, he overdribbles, clangs spinning 16-footers and gets manhandled defensively. He’s a yin-yang player: you have to take the good with the bad. He was great in the fourth, which, along with his massive share of the team scoring, pull him up to a B+, but this didn’t feel like a B+ game.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 24 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +9Played some extended minutes against the small-ball Heat, but it was largely more of the same: lots of activity, not a ton of execution. He’s certainly making more of an impact on games than I remember him doing on a regular basis last year, and he’s fun to watch.|
|James Johnson, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | 0Demar’s scoreline will get the attention, but this guy was the best player on the Raptors tonight. He’s extremely effective offensively when he just puts his head down and drives to the hoop, and he was the only player who was able to slow down Wade at any point (and also put in some work against Bosh). An excellent performance when most of his team seemed sluggish at times.|
|Chuck Hayes, C Shot Chart 12 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +3Got a longer look tonight with Amir out and proceeded to completely throw Chris Bosh out of rhythm. Three shot attempts is too many, even if they’re bunnies, but he Chuck Hayes’d all over the place tonight. One of the few Raptors to play above-average defence pre 4th-quarter.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 25 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -1The guy loves to pull the trigger, doesn’t he? Decent shooting night during a game where we finally saw some Lowry/Vasquez/DeMar looks. It was more out of necessity than for an advantage against the small-ball Heat, but I hope we continue to see it even after Amir returns to the lineup. Called for an ugly T in the first half, which can’t happen.|
|Louis Williams, SG Shot Chart 21 MIN | 1-4 FG | 6-10 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +15He’s the combo guard version of Rudy Gay. Gets to the line way more often than he should, dribbles too much, puts up crazy mid-range jumpers that he often makes, all of it. His shot wasn’t on tonight, and he got absolutely manhandled by Shabazz Napier early in the game, but those points off the bench do have to come from somewhere. You can tell he’s still trying to figure out how to split touches with Vasquez, and having no interior options with the Hansbrough/Hayes combo doesn’t help matters.|
Struggled at finding effective lineups with Amir Johnson out for the night – he inserted Patterson into the starting five yet continued with the hockey style five-on-five-off platoon through the entire first half. It was only after Patterson and Valanciunas got into foul trouble that he started experimenting with smaller sets, which is when the team started seeing more success. Found some better combinations in the fourth, but the team was facing a steep uphill climb at that point.
Four Things We Saw
- This game did not feel as close as the scoreline indicated – the Raptors were out-rebounded 43-28, out-assisted 22-11, and were brutal from the free-throw line. It was 6 minutes of strong play in the fourth that brought them within striking distance.
- The final score is a testament to the team’s grit, though – on a sluggish night, they were able to grit out a decent defensive effort and give themselves a chance against a good team. It seemed like the only reason the Raptors weren’t in the game for most of the night was because of easily fixable things, though, which is where the promise lies for this team. If they were tuned in, this easily could have been a 10-point win. That’s how it felt, anyway.
- Get well soon, Amir Johnson. Your presence was sorely missed on both ends tonight.
- Tomahawk slam in the first half, rips his own jersey Hulk Hogan style in the second half: Josh McRoberts, you the real MVP.
Not much in terms of positives in Miami tonight, with the Raptors down 13 midway through the third, but DeMar DeRozan just did this to Luol Deng.Direct Link
It’s a battle of the East’s two remaining undefeated teams. The Raptors come off a win in Orlando and the Heat have just beaten Philly the night before. Both teams are on a back-to-back. Let’s quickly run down the lineups:
Bosh/Valanciunas: Bosh likes to operate from the elbow and Valanciunas will have some issues staying with his pump-fakes. If I’m Jonas, I try to test Bosh’s defense in the block. Jonas has the ability of isolating people near the rim and using a hook, and needs to do that. Of course, Dwane Casey has to agree with that approach and actually prescribe the touches. Make Bosh work, you know he doesn’t like to play man-defense, so make him do it. The ex-Raptor has been on fire in his two games this season, and this is where it ends.
Deng/Ross: Ross has had a slow start to the season, but has hit some key threes in the opening two games. I’m not liking Ross’s defense against bigger wings like Deng, to me he’s more suited to guard smaller guys. Deng is ruthless going to the rim, but has a tendency to fall away from the game if he’s frustrated early. I suspect some James Johnson action here.
Shawne Williams/Amir Johnson: Two lanky guys who don’t have plays called for them, this is a matchup of length and whoever wins the battle of the boards, plays some defense, and manages to stay out of foul trouble will have the greater impact.
Wade/Shawne Williams/DeRozan: I’m guessing DeRozan will be checked by Williams, but who knows. DeRozan will have trouble getting off his post-up game against a 6’10” guy, but at the same time this should be an opportunity for him to show off his improved handles against a guy who he should be quicker than. If he’s guarded by Wade, he needs to use his reach on defense and not bite on those head/shoulder/pump fakes that Wade is so good at. Make Wade shooter over you, not as you’re coming down after he’s pump-faked you. On the other end, Dwane Wade’s knees are in no position to stop DeRozan’s post-up game, so let’s see what he does with that.
Lowry/Cole: Lowry had a late push in Orlando to pull the Raptors through, and we might need him again. Cole is all about pressure defense and Lowry is great at reacting to pressure and bursting to the rim. This should be a great, energetic matchup which Lowry will be up for. It’s critical for Lowry to keep the turnovers to a minimum because the Heat are great at running it back.
It’s an early season test for the Raptors, and if we win this, we get some serious attention in the East. With the Bulls off to a slow start (lucky to win in Minnesota) and the Cavaliers dropping one at home, this would give the Raptors an early advantage in the East and send a strong statement.
The Raptors defense didn’t impress me against the Magic, and I’m hoping the bench gives the Raptors a push here. Patrick Patterson, who went 1-7 against the Magic is due for a big game, and going up against Josh McRoberts, Chris Anderson, and the like off the bench will give him more space to shoot from the perimeter, and hopefully he get his mojo going.
The advantage here for the Raptors has to be depth at the guards, though Mario Chalmers did play well off the bench against Philly. My key matchup here is Lou Williams vs Mario Chalmers, whoever ends up having a bigger impact, wins the bench and thus the game.
The line has Miami by 5.5, I say pick the Raptors.
That’s all the previewing I’m doing for this one. See you after the game.
Sluggish Raptors turn it on in second half to beat Magic.
|Amir Johnson, PF 24 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +21Johnny on the spot for putbacks, well positioned for pick-and-rolls. Aside from two long jumpers, I have no complaint about his game.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +17Same old story every time. Ross floats in and out of the game, picking his spots to contribute. Hit a big three to push the Raptors’ lead to eight late in the fourth. Could have done a better job defensively.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 2-8 FG | 6-8 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +18 Gotta finish more reliably around the basket. He just has to. Missed a lot of chippies around the basket that should almost always drop. Looked great for stretches as the rim-protector, as he blocked two shots and contested another in a stretch of three possessions in the second.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 5-12 FG | 9-11 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 21 PTS | +19Took over when needed. He had his way with a rookie guarding him, and tricked his way into free-throws at every opportunity. The key his performance was the zero turnovers. He put the ball in the right spots, which more often than not was DeRozan in the post.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 30 MIN | 9-18 FG | 8-10 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +20Dominant in the post. Absolutely dominant in the post. Evan Fournier will be licking his wounds for weeks after the way DeRozan bodied him. The Magic needed to send help on the interior but it never came. Solid defensively, too. One of DeRozan’s better all-around efforts.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 19 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -3Good energy on the boards, especially offensively (he had 4). Banged in the post and got Channing Frye pretty pissed at him at one point.|
|James Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 4-6 FG | 4-5 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -9He’s great when he attacks the basket. That’s evidenced by his efficiency. Otherwise, solid minutes off the bench.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -5Yet another poor shooting night. He needs to find his shot because the second unit simply cannot score without his contributions. At least he chipped in on the glass.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 18 MIN | 1-9 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -7Came in, took a bunch of shots, didn’t run the offense very well, forced the Raptors’ starters to play more minutes as a result.|
|Louis Williams, SG 17 MIN | 0-3 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -4Not exactly the instant off the bench many hoped he would be. Pretty ineffective for most of the game and couldn’t get anything going playing pick-and-roll with Patterson and Hansbrough. Used his guile to draw a few fouls against a few young, jumpy Magic defenders.|
|Landry Fields, SG 1 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2Missed a shot. That’s new.|
Hated the strategy of playing two units. It makes no sense, and he never employed this strategy last season. Without a decent scoring big, the bench unit looked abysmal on offense, which is reflected in the numbers put up by Vasquez and Williams. Last season, Casey staggered minutes, mixing in DeRozan to lead the bench at times. He needs to scrap this hockey lineup change strategy and move back to what he did last season.
Three Things We Saw
- The Raptors’ defense through two games has to be a slight concern. The Hawks are a tricky match-up and they’re very well-coached. However, the Magic are fairly awful, yet they were able to drop 98 points on the Raptors. Scoring hasn’t been an issue. The Raptors need to get back to being a disciplined defensive squad if they hope to replicate their success.
- Quite the bounceback performance from DeRozan. Although 26 points isn’t spectacular (by DeRozan’s standards), his post game allowed him to take most of his attempts in the post, and as long as he starts off in the mid-post, DeRozan’s footwork can earn him easy baskets in the paint.
- Raptors look to break their 15-game losing streak versus the Heat tomorrow. Remember the time Eddie House killed the Raptors with a random 30-point game?
The Raptors travel to Orlando in their quest to remain undefeated.
The Orlando Magic are a team littered with promising players. That’s what you get when you trade Dwight Howard and tank for a few seasons.
But the Magic are also stuck in a predicament that befalls many rebuilds. It’s well and good to snag talented players through the draft, but without a superstar to show for it, the endeavor becomes somewhat of a loss.
Take the Utah Jazz, for example. After dealing away Deron Williams in 2011, the Jazz have toiled in the league’s basement, looking for a come up. They were rewarded with players like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Dante Exum. All five of those players are useful pieces with upside, but there isn’t a surefire all-star in the bunch. However, after a few seasons, the Jazz’s youngsters became eligible for extensions, and so as to not squander years of losing, the Jazz are now paying Gordon, Kanter and Burks a combined 40 million per year.
At least the Magic got things started on the right foot by inking Nikola Vucevic to a reasonable, 4-year, $48 million extension. Vucci Mane is already one of the best scoring centers in the NBA, and he has the mobility and passing vision to eventually develop into a two-way force. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo should also be nice pieces going forward. The foundation of talent is there.
But like the Jazz, the Magic are missing the key piece: a star player.
Point Guard – Raptors
Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Elfrid Payton, Luke Ridnour
Not even close. I like Payton, and Ridnour is a respectable backup, but Lowry and Vasquez should easily win this match-up. We’re talking about a veteran cashing his last few cheques and a rookie with no jumpshot. Aside from Payton’s quickness, there isn’t a single factor Orlando’s favor.
Shooting Guard – Raptors
DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams vs. Evan Fournier, Ben Gordon
Again, this one is lopsided. Orlando is short a man with Victor Oladipo being out, so they’re stuck with Fournier and Gordon. I’m actually a big fan of Fournier’s game. He reminds me in many ways to a less cocky Rudy Fernandez in his ability to shoot and handle the basketball. But come on, they’re up against a productive sixth-man in Williams and an All-Star in DeRozan.
Also, Ben Gordon’s agent is very good at his job.
Small Forward – Magic
Terrence Ross, James Johnson vs. Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon
Admittedly, this one will likely favor the Magic. Harris is a good mobile scorer and Aaron Gordon has flashed signs of developing into a future Gerald Wallace or Shawn Marion type of player. However, Ross has a mobility advantage on Harris and I like his chances of losing Harris around screens for open pin-downs.
Once again, Johnson will be afforded the opportunity to showcase his skills in defending a big forward like Harris. If Johnson runs Harris off the three-point line and trusts his defense to collapse inside, the Harris will likely be goaded into taking midrange shots. One thing about Tobias: he’s not shy about shooting.
Power Forward – Raptors
Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson vs. Channing Frye, Kyle O’Quinn
The Magic like to play smallball, so we’ll likely see Gordon or Harris log time at the four. With their lack of true bigs on the roster, we’ll likely see some funky match-ups, so this one isn’t limited to the players listed above.
Everyone knows the deal with Frye. He wants to play pick-and-pop. If he sets a screen, bet the house on him drifting back behind the arc. Both Patterson and Johnson will have to be diligent, and not overplay the drive. Given Frye’s one-dimensionality, switching on screens might be a good idea. It’s not like the Magic have devastating guards who can destroy bigs one-on-one.
O’Quinn sat out the Magic’s last game due to an ankle injury. I’m not sure if he’d even be able to suit up. He’s a carbon copy of Jason Maxiell.
Center – Magic
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Nikola Vucevic
At this point in their respective careers, Vucevic is the better player, which has much to do with his mobility and ability to shoot from the midrange. Vucevic is a load to handle in the post and at the age of 24, the Magic have themselves one of the best center prospects in the NBA. The Raptors have a blue chipper themselves with Valanciunas, but his jumpshot isn’t as refined as Vucevic’s, although Valanciunas is likely the better defender.
I do wonder, however, how each player would fare had their respective careers been switched up until this point. What if Vucevic was put through a slow development like Valanciunas has in Toronto, as opposed to being thrown to the wolves. How much did Vucevic benefit from being force-fed, and conversely, how much is that hindering Valanciunas?
Prediction: Raptors 98, Magic 89
Vegas says: 194.5 O/U, Raptors by 5.5
A Great Big World says: Say something
Will says: Raptors toy around with the Magic for three quarters before putting the Magic away in the fourth quarter. DeRozan drops 25 points in 30 minutes against a pretty weak set of perimeter defenders.
We need to talk about the way we talk.
It’s impossible to talk about Toronto’s lone all-star DeMar DeRozan. It simply cannot be done.
With most players, the conversation circles around their on-court performance. How many points did they score? How many rebounds did they snag? Did they make the correct rotations on defense? Their play dictates how we feel about them. If they sucked, we’re upset and critical. If they rocked, we’re singing their praises. It’s how the fan-athlete relationship works.
Except, that dynamic doesn’t apply with DeMar DeRozan. It doesn’t. It’s never just about his performance for many people. The conversation surrounding DeRozan is steeped in high rhetoric.
DeRozan had a great game?
I can’t believe the U.S. media is still sleeping on this guy. He’s so underrated. Look how wrong the haters were.
DeRozan had a bad game?
You can’t slag him for the way he plays. He works so hard. He’ll probably hit the gym early tomorrow, throw up 1,000 shots, and drop 30 in his next game.
You cannot have a conversation about DeMar DeRozan the player, without repeated mention of his back story. That being the overlooked player, the hardworking player, the silent leader, the team mentor, the ever-improving all-star, the player many
fans haters gave up on.
This is where I clarify that most of the badges on DeRozan’s image are well-earned. He has quite the compelling back story. He was nothing but a wide-eyed rookie with hops in his first year. Seeing his transformation from just an athlete, to becoming an actual player has been incredibly rewarding. It’s all a testament to his hard work, of which cannot be doubted. Every player boasts at media day about the improvements they made in the offseason. Most of the time, it’s bullshit fodder. DeRozan actually walks the walk. As a fan, I’m proud to have DeRozan leading my team.
But as a fan, I also want to talk about a player’s on-court performance, without having to pay homage to god-like mythology. I want to treat DeRozan as I would with any other player. If he struggled, I want to write about why and how he struggled. If he dominated, I want to write about why and how he dominated. I want to do with DeRozan what I do with every other player on this team.
But I cannot.
It get’s tiring having to walk on eggshells. DeRozan is a special player, but that applies to his demeanour and his on-court play. Being special does not exempt him from valid criticism. Being hardworking doesn’t exempt him from valid criticism. I shouldn’t have to face the wrath of DeRozan fanboys if I have a legitimate criticism of his performance. That’s unfair to all the other players.
Take DeRozan’s performance in the season opener, for example. I graded his performance as a C+. The top-voted comment in the section denounced my decision and 67 percent of readers voted that the grade was too low.
There are valid reasons to debate the score. A grade of C+ is right on the average, which is how I thought DeRozan played. He made a number of head-scratching decisions on offense early on, and as the game continued, the referees swallowed the whistle on his drives, leaving DeRozan without his greatest attribute as a player — that being his ability to get to the stripe. But I also factored in his defensive contributions, noting that he did make a concerted effort to chip in elsewhere. A horrible offensive performance, mixed with a great defensive performance graded out to average.
Now, it’s one thing to disagree with my process of grading. Perhaps you value defense more than offense, so his output of 11 rebounds and six steals — both career-highs — should be given more weight. Or, if you’re of the opinion that DeRozan made the right decisions, and that he shouldn’t be penalized for being shafted by the whistle, that’s fine too. At this point, we’re having a conversation about DeRozan’s on-court performance.
But that’s not what went down. I didn’t have a discussion about DeRozan’s play. I was called a hater, repeatedly.
It’s incredibly frustrating for discourse to break down in this fashion. I gave valid criticism on DeRozan’s performance while providing some context for his struggles. For that, I was called a hater. No debate. No discussion of his play.
What the non-haters fail to realize is that criticism is what got DeRozan to this point in his career. Responding to valid criticism, and honing his craft accordingly, is exactly why he’s improved. People chastised him for his ball-handling, so what do you see in the offseason? Videos of DeRozan working on his handles. People chastised him for his three-point shooting, so DeRozan fine-tuned his shot. Same with his defense, same with his passing.
And that’s not to say abject criticism, or hating, is good. It’s not. But that’s not what people are saying about DeRozan. What most people want is what I want — to be able to have a conversation about one of the best players on the team.
But it can’t be done.
“This is his 10th year? Tenth year for Amir. He’s old school,” teammate and fellow Angelino DeMar DeRozan said. “When the game starts and it really counts, you know he’s going to show up. You can’t really feed into pre-season too much with Amir.” It is a Raptors cliché that Johnson has been an underappreciated part of the team during his time in Toronto. He is the Raptors’ stereotypical glue guy: He does not get plays called for him, he helps properly on defence, he sets perfect screens. He can be crucially important in games that he manages no more than six points and rebounds. Yet, the box score statistics still matter, not least of all to Johnson’s teammates. In the Raptors last two meaningful games — Game 7 against Brooklyn in May and Wednesday against Atlanta — Johnson has put up 36 points and 20 rebounds in just 53 minutes. That production tends to come from not a series of intricate sets, but from attacking the glass with a mix of smarts, abandon and pure instinct. In that sen
Johnson, who played through a lot of last season’s stretch run with various bumps and bruises and finally succumbed to an ankle injury for a short period, agreed that he is feeling healthy again. “After the season, I went and saw three doctors just to see if I needed surgery and they said I really didn’t need it, so I just went ahead and did the right stuff to make sure my ankle was nice and strong. I did that basically all summer and I feel good,” Johnson said. “My body feels solid. I feel, maybe stamina wise not quite there yet, but physical wise and strength wise, I feel solid. There were a couple of possessions on the court coming back (Wednesday) when I felt winded but I pushed myself.”
Players such as Mavericks centre Tyson Chandler have made a living on simply getting a hand on an offensive rebound and swatting it to the backcourt to give his team a fresh 24 seconds. If the defensive rebounder does not try to secure the ball aggressively, he becomes susceptible to allowing the opposition another possession. Defensive rebounding is a point of emphasis for Casey this year. The Hawks had 10 offensive rebounds Wednesday night, six fewer than the Raptors. “It’s muscle memory,” Bayno said. “With a lot of guys, it’s easier to go with one, and they leave the left hand down. So just get the memory of [going up with] two hands.” Of course, Valanciunas battling with the Raptors’ video guys, no matter how much they cheat, is not a perfect approximation of battling the likes of Orlando’s Nik Vucevic, the Magic centre who grabbed 23 rebounds in Tuesday’s season opener against New Orleans. The Raptors play the Magic on Saturday.
Who is Tyler? After a full year spent in Toronto, he’s still a bit of a mystery, at least to those who don’t see him behind the closed doors of the locker room. On the floor, he brought his trademark energy and physicality, but often tried to do too much, searching for an identity and misinterpreting his role. Off it, he seemed quiet, introverted. Before and after games, he would mostly keep to himself. But there appears to be more to Hansbrough than meets the eye, evident in his mindful and reflective conversation with TSN.ca and The Globe and Mail on Thursday. The 28-year-old forward has been something of a revelation this fall, overlooked in a Raptors training camp filled with feel-good stories. In addition to extending his range beyond the three-point line, Hansbrough came back to work with a new, more easygoing mindset. It has not gone unnoticed in the gym.
Demar Derozan is proof that an athlete can completely change his mentality from passive to that killer instinct mentality through development. Anyone who wants to or wanted to give up on guys like J. Lamb, Mclemore, Wiggins, Drummond or any other young guy accused of not having drive needs to look at Derozans career.
Huge expectations this season | Wining the Atlantic Division last season | Changing the culture in Toronto | Feeling like you need to prove something every time you take the court | World Cup experience | Winning a gold medal | His workouts back in the day
I can haz yo linkz?? [email protected]
Hawks 102, Raptors 109 – Box
The Hawks offered an early test to wake the team out of preseason mode, and the Raptors were up for it. To appreciate the Raptors efforts in the 109-102 win, you first have to appreciate the Hawks. The visitors pose a difficult challenge in that they have speed at the wings, versatility and interchangeability in the frontcourt, great three-point shooting, and are extremely well-coached, particularly on the defensive end. The Raptors were tuned in right from tip-off and shifted their gears when needed to pull out a very hard-fought and physical opening night win. It was a game played at a markedly different intensity level than preseason, and served as a needed tap on the shoulder that the games matter.
The story to start the evening was Amir Johnson. He was somehow involved in everything the Raptors were doing, whether there was a play called for him or not. He scored on a post-up, was involved in good pick ‘n roll action, finished on a dump-off, fought hard on the offensive boards, and even checked Al Horford to good effect.Direct Link
Not that the Raptors needed an energy boost from Johnson, but he provided one anyway. He appears to have added a little height to his hook-shot, which tends to bounce on the rim forever before going in. It’s a contract year for him as well and he’s going to be eager to highlight some of his offensive talents, and as long as he’s going about doing that around the rim, that’s quite alright with everyone.
The other early story was DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll. It’s very evident that the scouting report on DeRozan is to crowd him when he has an unused dribble, while forcing him to use his left hand to initiate the dribble going left, with help defense waiting. Carroll played him tightly at the right angles, and DeRozan didn’t have an answer in one-on-one situations. For example, in the below clip it would have been ideal if he drove left, met Horford, and spun away from the baseline towards the rim for a shot attempt.Direct Link
This is nothing surprising and should not be an item of concern. His current strengths lie with the live dribble in face-up, catch-and-shoot, and catch-and-drive situations. His response to Carroll’s pressure was to attempt to create space, not quite succeed, and take a low-percentage shot. Not ideal, but as he showed in this game, there are other ways to positively impact a game than just scoring.
The 24-20 lead the Raptors held at the end of the first promised an entertaining game, because Paul Millsap’s versatility, especially in switches when Valanciunas was guarding him, Horford’s post-presence, and Jeff Teague’s quickness and excellent screen-usage, were posing the Raptors problems. They had responded with the aforementioned Amir Johnson, and some good shot-making from Ross, who was being checked by the defensively underrated Kyle Korver. An element of intrigue was also added by Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross picking up two fouls apiece.
Greivis Vasquez, who many had concerns over due to his preseason performances, showed just why preseason can’t be used as any kind of an indicator of regular season play. He hit two threes early in the second quarter (both assisted and out of strong ball movement) to give the Raptors an early 7-point edge, which came about in an all-bench unit of Williams, Vasquez, Patterson, Hansbrough, and James Johnson. The Raptors also forced five Hawks turnovers in that second (while committing none) and looked to have gained a measure of control up 10 with 7 minutes left after a couple Jonas Valanciunas free throws.
Though Valanciunas didn’t have any spectacular string of one-on-one moves, the 17 points, 8 rebounds and 9-10 FTs he notched was made even more impressive because of the very fews plays being called for him, and him being in foul trouble for the majority of the first half. His work on keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass was first-rate and he out-hustled every Atlanta big on the night.
I find that him and Dwane Casey have a love-hate relationship, where Casey loves him but hates it when he does silly things. The coach’s reaction to his third foul is quite demonstrative.Direct Link
Casey did commend him after the game about his approach:
“He’s the biggest guy on the floor, so he used his length to his advantage. That’s what he has to do. Now he’s allowing the game to come to him instead of force-feeding it. It’s not, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to post-up, I have to make a play.’ Let the game come to you. Do your job. The ball will find you if you play the game the right way. That’s my theory.”
The lasting memory of the second quarter is Kyle Korver going 3-4 from three, usually at Terrence Ross’s expense. The latter was seen unnecessarily helping on pressure from up top, and leaving Korver alone in dangerous areas, and also struggling to keep up with the multiple screens Atlanta weaves for their hitman. Throw in a couple ill-advised jumpers from Ross and DeRozan, and the Hawks slashed the Raptors 10-point lead to a single point with two minutes left in the half. Momentum had shifted.
Then came Dwane Casey’s timeout.
Casey’s always had a good sense of when the tide has turned, and what kind of an injection the team needs. His talk in this timeout was probably quite simple: cover Korver, lose the jumpers, pressure their wings into drives, while keeping the defensive rotations underneath intact. Fairly simple stuff.
The first play coming out of the timeout was a great Kyle Lowry drive for an And1:Direct Link
Nothing like calling up on your star player to make a concise but effective statement, and Lowry responded. A couple plays later, DeRozan came up with a good steal (he had six in the game), and passed it to Patterson in transition for the three:Direct Link
This spurt renewed the Raptors, and gave them a quick reminder that all they needed to do in this game is to stretch Atlanta’s defense in transition, make them cover ground in the half-court by moving the ball, and stick to their shooters. This run burst Atlanta’s bubble, forced them to call their own timeout, and eventually ushered the Raptors into an eight-point halftime lead.
A word on DeRozan: this guy fights hard. He was being played very physical, didn’t have calls go his way, and his shot wasn’t dropping (4-16), yet he didn’t let that affect his approach to the game. Usually when you see a guard get 11 rebounds, you expect that many of them fell into his lap on lucky bounces. This was not the case, he was positioning and fighting for defensive boards, and was very active in help defense situations.
He may not be a great one-on-one defender, but his swipes on drives had an impact, and he used positioning and length to disrupt the passing lanes, notably on the passes back out to the perimeter after Teague drives. You don’t necessarily have to tip the ball or get a steal, just correct positioning on the court can dissuade a player from making a pass which would’ve led to a clean look. As he said after the game, it’s not just about scoring:
“It’s my job. I’m trying to not just be a scorer. If we’re not making shots — not just myself — we have to figure out other ways to impact the game in a big way. That was one thing I was trying to do.”
The second half started with an eerily similar theme: Kyle Korver hitting jumpers. This time the Raptors offense didn’t go into a mini-drought, and Terrence Ross even gave Korver a dose of his own medicine, by making the Atlanta swingman chase him on screens and score from the perimeter:Direct Link
Kyle Lowry was leading from the back in this game, ended up with 11 points, 10 assists, and 0 turnovers. He asserted himself on offense when he felt the team needed a boost, and on this night found himself pressuring the defense, and then orchestrating his teammates rather than carrying the scoring load. His defense on Teague, particularly fighting through screens to prevent him from turning the corner had a lot to do with the Raptors containing the Hawks in the second half.
An unexpected source of fluidity and calm on the court was Tyler Hansbrough, who carried his preseason form into opening night by not appearing out of phase in the offense. Instead of his usual approach of aimlessly waiting for a shot to go up so he can fight for an offensive board, and in the process pick up a loose-ball foul, he presented himself to his guards very well. To boot, his movements stretched the defense and I couldn’t find a better example of this great show at the top of the key, followed by a sweet DeRozan assist for the pick ‘n roll score:Direct Link
The very definition of a balanced attack is one where the threat may come from anywhere, and on this night the Raptors had seven players in double figures. The defensive solidarity was present for the majority of the game and the compete-level on the boards (thanks in great part to Valanciunas) was also present and manifested itself in a 48-42 advantage, and a 26-11 second-chance point edge, which was enough to overcome the Hawks shooting 50%.
The problems caused by Millsap, Korver, Horford, and Teague and not concerns but part of the rigor that is the NBA. These are fantastic players who will have their moments during the course of a 48-minute game; it’s how the Raptors respond to stretches of adversity that will define their season and character.
The 26-19 third quarter ultimately proved to be decisive, as the Raptors limited the Hawks to 41% shooting, ran the break well (6-2 fast-break points in the quarter), and ended the quarter with a defensive stop and a great Lou Williams score:Direct Link
The 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter was upped to 19 after two back-to-back Jonas Valanciunas scores, as part of a mix-and-match lineup which saw Patterson, Williams, Valanciunas, James Johnson, and Vasquez run the offense. This unit sustained the lead, and it wasn’t until the Hawks got hot from three in the traditional road team desperation run to cut it to 4. A couple Kyle Lowry free throws gave a good buffer, before things were made nervy by DeRozan missing both free throws. After rebounding his own miss, he hit two to ice the game.
The late Hawks run might speak to a dip in defensive concentration, likely caused by some calls not going the Raptors way, and since I hate talking about officiating unless I really have to, I’m going to leave it at that. As I said before, the Hawks are a talented team and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they were able to make a run.
The Raptors, specifically DeRozan, would benefit from keeping their cool in the face of poor officiating, or at least not let the non-call on the offensive possession affect the subsequent defensive possession, which is how Atlanta got one of their late threes. It’s all water under the bridge, though, and in the end the Raptors come away with a gritty and physical win which sets a good tone heading into the two-game Florida trip.
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette
None of the five reserves that Dwane Casey played on Wednesday played more than half of the game’s 48 minutes, but each contributed in his own way. Vasquez and Patterson scored in double digits; Lou Williams had eight points, showing flashes of his magic in isolation sets. James Johnson took just two shots, but played his typically superb defence, leading to a key fourth-quarter steal. And then there was Tyler Hansbrough. When Jonas Valanciunas picked up two quick fouls, Hansbrough was surprisingly the first man off of the bench, instead of Patterson. “Tyler brought the energy, the rebounding, the mixing it up,” Casey said. “He brought a physical presence in the paint, which we needed. That’s what he brings. Tyler’s doing a much better job this season of really spacing, screening and getting to his positions. It sounds crazy, but he helps other people score by just [having] proper positioning and not worrying about post-up positioning and clogging [the lane] up.”
And the Raptors went out and delivered a show. Their two backcourt stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, struggled to make shots. Toronto played with pace, but forgot sharpshooter Kyle Korver existed several times, which is inadvisable. But they hung a 60-point first half on the Hawks, and got big play in managed minutes from Amir Johnson, from Terrence Ross, from Jonas Valanciunas and Greivis Vasquez and newcomer Lou Williams. Their two best players shot 7-for-27, and the defence had some lapses, and the bottom nearly fell out in the final few minutes. The crowd was incredible. “It felt like a playoff atmosphere,” said Johnson, who only found out what that felt like in Toronto in April. “Best crowd in the NBA,” said Vazquez. “It’s a party.”
The bench unit of Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough (the first man off the bench, surprisingly), Patrick Patterson and Lou Williams got some extended play together. The B squad was able to mix it up and run with the Hawks. Vasquez led the Raps’ scorers off the bench with 12 points.
DeRozan had 15 points but finished 4 for 16 from the field and 0 for 1 from three-point range. Lowry, who signed a new four-year, US$48-million deal this summer, scored 11 points but made 3-of-11 shots and missed his three three-pointers. But the pair found other ways to contribute as DeRozan recorded career highs in rebounds (11) and steals (six) while Lowry added 10 assists. “I’m not just trying to be a scorer,” DeRozan said. “If we’re not making shots we all have to figure out ways we can affect the game in a good way.
This late-game drama is all-too-familiar for Raptor fans. While Toronto did hold an eight point lead halfway through, the Hawks shot an advantageous 46.3% from the field and a blistering 57.1% from beyond the arc. Korver absolutely lit up the Raps, shooting 6-7 from three-point land, while Scott went 4-6. It’s safe to say that perimeter defense is a necessary adjustment for the next game. Aside from guarding the three, Toronto did an excellent job protecting the rim and forcing turnovers. Valanciunas and Johnson combined for five blocks. DeRozan’s six steals, which mainly came in transition, were included in an astounding 17 turnovers from Atlanta. For the most part the home team put on a sound defensive effort, but there’s no doubt that coach Dwane Casey has already addressed the lackluster perimeter coverage.
Do not expect Casey to go easy on the guys next practice; he’ll be outraged at the astronomical shooting numbers the Hawks put up (especially a 30 point 2nd quarter and 31 point 4th quarter!). Kyle Korver really did a lot of damage against the Raptors tonight shooting 7-10 and 6-7 from beyond the arc. Mike Scott also had an impressive outing hurting the Raptors with 8-11 shooting and 4-6 beyond the arc. Raptors standouts were vast, but I’ll limit to just a few.
One of the biggest problems for the Hawks that led to the loss was turnovers. The Hawks had 19 of them (compared to only 10 for Toronto) and the Raptors took advantage, scoring 23 points off of the ATL mistakes. DeMar DeRozan, who’s offensive game was shut down by an extremely active DeMarre Carroll, was a pest to the Hawks offense, grabbing six of the Raptors’ 13 steals. The turnover problem seemed to be a reflection of Atlanta’s overall point guard play, which was pretty poor outside of Jeff Teague’s scoring. Teague had six turnovers on the night and simply was not paying attention multiple times throughout the game. His backup, Shelvin Mack, was likely Atlanta’s worst player on the floor for the game. Mack did have a five to one assist to turnover ratio, but he was generally miserable at running the offense during his time on the floor, and he was awful with his shot-selection, leading to a 1-for-6 night from the field for the former Butler Bulldog.
Both teams traded punches in the early going. The Hawks used a 7-0 run to close to within a single point at 51-50 with just over two minutes remaining in the half. The Raptors responded after a time out and closed the half with a 9-2 run to take a 60-52 lead into the intermission. Toronto poured it on in the third and continued to pound away at the Hawks. The Raptors outscored Atlanta 26-19 in the period and extended the lead to 86-71 heading to the fourth.
Dwane Casey has a funny analogy about how it only matters what you do when the popcorn’s popping. It’s his way of saying big players step up in big moments when fans are packed in the stands. After the game Casey was asked about Amir Johnson being ready to play when the popcorn was popping and couldn’t resist letting loose with this great quote: “He put butter on it and salt and everything else. He was ready to roll tonight and I was really happy with his energy.”
The early returns were positive. Not only was Ross reliably knocking down threes, he chipped in with a couple of steals, he patiently found Amir Johnson in the post on occasion. The brittle flower that wilted in the playoffs last season seems poised to put that behind him. Valancuinas played as the Raptors want to him to play. He challenged Atlanta at the rim, defensively. He scrapped for offensive rebounds and he earned his 17 points the hard way, making it to the foul line 10 times, converting nine, while grabbing eight rebounds.
When point guard Kyle Lowry, fresh off signing a new four-year $48 million contract extension over the summer, stepped to the centre of court to welcome back the fans and kick off the franchise’s 20th anniversary season with a short speech, he was quickly drowned out by cheers, left to simply stand in silence and smile. “There’s definitely a lot of excitement,” Amir Johnson said before the game. “I’ve seen the best and worst of this franchise. Some people would say Toronto is back with a little bit more life this year and it’s definitely something to play for and be happy about.” A lot has changed in a year.
They can have an even better season than I predict if Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas take the next step in Year 3 and play game in and game out with consistency. They need to rebound the ball with great toughness, stay healthy and keep the offence efficient and productive in late game situations. I put this team in the category of good with the potential to be very good if everything goes exactly right. Not a ton of margin for error here. Elite? I think they are a better player or two away from that. I’m cautiously optimistic yet realism is vital. Should be a fun year. Can’t wait, let’s roll!
In part one of Cabbie’s interview with Toronto Raptors PG Kyle Lowry, he explains the impact of the “We The North” campaign, his role as co-captain on the Toronto Raptors and his relationship with DeMar DeRozan.
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Select sound bytes from after the game.
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Raptors on pace for 82-0.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 31 MIN | 7-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -2You da real MVP. A healthy, spry Amir was everywhere on both ends of the court. He crashed the glass hard and smartly positioned himself on the floor to take pressure off his teammates. A beast defensively too, effectively containing both Horford and Millsap. A tremendous effort.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -4Lost Korver a few times around screens, but he looked confident in his shot and stayed within his game. It’s a positive sign to see him rebound from his rather awful preseason showing. Cutting down on ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities was the key.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 9-10 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +3An extremely strong showing, especially against the Hawks’ smallball lineups. He kept his hands high, making himself open when rolling to the basket. The Hawks had no answer his size, and had to settle for fouling him. He would have easily cracked 20 points if a few more of his looks dropped.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 3-11 FG | 5-7 FT | 6 REB | 10 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -6Kept the offense humming, looked for his teammates, and took charge when necessary. This is the Kyle Lowry we know and love. Couldn’t keep Teague in check, though. The quickness was too much to handle.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-16 FG | 7-10 FT | 11 REB | 3 AST | 6 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 15 PTS | +2On one hand, he got shafted by the referees. No question about that. But the constant pouting and forcing of the offense was a terrible look. On a key possession down the stretch, he got hacked, didn’t get the foul, and complained about the call for the entire possession. His man subsequently knocked down an absolutely wide-open triple. More on him below. His defense was strong, though.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -1 The boxscore lies, sometimes. Hansbrough’s energy on defense was key. Surprisingly, he was the first big off the bench after Jonas picked up two fouls, but he held down the paint, crashing the glass and making smart rotations. Good stuff for Hansbrough.|
|James Johnson, PF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 0-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +2Stop dribbling. Don’t ever dribble. Otherwise looked good, albeit a little over-active defensively.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +8Passed up way too many open looks from deep. He struggled with his shot, but the ball is designed to find him open on the perimeter, so there are shots he simply has to take. Smart rotations defensively.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +13A lot of YOLO type shots, but that’s just how we like him. Nailed a pair of triples in the span of 10 seconds to balloon the lead for the Raptors in the second quarter. Also put in an impressive stint inbetween the third and fourth quarters to give the Raptors a lead they almost blew.|
|Louis Williams, SG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +6He’s a shot maker. That’s what he’s here for. His chemistry with Vasquez looked much better than it was in preseason.|
Managed the rotation well. Coerced good production from the bench, especially with the two-guard lineups featuring Vasquez and Williams. As a result, the starters were fresh to close the game. Used timeouts well when DeRozan was hot at the refs.
Five Things We Saw
- DeRozan struggled to score in the first half, but he found ways to contribute defensively, which is a very positive sign. The knock on DeRozan has centered on his one-dimensionality. With the Hawks gameplanning for his drives, DeRozan understandably struggled to get any clean looks and forced more than a few bad looks. But the fact that DeRozan still found a way to impact the game speaks to his development.
- Kyle Korver burned the Raptors in the first half because the Hawks’ system fits him perfectly. He’s always the beneficiary on kickouts, feasting off the defensive chaos generated from multiple pick-and-rolls. Like Zach Lowe said, Korver is Atlanta’s not-so-secret star.
- How about those calls? The whistle DeRozan and Hansbrough got was ridiculous. On one possession, Bazemore hooked Hansbrough’s arm and pulled him to the ground on a loose ball, and Hansbrough was the one tabbed for the foul. No love, none whatsoever.
- Unexpected twist: The Raptors’ frontcourt outplayed their counterparts.
- Don’t freak out about the fourth quarter mini-meltdown. The Hawks started nailing three-pointers and the Raptors had a few bounces that went against them on offense. Process over results.
The crowd was nuts to start the game, and Lowry even gave a speech. Here are your 2014-15 Toronto Raptors. See if you can figure out where Greivis Vasquez appears from.
Had a chance to speak with Matt Galloway from CBC’s Metro Morning (@metromorning) this AM. We talked about being a fan in the early years of the franchise, players’ perception of Toronto, the current core of the Raptors, and expectations for this season.
Here’s the link to the CBC audio, you can also listen to it below as well:
The waiting is over. Bring on Al Horford and the Hawks to start the season.
Expectations are fickle.
On one hand, fans should expect big things from the Raptors. After going 42-22 following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors finished with a franchise-high 48 wins en route to snagging third in the Eastern Conference. Whether you’re of the opinion that the Raptors are a middle of the pack playoff team, or something more, the basis is the same. The Raptors are a good team. As fans, we should expect big things. We are expecting big things.
On the other hand, expectation doubles as a weight. With karmic balance finally having swung back in Toronto’s favor, there’s something on the line for the Raptors for once. Last season was fun in part because the Raptors were winning, but it was also fun because their success took everyone — including the players and management — by surprise. The experience for both the team, and its fans will surely change with perspective. The ante is in the pot. After toiling in the league’s basement for so long, squandering the momentum is not an an option.
Personally, I’m more hopeful than expectant. I think it’s the healthier line to take. I’ll happily trade exuberance and abrasiveness for quiet victories. I don’t like shitting on other teams — excluding the Knicks and Celtics — to validate my appreciation for my own squad. As a fanbase, let’s stay humble, keep expectations in line and critiques of other teams to a minimum. Let’s not get carried away and become Lakers fans.
Now this is going to be fun (but hopefully not fun, like the 2012-13 Lakers)
Don’t sleep on the Atlanta Hawks. Despite their 38-44 record last season, there’s more that meets the eye with the Hawks. Their frontcourt features two two-way All-Stars in Paul Millsap and Al Horford. The backcourt doesn’t nearly lend as much to name recognition, but head coach Mike Budenholzer’s Spurs-centric offense is designed to get the most out of players like Jeff Teague, Thabo Thefolosha and Kyle Korver. Their offense is well-structured, built on staying true to fundamental principles like ball movement and floor spacing to complement a roster of smart, team-first players.
But don’t get too excited, either. Don’t buy into the whole trope of, “oh, the Hawks were the third-best team in the East before Horford went down.” That tired party line is disingenuous. They played well, but 16-13 is nothing to write home about. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to get excited about the Hawks without needing to dabble in irrelevant pieces of trivia.
Point Guard – Raptors
Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack
The Raptors have the best player in the bunch in Lowry. He’s coming off the best year of his career and he has looked sharp all preseason. His two-way play should fluster Teague and Mack for much of the game. Vasquez is more of a worry, having looked noticeably slower in preseason, but his troubles seemed to mostly stem from unfamiliarity playing with backcourt mate Lou Williams, than anything else.
Teague, however, is a legitimate concern. He has the quickness advantage over both Lowry and Vasquez, and he can score in bunches, especially if his shot is on. Having a maneuverable, savvy screen setter in Horford should afford Teague additional room to operate.
Mack is more of a combo guard. He’s very adept at spotting up as an off-guard, popping behind screens to launch threes. Luckily, his shot isn’t very consistent.
Shooting Guard – Raptors
DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams vs. Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha
The secret is finally out on Korver. If you’re still living in the past, thinking of Korver as just a shooter, do yourself a solid and read Zach Lowe’s piece on Korver’s nuanced and effective style of play. Korver will keep the Raptors on their toes all night with his movement and ability to shoot.
But DeRozan is a star, and although his three-point shot isn’t nearly as pure as Korver’s, DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble and to draw fouls outweighs Korver’s more narrow contributions. It’s a tricky task, comparing do-it-all contributors to that of a role player. Korver serves his role better, but DeRozan’s role is bigger. That puts him ahead in my book.
Lou Williams, an offensive sparkplug that embodies the antithesis of Sefolosha’s defense-first, offense-never mentality.
Small Forward – Even
Terrence Ross, James Johnson vs. DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore
Carroll enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, trading in his fringe bench role for a well-deserved spot in the starting lineup. He is a tenacious, physical defender who can also knock down kickouts. In terms of his role, Carroll is an advanced form of Ross, who is still too inconsistent to be relied upon as a contributor on a nightly basis.
Power Forward – Hawks
Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson vs. Paul Millsap, Elton Brand
This one was close. Millsap is the best player out of the bunch, but Amir and Patterson provides the Raptors with two different looks. On the whole, look for Amir to shoulder the bulk of minutes defending against Millsap, but Patterson’s added mobility could also work. The hardest part about guarding Millsap is that he’s a threat to shoot from deep, but can also put the rock on the floor to counter closeouts. He’s also adept at finding the open shooter if and when defenses collapse.
The Hawks’ depth puts them over the top. Coming off the bench is yet another mobile floor-stretching big in Mike Scott. His playstyle might give the Raptors fits, if only because the Raptors will have to commit defenders away from the paint.
Center – Hawks
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Al Horford
Despite playing out of position, Horford is one of the best two-way centers in the league. He’s deadly as a pick-and-pop option from inside the three-point line, and his post game is decent. Most importantly, Horford ranks as a good rim-protector. He makes the correct rotations, and has enough size to challenge shots at the rim. Valanciunas will have his hands full, especially if he’s being lured away from the basket.
Prediction – Raptors 102, Hawks 99
Vegas says: Raptors by 5.5, O/U 200.
Ludacris’s cow says: Moo, bitch, get out the way.
William says: Raptors eke out a narrow win in front of a tense home crowd. Horford’s minutes are capped at 30, setting the stage for Pero Antic and Jonas Valanciunas to duke it out in the post. The stakes are high — the loser will have to shave their beard. DeRozan scores 12 in the fourth quarter and hits a pair of clutch free-throws to secure the victory.
Nick and Barry kick off the season with a new and improved episode of Talking Raptors. The kinks have been worked out, the dust shaken off and it is finally time to get down to business.
-Raptors odds at winning a championship.
-Nicknames… does Demar Derozan need one? Doesn’t matter.. he has one now.
-Inflatable mascot vs the Classic mascot.
-Analyzing the team and their favourite Drake songs
When will Bruno see his first action?
-Steve Nash, his impact and whether he will play again.
-Kawhi Leonard looking for a max!
enjoy and thanks for listening!
It will require DeRozan’s defiance when it comes to making difficult shots that he shouldn’t be able to make. Remember when Ujiri bellowed out “F— Brooklyn” before Game 1 of the first-round playoff loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and said it was a spur-of-the-moment thing? It was, a few minutes earlier, when he was speaking to a group of season-ticket holders and yelled out the same thing. He liked it. He told the world. The ‘We The North’ thing is marketing, but Amir Johnson writes it in the dust on dirty cars, and it taps into something. Here we are, and we’re proud to be here. The crowd outside the Air Canada Centre in the Square became a beacon, and it looks like Toronto. There are parts of this city that have waited a long time for something to be built. “You look at something you can do in one place and leave your legacy there that will last forever, it means that much more,” says DeRozan. “I look at Alvin Williams. He comes back here and they treat him perfect, like family.”
Farr broke the silence. “This is where your life changes,” he told DeRozan. “You see that?” he said, pointing down to the valley. “That’s where we come from, DeMar, and you can never forget that valley.” He turned to the contrasting skyline past the water. “That is where basketball can take you. The game is what will make it all possible, but it’s hard work that will get you there.” It’s a message that has stayed with DeRozan to this day. “That really put everything in perspective for me,” he says, sprawled comfortably across the curvy suede couch in the Raptors players lounge. “I realized then that I can never have an excuse for anything. If you work for it, you’ll deserve what comes. Hard work. That’s been my approach ever since.” That is the attitude DeRozan is building his reputation on. It’s allowed him to raise his game every season, bringing the franchise that took a chance on him along for the journey. Around his team, the 25-year-old is known as the guy who comes back to the arena a third time after two-a-days.
Sure, the franchise-best 48 wins last year and sterling 22-7 mark at the ACC post-Christmas were significant achievements, but Casey thinks his squad needs more time to prove itself. “You can’t put a number on who you are, especially where we are in our program,” Casey said Tuesday. “Right, wrong, indifferent, we’re not in that elite status yet. We haven’t earned that yet, so we’re still on our way of doing that. That’s what makes (50 wins) the unrealistic expectations. “We have to embrace (expectations) because they are there, but … if you’ve established that, you can feel that way, but coming from where we are, where we are going, we have no right to feel that way and we’ve got to continue to have that chip on our shoulder of the underdog.” Casey is nothing if not consistent. He has long refused to let his young charges rest on their laurels. He won’t accept anyone putting the proverbial cart before the horse. He has simply been in the game far too long for any of that.
“Now we know that we’re a good team and we know what we can do,” said Amir Johnson, who – along with DeMar DeRozan – is the team’s longest tenured player, entering his sixth year in Toronto. “There’s a lot of stuff we can definitely clean up, and we’re working everyday, but we know that we’re good and we have a lot of confidence. We just have to prove it on the court.” What would make this a successful season for the club? “In my eyes,” Patrick Patterson said, “winning more games than what we did last year and going further in the playoffs.” A reasonable answer and pretty straightforward method of evaluating growth, only Casey knows it’s not always that clear-cut. “There’s a great possibility we could win less games than we did last year and be a better team,” said the Raptors’ coach. “That’s a distinct possibility and if that happens so be it. So I’m not going on wins and losses or what we did last year. I’m more concerned about our development and getting better.”
JAMES JOHNSON: Skinny: Savvy veteran will be used in a situational role. Might not play too often, but remains a leader in the locker room and a tremendous low-post defender. Can improve: He is what he is. Contract status: $5.95 million left on expiring deal.
Granted, most of the so-called experts believe the Raptors will indeed defend their division title, but will do so with fewer victories. I’m not sure if that has something to do with the lack of quality teams within the division or whether it is expected that the Raptors will occasionally lose focus during the season since the expectation is another playoff run—this time hopefully deeper than one round. Within the team the Raptors espouse a simple goal—to win the division and take the next step in the playoffs, winning a round. For his part Coach Casey also espouses simple goals—to continue the process, the development and to keep getting better. This is still a young team says the coach. There is no way the team should be satisfied with last season’s success. One year does not make a career. The ultimate goal is an NBA championship and though the Raptors are not considered to be among the elite they should have their sights set on loftier goals this year.
James Johnson wanted to do too much on offence during his previous stint as a Raptor, even though he lacked the skills necessary to be a big scorer. Now, he knows what his role is. Johnson is the team’s defensive stopper. He will be tasked with guarding three positions and he has the size, athleticism and smarts to give the Raptors something they have lacked for years. The trick will be keeping Johnson happy with put-backs and transition points. Once he starts launching jumpers, his game slips. Patterson pointed out that the Raptors have struggled, allowing too much dribble penetration. Johnson might even spend some time bothering guards in order to fix that issue.
Horford is still not back to 100 per cent after missing more than 50 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle but he’s good enough to give the Hawks an imposing frontcourt . . . Atlanta lived and died with the three-point shot last season; Korver is one of the best from distance ever . . . Teague’s one of the quickest guards in the league, and one of the more under-rated ones . . . How’s this for constant change: The Raptors have never started the same five players on consecutive opening nights . . . Toronto is opening Maple Leaf Square for a game-night event, similar to the ones that became such a playoff phenomenon last spring . . . Coach Dwane Casey cautions about any over-confidence: “The team we’re playing . . . went as far as we did last year, Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs and nobody’s even talking about Atlanta. They add an all-star player and a player who started for a 60- or a 55-win team in OKC (Thabo Sefolosha) who is coming off bench now.”
When Masai Ujiri signed him to a low-risk two-year deal this July, it was easy to call Johnson a changed man. A trip to the D-League had taught him to relish a spot in the NBA; bouncing around the league had made him thirst for some stability. That is not just a nice story — it is at least partly valid. “It’s crazy. I’m six years in and I’ve had eight different coaches,” Johnson said. “Everybody coaches different. Everybody has his own philosophy of winning and as long as the coach can stay consistent, it’s easy to buy in. “As long as I have a job, I’m blessed.” However, that is not the whole story. A breakdown in communication involves at least two parties, and usually more. While Johnson might have been the instigator back then, Casey failed to bring him back onside. During training camp in Vancouver, Casey admitted that he made some mistakes, too.
By playing with this group once again, Lowry has the chance to meet two critical qualifications for the All-Star game: leading a playoff-caliber team and thriving statistically. Producing above-average numbers is a must for any All-Star. Since Lowry will play alongside multiple offensive weapons in Toronto, he will have no issue putting forth a high number of points and assists on a regular basis. However, as far as winning goes, not every All-Star is part of a successful ballclub. But when it comes to qualifying for the last few spots on the roster—a position he may find himself in come selection time—the final decision of the 15 Eastern Conference head coaches could lean heavily toward who can win. And the Raptors will win games. As a leader of this team, Lowry understands it’s on him to control the focus night in and night out.
I am so happy that Kyle Lowry didn’t sign with Miami. It would have made for a boring story. Maybe you’ve heard the story before – a kid grows up with big dreams, gives everything he has to achieve them, then grows fat and complacent after finding success and just becomes another rich person, with the big house, the fancy cars, maybe a yacht, expensive food. No, Kyle Lowry doesn’t deserve an ending like that. Sure, he has his money now, but he has something else too – opportunity. As one of the franchise players with the Raptors, he has the opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong and succeed where others have failed. It fits his personality, doggedly doing what others doubted he could accomplish. When people tell him, “You can’t do that,” he just puts his head down and doesn’t give up until he finds victory. So go ahead and plow into the lane, pull up for transition 3-pointers like no one can stop you, sky for rebounds against taller competitors, and don’t give an inch on defense. Let’s knock some heads this season.
It looks like Leonard could be a free agent this summer so i was wondering if you guys thought he would be a good fit for us? Would you pay him the max?
I’ve been blogging about the Toronto Raptors since some time during the 2007-08 NBA season. Sitting here late on Monday night, a few months removed from the best regular season in franchise history and an unbelievable but heartbreaking playoff series, and days after the conclusion of a league-best 7-1 preseason slate, everything feels kind of unfamiliar.
It’s a strange unfamiliarity, because it’s bred in part by the familiarity of this particular Raptors team. I can’t recall entering a season with so few questions, nor can I recall entering with so narrow a band of expectations for the season. The Raptors are going to be good at worst, perhaps very good at best, and their win range probably sits from 44 to maybe 52 (I have them down for 47, but it appears I’m on the pessimistic end). This is a playoff team, but it is not a contender for the conference title. The team’s seven best players are returning, the coach is back, and nobody is really expected to take more than an incremental step forward. They are better on paper, perhaps appreciably so, but regression from an “everything breaks right” 2013-14 has to be baked into expectations.
These are not complaints. It’s been a relatively boring preseason devoid of narrative or competition or uncertainty. That’s safely more likeable than the opposite. The franchise’s history is a tumultuous and abortive one. Save for the 1999-2002 stretch of three – count ‘em – consecutive playoff appearances, there’s been precious little in the way of sustained success. By returning a strong core for this year and largely for next year, the Raptors are clearly valuing sustainability and continuity, something the franchise has lacked quite literally forever.
How you feel about that probably depends on what you hope to get from the basketball team you cheer for. There are some who think through the lens of championship or bust, and to them this offseason may have been disappointing. The team upgraded from a playoff team to a favorite to make the second round, but the ceiling is not sufficiently high, and there’s no clear path to a big leap forward, beyond some cap flexibility that everyone else seems to have as well.
If you’re more like me, you’re looking for an enjoyable and entertaining product with a more realistic view. I can not imagine what it would be like for a team I cheer for to win a championship. I root for Toronto teams and the Jacksonville Jaguars (don’t ask). The only championships in my lifetime were the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, but I was six and seven and at that time hockey consumed my entire life. I have no idea what a championship would feel like. Maybe because I lack that knowledge, or maybe because the teams I cheer for have been so abjectly terrible for so long now, or maybe because there’s something flawed in how I experience the world, I don’t have eyes on a title. At least not right now. I’m perfectly content to root for a team that I know will be merely good and entertaining, with a strong chance of mild playoff success.
That’s a boring outlook, of course. It’s kind of where the Raptors are at, and I think in part that’s why a good section of the fan base has become so enamored with Bruno Caboclo. Caboclo warrants attention, and any team’s fans would be curious about the league’s youngest player, one who didn’t know any active NBA players other than Kobe Bryant, and one who is very much a puppy with enormous paws, ready to clumsily run around the house crashing into stuff for a few minutes at a time. He’s interesting without team context, but within the context of a team where everything’s the same (sorry, Drake), that gets magnified.
Okay, saying everything is the same is incorrect. The starting lineup is the same but probably better, individual by individual. Kyle Lowry may never match his 2013-14 breakout again but remains very, very good, and was awesome in the preseason. I have complete faith that DeMar DeRozan will continue to make marginal improvements as a creator and a defender (and please, please as a shooter). Terrence Ross is more skilled, but I have no idea if he’s going to be a better basketball player. Jonas Valanciunas looks a tiny bit better in every single aspect of his game, and that may make a big difference in summation. Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez. Maybe Patrick Patterson has a little more to show, maybe he’s just a solid floor-spacing backup four.
There are also differences. John Salmons played 1,281 minutes for the Raptors last season. 1,281. That’s over 21 hours. I googled “what could you do in 21 hours” and here was the fourth link returned:
I don’t know if this is the internet’s way of trying to remind me that I’m projecting the Raptors for one fewer win this year and John Salmons played 1,281 minutes last season, shake it off Blake, shake it off, shake shake shake shake shake shake okay it’s 3 a.m. sorry.
It can’t be overstated how big an upgrade a literal salmon would have been over John Salmons last season. Replacing his minutes with additional run for Ross and the addition of James Johnson is huge. As much as I don’t like adding a combustible element to a team so reliant on an indefinable chemistry, Johnson is a strong defender and fills a major need with his ability to guard larger forwards. He can also guard one through four, which allows him to be deployed with nearly any lineup iteration. You know, assuming they don’t give him the ball, because he sometimes think he’s a Kobe-Nash hybrid.
Some of Salmons’ minutes will also be replaced by Lou Williams…kind of. With Williams around and so few minutes available at the one and two, we may see DeRozan at the three with more frequency. Williams is a definite upgrade as the team’s ninth man, even if the fit isn’t immediately clear. The offence looked pretty stagnant with him on the floor in the preseason, and that’s hardly a surprise. One of the reasons fans seem to gravitate toward Mr. Fourth Quarter is that he played like you play a video game, which is really fun and an effective way to score but is kind of a fascist and ineffective way to run an entire offense. I really like Williams, but I do think the preseason may have overstated his role some. Then again, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.
Williams and Johnson represent tangible upgrades to the roster. As mentioned off the top, the team is better. Why the lower win prediction then? Everything went right last year. The chemistry was perfect, nobody got hurt beyond nicks and scrapes, and the East was pretty bad overall. The team played at a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade, but again, that was the best case scenario, mostly. I’m not sure the offence is still that good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls slightly out of the top-10. The defense is very real though. This paragraph took a long time to write because I can’t stop watching that Y2J GIF. It’s the greatest.
What else is their to say about this season? It starts on Wednesday. That’s fucking awesome. I’ve never been this excited for a sports season to start before, I don’t think. Up until last season, I was mostly an all-sports person, and wrote equally as often about baseball and basketball, with some hockey and other stuff mixed in. For the past 14 months, my job has been the NBA, 40 hours a week. I loved it before. I breathe it now. This season is going to be so much fun, and the Raptors being a quality team is a big part of that. I’m hoping that’s the case for a lot of people, because late last season and into the playoffs was really fun around town. For the first time, I had random people talking Raptors with me and getting excited about the team. It’d be really great to carry that momentum into the regular season – with so much continuity and a decent schedule to start, the Raptors should be able to hit the ground running and do just that.
I’m really excited. You probably should be too. If me rambling for 1,200 words without any sense of direction, theme, or point didn’t get you fired up, maybe this will:
Also, here’s an ear worm for the rest of your day. Don’t act like you don’t love it.
The season’s here. Praise Shamgod.
“One thing that was really impressive about (Casey) was he was a real student of the game,” McMillan told the Toronto Sun earlier this fall in Indianapolis, where he is now associate head coach. “He had notebooks on every coach that coached a game and their plays and their calls. He had this envelope, this folder that he kept all of the plays on. He even put coaches that were fired and came back into the league two, three four years later. He would go to his garage, get out his folder, because they were pretty much running the same plays and their calls were pretty much the same. For everyone. He knew every play, every call each team was running,” McMillan said, smiling at the memory.
It’s a stretch to call the sixth-year guard the best player in Raptors history — he might not even be the best on his team. But it’s no exaggeration to suggest DeRozan is the most important player in the history of the franchise, in no small part because he wants to be. In conversation, DeRozan can come across as a bit sleepy-eyed and can easily be characterized as laid back, at which point you’ve grossly underestimated him and he’s about to blow right by you. At heart DeRozan is a rebel, an explorer, someone who can only be happy carving his own path. As an uncharted territory, Toronto turned out to be the perfect place for him to be drafted. “After Vince [Carter] left it was a team that no one paid attention to. Everyone heard that,” he was saying after practice on Monday as the Raptors prepared for their season opener against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at the ACC.
If you ask Lowry to list off his goals for this coming season, he’ll likely do so without making a single reference to himself. First and foremost, he’ll talk about winning, about getting better as a team, returning to the playoffs and going further than they did a year ago. When he lists o
ff those goals – team goals – he’s not being disingenuous. That’s the type of leader he’s grown into. But whether he’d admit to it or not, Lowry is leaving a block open in the middle of February, hoping to be in New York for what would be his first NBA All-Star Game this winter. And why shouldn’t he be? Some are still skeptical of Lowry’s NBA rags to riches story. They’ve been burned by the ‘contract year player’ before. Professional sports is littered with athletes who have taken their game to a new level with a raise on the line, only to regress back to the mean after getting paid. But the alternative is not unprecedented. Lowry’s a late bloomer, but bloom he has.
If the droves of data can be daunting to digest, McKechnie soon emerged with one surprising takeaway. According to the Catapult numbers captured during Raptors scrimmages, some 80 per cent of movements were performed laterally or backwards. Only 20 per cent of athletes’ collective movement was of the forward variety. McKechnie beckoned Gary McCoy, Catapult’s senior applied sports scientist, to have a look at what he’d discovered. “Alex says to me, ‘All our conditioning is done going forward. We don’t train laterally or backwards,’” McCoy recalled. “Alex said, ‘That’s the first change we’re going to make.’” The changes the Raptors have made since embracing Catapult technology aren’t merely the stuff of tech-savvy trivia. One of the underplayed stories of Toronto’s first playoff run in six years was that, along with benefitting from the Rudy Gay trade and career-best work from a handful of key pieces, the Raptors were the least-injured team in the league in 2013-14.
Skinny: Favourites to win the division for the first time in ages. Perennial lottery dwellers now will have to deal with the pressure of being highly regarded. Should have no trouble scoring, but could slip slightly defensively. Are two-deep at every position. Kyle Lowry will push for first all-star berth, while DeMar DeRozan keeps getting better. Johnson and Williams were underrated acquisitions. Burning question: What is Jonas Valanciunas? Is he a decent starting centre or a potential star? While playing internationally, the Lithuanian has looked like a standout in waiting, but he has yet to put it all together in the NBA. When he plays mean, he gets it done. When he relaxes, he is merely average. The better Valanciunas plays, the more lucrative his new contract will be next year.
After stints in Memphis and Houston, Lowry has blossomed into one of the toughest and best offensive point guards in the league. He ranked third among point guards in wins above replacement and ninth in points created off assists, which includes passes that led to free throws. According to Synergy Sports, Lowry’s pick-and-rolls created 0.89 points per attempt, the eighth-best mark among starting point guards. The only issues with Lowry’s offensive game are his propensity for turnovers — historically he has averaged more than 2.5 per game — and a strange inability to finish drives to the basket. Lowry only made 53 percent of his attempts within 3 feet of the basket last season, well below the league average of closer to 60 percent. In short, Lowry is a top-10 point guard at a time when the position has seen an incredible influx of talent and has taken on additional importance. That alone makes his below-max salary (in line with Steph Curry’s very favorable deal) a bargain.
The jury continues to be out on Casey and his X’s and O’s chops (he’s notorious for not fouling in late-game situations where they’re trailing), but General Manager Masai Ujuri had little choice but to reward Casey with a contract extension after the team won the Atlantic last season even though Casey was out-coached by Jason Kidd.
A year ago there was the distinct possibility Toronto’s roster would be razed and coach Dwane Casey fired. But after forward Rudy Gay was dealt early in the season, the Raptors flourished to their best-ever record. The off-season was about consolidating those gains, as the Raps signed their top free agent Kyle Lowry to a fat contract (along with Lowry’s backup, Greivis Vasquez), brought back former Raptor James Johnson, and traded for gunner Lou Williams. Demar DeRozan is the holdover All-Star, Amir Johnson the low-post stalwart on defense, Jonas Valanciunas the slowly developing seven-footer, Terence Ross the athletic tease. Lowry and DeRozan had career years—but are at a prime age to either maintain or improve those performances.
The Raptors found a core to build around in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas can raise their game this season as well, Toronto should have no trouble winning one of the league’s weakest divisions. With Drake providing the team with a signature celebrity fan and Masai Ujiri proving to be one of the league’s best executives, the Raptors could soon be a team that free agents are clamoring to join.
The pride of the division. Keeping, and paying, Kyle Lowry was a great step. It showed everyone the intent of the Ontario-based franchise. Along with DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, the Raptors are well served in the point guard and wing positions. With all the games they have against Boston, Philadelphia and New York, the wins will come. Prediction: Should win the division. That means home court in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll probably fail to make that count again. Winning this division doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a top team.
In 2008, the cast of the famously defunct NBA blog FreeDarko.com previewed every single game of the upcoming 2008-09 season. It was a miserable failure, in that very few of their predictions actually came to pass. Six years later, we are giving it one more go, hoping to find redemption.
It’s easy to love Amir for what he does on a basketball court. No one works harder, expends more energy. When asked if his game mirrors the hardworking, blue-collar fans that fill the ACC every night, he laughs. “Yeah, I would describe my game the same way. When I’m on the floor I give it my all, no matter what,” he says. While he has gained fans both in Toronto and outside of the city for what he does for a living, Amir is more than simply a basketball player—the guy wearing the number 15 jersey for the Toronto Raptors. Outside of an NBA arena is where Amir truly makes his mark with the community. He’s visible, he’s approachable, he’s charismatic. Raptors fans understand that hasn’t always been the case with their hardwood heroes.
I don’t think any of those guys can be had in trade. Atlanta wants Millsap long-term. Gibson is a core piece and Monroe has the ability to veto a trade because he picked up his qualifying offer. If any of those teams were to seriously entertain something, it’s likely costing you first round draft picks and guys like Terrence Ross.
With the season around the corner, Tamberlyn joins the pod and you better watch out, unlike the rest of the crew, she’s powered by research material. We review the preseason and preview the early season, including a very favorable schedule which could propel the Raptors and may provide setbacks to their rivals.
- Steimsma makes the team despite doing nothing
- If Bebe was healthy, does Steimsma still make it?
- Brazilian impressions over pre-season
- Ode to Jordan Hamilton
- Will Cherry sayonara
- Easy schedule to start the season – 9 of 12 at home, good start on the horizon?
- Atlanta, Orlando and Miami quick previews
- Booing Bosh still a thing
- Who we’ve all boo’d in the past and paid money to do so
- Could Raptors finish as #1 seed? Schedule permits the possibility of injuries
- Raptors bench compared to other top teams in the East
- Bryan Colangelo comments regarding how his moves usually pan out
- Quick Colangelo look-back on what worked and didn’t
- Guys like Austin Rivers
- Preseason takeaways
- Terrence Ross – defensive usage
- James Johnnson or Jordan Hamilton
- Chemistry concerns and Skype calls
- Predictions for Atlanta, Orlando and Miami
- Greivis Vasquez’s struggles
Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
“We’re trying to build more. We’re trying to grow more,” Ujiri said in Montreal on Friday, before the Raptors to