Last 200 articles shown.
|Apr 20, 14||How Joe Johnson Picked Apart the Raptors||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 20, 14||Poll: Keep Amir Johnson in Starting Lineup?||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 20, 14||Game 1: Here a Jitter, There a Jitter, Everywhere a Jitter Jitter||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 20, 14||Morning Coffee – Sun, Apr 20||Sam Holako|
|Apr 19, 14||Video: DeMar DeRozan vs Nets in Game 1 – It’s Not Pretty||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 19, 14||Emergency Podcast: Reaction to Game 1 Loss||Steve Gennaro|
|Apr 19, 14||Quick Reaction: Nets 94, Raptors 87 – Game 1||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 19, 14||Ujiri Says “F**K BROOKLYN”, Wins the Internet||William Lou|
|Apr 19, 14||And so, It Begins||Andrew Thompson|
|Apr 19, 14||The Toronto Sun strikes hard at the Nets||Sam Holako|
|Apr 18, 14||Raptors Lose Coin Flip to Bulls, Will Pick 20th; List of 20th Picks||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 18, 14||Deron Williams: “The key is to try to contain Lowry”||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 18, 14||Video: An Effective Amir Johnson vs Nets (March 10 – 8-14 FG, 16 Points)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 18, 14||Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets by the Numbers||William Lou|
|Apr 18, 14||Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets, 10 Strategic and Tactical Elements To Look Out For||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 18, 14||MLSE and the Raptors REALLY Don’t Want Us Selling Shirts||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 18, 14||Series Preview: Raptors vs Nets Q&A with The Brooklyn Game||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 18, 14||Eating Ice Cream with the Enemy||RR|
|Apr 18, 14||Doctor Is In Podcast, April 18 – Playoff Preview||Steve Gennaro|
|Apr 18, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 18||Sam Holako|
|Apr 17, 14||Quotes: Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri React to Nets Wanting to Play Raptors||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 17, 14||MLSE Claims Copyright For “Kings In The North” Shirt; RR Prints New Shirts; Partial Proceeds to United Way||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 17, 14||2013-14 Raptors now litter franchise leaderboards||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 17, 14||Look Out For This Play: It Beat Us Last Time, Let It Not Happen Again||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 17, 14||Season in Review||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 17, 14||Podcast: Raptors-Nets Playoff Matchup 15-Minute Unedited Reaction||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 17, 14||Raps’ year ends with meaningless loss, bring on Brooklyn||Garrett Hinchey|
|Apr 17, 14||[GIF] Chuck Hayes Inbounding To Nando De Colo With Game On The Line||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 17, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 17||Sam Holako|
|Apr 17, 14||Playoff Schedule Released, First Game on Saturday at 12:30 PM EST||William Lou|
|Apr 16, 14||Reaction: Knicks 95, Raptors 92||Andrew Thompson|
|Apr 16, 14||We The North – Storm||Sam Holako|
|Apr 16, 14||We The North – Huddle||Sam Holako|
|Apr 16, 14||Man Amir Johnson Left Hanging Receives Reward from RR; Your Move @IamAmirJohnson||RR|
|Apr 16, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Knicks – Apr, 16||Sam Holako|
|Apr 16, 14||[GIF] Here’s What’s Left of Paul Pierce #TORvsBKN||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 16, 14||How Important Is Lowry To This Team?||forumcrew|
|Apr 16, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 16||Sam Holako|
|Apr 15, 14||The Raptors Don’t Appear Ready For What Awaits Them In The Playoffs||Tim Chisholm|
|Apr 15, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast, April 15 – With Jack Armstrong||Nick Reynoldson|
|Apr 15, 14||Bucks Serve as Props as Raptors Ease to Franchise-High Win Total||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 15, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 15||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 14, 14||[GIF] Amir Johnson (@IamAmirJohnson) Throws Down Jam, Leaves Man Hanging||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 14, 14||Reaction: Raptors 110, Bucks 100||Sam Holako|
|Apr 14, 14||Toronto Raptors – “Kings In The North” – Atlantic Division Champions Tee||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 14, 14||Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, April 14||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 14, 14||“Roll With Amir” – Recap with Pictures||RR|
|Apr 14, 14||The Superman Effect||Garrett Hinchey|
|Apr 14, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 14||Sam Holako|
|Apr 13, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 13 – Undertow||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 13, 14||[GIF] Demar DeRozan Reduces Kyle Singler To a Pile of Leaves||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 13, 14||Late Reaction: Raptors 116, Pistons 107 – The Apologies Edition||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 13, 14||Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 13 – The Finish Line||Prospect|
|Apr 13, 14||Game Day: Raptors @ Pistons – April 13||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Apr 12, 14||Not Exactly a Banner Effort||Andrew Thompson|
|Apr 12, 14||Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 12||Sam Holako|
|Apr 11, 14||Reaction: Raptors 100, Knicks 108||William Lou|
|Apr 11, 14||[GIF] Lip Reading with Kyle Lowry||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 11, 14||Charles Barkley Says Raptors Are A Dangerous Team||forumcrew|
|Apr 11, 14||MLSE Raises Toronto Raptors Season Ticket Prices||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 11, 14||[GIF] One fan’s hope for the next two games against the Knicks||Sam Holako|
|Apr 11, 14||Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, April 11||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 11, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 11||Sam Holako|
|Apr 10, 14||Breaking it Down: Coach Nick and Seth Partnow Details the Raptors Offense||William Lou|
|Apr 10, 14||Raptors’ Defense Struggling without Amir Johnson||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 10, 14||The Doctor Is In Podcast, April 10 – 4 Guys Talking Hoops||Steve Gennaro|
|Apr 10, 14||‘We all go through things…we all learn from them’||William Lou|
|Apr 10, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 10||Sam Holako|
|Apr 9, 14||[GIF] DeMar DeRozan: There Will Be Blood||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||[Video] Jonas Valanciunas: “I’m just trying to fix my mistakes”||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||Reaction: Sixers 114, Raptors 125||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||[GIF] Terrence Ross With the Spin Move Three||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||Drake to Host ESPYs, Replace Letterman?||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||Gameday: Sixers @ Raptors, April 9||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 9, 14||Raptors 83% Chance to Finish 3rd; Bulls Breathing Down Our Necks||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 9, 14||Lowry’s Injury Has Given Valanciunas A Chance To Shine||Tim Chisholm|
|Apr 9, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 9||Sam Holako|
|Apr 8, 14||Does DeMar DeRozan Have a Case for Most Improved Player?||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 8, 14||[Excerpt] Cable Companies versus Sports Fans||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 8, 14||Poll: How Should the Raptors handle the Jonas Valanciunas situation?||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 8, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast, April 8 – With Darren Andrade (Yes, We Talk JV)||Nick Reynoldson|
|Apr 8, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 8||Sam Holako|
|Apr 7, 14||Breaking: Jonas Valanciunas Charged with Drunk Driving||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 7, 14||Patrick Patterson is serious at FIFA’14; doesn’t miss a beat pumping his Wildcats||Sam Holako|
|Apr 7, 14||Raptors On the Precipice of Ousting The Toronto Sport Team Curse||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Apr 7, 14||DeRozan throws out first pitch at Jays-game||Sam Holako|
|Apr 7, 14||Finding Kyle Lowry: A Comprehensive Essay||Prospect|
|Apr 7, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, April 6 – Target Acquired||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 7, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 7||Sam Holako|
|Apr 6, 14||Raptors Fantasy Forecast, April 6 – The Finals||Prospect|
|Apr 6, 14||Half-Hearted Victory, Quarter-Hearted Recap||William Lou|
|Apr 6, 14||Reaction: Raptors Narrowly Escape Bucks||Tim W.|
|Apr 5, 14||[GIF] Ooooh…JV, Bet That Was Painful||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 5, 14||[Twitter] Good Thing I Didn’t Trust The First Tweet||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 5, 14||Game Day – Raptors @ Bucks, April 5||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Apr 5, 14||Raptors Beat Pacers: This Team Is Bloody Impressive||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 5, 14||Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 5||Sam Holako|
|Apr 5, 14||[GIF] They said JV couldn’t shoot, they lied||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 5, 14||[GIF] Kyle Lowry Approves!||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 4, 14||[GIF] Jonas Valanciunas Plays Some Inbound Defense||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 4, 14||Reaction: Pacers 94, Raptors 102 – Nando De Colo Shines||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 4, 14||We’re Going to Take the Ball and we’re Going to Win||Andrew Thompson|
|Apr 3, 14||Full Interview: Masai Ujiri on George Stroumboulopoulos||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 3, 14||DeRozan and the Next Man Up lead shorthanded Raptors to victory||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 3, 14||Dr Is In Podcast, April 3 – May She Droop Never||Steve Gennaro|
|Apr 3, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 3||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 2, 14||Reaction: Raptors 107, Rockets 103||William Lou|
|Apr 2, 14||Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, April 2||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 2, 14||Kyle Lowry to Receive Treatment During Day; Pre-Game Announcement Pending||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 2, 14||Let’s dust off Landry Fields||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 2, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 2||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 1, 14||10 “Behind The Scenes” Points from Masai Ujiri’s Interview with George Strombolopolous||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 1, 14||Swimming Upstream on the John Salmons Issue||William Lou|
|Apr 1, 14||Report: MLSE To Offer Playoff Tickets at Half Price to “Make Amends”||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Apr 1, 14||Raptors lose game to good player, focus turns to Kyle Lowry||Blake Murphy|
|Apr 1, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 1||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 31, 14||[GIF] Kyle Lowry Injury, X-Rays Negative, Will Reevaluate Tomorrow||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 31, 14||Reaction: Heat 93, Raptors 83||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 31, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, March 31||RR|
|Mar 31, 14||Can DeRozan Buck Raptors Playoff History?||Tim Chisholm|
|Mar 31, 14||[GIF] Dwane Casey’s Inbound Defense Stifles Orlando||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 31, 14||Laid Back Analysis of Raptors vs Magic||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 31, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 30 – Jilted Lovers||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 31, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 31||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 30, 14||Player Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas vs Orlando Magic (6-8 FG, 20 PTS)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 30, 14||Reaction: Raptors: 98 – Magic: 93||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 30, 14||East Executive: Nets Want to Face Raptors, Avoid Bulls; Slags Casey||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 30, 14||Toronto Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 30 – Playoffs||Prospect|
|Mar 30, 14||Raptors-Magic: 6 Things to Watch For||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 29, 14||Jim Mora, Eat Your Heart Out||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 29, 14||Morning Coffee – Sat, Mar 29||Sam Holako|
|Mar 28, 14||Reaction: Raptors 105, Celtics 103||William Lou|
|Mar 28, 14||[GIF] Kyle Lowry Leaves Celtics Game With Injured Ankle (Update: He’s back)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 28, 14||Gameday – Raptors vs Celtics, Mar 28||Sam Holako|
|Mar 28, 14||Player Highlights: Terrence Ross Lights Boston Up – March 26||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 28, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 28||Sam Holako|
|Mar 27, 14||Greivis Vasquez Likens Parts of his Game to Manu Ginobili, Jason Kidd and Andre Miller||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 27, 14||12 Facts About Terrence Ross||RR|
|Mar 27, 14||Game of Thrones: March Madness-Style||Tim W.|
|Mar 27, 14||Dr Is In Podcast, March 27 – Enjoy the Magic||Steve Gennaro|
|Mar 27, 14||No Bench, No Problem||William Lou|
|Mar 27, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 27||Sam Holako|
|Mar 26, 14||Quick Reaction: Raptors 99, Celtics 90||Garrett Hinchey|
|Mar 26, 14||[Video] Lowry and Ross Threes Seal the W, Celtics Commentary||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 26, 14||Quick Note About DeMar DeRozan’s Clutchness and Shooting||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 26, 14||Game Day – Raptors @ Celtics, Mar 26||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 26, 14||Caption this pic||Sam Holako|
|Mar 26, 14||Corrective Measures Needed||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 26, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 26||Sam Holako|
|Mar 25, 14||[GIF] That last play – what was going on?||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 25, 14||Reaction: Raptors 97, Cavaliers 102 – Disaster||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 25, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, March 25||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 25, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast, March 25: The Dog Show||Nick Reynoldson|
|Mar 25, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 25||Sam Holako|
|Mar 24, 14||Madness Reigns Supreme in Contest – Tell Us What Loser Should Do||Steve Gennaro|
|Mar 24, 14||Evaluating possible first-round playoff opponents||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 24, 14||We cheer for fourth-quarter warriors||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 24, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 24||Sam Holako|
|Mar 24, 14||DeRozan and Lowry Sum Up Our Attitudes Towards This Team in One GIF||William Lou|
|Mar 23, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 23 – Tears for Salmons||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 23, 14||Reaction: Raptors 96, Hawks 86||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 23, 14||Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 23 – Amir||Prospect|
|Mar 22, 14||Gameday: Raptors vs Hawks – Sun, Mar 23||Sam Holako|
|Mar 22, 14||PHOTO: The bane of my existence||RR|
|Mar 22, 14||Making Sense of Last Night||William Lou|
|Mar 22, 14||Morning Coffee – Sat, Mar 22||Sam Holako|
|Mar 21, 14||Reaction: Raptors 118, Thunder 119||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 21, 14||Gameday: I get to see Kevin Durant live for the first time||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 21, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 21||Sam Holako|
|Mar 20, 14||5 Things About the NCAA Tournament||Tim W.|
|Mar 20, 14||Greivis Vasquez Rescues Raptors in Return to Bayou||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 20, 14||The Dr Is In Podcast, March 20 – Madness Preview||Steve Gennaro|
|Mar 19, 14||Reaction: Raptors 107, Pelicans 100||William Lou|
|Mar 19, 14||Broken play ends in monster dunk by Ross||RR|
|Mar 19, 14||Gameday: Raptors @ Pelicans, March 19||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 19, 14||Small Mistakes Add Up, Raptors Lose to Hawks in OT 113-118||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 19, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 19||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 18, 14||Reaction: Raptors 113, Hawks 118||William Lou|
|Mar 18, 14||[GIF] Terrence Ross’ Three RRRRRRRims Out||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 18, 14||ESPN Insider: Raptors a “Dark horse to make the NBA Finals”||RR|
|Mar 18, 14||Patrick Patterson Out At Least Another Week With Elbow Injury||William Lou|
|Mar 18, 14||Gameday: Raptors at Hawks||William Lou|
|Mar 18, 14||The Bulldog of Bay Street via @caseybannerman||RR|
|Mar 18, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast, March 18 – Pizza Illuminati||Nick Reynoldson|
|Mar 18, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 18||Sam Holako|
|Mar 17, 14||Toronto Raptors Seek To Gain Respect As Part of Their 2014 Milestones||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 17, 14||Injury Updates: No Concussion for Lowry, Patterson’s Status Unknown||William Lou|
|Mar 17, 14||“We weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way”||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 17, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, March 17 – Striped Injustice||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 17, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Mar 17||Sam Holako|
|Mar 16, 14||Reaction: Suns 121, Raptors 113||Andrew Thompson|
|Mar 16, 14||Raptors Fantasy Forecast, March 16 – St. Patty’s Edition||Prospect|
|Mar 15, 14||Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, March 16||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 15, 14||VIDEO: The Raptor set to return March 23, Stripes to D-League||Blake Murphy|
|Mar 15, 14||Raptors Grab Impressive Memphis Scalp||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 14, 14||[VIDEO] DeMar DeRozan Nails Corner Three, Stares Down Memphis Bench||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 14, 14||Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 86 – Raptors 99: Raptors Grind Out Huge Win||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Mar 14, 14||[GIF] Terrence Ross sprains ankle, looks to be OK||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 14, 14||[GIF] They said Dwane Casey couldn’t draw up out-of-timeout plays, they were wrong||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Mar 14, 14||How Does This Raptors Team Stack Up Against VC’s 00-01 Team?||forumcrew|
I had a dream about Joe Johnson last night.
It was nothing weird, in so far as dreaming about NBA players can be anything but weird. He was just kind of around, and was pointing things out to me as Game 2 of this series was on. How he was able to do so while simultaneously being on the court was unclear, but maybe we hooked up to study footage after the game. He didn’t provide any incredibly insight or anything, he was just kind of there.
I don’t know what to make of it, but I’m going to use it as an introduction and a way to segue into discussing his game because, wait for it…as much as he was in my dream on Saturday, he was the Raptors’ nightmare earlier that day. Nailed it.
We knew that Joe Johnson was going to be a problem in this series. Joke as we may about his credentials as a seven-time All-Star (I mean, look at this) – he averaged 15.8 points with a 15.5 player efficiency rating, and he unforgivably bumped Kyle Lowry from the team – Johnson is still very good at age 32. He shot 40 percent on threes, 70.5 percent at the rim, 50.2 percent between three and 10 feet and 47.3 percent from 10-to-16 feet. Only in the 16-foot-to-3-point area was Johnson even “mediocre,” shooting 35.9 percent. He shot 48.3 percent on drives, 42.1 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts (40.7 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) and 40.7 percent on pull-ups. He’s decent in isolation, great as a pick-and-roll ball handler, excellent posting up, and effective on the move in screens and hand-offs. There’s very little that Joe Johnson doesn’t do well on the offensive end.
And so, like I said, most identified him as a potential match-up problem. Paul Pierce at the power forward spot forces the most tough decisions on coach Dwane Casey, who has to allow Amir Johnson to check him and risk the loss of help defense (not the biggest deal since Brooklyn shoots within five feet less than any other team, though they have four players in the top-100 for points scored on drives per game) or put a wing on him, going small with a lineup the Raptors don’t thrive with (especially if Jonas Valanciunas is going to play this well, because it means Johnson, one of the team’s best players, is relegated to a smaller role). But it’s Johnson who poses the biggest problem of “how do we guard him,” because DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and John Salmons all have their flaws defensively. All caveats due about Synergy play classification, but have a look at where Johnson does his damage compared to how Raptors wings defend:
|Play Type||Johnson O-Rank||DeRozan D-Rank||Ross D-Rank||Salmons D-Rank|
Put DeRozan on Johnson and he’ll post him up, using his 25-pound advantage. Put Ross on him and Johnson will work off ball to create spot-up opportunities, leaning on Ross’ relative inexperience and occasional missteps. Put Salmons on him and Johnson can put him in the side pick-and-roll, where Salmons becomes an unfortunate match-up if switched on to Kevin Garnett or Pierce (and, despite the most balanced ranks, Salmons did a poor job on him on Saturday).
There are options, but none are particularly strong. And so Johnson shot 8-of-13 for 24 points on Saturday, adding four assists, getting to the line and boasting a +15 mark in his 44:30 of playing time. Let’s see how he got his.
11:49 – Johnson takes a hand-off from Paul Pierce that acts as a screen, allowing Johnson to cut to the left elbow. Amir Johnson had slid over to help on the drive, letting Johnson find Pierce for an open three.
7:45 – Johnson poses DeRozan on the left block, takes three dribbles toward the basket and draws a shooting foul.
5:45 – Johnson takes a pass from Deron Williams above the break and immediately goes around a Mason Plumlee screen. John Salmons ends up trailing behind Johnson, having failed to go above the screen effectively. Jonas Valanciunas has dropped below the free throw line to contain the drive, and Kyle Lowry is showing help but stays close enough to Williams that he can recover in the event of a pass. Johnson actually slows down enough for Salmons to get back in front of him but Johnson lowers the shoulder, creating enough room for a one-handed floater in the lane.
5:06 – Johnson gives the ball to Williams under their own basket, Williams drives the length of the court for an and-one and somehow Johnson is gifted an assist. All-Star scoring, that.
4:38 – Johnson gets the ball on the inbounds and uses a Plumlee screen to get a step on Salmons. Valanciunas once again drops to prevent the drive, allowing Salmons to recover. Once again, though, Johnson uses the short-iso situation to bully Salmons, posting him above the circle on the right side and turning around off-glass.
4:00 – Johnson isolates Salmons and then begins to post from the right elbow. DeRozan slides over to double, leaving Shaun Livingston. Lowry panics and leaves Williams to help on the cutting Livingston, leaving Williams open for a three that Lowry’s too late to close out on. You just can’t double-team the post, tough as the match-up is.
7:40 – Johnson uses a down-screen from Williams to create space off of Salmons, curling into the lane for a Kevin Garnett pass. Patrick Patterson helps and contests well but Johnson nails the floater over top of him.
1:10 – Johnson uses a Williams back-screen to lose Salmons on the baseline, leaving him wide open for a pass from Paul Pierce under the bucket.
0:30 – Williams drives and the Raptors collapse, leaving two open shooters in Johnson and Alan Anderson. Luckily, Johnson misses the relatively clean look.
10:00 – Straight post-up for Johnson on DeRozan. Johnson gets the ball on the left block, pushes DeRozan back two steps but misses the turnaround.
8:30 – Johnson gets the ball up top on DeRozan and uses a hard Garnett screen to get into space. Valanciunas corrals the drive but Johnson pulls up from the right elbow and makes. Not much they could do here given the effectiveness of the Garnett screen and the fact that Valanciunas can’t get close to Johnson’s hip or be blown by.
6:45 – Johnson again gets the ball up top on DeRozan and this time uses a Plumlee screen, but DeRozan gets over top of it and is able to get back on Johnson…except that he never gets in front of him, he just stays at his side. Johnson makes yet another floater.
5:14 – Johnson comes off a Plumlee down-screen on DeRozan and gets the ball from Williams, takes two dribbles to the left elbow and pulls up. Pretty clear miscommunication between DeRozan and Valanciunas.
4:00 – Johnson uses a Plumlee screen to try and shake Ross but he does a decent job staying with Johnson. Valanciunas helps, too, and Johnson airballs a floater…into the hands of Plumlee for a basket.
11:10 – Johnson poses DeRozan on the right block late in the clock (we think), pushes off and steps back but misfires.
10:10 – Johnson poses DeRozan just below the left elbow and the Raptors hedge pretty aggressively ready to help, forcing Johnson to the left block. He then takes two dribbles to the center and misses a floater over DeRozan and the helping Chuck Hayes. Bad decision by Johnson not to find a shooter, but can you blame him?
5:05 – Lowry tries to draw a foul on Williams, forcing Patterson to switch onto him. As Lowry tries to recover on Williams, Patterson’s man – Pierce – pops open at the top. DeRozan leaves Johnson in the corner to close out, and Pierce finds him for what seemed like an open three, but Patterson does an excellent job to hustle on to him. Patterson and Valanciunas then seem to miscommunicate, though, giving Johnson way too much space for another floater.
1:45 – Johnson screens for Williams and then pops above the break to receive a pass. DeRozan is only a step behind but Johnson catches him recovering, gaining the first step in the opposite direction. Johnson pulls up rather than drive into Valanciunas’ help and DeRozan gets a hand on the shot.
Johnson primarily worked from post-ups, as is the standard for the Nets’ inside-out offense. By my count, he was 2-for-5 on straight post-ups but was also sent to the line once and dished an assist. He has a very clear strength advantage on DeRozan here, and one thinks he’ll adjust for Game 2 and opt to move DeRozan inward more rather than just creating enough space for a turnaround.
He also did a fair amount of damage off the ball, shooting 3-of-3 off screens or as a cutter and dishing one assist, too. He hit a spot-up three and used another spot-up three situation to drive for a floater.
Finally, Johnson didn’t use the pick-and-roll a great deal, and when he did he often opted to change his plan and go back to posting up. Valanciunas did a nice job sealing off drives but it’s still risky to have him drop to far below the screen because of Johnson’s ability to pull up from mid-range.
Guarding Johnson isn’t an easy proposition, because the Nets are far too balanced to double jim – and we saw what happens when a second defender pays him too much attention – and putting a bigger man on him isn’t all that palatable because Pierce can then pick apart the smaller wing. I’d like to see Ross get more of a chance on Johnson, but the answer is going to have to come at least in part from DeRozan doing a better job. We’ve seen DeRozan get lost when constantly screened in the past but he didn’t do a terrible job when put on the block, so there’s some hope. In any case, Casey will have to adjust the looks he throws at Johnson, because this was simply too easy for him.
As feared, the Amir Johnson was not able to cope with Paul Pierce, and Dwane Casey was forced to make an early change, reducing Johnson’s minutes to a paltry 21, while Patrick Patterson notched 26 minutes in a smaller lineup. For Game 2, the Raptors have a choice of reintroducing their two-big lineup with Valanciunas and Johnson, and try to impose themselves on the Nets, or dance to the Nets’ small-ball tune.
Nets 94, Raptors 87 – Box
Keep calm but panic. Stay calm because even though the Raptors surrendered home-court advantage, it was due to errors that are correctable and first-time jitters. In the case of DeRozan, it wasn’t so much jitters than an earthquake that rocked him to the core, reducing him to Joey Graham levels of effectiveness, or lack there of. Panic because the Nets didn’t play well either and had served up Game 1, if not on a platter, then in a Styrofoam box that required only moderate levels of dexterity to open. Neither team played well, and one played worse.
So ended Game 1 and you hope that if one thing comes out of it, it’s that Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross’s playoff virginity is obliterated and they return to being normal, functional players that can react to seeing a defender by not pulling down their pants and running the other way. Because that is figuratively what happened.
The element of regret and opportunity lost stems from the predictable manner in which the Raptors lost. In the previews we pointed out the distinct possibility of a complication arising when Amir Johnson guarded Paul Pierce, and so complications arose when Amir Johnson guarded Paul Pierce. We suggested, based on statistical and empirical evidence, that the Nets tend to pressure the ball and force turnovers. That ball-control, particularly possessions where DeMar DeRozan’s dribbling were at play, or when he was doubled, need to be carefully thought out, and so the Raptors backcourt combined for 8 turnovers. More importantly, the Raptors never got the first 10 seconds of the possession right which left them scrambling for the last 14. We mused that Joe Johnson was the Net most likely to cause matchup problems, and so Joe Johnson wreaked havoc.
Shaun Livingston’s impact was predicted as well, and Greivis Vasquez – having a fantastic game – felt the pain of guarding someone who you concede inches and quickness to. The list goes on. In fact, I would forgive you for thinking that there wasn’t much preparation done at all, and maybe as we’re keen to forgive DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson’s first-time jitters, so should we forgive Dwane Casey’s. Jason Kidd has a host of veterans to get him through the game, the man doesn’t need to do much coaching since he has about three on the floor at anytime. Dwane Casey does, and he didn’t appear to do much planning for this one.
The 29-21 deficit at the end of the first felt like a reprieve because our main guns were either misfiring or riding the bench. Terrence Ross picked up two early fouls, both avoidable, and found himself replaced by John Salmons. Amir Johnson after being asked to guard Pierce – a daunting task for anyone not used to guarding wings, and very reminiscent of Sam Mitchell asking Andrea Bargnani to guard Hedo Turkoglu - was taken out of the game for Patterson. DeMar DeRozan, whose dribbling had the surety of a shopping-cart with a wonky wheel, was borderline immobile as his lack of ball-handling skill hampered his every movement. He met with the pressure that every scouting report calls for and his response was typically tame, not helped by the Raptors positioning which left him (and other pressured guards) with no option but the screener to pass to – playing right into Brooklyn’s hands. So much for Casey having the advantage on the sidelines.
“They overplayed him. They really denied him the ball. We’ve got to find ways to get a screen and get him more looks, get him open a little sooner, quicker, get him to his sweet spots.”
Usually when 3/5ths of the starting lineup proves to be impotent, the game is lost early. Not so here since Jonas Valanciunas (17 points, 18 rebounds) showed no sign of jitters and came out loose and looking to administer punishment on Kevin Garnett, who he got into foul trouble. The weakness conceded by the Nets – the center in the small-ball lineup – was working well for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry, another starter who came to play and showed no signs of fear, was switched on from the start. It was the Lowry you’ve come to love, he didn’t skip a beat from the regular to the post-season. It was the bench that got the Raptors back in it in the second, notably Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson (now guarding Pierce) who were 4-8 in the frame to restore some sort of belief, and send the Raptors into halftime down only four. The former having a surprising defensive impact in the second as well.
Down only four. At halftime. While committing 11 turnovers and shooting 35%. This was a scoreline you’d accept on the belief that it could have been far worse given how Joe Johnson – the man pointed out as the most dangerous of all in the previews – was playing some of the most intelligent basketball of his career without nary a double-team in sight. He was putting Ross and Salmons on his hip all the way to the rim, using a screen and daring Valanciunas to come out to defend and when he didn’t, drained the short jumper. He posted up DeMar DeRozan with ease, using superior strength and juke-moves to create. He might not have deserved an All-Star berth this season, but he was the MVP of this game.
“They did a good job of double-teaming him. [When Kevin] Garnett was coming across … into his areas, it was almost like a triple-team. We have to make some adjustments for that in order to free him up a little better.”
- Dwane Casey
The adjustments on Johnson came in the second half – too late in my view – as Dwane Casey sent Valanciunas as secondary help. The rotations that followed were mediocre and this is where I consider the Raptors fortunate since the Nets missed some very, very good looks. Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton missed shots that they generally make (Nets were 4-24 from three), and this is what scares me. I do expect Ross, Johnson and DeRozan to rebound, and so I expect the Nets to do the same.
Dwane Casey decided that in order to get DeMar DeRozan out of his slump, he needed to feature him in the offense. That didn’t work, and the increased effort to start possessions with DeRozan as the ball-handler were met with abject failure of the usual kind – poor passes that allow the defense to get set by the time they’re made, turnovers, and low-quality shots. The two-guard lineup was easily the most effective one for the Raptors since between Vasquez and Lowry there’s enough ball-handling to make sure the rock isn’t stuck, which wasn’t the case when DeRozan was featured. The offense continued to labour, though, with DeRozan playing the full quarter.
I’d like to give the defense credit in the area of persistence – the effort never quite dropped, the rebounding was there (+8 for the game); it was just that there was no plan at hand for Joe Johnson and the Raptors were left to improvise, never a high-percentage option in a playoff game. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams were simply using superior ball-handling and intelligent screen-usage (Garnett is still one of the best screeners in the league), and Livingston was using his God-given physical advantage to great effect. We really are in trouble if Williams decides to return to his Utah Jazz-form in this series, let’s hope this game is an anomaly and he goes back to his soul-sucking ways.
The turnovers were ultimately the problem because they resulted in nine more FGAs for the Nets, a huge margin in such a tight game. The Raptors had 17 turnovers, which were of the momentum-killing type and allowed the Nets to maintain a 5-8 point lead, and prevented the Raptors from making the surge that would turn the crowd from excited to mental. The fourth quarter saw Valanciunas subbed for Chuck Hayes, which seems asinine until you realize that Valanciunas was gassed. This was not a tactical substitution but one designed to give a tired man a breather. After his hot start, the Lithuanian maintained a high energy and always looked to be a threat. His turnovers crept up once the Nets doubled on first-dribble, which should prompt an adjustment from Casey that never came – perhaps in the form of an easier outlet for him, maybe a three-point shooter.
“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road. It’s fun when you get to go on the road and beat a team. I think it’s more gratifying than winning at home. I love those moments.”
- Paul Pierce
The Raptors did take the lead on a Greivis Vasquez three, but it was short-lived as Johnson, Garnett and Pierce scored back-to-back-to-back to extend to a six-point game with 2:58 left and the Raptors had little to offer in response. In that spell, the Raptors offense mustered a deep Lowry three after a sputtering possession, Patrick Patterson missing a jumper, Vasquez mssing a contested layup, and a shot-clock turnover. Pierce, guarded by Patterson, was exquisite late in the game and hit two tough jumpers and a layup (on which he travelled) to keep the Raptors at bay.
I don’t like to complain about officiating and won’t do so. I will point out that no defensive fouls were called on Brooklyn in the fourth (to the Raptors’ 6) which was odd since there were plays where there was definite contact. When you reflect upon it, this game might’ve been lost before tip-off due to lack of preparation and 60% of our starting lineup having frazzled nerves. Both are correctable, which is good news.
This series will boil down to how Dwane Casey matches up with the Nets’ smaller lineup. For example, Amir Johnson, if he’s playing against Pierce needs to punish him on every single possession in some way. Giving him the ball 22-feet out in a face-up situation is not ideal, as evidenced by the turnover it resulted in. Some hi-lo plays, with a three-point shooter spaced court, that see Johnson catch and shoot without bringing the ball down might be in order. Tyler Hansbrough, who has featured in smaller lineups during the season, may have to be used. Nando De Colo’s speed and pace could throw the Nets a look they’re not preparing for and give them a dose of their own small-ball medicine. Whatever the case, we can’t go into Game 2 with the same approach and not come out with an 0-2 deficit.
There needs to be some experiments done with a zone because if Livingston and Johnson continue to be problematic, a creative approach may be needed to stop them. Defensively, Johnson needs to be funnelled to the right help – and right help isn’t Jonas Valanciunas winging it, not knowing whether he’s supposed to stay back or come out. The Raptors only forced 8 turnovers, which follows the trend of recent defensive performances – we simply aren’t applying enough pressure in the backcourt to disrupt offensive flow and are not getting enough easy baskets. Everything is a grind and a strain and that is a stressful way to play the game.
The ball is in Casey’s court to make the adjustments, as he’s promised. The question I raise is whether we even needed to play a game to know what the Nets approach will be.
Some general comments about the day:
This series is not over, it just requires some work and the Raptors have to be prepared to do it.
Whether it was the struggling DeMar DeRozan or the slightly sharper Kyle Lowry, the Nets made the Raptors’ stars have to initiate their offence from well beyond the three-point arc. It seems like the natural adjustment for the Raptors will be to take advantage of back-door cuts. “Everything is contested,” Lowry said. “The mental side of it is different because you are not getting the ball in the spots you’re used to getting it at because they’re overplaying, being more physical, denying the ball.”
The Nets were up five with 35 seconds. All they had to do was hit their free throws, and this game would be over. Free throws they needed, free throws they hit. The Nets came into Toronto hoping to steal one on the road, and they did so.
“Wow, this many [members of the media] That’s funny. Guys, I apologize. I used wrong choice of words out there. This thing is really not about me. It’s about the players and the playoffs. Just trying to get the crowd up there rattled. Wrong choice of words. I apologize to kids out there and to the Brooklyn guys. Nothing against them, just trying to get our fans going. That’s it. That’s it. You know how I feel. Thanks guys, thank you. I apologize I won’t answer any questions. But you know how I feel. I don’t like ‘em, but I apologize.”
“I have to be better,” said DeMar DeRozan, who was blanketed by one, two and sometimes three defenders on a difficult day of 3-for-13 shooting and just 14 points. “I just missed shots. I’ll just go out there and take the same shots. “I just had a tough game today and I tried to make it up on the defensive end. We have to adjust to playing against a smaller lineup, an unconventional lineup like they have, and attack it the right way.” The Nets might have something to say about that, however, and it’ll be up to Casey and his staff — and DeRozan’s teammates — to make it easier for him to get going. “They overplayed him,” Kyle Lowry said. “They really denied him the ball. We have to find a way to screen for him, get him open sooner and get him to his sweet spots.”
Ujiri, who made his way to the NBA’s clubby executive suites from the anonymity of Africa, is nothing if not a student of human nature, a man with a Clintonian-ability to connect with the other. He feels Raptors Nation’s pain. Looking out on the sea of red and white, the clear blue sky above them, Ujiri knew they needed a message, something to cling to, the way a thirsty man needs water. He opened a fire hydrant for them, his rallying cry instantly becoming part of Raptors lore. As mild-mannered as Ujiri generally comes across he burns hot and when he gets hot he speaks like a sailor. It’s charming and real and a big reason why only the prudest of prudes – “but what about the kids?!” — could reasonably take offense to his offering. More likely it will be Grade A fodder for the New York tabloids and every other outlet who might otherwise have failed to notice the Raptors were in the playoffs.
The first game of the NBA Playoffs, the biggest stage for the league, came down to a guy on the sideline holding a stopwatch and a second guy keeping a constant eye on it and the action. There’s something incredible about this stage, featuring many men making millions of dollars, devolving into the equivalent of a middle-school game. The announcer, as the shot clock wound down, even said the word “HORN” as a replacement for the actual horn. “I don’t remember if I’ve ever played without a shot clock,” Pierce said, adding a little snark: “Since I’m a dinosaur, it’s been so long.”
I mentioned how the Raptors let this game slip away before. Another reason they have to be kicking themselves right now is because of how truly dreadful the Nets’ bench play was Saturday. The five bench players who saw action Saturday – Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton – went a combined 7-for-23 from the field, including a staggering 0-for-12 from 3-point range. Plumlee played well in his limited minutes, but only played 11:45 because he picked up five fouls. Alan Anderson struggled from behind the 3-point arc, but also did a nice job of getting to the rim for a few layups and chipped in defensively as part of the effort to slow down DeRozan and Ross.
“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road,” said Pierce. “The Truth” finished the game with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, but it was his 4-of-5 fourth quarter that truly told his story. “That’s why we brought these guys in here, their experience,” said Williams. “And you saw it tonight — especially down the stretch.”
They had battled their own inexperience, working through an early and understandable case of playoff jitters, they contended with spotty officiating and even navigated around an arena malfunction that knocked both shot clocks out of commission for most of the second half. For all their shortcomings on a Saturday afternoon they can’t be particularly proud of, the game was in reach until the final few minutes, winning time. That’s when experience comes into play, more so than any other moment, any other game situation. The Nets have it, the Raptors don’t and it’s something you can’t simulate or prepare for. “You just get that feeling,” said Pierce, who has played in more postseason games – now 137 – than anyone on the Nets’ roster. “[I've] been in those situations a number of times. I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarter, down the stretch, in playoff settings. I’ve been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine so I just try to stay calm.”
A visibly frustrated DeRozan only attempted two field goals in the fourth quarter. “It’s one game, man” DeRozan told a journalist who asked if he expects to bounce back in Game 2. “I know I’m going to go back and watch the film tomorrow and see what kinds of things we can do better on both ends of the court. Without a doubt (I’ll do better in Game 2). I just had a tough game today.”
It was nothing the Nets did to him in their 94-87 Game 1 first-round playoff victory, DeRozan said. It was all on him. He took the stance used by every player since they nailed up a peach basket — which could have blended in perfectly Saturday at Air Canada Centre, what with the shot clock becoming a guy with a stopwatch and another with an airhorn. But that’s another story. This one was about DeRozan missed shots — his first eight in fact. He finished 3-of-13 after making his first at 2:34 of the third quarter. He collected 14 points, including eight at the line but most of the days, if it weren’t a layup or free throw, chances are it was a miss. And while, yes, he misfired, credit the Nets’ defense that sent waves at him every time he touched the ball. “They overplayed him,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “They really denied him the ball. We’ve got to find ways to screen him and get him more looks, get him open a little bit sooner quicker and get him to his sweet spots.”
So apparently the time machine Mikhail Prokhorov paid to invent is working. Paul Pierce wore the cape for Brooklyn late in the fourth quarter to take Game 1, channeling those old Celtics runs. The Nets’ most-discussed edge entering the series was experience, and it proved the difference. Late in the game, Brooklyn had all the wisdom while Toronto lacked poise. Toronto settled for bad looks and was far too generous in turning the ball over. The Raptors got nothing from DeMar DeRozan in his playoff debut (3-of-13 shooting), and the Raptors stand no chance if their All-Star doesn’t get it going.
Forward Amir Johnson supported his GM after the Raptors’ 94-87 Game 1 loss. “He’s a very passionate man,” he said. “We definitely have his back. I’m with him 100 percent. If he said f— ‘em, we all say f— ‘em.”
Toronto – the only place on earth where the front office executive and mayor are tougher than rap star? — Steve Popper (@StevePopper)
“That’s why they (Nets) brought me here,’’ he screamed.
As the title says, Game 1 is over (reaction here) and people need get things off their chest, so here goes. A Raptors Weekly Podcast with Zarar will follow tomorrow, until then:
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -12
Got predictably torn apart by Pierce in the first, as Casey chose to stick with the two-big lineup, at least to start. There was a shocking paucity of pick ‘n roll play with him going at Pierce, or anyone for that matter. Instead, we saw him get a post-up 20-feet out which ended up in a turnover. He’s a guy who feeds off of others, and when others aren’t doing their thing, his production takes a dip. He’s been getting a lot of love in the press lately, which I thought was a bit over the top. I expected him to at least come out with the same energy as Lowry, but nothing doing.
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -1
I can forgive his first foul to jitters but the second was silly (knowing he already had one) and the third (picked up on a late rotation) was downright unforgivable. It also meant that we saw way too much of John Salmons which should be punishable by jail-time. Defensively, got stuck on Johnson’s hips too often and did a poor job of dealing with Deron Williams on switches for the most part.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 35 MIN | 7-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 18 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 6 TO | 17 PTS | -17
We got him involved from the outset which was great as he was key to digging us out of that early 12-point lead. He missed some makeable shots off of offensive rebounds and pick ‘n rolls, but overall a solid game. Was placed in help situations on Joe Johnson where he didn’t fare well, but then again Johnson is a pro.
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 44 MIN | 7-18 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 22 PTS | -12
Amazing, what can I even say? Unfazed by the occasion and playing at full-steam for every second he was in there. Without him this is a blowout. That is all. Emotionally, he was at a different level than his teammates and has to feel aggrieved at their efforts.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 3-13 FG | 8-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | -10
Shaun Livingston had him in a straitjacket and made Vince Carter’s playoff debut look awesome. The shaky dribble was accompanied by timidity which meant his suspect ball-handling kept him strictly on the perimeter, and once he missed his first couple jumpers, he missed makeable shots too. He turned into a black-hole, not because he was ball-hogging but because his lack of dribbling skills hampered him from escaping even mild-mannered Nets traps. Also, any offensive play which started as DeRozan as the ball-handler was doomed.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +7
I thought he’d be used a bit more in a small-ball lineup, but nothing doing.
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +5
Did well to supply energy off the bench and neutralize Pierce early, but struggled guarding him late. He’s obviously the guy we have to go with in a small-ball lineup, but when you’re looking at him to save you, there’s something else wrong (ahem, DeRozan). Offensively, I thought he was adequate and relatively composed given the occasion.
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3
Was given some playing time so that JV could be spelled a rest. Boxed out adequately on a defensive possession.
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9
OK, since he’s basically an offensive void I’m going to assume his job is to defend. Therefore, I’m to judge him on two things: 1) his defense which was quite poor and didn’t serve to slow down Williams or Johnson, and 2) his veteran steadiness, which was non-existent because every time he dribbles the ball I have to take Zantac for my heartburn. It’s gotten to the point where I’m not sure what he does well, if anything. I’m sure things will turn for the better (they can’t get much worse), but in this game he was null and void.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 29 MIN | 5-11 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +8
Solid game for a guy who’s getting his playoff feet wet. Composed on offense and even forced some turnovers on defense (one through a backcourt trap!). Yes, some of those shots aggravated you to no end, however, consider that DeRozan and Ross were flops and the situation almost demanded that he try to carry more of the load.
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3
Another guy who I would’ve liked to have seen more in a small-ball lineup, given how poorly our offense was functioning.
Too late to react to the Pierce/Johnson matchup and unable to get DeRozan steadied through some set plays. The guy obviously needed help and Casey saw it fit to start possessions with DeRozan ball-handling – not good. Recognized that the Raptors needed to help on Joe Johnson too late (in the second half, believe it or not) which burned us and got Johnson going.
Masai Ujiri. The best.
But actually, FUCK BROOKLYN
I don’t know whether or not you’ve heard about it, but the Raptors are in the playoffs. It’s kind of a big deal. The city is buzzing with anticipatory anticipation. That last sentence isn’t a typo, I assure you. Poorly written, perhaps, but not a mistake. For while fans of the Raptors are falling all over themselves with excitement, the city as a whole is waiting for a couple of wins before it jumps on board. Toronto is one of the biggest bandwagon sports towns that way. They’re like overly cautious investors who want to wait for a sign of a sure thing before jumping on board. Just look at last year’s first round playoff “run” by the Leafs. When the Leafs drew the top rated Bruins, people were excited(ish) that the Leafs made the playoffs, but that excitement was tempered by the expectation of a quick series loss. By the time the Leafs had stretched the series to 7 games people were ready to tattoo blue maple leafs across their foreheads (Let’s not dwell on how all of that ended. I know I’ve already forgotten. What are we even talking about?…). The same was especially true for the Blue Jays, who have always enjoyed support but have never really been a big deal. Except of course for that 92-93 stretch when they won back-to-back World Series and they were the biggest thing that had ever happened to this city. Those guys were rock stars. Third grade kids growing up in otherwise casual sports fan houses knew the names of all three starting outfielders. Joe Carter got a sandwich at McDonald’s named after him. Roberto Alomar became a juice magnate. Who doesn’t remember which juice it is that has the McCain punch? They were the BIGGEST deal. If you were born in the mid eighties in southern Ontario like I was, you very well might have grown up thinking that Toronto was more of a baseball than hockey crazed place. For a few years, it felt that way.
And in 2001, it almost happened with Vince Carter and the Raptors too. That playoff run was a shared excitement that hasn’t been matched since for Raptors fans. Everybody was on board. There’s a joke to be made here that 20 years of fandom with one 2nd round playoff loss being the farthest we’ve ever gotten kind of makes us the 40 year-old virgin of sports fans. There’s a truth to that. But that’s also a part of why this entire city is timbering on the precipice of bandwagon insanity. This city has so much (potential for)enthusiasm for it’s sports teams. But they’ve been hurt before. Give them a reason to believe though, and the entire GTA will be deked out in purple. Kyle Lowry’s name, once rarely known to sports fan civilians, will suddenly be overheard in the lineups of thousands and thousands of Tim Horton’s from Oshawa to Aurora, Uxbridge, Ancaster and Orillia. Mark my words; if the Raptors get two games up in this series, millions of people are suddenly going to turn into the ‘da bears’ superfans from SNL. Chris Farley is our mayor already. And you know what? I couldn’t possibly be more excited about it.
(The everybody being superfans bit, not the Tommy Boy as mayor one. That one dances a little too close to the line between tragedy and hilarity for me, with neither one probably being what you’re looking for in a leader. Amir Johnson for Mayor?)
Match-ups to watch in the series:
Let’s get into the basketball nerdery of things here.
I’ll let TSN explain it:
The Raptors, who finished the season with the same record as the Bulls, lost the coin flip tie breaker with Chicago this afternoon — as a result, Toronto will pick 20th in the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26th. The Bulls will select 19th.
Last time we lost a coin flip we got Terrence Ross (over Harrison Barnes I always presumed), so this may not be so bad. Here are the 20th picks from the last 10 drafts:
|2013||CHI||Tony Snell||University of New Mexico|
|2010||SAS||James Anderson||Oklahoma State University|
|2009||UTA||Eric Maynor||Virginia Commonwealth University|
|2007||MIA||Jason Smith||Colorado State University|
|2006||NYK||Renaldo Balkman||University of South Carolina|
|2005||DEN||Julius Hodge||North Carolina State University|
|2004||DEN||Jameer Nelson||Saint Joseph’s University|
The guy currently slated to go 20th is K.J. McDaniels, a SF from Clemson, Junior who DX describes as:
K.J. McDaniels has emerged from obscurity to develop into one of the best all-around players in college basketball, helping his Clemson squad to a 8-6 record in the ACC thus far. McDaniels has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long, ranking very highly among top-100 prospects in a variety of categories, including points per-40 pace adjusted (6th overall), rebounding (4th among wing prospects), steals (4th among wings), and blocks (1st among wings and 8th overall).
Small tidbit from Mike Mazzeo of Nets Report in his article recapping Jeff Van Gundy’s analysis of the series. Deron Williams was asked about his matchup with Kyle Lowry and described it as the key point in the series:
“He’s tough. Very aggressive on both ends of the floor. Definitely the key is to try to contain him. He’s just a shot-maker. He’s making shots right now from everywhere.”
As the Eastern Conference scout in the article mentioned, Lowry has outplayed Williams this year. Here’s the Basketball Reference comparison for this season:
They can worry about out PG, but we really aren’t worried about theirs, are we? Deron Williams is the least of the “big three” the Raptors are concerned about, in fact, Shaun Livingston is probably ahead of him on the worry-meter. I don’t necessarily see Lowry as the key to the series, he’s going to get his points and have his impact, much like Joe Johnson will get his. It’s that secondary production from guys like Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez that, when going up against the Nets bench, could swing the pendulum. There’s more detailed tactical and statistical analysis of the series, including a chat with the enemy.
Numbers never lie, or so the saying goes.
Over the next few days, we here at Raptors Republic will bombard your eyeballs with a plethora of series previews. This edition will analyze the match-up through an empirical perspective. That means this will be the only preview that won’t feature the phrase “veteran playoff experience”, except when mentioned in jest. Your convenient narratives will be discarded, doused in kerosene, and lit ablaze like a hibachi. No intangibles will be considered — it’s only numbers from herein.
Much like the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets’ aggregate numbers can’t be taken at face-value because their season encompasses two different teams. As everyone here understands, the Raptors are a different team since the Rudy Gay trade. Similarly, the Nets have been a different team since the turn of the calendar.
Despite great fanfare, the Nets sputtered to start the season. A slew of injuries, and a consistent bout of coaching turmoil ultimately culminated in a 10-21 start to the season in 2013. Flip the calendar to 2014, and the Nets have suddenly flourished. Aside from their recent two-game mini-tank job, the Nets won 35 games against 15 losses in 2014.
The change was simple, if not unexpected. When All-Star center Brook Lopez went down with a broken right foot, the Nets were forced to scrap their previous game-plan, and adopt a whole new identity as a small-ball team. Only, it’s not small-ball; it’s long-ball, as Devin Kharpetian of The Brooklyn Game so aptly described. If you were to read any scouting report on the Nets, make sure it’s Devin’s.
Paul Pierce’s seamless transition into the starting power forward slot has changed the Nets’ landscape entirely. Pierce has the bulk to match-up with power forwards, and has the rebounding ability to reasonably control the defensive glass. However, Pierce at the four presents the biggest threat on offense. On a smaller scale, Pierce is like Carmelo Anthony. He’s too big to be guarded by most threes — Ross is giving up nearly 40 pounds — and he’s too quick for most fours, even at the ripe old age of 36.
The success of the long-ball strategy is reflected in the lineup data. The five-man unit of Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Mason Plumlee and Deron Williams are a +4.8 points per 100 possessions in 284 minutes played this season. Switch Garnett in for Plumlee, and it bumps up to +17.8. Granted,given the Nets’ injuries this season, no unit has logged enough minutes which limits the ability to draw any solid conclusions, but one thing is clear — their long-ball lineup is dangerous.
Conversely, the Raptors’ starting five have logged a total of 716 minutes, which ranks 6th in the NBA for most minutes played this season, and posted a respectable +3.2 points per 100 possessions. The added minutes played, in theory, gives Toronto’s unit the advantage in experience and cohesion.
For the most part, Dwane Casey is a creature of habit when it comes to his lineups, which is a kind way of saying he’s stubborn and loyal to a fault. It’s likely that the two starting units — save for the inevitable swap of Salmons for Ross — will battle head-to-head for the majority of the minutes. A head-t0-head statistical profile is listed below. All numbers are expressed in terms of units per 100 possessions relative to league average. The exception is FG%, which is measured in percentage points.
The mismatches are immediately obvious. The Raptors should have a significant advantage over the Nets in rebounding, which makes sense given the Nets’ small-ball lineups. Similarly, the Raptors run a more pass-heavy offense, as evidenced by their edge in assists. However, the Nets will likely compensate by winning the battle for possessions, as they cause more turnovers (via steals), and feature four steady ball-handlers on the court, thereby limiting their own turnovers.
The difference between the two teams is also borne out in the season-long aggregate numbers. As outlined in the lineup data comparison, the Raptors hold should dominate on the glass. The plotted points are NBA rank in which smaller is better.
And before you ask, the post-Gay numbers for the Raptors, and 2014 figures for the Nets is posted below. For the most part, the same trends hold true, except the Nets’ defensive rebounding numbers have improved significantly.
Based on the eye-test, the improved rebounding is a concerted strategy by the Nets to forgo leaking out in transition in favor of securing stay misses. Similarly, the Nets also favor eschewing offensive rebounding, because aside from Mason Plumlee, the Nets’ slow and plodding bigs need a head start with back-peddling on defense.
For a deeper look, let’s dive into the synergy stats numbers. A word of precaution: the play-type categorization is somewhat questionable, because after all, what is a play? For example, say the Raptors use a pick-and-roll to set up an entry pass for Jonas in the post, who then draws a double-team, so he kicks it out to an open shooter on the perimeter. Is that a pick-and-roll, post-up, or a spot-up? According to Synergy, it’s a spot-up, which is to say the plays are categorized by result, not process.
The difference in the Nets and Raptors’ play-styles is partially illustrated in the chart above. The Nets like to run plays for Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in pick-and-roll scenarios, which is usually set up by their wing players — most notably Livingston — operating in the high post. On the other hand, the Raptors also run pick-and-rolls, but it’s usually as a means to set up spot-ups and post-ups. Lesson here? Exercise caution when extrapolating from Synergy data.
Finally, just to wrap this up, let’s lay out Vegas’ thoughts on the match-up. At the time of writing (04/17/14), the Nets are 15/1 to win the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are 20/1. As for Game One, the Raptors are -2.0 favorites at home, with the over/under set at 194. More money (53%/47%) is being played on Brooklyn than Toronto, so it appears to be a favorable line to bet if you’re bullish on the Raptors’ chances. Or not? I don’t understand how betting works because I’m not a degenerate gambler.
Prediction: Raptors in 7. The two teams are pretty equal.
Statistical support from NBA stats, basketball-reference, 82games.com, Synergy Sports and NBA Media Central
Will will follow up with a detailed statistical analysis of the series a little later in the afternoon, so I’m left to focus on some tactical elements of the Nets series, and how the Raptors have to excel in order to progress.
Adjusting to Small Ball Lineups
Two of the most used lineups by the Nets happen to be Williams-Livingston-Johnson-Pierce-Plumlee/Garnett. It concedes size in the frontcourt for ball-handling and size in the backcourt. The Raptors like to play Valanciunas and Johnson together, which means that if Valanciunas guards the biggest guy on the court (i.e., Plumlee or Garnett), it results in Johnson guarding Pierce. This can be problematic on defense and beneficial on offense if Johnson. The question is whether Casey retains Johnson in this matchup or gives the more nimble Patterson a crack at guarding Pierce, reducing the latter’s quickness advantage. My view is that having Johnson guard Pierce is too risky because it moves our best interior defender away from said interior. The Nets can exploit this quite easily and ask questions of Jonas Valanciunas’ help defense. Like all things in life, this isn’t entirely black and white, and Casey has to find the right balance of when to use Patterson and Johnson in small-ball lineups. One possible route to take is to have Patterson guard Pierce and shift Johnson to the center, leaving out Valanciunas. Of course, pulling our biggest interior threat isn’t great, but nobody says this has to be a 48-minute move. Finding the right balance of matchups by weighing them against fatigue, momentum and game flow is where coaches earn their money, and Dwane Casey is in the on-deck circle.
Use of Zone
30% of Nets shots are threes (compared to 28.5% for the Raptors) which is good for third in the league. They shoot 37% from three, meaning that it’s a good chunk of their offense. I posted a GIF from one the games with them this year showing examples of two poor close-outs on one possession. If that’s the sort of defense the Raptors intend to play, then they may as well raise the white flag. One strategy to counter their three-point shooting is the use of a 1-2-2 zone which does well to cover the perimeter. A matchup zone could also be effective, but leaves the threat of cutters, and given that the Raptors help/shot-blocking defense is left wanting at times, might be too risky. Essentially, over a seven-game series, Dwane Casey needs to have a few cards up his sleeve that give the Nets different looks. If he trots out with the same sort of defense, even a coach like Jason Kidd in conjunction with their veterans will figure out how to successfully attack. It’s no coincidence that the Raptors defense falling on tough statistical times (allowing more than 103 points in April and a free-falling defensive rating) has coincided with reduced use of zone defense by Dwane Casey, who previously had used it to good effect to throw off teams coming out of quarters. Let’s revisit that again.
Defend Without Fouling
In a series where superstar calls are likely to go the other way, the Raptors have to ensure that they defend without fouling. The worst situation for the Raptors could be if they get into the penalty early in the quarter, and the Nets shoot free throws through Pierce and Johnson’s well-executed fakes. This could prove disastrous as it slows the pace, which favors the older Nets far more than the Raptors, and turns this into a grind. How well John Salmons, Terrence Ross, and perhaps Landry Fields do to contest without fouling is going to be a key factor in the series. Pierce averaged a career-low 4.1 FTs this season – the Raptors have to keep him under that number.
Get to the Line
For the most part, the playoffs are a half-court game and in that setting a team has to grind out possessions even when the offense isn’t operating at a high efficiencies. Read that as DeMar DeRozan being counted on to bail the team out when the offense is sputtering, and he can do that only if he’s able to get to the line consistently. The onus here isn’t on DeMar DeRozan to drive in one-on-one situations, as that is not his strength. It’s up to Dwane Casey to structure the offense and plays where DeRozan is in good positions to catch hand-offs, timely passes coming off curls, that see him going towards the rim with three-point shooters adequately positioned. DeRozan, for his part, has to realize that the officials will be swallowing the whistle on the same plays where he got calls in the regular season. This is going to be tough to come to terms with, but once he accepts this, he’ll realize that he’ll have to have an extra burst in his drives to get the result he desires.
Exploit the Center
The Raptors may be short on center depth, but they do have a center advantage. Yes, Jonas Valanciunas presents a problem for any of Plumlee, Garnett, Collins and Blatche. He’s done very well to improve the awareness in his offensive moves over the last month, and the Raptors will need to make sure that he’s well-fed. Here’s the catch though: he is likely struggle to start the series due to nerves and the magnitude of the occasion, or perhaps the Nets recognize that sending a second defender throws him off and Valanciunas get flustered. It’s how Casey responds to such tactics that will have far-reaching results. Whether it be sending the helper’s man down the middle as a cutter, or moving the three-point shooter over by a few degrees – the Raptors have to make sure that Valanciunas is a well that they keep drawing water form – either through Valanciunas scores or Valanciunas-initiated offense.
The Shaun Livingston Problem
He’s tall, he has a mid-range game, and he can handle the ball. He averaged 10 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds against the Raptors this season. Those are above his seasonal averages of 8.3, 3.2, and 3.2 with good reason. He poses a matchup issue for Kyle Lowry because he’s very comfortable operating out of the post, and using screens to set himself up for open space around the elbows, from which he can drive or pull-up. The Raptors will have some decisions to make regarding Livingston, but ultimately it’ll come down to whether they’re comfortable with Livingston taking on a scoring role at the expense of being a facilitator. The Raptors may have the size at PG to stick with Livingston through someone like Julyan Stone, but playing the latter is tantamount to having an offensive void at one position, which Casey cannot risk. If the Nets are featuring a Williams-Livingston backcourt, then the Raptors matchups work themselves out with Lowry guarding Williams. If it’s Livingston alone at the point, that’s when you have to consider switching the shorter Lowry on Joe Johnson, tempting the Nets to operate out of an inefficient guard-post, and stick someone like Terrence Ross on Livingston and live with the consequences.
Brooklyn is the third worst defensive rebounding team in the league, only ahead of the Lakers and Milwaukee. The Raptors rank 11th in offensive rebounding rate. Put the two together and you’d surmise that this is an area where the Raptors have an edge. That edge, however, depends entirely on whether the lineup has Valanciunas and Johnson present, which is up for debate given the Nets’ small-ball tendencies. From a personnel perspective, the Raptors have enough to get away with a lower shooting percentage by dominating the offensive glass. For example, DeMar DeRozan’s shooting percentages dipped from January to February, February to March, and March to April. He shot 41.6% in April and at 17.8 FGAs takes the most shots on the team. To withstand poor shooting nights by DeRozan, or Terrence Ross due to jitters, or simply surviving an off night from Kyle Lowry, offensive rebounds are critical. Conceding offensive rebounds consistently is often a psychological blow for teams as it’s a deflating event that prompts the defense to start from scratch, which is exactly what the Raptors should aim to do. If the Raptors are able to get more possessions through their perceived offensive rebounding edge, it affords them to play at a slower pace and increases the margin of error for shooting, both very valuable advantages.
Reacting to Ball Pressure
The Nets are third-best in the NBA at forcing turnovers (MIA, WAS). They can apply pressure through Livingston, and have sound defensive players in Kirilenko and Garnett. Possessions are the currency of the NBA and the Raptors cannot afford to have poor possessions that yield low-quality shots, or worse, turn it over. Whether it be guys like Alan Anderson pressuring in the backcourt by playing DeRozan tight, or Garnett trying to get away with swipes against Valanciunas, the Raptors have to be cognizant of what the Nets are trying to do and anticipate their defense. Easier said than done, and requires a ridiculous amount of tape-viewing to get right. A good place to start might be to reduce the amount of ball-handling guys like DeRozan and Johnson have to do, both are poor ball-handlers and you can bet that when they’re dribbling, the Nets are smelling steals. The Raptors do have Lowry, De Colo, and Vasquez that can handle the rock and they should be used as such.
The Stretch Four
You can throw any seasonal bench numbers out the window here because the playoffs are about matchups and more specifically, mismatches. Mirza Teletovic scares me in the same sense that Bostjan Nachbar did in 2006-07 – the Raptors have generally had trouble with stretch fours and Amir Johnson, for me, cannot cover the position well because he’s more comfortable staying inside and meeting offensive players rather than going out and covering them. Patterson, who like Teletovic comes off the bench, is a like-for-like counter and which big man has a greater impact off the bench could decide a game or two so in the series. Teletovic, when combined with guard like Livingston, can move without the ball well and has enough of a drive/shoot game to give the Raptors defense something other than their “big three” to worry about. The Raptors can’t afford to let their bench have big games and the second unit, led by Vasquez at the point, has to maintain enough offensive throughput to cancel out the contributions of the likes of Teletovic.
Passing Lane Accuracy
The foundational elements of the Raptors offense are good screen-setting and ball movement, which is a forced on and a by-product of not having a star player on the team. This is much different than teams where reliance on a particular player to put pressure on the defense and create off of that is the norm. In order for the Raptors offense to function fluidly, they need to be able to accurate, in-rhythm passes. The Nets happen to be third in the NBA in steals and the Raptors are bottom-third in conceding turnovers to steals. The Nets are excellent at ball denial in the post and perimeter, which means that in order for the Raptors to make inbound passes, post-passes to Valanciunas, flares to Ross, hand-offs to DeRozan, or even a simple point-to-wing after a down-screen, the Raptors have to have multiple options/angles to execute simple passes.
Let’s go Raps!
OK, they took down the other shirt too after it had 100+ sales, this after they had taken the previous one down after 200+ sales. I can’t even fathom what the “copyright infringement” is this time, but given that we have a playoff series to cover, we’ve decided to shift our attention to that. We certainly don’t have time to deal with stuff like this as we’re not staffed with a bunch of lawyers. We’ll relieve their legal team of weekend work and have this rather nefarious copyright claim investigated further, and come back after the playoffs with more good stuff.
Deepest apologies to the hundreds of people who bought the shirt, you have already been refunded in full. Back to basketball coverage.
It’s finally here. After a long, six-year wait, there is Toronto Raptors playoff basketball to break down.
Because they basically threw up their hands over the season’s last few games, the Brooklyn Nets fell to sixth in the Eastern Conference to draw the Raptors. Did they tank for it, or did they just not prefer one outcome to another and let the chips land where they may? It doesn’t really matter, and considering Toronto’s seed was up in the air, too, it seems more likely Brooklyn just legitimately didn’t care, regardless of what Andray Blatche may be saying.
There’s plenty to be excited about in this series, but Zarar is going to touch down this afternoon with some of the key storylines in this series (and then Trilliam will come through with a stat breakdown for the nerdz). If you want a high-level take that leans on the opinions of William Lou and four others of relatively high intelligence, check out the ESPN 5-on-5 preview. If you want opinions from me and four basketball bros far smarter than myself, stay right here on this page.
To help set the stage for the series, I exchanged questions with Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game and enlisted the outsider opinion of three other very smart basketball bros. You shouldn’t take Devin’s words lightly – he’s a bright dude, and The Brooklyn Game does an excellent job of removing bias from their analysis of the Nets. I wish I could say the same for my answers, but what can you do?
Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game
Blake: Like the Raptors only later, the Nets underwent a huge mid-season turnaround. At a glance, the decision to utilize smaller lineups, specifically with Paul Pierce playing more power forward, was a key. What changed for this team when the calendar flipped over to 2014?
Devin: That’s the major difference. Ironically enough, the Nets performed their best once their best player got hurt, switching Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup for Brook Lopez and moving everyone but Williams “up” a position. It spread the floor and allowed Garnett to play at center, which has made a huge difference in their defensive efficiency. I call it “longball,” not “smallball.” Here’s more info on that.
Blake: Most likely double-technical: Tyler Hansbrough and Andray Blatche, Tyler Hansbrough and Kevin Garnett or Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Hansbrough?
Devin: Hansbrough and Garnett, easily. Blatche isn’t a technical magnet and probably won’t even play enough minutes with Mason Plumlee usurping his spot in the rotation. Garnett leads the Nets with nine technical fouls on the season despite missing 28 games and playing just 20 minutes per contest. If he doesn’t get into a scuffle with Hansbrough, that’ll be more surprising.
Andrew Unterberger of The 700 Level (and he’s kind of, tangentially, a co-worker, I guess) shared his thoughts in 100 words:
Well, it wasn’t the series I was hoping for on either end–wanted that Bulls-Nets rematch of last year’s epic first-rounder, and thought Lowry/DeMar vs. Wall/Beal had sneaky classic potential–but it’ll do. Hansbrough vs. Garnett will be a bloodbath, Kidd and Casey have their history, and best of all, Kyle Lowry gets to avenge his February snub in favor of Seven-Time All-Star Joe Johnson in grandiose fashion. Clearly, this was the matchup the Nets wanted, and while I think the Raps will give Brooklyn all they can handle, with the way Brooklyn’s been playing since the calendar turned–when they’re actually trying to win, anyway–it’s hard to pick against the playoff-tested Nets vets in this one.
Real talk, though: Who do you think Vince Carter is rooting for?
Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game
Blake: Kevin Garnett averaged just 20.5 minutes and 6.5 points and played sparingly down the stretch, though the defense seemed to come around when he began playing more center. What do you expect from Garnett in this series?
Devin: I expect him to play more minutes, despite Kidd saying he’ll go with the same rotation. It’s the playoffs, after all. This is why they traded for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to lead them in the postseason. 25-30 minutes is my estimate, depending on Plumlee’s foul trouble and Blatche’s level of interest defensively. He’s also their defensive X-Factor — he deters drives to the basket and is by far their best big pick-and-roll/HORNS defender. If the Raptors aren’t scoring in the paint, he’s why.
Blake: What player on the Raptors poses the biggest match-up problem for the Nets on the defensive end?
Devin: Lowry. Duh. He’s an incredible scorer and he’s given the Nets fits in all four games this season. Deron Williams can be a good defender in spurts when engaged, but Lowry’s just too quick and strong for Williams to contain him by himself. They could switch Livingston onto Lowry, but then you’ve got to put Williams on either Ross or DeRozan, which I don’t see happening.
Blake: Number of interesting things Jason Kidd says in this series: over/under 0.5?
Devin: I’m assuming he slips up after one loss and taking the over.
Jared Dubin of just about everywhere – but specifically Grantland, Bloomberg, and Hardwood Paroxysm – shared his thoughts in 100 words:
Remember in December, when we were all making jokes about how bad the Atlantic Division was? Fun times. A Rudy Gay trade, a Brook Lopez injury, and an Indiana slump later, and both Atlantic teams have a pretty legitimate argument that they’re the second best team in the East, regardless of where they’re seeded. This particular series will likely come down to how Toronto handles Brooklyn’s length on both sides of the ball. The Nets’ “long ball” alignment is challenging for a lot of teams, but Toronto has the size on the perimeter to match up with them pretty well. The key match-up, to me, is Paul Pierce and Amir Johnson. Pierce needs to pull Amir out of the lane so he can’t play help D on the Livingston and Joe Johnson post-ups, and Amir needs to victimize Pierce both on the block and in pick and roll situations. Whoever wins that match-up, wins the series, I think.
Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game
Devin: Despite the fact that they’re the sixth seed, some fans wanted the Raptors matchup because they feel more confident than against the Bulls. Do you think the Raptors are getting undersold? They don’t have a lot of stars, so how are they so good?
Blake: I’m not sure undersold is the right way to put it, because the Bulls are a pretty terrifying match-up for any of the five-through-seven seeds. I certainly wouldn’t want to play them. With that said, there are two factors that seem to make people shrug their shoulders at the Raptors: their best player is ‘just’ Kyle Lowry, and they’re the Raptors. But they’re very good, and Lowry is excellent, even if that fact isn’t universally known. You don’t post the best record in an entire conference, no matter how bad, over four-plus months without some serious talent. It’s more of a system-based, whole-better-than-the-sum-of-their-parts thing, but they’re also underrated defensively and have two, maybe three (Jonas Valanciunas) guys who can be trusted to score when needed.
Devin: It seems like the Raptors immediately got better once Rudy Gay left the picture. Was it that simple?
Blake: At the time, kind of. He was using almost 31 percent of the team’s possessions and had a true shooting percentage of -31, so simply re-distributing those possessions more efficiently was bound to help. Of course, Gay isn’t that bad and was bound to regress (as he did in Sacramento), but the near-instant regression for the Raptors and the introduction of a more holistic brand of ball reinvigorated the team and, just as important as the Gay trade, kept the Raptors from blowing things up further. I could write 5,000 words on this but, in short, Gay’s removal allowed for a bunch of marginal gains (DeRozan improving, Lowry with a bigger role, Ross/Valanciunas development) that added up to be a big deal.
Devin: Who should the Nets be afraid of that might not show up on the first page of a scouting report?
Blake: It depends on how good Lawrence Frank’s daily reports are, I guess. I’d assume the Nets are very familiar with the Raptors, having played them four times but what they may not realize is that since they last saw Toronto, Valanciunas has turned a major corner offensively. Since the March 10 loss in Brooklyn, he’s averaged 14.9 points and 10 rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting, up from 10.2 and 8.5 on 51.4 percent. He’s found his stride in terms of post-up offense and is finally making good decisions as the dive-man with consistency.
Devin: Despite leading his team to a division win, there’s not a lot of national press for Dwane Casey. What’s the skinny on him as a coach? Does he deserve more publicity?
Blake: Casey is tough to evaluate given what’s transpired the past three years. In his first year, the team was tanking, something Bryan Colangelo later admitted to. Still, Casey coaxed a No. 14 defense out of a team that gave Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Gray and Gary Forbes a combined 5,303 minutes. Last year, he did an awful job, but the team also underwent two pretty major turnovers, and the offense made strides. This year, the team is top-10 on both ends of the floor. So he’s now shown an ability on each end twice in three years. What do you make of that? Nothing from the numbers, really. He’s clearly got an effective plan when it comes to defense, and he understands what his players can and can’t do (except for John Salmons). Like any coach, he has issues, like offensive creativity in close games and playing John Salmons 6.6 minutes per fourth quarter. Is this enough words to say “I’m still not entirely sold, but I like him and, at worst, think he’s a solid defensive coach who needs a strong offensive assistant?”
Michael Pina of Fox Sports, True Hoop Network, Grantland, etc, shared his thoughts in 100 words:
A Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors matchup is too juicy for the first round. Both teams are worthy of a spot in the Conference Finals, and both have a quality offense and acceptable defense. Both can go small, and both have capable bench players—ranging from Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson to Andre Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko—who fill their holes and know their place.
The Raptors deserve home-court for their awesome regular season, but this series is as good a candidate as any to go the distance, and even in their advanced age it’s so difficult to bet against Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Kevin Garnett in a seventh game. Experience is far from the only factor, but it must be accounted for.
Series Preview Q&A with The Brooklyn Game
Blake: What’s your prediction for the series, and what’s the key reason?
Devin: Let’s put it this way: I expect the Nets to have a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 at home. If they can close out, I’ll take them in 6. But if they don’t, I expect the Raptors to win a Game 7 at home. The Raptors have flown under the radar all season, but they’re a deep, talented team with players that know their roles and execute. It’ll be a tough, close series either way, and I think whichever team wins at home in the last two games is the one that’ll move on.
Prediction for the series… Who you taking, and why?
Blake: Raptors in seven, because WE THE NORTH dammit. I think the experience factor is apparent, though exaggerated. I think the teams are razor-close in terms of overall quality, especially when looking at just their play since the turn of the new year and their four meetings. I think Kyle Lowry is the best player in the series. And I think I’d be a bad fan to not pick the Raptors in a series so close.
There will be series preview coverage all throughout the day here on Raptors Republic (pieces at 9, 11, 1 and 4, I believe), but if you want to sneak across enemy lines and read what those who cover the Nets are saying, here are three resources.
The Brooklyn Game – Not only is their layout fantastic and their coverage incredibly deep, Deven Kharpertian joined us for a Q&A that will be up later this morning.
Nets Daily – Reed Wallach has a really nice tactical breakdown of some key strategic elements of the series, which we had discussed over email.
Basketball Breakdown – A six-minute video on the tactical side of the series, well worth a watch. Coach Nick is neutral, by the way, covering the league as a whole, not just the Nets.
It’s the wee hours of the morning and somewhere Dwayne Casey is watching tape of the Brooklyn Nets. Likewise, the lads from the World Wide Round Table gathered under the moonlight to preview the Raptors playoff series with Brooklyn for this week’s The Doctor is In with Phdsteve.
Joined by Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog and Zarar (filling in for my brother Mike) we discuss the 2013-14 Raptors as a remake of the Bad Boy Pistons before launching into a an all-out overview of every imaginable angle to what Raptors and Nets fans can expect from this series. Just some of the questions we explore are:
Be sure to stick around after the outro for a fun filled 2 mins where the talk continues “off the record.”
Note: there is some language in this podcast if you are listening with Grandma or the kids.
I’m skeptical we’ll see much game-changing play from Garnett, who’s got a balky back and whom we’ve barely seen over the past two months. I think Ross and Johnson can hold their own defensively against Johnson and Pierce, and that Toronto’s athleticism will help them avoid major breakdowns on the Nets’ ball swings. The Nets have had trouble curbing point-guard production all season, and now they’ll get both barrels of Lowry, who averaged 22 points, six assists and 4.8 rebounds per game against them on 50/48.1/88.2 shooting splits this season.
The Raptors are a great story and a team that will undoubtedly become an annual staple of the playoff picture moving forward. But it’s rather difficult to bet against a team in the first round that’s led by Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and the offensive stylings of Deron Williams with help from key contributors like Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko. And here’s the kicker: According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, the last time the Raptors won the Atlantic Division and captured the No. 3 seed, they bowed out in the first round against Kidd’s New Jersey Nets.
The Raptors have an opportunity to have their best season ever and then follow it up with an even better one. They’re on their way to being one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, and Raptors fans should enjoy this taste, but there’s no need to savor it. Even sweeter things will come.
There’s more than enough evidence to suggest the Nets weren’t even thinking about Toronto when they hatched their late-season lay-down. Brooklyn’s Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn’t spend approximately $190 million in salaries and luxury tax charges, the biggest such bill in NBA history, dreaming of conquering Canada in an epic best-of-seven. Prokhorov’s is a team that fancies itself built for the championship conversation. With that in mind, it’s undoubtable that the Nets, in their brash maneuvering to finish as the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, were looking past the Raptors to what they saw as their best second-round matchup — the second-seeded Miami Heat. Though the Heat are defending champions, the Nets swept their four-game season series against LeBron et al. In other words: The Raptors, when they play their first post-season game in about six years on Saturday, won’t simply be gifting a rare moment of electric exuberance to the citizens of a relative sporting wasteland.
Overall, the Raptors have some conflicting stats. Synergy says Toronto has the fifth highest transition rate of any team in the league. However, they rank 23 in pace this season. The team does like to push the ball into the frontcourt and apply pressure on the defense to get set. The Nets know that they are going to have trouble rebounding against the big frontline of the Raptors, so they might as well send one or two guys back to prevent the Raptors from getting too much time in the half court.Another common form of the Raptors offense comes from spot ups. The Raptors rank ninth in the league in the amount of offense through spot ups this season which is a testament to how much spacing they have on the floor. The Nets can stop this by closing out with a high hand and using their length to put a hand in Toronto’s shooters faces. However, this season the Nets did a poor job of defending spot ups, ranking 28 in that category, per Synergy.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the Raptors are a young, inexperienced team. They’ve heard about too, it’s the narrative that drives this series. Lowry and Amir Johnson account for all 24 games of playoff experience in the Raptors’ starting lineup. Neither have been to the dance in five years, neither have ever started a postseason game. Meanwhile the Nets’ starters have played in 399 postseason games. They have six players who have logged more than twice as many playoff minutes as any Raptor. They’ll be reminded of it over and over again for two weeks and then, should they advance to round two, it’ll be revisited once again. They can’t run from it, not until they prove it’s a non-factor, but give them credit for the effort.
“Man, we’ve had a chip on our shoulder all year. We don’t care. It ain’t going to stop now,” said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan. “The same chip we had before the season even started, we’ve got it now. Nothing’s going to change, it don’t matter who we’re playing against. At the end of the day it’s a playoff team. Only the good teams make the playoffs, right? You’re going to have to play somebody good so it don’t matter to us.”
It was downright funny, not to mention enlightening, to hear DeMar DeRozan deconstruct the whole experience disadvantage. “I mean, it ain’t like it’s rocket science or nothing,” DeRozan said about the game of basketball in the post-season. “Everybody keeps talking to me like, bringing it up like it’s rocket science or I’ve got to know trigonometry or something. You just figure it out. You just go out there. I’ve been playing this game long enough, I’ve been in the league long enough, been in a lot of situations, so it shouldn’t be hard.” And if you are Masai Ujiri or Dwane Casey, that is exactly what you want to hear from one of your key, young, players. Casey readily admits the game changes once the regular season is put to bed. Everything from more physicality, to more attention to detail, to fewer whistles comes into play.
Whether in Manhattan or Brooklyn, Lowry made sure he made the best of playing on two of the NBA’s biggest stages. Lowry averaged 17.9 points on 42.3% shooting (38% from three) against the league as a whole, but improved to 22 points a game on 50% shooting (48% from three) against the Nets and 23.5 points on 53/48% shooting against the Knicks. Against the Knicks, Lowry made a point of showing owner James Dolan what he was missing (Dolan nixed a deal with the Raptors that would have made both teams’ seasons quite different). When Brooklyn was on the docket, Lowry was mostly a buzzsaw. He made a good final impression against the Nets (21 points, seven assists, eight rebounds in a win) right before the all-star reserves wdere named, but, somehow, the East’s coaches made a huge error in picking Joe Johnson for the final spot over the far more deserving Raptor.
“Good for them,” Ujiri said when the question of whether the Nets tried to orchestrate the matchup was raised. “You know what? We haven’t lost one second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the day, if we want to be a good team, we have to play good teams. We’re not hoping for anybody. We’re in the playoffs. You have to play. They can do whatever they want. We’ll be right here.” Ujiri agreed the Raptors have been underplayed in NBA circles since their inception, but put the onus on himself to change that. “That’s my responsibility, in some kind of way,” he said. “We have to build a brand that people want to see … We have to put a team together that’s competitive and wants to win. Our guys want to win. They’re competitive. I always say: When we get good enough, people will watch … I’ll tell you one thing: People will watch the Raptors, eventually. People in the States, people here. We want to play. We want to win. We want to compete out there.”
One series win, three head coaches, five springs where the Raptors had chances, some legitimate, to make an impression. For the sixth time in the Raptors’ 19-year history, the franchise will be under the post-season microscope, beginning with Game 1 on Saturday afternoon against the visiting Brooklyn Nets. For the second time, the Raptors enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and Atlantic Division champions for the first time since 2007 when, oddly enough, they were matched up against the Nets when the team was based in New Jersey.
“We’ll see how we handle it,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, declining to give away any state secrets. “When they spread [the floor] with Paul, they’re lethal — a lot like [Oklahoma City] with Durant at [power forward]. There are things we can do to try to counteract that and take advantage of it.” It is interesting that Casey mentioned Oklahoma City. Johnson spent the majority of that game chasing Durant on the perimeter. The likely MVP scored 51 points in a Thunder win, but the Raptors were a series of odds-defying plays away from winning that game, which went into double overtime. “We can go small. But Amir is pretty athletic,” Lowry said. “He’s versatile. I think he can do a pretty good job of guarding guys and keeping Paul in front of him and trying to make Paul shoot over top of him.”
This is a sneaky good series with a lot going on, headlined by the new jacks vs. old hands narrative. To see the fresh-faced and bushy-tailed Raps in the postseason should be reason enough to tune in. Ditto for a chance to check out a Nets team of familiar faces as it kicks off its playoff run. The real draw, though, is just how testy and competitive the season series between these teams turned out to be. Three of the four games were decided by seven total points. The games were appropriately split 2-2 with neither team claiming any significant advantage. It should be a coin flip of a series made all the better by the fact that these teams talk. Any series with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce involved is bound to be chatty, and the Raptors have managed to dial up the game’s tension by playing well and responding in kind.
William Lou, Raptors Republic: The playoff-intensity version of Kyle Lowry is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Lowry is the catalyst behind the Raptors’ superlative chemistry, and he’s the point of attack on both ends of the floor. He leads the league in charges taken, he’s deadly from deep, and he’ll be the one with the ball in his hands when the Raptors need a bucket.
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“It would tick me off if that was the case. . . If they did, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. For us, we were going to take whoever came to us, whether it was Brooklyn or Washington or Charlotte. We were prepared for all three teams.”
Masai Ujiri on the same:
“Good for them,” Ujiri said. “You know what? We haven’t lost one — I know I haven’t and I can sense from the players — second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the day if we want to be a good team, we have to play good teams. We’re not hoping for anybody. We’re in the playoffs. You have to play. ”They can do whatever they want. We’ll be right here.”
RR on the same:
Winning this series is going to be sweet. I will personally drive down to New Jersey, collect the tears of all Nets fans and players in a giant bucket, and then bathe in them.
We can’t blame the Nets for angling to play us, we are the least experienced bunch and they have historical reasons to believe that this would be a favorable matchup for them. The trouble for them is that the Raptors have beaten them when they’ve been at their best, and this collection of Nets “stars” have met with nothing but failure over their last two playoff campaings, so really, who should be worried?
It doesn’t say much for the Nets’ character or mental strength if they’re scared of the Chicago Bulls who have Derrick Rose out. You would think they’d be hoping for a rematch with them to avenge last year’s playoff exit, but here they are gaming the system.
As for the pressure, it’s entirely on them as they’ve the high-profile assembled to win the East.
I look forward to this.
We had over 200 sales on our awesome-looking Kings In The North shirt before we received communication from Teespring, informing us that they are unable to process the order due to a copyright claim. We presume it’s because we used the phrase “Toronto Raptors”. All orders have been refunded – sorry about that, we’re obviously very sad, we were kind of hoping it was George R.R Martin making the claim because that would be awesome.
It’s disappointing that they’ve come after us, a site that provides constant and continuous promotion of the Toronto Raptors brand, but hey, we understand that at the end of the day it’s about money and for every dollar you spend on RR, you give one less to MLSE. Also, guys, just contact us next time – way easier that way.
Where do we go from here? We print new shirts with the offending words removed, of course – same price, $14.99. Thank you in advance for purchasing – we appreciate it and will also donate partial proceeds to United Way.
It’s been quite the season for the Toronto Raptors. What we’ll likely remember about this season years from now is “48,” the team’s win total for the year, the most ever in franchise history.
But the win total isn’t the only record the Raptors set as a franchise this season. In fact, between a few team marks and some impressive individual seasons, the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors have assaulted the 19-year-old Raptors record books.
Obviously, the big one is “wins,” but this year’s Raptors team is also the most prolific 3-point shooting team in franchise history, as well. Along with the wins comes the mark for best margin of victory, which tells us that this isn’t a Raptors team that just got lucky all year in a reverse-Timberwolves of sorts. No Raptors team has ever beaten opponents this much and by this great a margin.
|W||48||1st||47 (00-01, 06-07)|
This franchise employed Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for a number of years each, so while there’s not a long track record of team success, there have been some very strong individual performances. Still, four Raptors combined to take down seven franchise records this season.
|3FG||Lowry||190||177 (Morris Peterson, 05-06)|
|3FGA||Lowry||500||496 (Damon Stoudamire, 96-97)|
|eFG%||Johnson||58%||57.5 (Jose Calderon, 07-08)|
|FG%||Johnson||56.2%||55.4 (Amir Johnson, 12-13)|
|FT||DeRozan||519||504 (Chris Bosh, 08-09)|
|FTA||DeRozan||630||617 (Chris Bosh, 08-09)|
|RB%||Valanciunas||18.2%||17.7 (Chris Bosh, 09-10)|
Note: Amir Johnson has actually had better FG% and eFG% marks but did not technically qualify in those years.
Having the top mark is obviously a big deal, but it’s impressive, too, just to rank among the best seasons ever. Those same four Raptors and one more now find themselves in the top-five seasons in various categories.
|Stat||2013-14 Leader||Value||Rank||Record Holder||Record|
The career record book is where any enterprising Raptor can really make a name, as nobody but Bosh has really stuck around long enough to leave a lasting imprint. That, combined with the unprecedented efficiency of a pair of post players, have current Raptors owning the best career franchise mark in a handful of stats (minimum 2000 minutes). Obviously, worse performance later in their careers could knock these players off their perches.
|eFG%||Johnson||57.8%||1st||56.6 (Matt Bonner)|
|TS%||Johnson||60.4%||1st||58.9 (Matt Bonner)|
|FG%||Johnson||57.2%||1st||54.8 (Rasho Nesterovic)|
|RB%||Valanciunas||16.9%||1st||16.8 (Ed Davis)|
With a young team that hasn’t had much stability beyond Johnson, you probably weren’t expecting many franchise record-holders…yet. The current group, however, find themselves climbing the leaderboard, ranking in the top-five for several career marks.
I know, I know, everyone’s focus is now on the playoffs. Well, if this is truly the start of a successful run for the franchise, all of the team’s playoff records will be in play: games (20, Antonio Davis), points (385, Vince Carter), rebounds (211, Davis), assists (115, Chris Childs), and so on. Go to the second round or further this season and then return next season, and the current roster could quickly own all of the franchise’s playoff marks. Hey, make a title run this season and they’ll probably do it…worth a shot, right?
We had Amir Johnson guarding Paul Pierce, who as good as a defender he is, shouldn’t be covering a guy like Paul Pierce on the perimeter. Pierce faked him out easily, which prompted slight help from Lowry, whose man went to the perimeter and Lowry’s close-out was too hard. Pierce flared back out and Johnson was caught: he had to either help on the driving William, or go back out to cover Pierce, on which he was late. A case could be made that it was Valanciunas’ rotation to be made on the driving Pierce, but the bottom line is this: It’s tough to survive one perimeter fake which leads to a drive, very difficult to survive two. And the Nets are full of veterans that can execute perimeter fakes very effectively – look out for this in the series.
So, umm, wow. What a season, right?
It’s honestly, truly been a wild ride from October to now, and I don’t think many thought the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors would be about to host a playoff series for the first time since 2006-07, or even be making their first playoff appearance since 2007-08.
Think about those dates for a second – the Raptors haven’t played playoff basketball since 2008. I’ve been writing about the team since the summer of that year and don’t have one “Raptors playoff post” in my portfolio. I wrote my first post for Raptors Republic on July 21, 2009 following a 33-49 season and subsequently covered a 40-42 squad, a 22-60 laughingstock, a 23-43 outfit, a 34-48 team and then, finally, this year, a playoff team.
And not just a playoff team. A likable playoff team, one that has players you really want to root for, one that seems to enjoy playing together as much as we enjoy watching them. It’s fun and it’s exciting, and while Friday here at RR will bring with it a ton of preview content for the series ahead, today I wanted to look back and relive the journey, with “favorite moments” from other writers interspersed.
Raptors Republic season preview.
The most optimistic RR scribe, William, pegs the Raptors for a 44-38 record. The most optimistic of our writers undershot the team’s record. Yes, a lot changed from the start of the season, but it serves as a reminder just how far this squad outstripped preseason expectations.
Sam Holako: Leo Rautins joining Twitter; this is a serious one for me: many of you know how much I’ve hated his style of commenting over the years, which naturally led to a deep seeded hatred of him to the point that I’d watch games on mute (or listen to to the radio), but God bless social media; he’s a dude and seems like a decent one at that. Swirsky can still go f**…
The Raptors blow a 27-point lead, lose to the Warriors by nine and fall to 6-11.
While the record would get worse after a loss to Phoenix, bottoming out at 6-12, this was unquestionably the low-point of the season. Things had already started poorly, but this was unbelievable. 27 points? They blew a 27 POINT LEAD? Andrew was right to title his post-game The Aristocrats.
William Lou: Remembering Rudy Gay’s brief 18-game stretch with the Raptors this season: 1) he banned stat sheets in the locker room, presumably because every player understands how percentages work. 2) The infamous OT loss to the Rockets when Gay shot 11-for-37 from the field. 3) When a subset of fans thought Gay’s off-season eye-surgery would fix his shooting woes, when the issue all-along was shot-selection. Thanks for the memories, Rudy!
The Raptors beat the Lakers in a fun 106-94 game, one they played without Rudy Gay because the next day, Gay was traded to Sacramento.
This is the big one. While at the time it looked like step two in a tear-down meant to free the team of bad contracts and bottom out, there were signs it would make the team better. Gay was using 31 percent of the team’s offensive possessions with a 42.1 true shooting percentage, numbers bound to regress to his career norms (and they certainly did in Sacramento, so good for him) but ones that were dragging the team down. The fans had turned on him, and when I saw him after the Brooklyn game on Nov. 26, he looked like a broken man. The trade maybe wasn’t supposed to send the team surging towards the top of the East, but handing the reigns to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, adding valuable depth pieces and allowing for more development from Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas all provided marginal gains that added up to make this a wildly different team.
|Date||Record||O_Rating (Rank)||D_Rating (Rank)||Net_Rating (rank)|
|Oct 30 – Dec 7||6-12||101 (19)||102.1 (15)||-1 (19)|
|Dec 7 – April 15||42-21||107.5 (9)||102.5 (8)||5 (6)|
|Through 81 games||48-33||106 (9)||102.4 (9)||3.7 (8)|
The Raptors don’t trade Kyle Lowry.
The rumoured deal would have been structured around Kyle Lowry heading to the Knicks for some flotsam and, most importantly, a 2018 first-round pick. The logic for the Raptors was to continue the tear-down by jettisoning one of the team’s best players and adding an asset that could help build for the future or be used to acquire something else later. Knicks’ owner James Dolan reportedly balked at including the pick, and instead Lowry remained with the Raptors, becoming the team’s MVP. This is, without a doubt, the biggest thing that didn’t happen to the Raptors this season.
Tamberlyn Richardson: The continual growth of our young core is reflected in multiple individual and team records, the most impressive of which is every starter registering career highs in points per game. My standout moment of the season came on the first road trip following the trade when Toronto beat Dallas in overtime and followed by becoming the first team to beat Oklahoma City on their home court this season. Underlying this record season is the ascension of Kyle Lowry as a leader who best embodies the Raptors’ no-quit, bull dog identity.
The Raptors pull off an unlikely 19-point comeback against the Mavericks on the road, and follow it up two nights later by becoming the first team this season to win in Oklahoma City, once again needing a big comeback to do so.
The Raptors had gone 3-2 since the trade, but the schedule and sample size were such that it was tough to glean much from it. This may have been the best – and most unlikely – two-game stretch in franchise history, but at the time it was still just that, a two-game stretch. Beneath the surface, however, it planted very legitimate seeds that this team was better than they were being given credit for.
Tim Chisholm: The five-game win streak after Christmas that solidified, for me, that the post-trade productivity wasn’t a fluke. Watching the pieces fit together once Dwane Casey had a chance to work with them and implement his system showed not only how well the pieces fit together but how capable the coach was at integrating all the parts. Suddenly ’13-’14 was a real season.
January 1, 5, 7
The Raptors shock the Pacers, then a few days later almost do it to the Heat, too, following it up by nearly stunning Indiana again.
They beat the top team in the conference and then hung with the two very best teams in the conference in back-to-back games. It’s always tough to think a team built momentum in a loss, but if it was possible, it happened here. This was right around the time of ”we out here like Michael Phelps” , and the Raptors had managed to get through some choppy waters with minimal damage. Of course, as I wrote at the time, they were at a point now where moral victories would no longer suffice.
Garrett Hinchey: January 1, 2014. The Raptors are on a mini-roll since the Rudy Gay trade, having upped their record to 14-15. Their opponent, the powerhouse Indiana Pacers, come into town with a league-best record and championship aspirations. Too much, too soon, right?
Wrong. 95-82 Raptors, as the team announces their arrival into the east’s elite with force in a wire-to-wire win. New year, new team, new attitude. Laughingstocks no more, all hail the kings in the north.
DeMar DeRozan plays in the NBA All-Star Game.
Hey, Lowry should have been there too, and All-Star nods don’t mean much in the win column, but this was a pretty resounding affirmation that people outside of Toronto were recognizing what had been happening. DeRozan, after all, is just the fourth All-Star in franchise history.
Doc Naismith: My favorite part has to be this last month or two with respect to the media (outside of Toronto & Canada) giving this team more credit and positive reaffirmation that is ever has since the club’s inaugural season. Mine and most NBA analysts thoughts coming into this year was one of opportunity for growth, development and experience for such a young core. The Raptors not only reinvigorated a die-hard fanbase, but they also put a franchise back on the NBA map that hasn’t been this alive since the Vince Carter glory days.
The Raptors lose in double-overtime to the Thunder.
Remember how I said earlier the time for moral victories had ended? Well, this is a great example of that. Earlier in the year or in prior seasons, hanging with the Thunder through two overtimes would have been a major victory, even in a loss. This had some positive signs, of course, and was the best game I’ve ever attended, but the fact that fans actually expected this one to end in victory as it was happening was an enormous divergence from the norm for this franchise.
PhD Steve: a season in review…in haiku
it has been a joy
to see those who wish to tank
have to eat their words
Tim W: My favourite part of the season was when the Raptors snagged the number one pick in the draft. Oh, wait…
The Raptors beat the Hawks.
That’s it, a win against a mediocre team? Not exactly. Once again, it was a fourth quarter comeback, their ninth of the season. Better yet, it led to the greatest GIF of all time.
Zarar Sidiqi: Winning that game in Brooklyn on the Patterson steal and jumper. It exemplified the team’s turnaround in one play: you had Dwane Casey reading Jason Kidd’s mind for the inbound defense, Patterson making the defensive play, giving it up to the floor general in Lowry, who in years past might have taken the selfish jumper. No this time, he read the defense and made the right dish for a huge win on the road.
The Raptors win their 48th game of the season.
The most wins in a single season in franchise history. Considering the franchise has only once won a playoff series, it would be hard to argue that this isn’t the most successful season in team history if they can win a round this year. 19 seasons, and this is the one with the most wins. And maybe the most fun, too.
We’re selling this t-shirt to get some funds for the site. They’re only $14.99, so do grab yourself one.
After the Nets tanked and the Raptors emptied the bench, which happened right after the Bulls lost, Will and I got together for a 15-minute pod. We react to the Nets-Raptors playoff matchup and the Nets’ blatant tanking in a 15-minute quick-fire pod where micro-analysis of the upcoming matchup is performed. Of course, the Raptors Weekly aired on Sunday is now entirely relevant again since Andrew and I covered the Nets matchup quite well, but here’s a more hot-blooded reaction to the Nets tanking anyway.
- Nets tanking
- What could’ve been for Charlotte
- What it is for Washington
- Shift of EC Finals path is now BKN/MIA instead of WAS/IND
- Just what Blake does around here
To say last night was an exciting night for fans of Eastern Conference basketball (yes, we are out here!) would be an understatement, to say the least. Heading into game time, as many as five playoff seeding spots were still in doubt. The Raptors, for their credit, just needed one more victory to lock into the third slot – in a game against their underachieving division rival New York Knicks sans their best player and only All-Star. Still, though, you’d hope the Knicks would get up for this one, as much as the Raptors fan in you wanted to see them coast to the finish line (for the lack of potential injuries to key players, if nothing else).
The first half, though, provided little of that. Admittedly, I missed the first 6 minutes of the game, due to a tragic Sportsnet TV guide mixup where the Raptors game was actually a Mariners game, and the Blue Jays game was the Raptors game (if you try this come playoff time, Rogers, I swear to Jonas you’re in trouble). The Raptors shot over 60 per cent in the first quarter, bolstered by Kyle Lowry, who was absolutely unconscious from everywhere (finishing the quarter with an astounding 17 against mostly Knicks backups). There was a point in the quarter where the Raptors were shooting 9 of 13, and the Knicks were 5 of 20, and yet the Knicks managed to keep the game within striking distance due to an 8-3 discrepancy at the free throw line.
The second quarter began with Casey trotting out a lineup of Patterson, Hansbrough, de Colo, Vasquez, and the seldom used Dwight Buycks, and when they started heating up, it seemed like the rout was on. Vasquez was particularly impressive, picking apart the Knicks “defense” with some great drive-and-dishes and hitting open 3 pointers. One pass in particular to a streaking Nando de Colo, who also thrived in the small-ball drive and kick lineup, stands out.
Despite the history fan in me wanting Lowry to stay in the game and go for 60, Casey smartly held him out until late in the frame (which is both a good explanation of why I don’t work in the NBA and why my “Twitch coaches an NBA team” idea is dead in the water). JR Smith came back in and did JR Smith things, taking advantage of the Raptors’ inevitable cold streak, but the half ended with the Raptors up 13 and, seemingly, coasting to the finish line.
The third quarter, though, quickly brought that thought to a screeching halt. After a neat video at the half that showed former Raptors talking about what a special place the ACC can be at playoff time (Mugsy!), the Raps, despite their best efforts, returned to the court a little too satisfied with the game thus far, and the Knicks ripped off a 14-2 run to start the quarter that brought the score back within 1.
This also happened to be the time where the Bulls finally succumbed to the Bobcats in overtime, officially clinching the 3rd seed for the Raptors and leading to thousands of Raptor fans pleading for Casey and crew to get the starters the hell out of there. He did appease us somewhat, taking out Jonas, Amir, and Ross during the next timeout but leaving DeMar and Lowry in.
Side note: can someone please explain to me why the Knicks signed Lamar Odom for “the remainder of the season?” Just to lock him up before all zero of his suitors come after him in free agency? Are they expecting a godfather offer from an Italian team? I thought Phil Jackson was the person who was supposed to stop all this front-office madness? I don’t understand.
Back to the game, where the Raptors are clung to a slim lead through the third quarter. Inexplicably, it took Casey an additional 10 real-time (6 in-game) minutes after news broke to get Lowry, the final starter, out of the game – minutes which included no fewer than three Dwyane Wade-esque reckless drives to the hoop. God, Lowry/Casey. Give me a heart attack, why don’cha. The third quarter ended with the Raptor bench tied with the Knicks in what had essentially become a meaningless game, standings-wise. From this writer’s point of view, an injury-less fourth quarter was a success, no matter the outcome.
Side note number 2: I’ve never cheered for a team that another team was actively, obviously tanking to secure a playoff matchup with before. And I’ve got to admit, it makes me mad, as much as it makes sense for that team objectively. Seriously, Brooklyn? Not playing any of your starters? Playing a guy named “Jorge Gutierrez” 33 minutes, and Jason Collins 39? Getting crushed by CLEVELAND, of all teams? F*ck the Nets. F*ck the stupid Brooklyn Knight. Drake > Jay Z. Leiweke > Prokhorov, and Rookie Vince > New Jersey sell-out Vince. Bring it on. In the immortal, voice-crackey words of Brock Lesnar, I will see you, ON SUNDAY (Saturday, but the point stands).
On another quick tangent, good on Casey and the Raptors for playing tough until their seeding was guaranteed, as much as the threat of injuries loomed. People are coming to the arena to see a product, and it’s only right that teams keep the tanking to a minimum.
That all being said, thankfully, the fourth quarter began with the entire bench in the game, and it stayed that way (my favourite lineup was a super-small Buycks/de Colo/Vasquez/Novak/Hansbrough unit). There really wasn’t much to talk about even though the score remained close, seeing as neither team really seemed to care too much about the outcome – Steve Novak airballing a 3 from the centre of the court was the most memorable moment until crunch-time.
With 2 minutes to go, though, the game was tied at 90, thanks to some JR Smith heroics and some great efforts by a few Raptors, in particular, Vasquez, Hansbrough, and de Colo, who had a great 3-and-charge sequence late in the game. The Knicks took a 4 point lead with 20 seconds to go on a couple JR Smith jumpers (and the Raptors offence running through Dwight Buycks and a still-airballing Steve Novak), but Casey resisted the temptation to put his starters back on the floor as the team’s 49th win slipped away.
Hansbrough rewarded him with a really tough hoop that ended up being an and-one (missing the free throw), but was bailed out by a tough offensive rebound by Steve Novak, of all people (seriously, did he switch bodies with someone tonight?). A Buycks miss and a Knicks knock-out, and the Raptors had the ball down two with 6 seconds left in what had immediately become an immensely entertaining final few seconds.
Then the Chuckster threw it away. Oh well.
But then JR Smith missed the second free throw!
And then Steve Novak dribbled it off his foot. Oh well.
But then the refs reversed the call!
And then Nando de Colo didn’t get a shot off. Oh well.
Regardless of the hilarious final few seconds, the final score for the night was 95-92 Knicks. It’s a totally acceptable outcome for a team that played the first half like the game meant something, and the second half like it didn’t – which is exactly what they should have done.
On a bigger note, though, I’m seriously going to miss this season. As fans (particularly Toronto sports fans), we spend our lives watching sports, often through the muck and the mire, for that short moment of payoff when your team of also-rans somehow finally finds a way to break through. Five years from now, when we’re all upset about the Raptors finishing sixth in the conference, remember this season – a likeable team and coach that loved their city, a whip-smart executive making intelligent moves throughout the offseason and regular season, and, perhaps most importantly, a core of home-bred (sans Lowry) guys that we’ve cheered for and hoped the best for for years.
I’m excited for the entire team and can’t wait for the playoffs, but I’m most excited for Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan, who sat on the roller coaster with us for years while it slowly, agonizingly rolled up the track. We’ve finally hit the peak, and the fun part – where the coaster starts screaming down and they take the embarrassing photo – that’s now. What a season it was.
But let’s not lose sight of the big picture here, too. What a season it was – with it was being the key words. It’s over. The journey, the waiting, all of it.
Saturday? That’s not a continuation. It’s another beginning – one this team earned, one they deserve, and one they will hopefully make the most of. You’d better be ready, Brooklyn. Because this team, these fans, this country has been waiting five long years for this moment. And we’ll damn sure be ready to welcome you to the ACC.
Playoff basketball, baby. Nothing like it.
Let’s go Raps. Nets, I hope your passports are up to date. We’ll be waiting for you.
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This is the play you don’t run if you care about the game.
No need to go too in depth on this one as New York gets the win due to the lack of playing time from Toronto’s key players. Once it was clear that Toronto had clinched the third spot in the Eastern Conference -towards the end of the third quarter we found out the Chicago Bulls had lost their final game, meaning Toronto nabbed third- Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey pulled his top troops and elected to go with Nando De Colo, Dwight Buycks, Steve Novak, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes down the stretch. And that was enough for New York, down 57 to 44 at the half, to climb all the way back for the win. In fairness, some of the Knicks’ comeback came early in the third quarter when Kyle Lowry and other starters were still in the game. New York used a 30 to 17 third Q to get back in this one and while the game mattered little in the end, periods like these will likely give Casey and his staff a lot of reason to get in the video room prior to the start of the playoffs…which start on Saturday.
Of course the Knicks gave up an and-one opportunity and a couple threatening rebounds to the Raptors down the stretch of their final game. Of course the last 20 seconds took like 15 minutes and included several unexpected opportunities for Toronto. The Knicks had to Knicks their final game, even if they ended up with a win. I’m blown away Steve Novak didn’t beat ‘em at the last second. And hey, it was a pretty fun win! Cole Aldrich– who made the best use by far of these meaningless games in the final week– dominated the glass, thwarted several Raptor shots, and dropped in a few buckets as well. Toure’ Murry hit some more threes. J.R. Smith shot the damn lights out and I somehow didn’t realize it until looking at the box score just now. Tim Hardaway Jr. did things, too. And that is it. The 2013-2014 Knicks are over (except for the NIT, like nbanyk said), and the offseason begins now.
Mike Woodson: “Am I the guy for the job? I’m the only guy for the job.” #Knicks — Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) April 16, 2014 What do you say to that? You could have ripped off all your clothes and began simultaneously chugging grain alcohol and Mr. Pibb, and ran screaming, “WOOOOOOOODSON” as you hurtled into the oncoming traffic on the BQE (assuming you’re a city-dweller like me), or just collapsed in a giddy, delirious heap of uncontrollable laughter; either response would make complete and total sense.
“It should be fun,” said DeMar DeRozan after the intriguing first-round, best-of-seven matchup was set. “We’ve just got to go out there and play. Go out there, study the film, study them, get ready for them. We know we can beat them. We beat them twice this year and they beat them once without me playing. So like I said, it should be fun. “We understand that they’re experienced and everything but hey, who isn’t? Once you come in this league you’re going against players all season that are experienced in some way. You just have to find a way to win.”
s”In my experience, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for,” Dwane Casey cautioned ahead of Wednesday’s finale. “You think you want to play a certain team then you start preparing for them and say, ‘wow that team’s pretty good’. Then you’ve got a dogfight. I think the best way to approach it is let the basketball gods decide.” Faced with a similar decision, Casey – who was an assistant in Dallas when he and Kidd won a championship together in 2011 – chose to play his stars against the Knicks and compete to win. That’s just one of the factors that separate these two teams, that creates a trace of animosity going into this weekend’s first-round matchup. Whether they care to admit to it or not, the Nets took their foot off the gas in the hope of maximizing the odds of facing an inexperienced Raptors team. Whether Toronto’s players or coaches care to admit it, that’s a slap in the face, or at least it should be.
“I want Brooklyn, personally,” Ross wrote. Now Ross will get his chance, after the combination of the Nets losing to the Cavaliers and the Wizards winning in Boston Wednesday night meant the Nets, who dropped to the sixth seed, will face the third-seeded Raptors beginning Saturday afternoon in Toronto. The Nets haven’t forgotten what Ross said. “Ross asked for this,” Andray Blatche said after Wednesday’s 114-85 loss to the Cavaliers, in which coach Jason Kidd sat all his starters. “So now, first of all, they’ve got to back up their words. “Right now, we’re going to go home, get prepared for Toronto. … We were able to rest some of our key guys, so we’re going to start practicing and going over our strategy tomorrow.”
Cole Aldrich made the tiebreaking dunk with 1:23 left for the Knicks, who won their final four games to finish 37-45. J.R. Smith scored 30 points, while Aldrich finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Kyle Lowry scored 22 points in 26 minutes for the Raptors, who finished 48-34. The Knicks charged back to tie at 74 entering the fourth by outscoring the Raptors 30-17 in the third. The game became meaningless during the period when Charlotte finished off an overtime victory over Chicago, meaning the Raptors could do no worse than finish tied with the Bulls. Toronto owned the tiebreaker as a division champion.
Everyone going to the game better be loud on Saturday so we can take Game 1 against that squad from Brooklyn.
“It kind of sets the tone for how you want your career to go,” Ross said. “So now you want to do more to make sure this becomes more consistent. You know it is going to be harder, so you just work that much harder to stay ahead of the curve.” It’s been a long time since anyone in a Raptors locker room talked about striving for 50 wins – can’t remember it ever happening – but after this season, it doesn’t sound all that farfetched. This team is young, willing to work hard and really does pull for one another. “All it takes is the right chemistry and the right group of guys and you can do whatever it takes,” DeMar DeRozan said. “You don’t need big name players, you don’t need this or that what people say you need and we are proof of that. We will continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and on to the next step.”
This is a showcase for the new, Drake-abetted Raptors. The pop star had a large hand in the look and feel of the campaign, stopping in regularly for brainstorming sessions at home and on the road. “He inspired our thinking here,” Leiweke said. Whatever you make of it, you will admit the last word it summons to mind is “corporate.” This feels like work produced by an especially athletic art school. One that does a lot of daytime things in the middle of the night.
I can’t understand why the Raptors’ success hasn’t produced more buzz. Just 12 months ago, NBA writers were brainstorming new and creative ways to mock the decisions of president Bryan Colangelo, as Toronto finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. And now? Toronto has claimed the Atlantic Division title, secured home-court advantage in the first round, placed swingman DeMar DeRozan (22.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists) on the All-Star team and in the Most Improved Player discussion, and enjoyed an All-Star-caliber season from point guard Kyle Lowry (17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds).
The goal is to have the new one completed “no later than late 2015” and MLSE will be working with Drake, its global ambassador, on putting a nightclub in the arena (as is the case in Miami), likely in the space currently occupied by the practice court.
However, for general Masai Ujiri, this season was never about wins or losses. Obviously that can get contorted as the games gain meaning at an exponential rate. Still, Ujiri’s job is to assess how good these Raptors are, and how good they can be. This summer will bring about a bunch of major decisions for Ujiri to make — not only addressing free agents Dwane Casey and Kyle Lowry, but also judging the value of his younger core players — and he is about to get a lot of useful data to assist him. There is no risk of the Raptors sneaking past another team, such as the Wizards or Bobcats, who might be a one-season wonder taking advantage of a messed up conference — just as some critics have painted the Raptors. The Nets are drenched in playoff experience: There are too many ridiculous statistics to choose from, but the Brooklyn rotation has played approximately 10.4 times the post-season minutes than the Raptors’ rotation. It is staggering.
“I’m tired of going home early, watching everybody else play, watching my friends play,” swingman DeMar DeRozan said that day. “It’s sickening to me. I get tired of it. Me personally, I work my ass off so we can play in that moment, be a team in that eight, seven, six, whatever spot it is to have an opportunity to play. That’s my goal and I’m sure everybody on this team feels the same way.” It turned out DeRozan could’ve aimed higher. The Raptors are the Eastern Conference’s big surprise, and they’ll be the third or fourth seed when the postseason begins. How they got there was nothing short of extraordinary, especially in this city where expectations and bold plans have never lived up to the hype.
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‘Murica, meet the Toronto Raptors
Hey look! The Raptors will be on prime-time in the States! Here’s the full broadcast schedule, courtesy of Newsday:
Game 1: Saturday, April 19 12:30 p.m. at Toronto, ESPN
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22, 8 p.m at Toronto, NBA TV
Game 3: Friday, April 5, 7 p.m. at Nets, ESPN2
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, 7 p.m. at Nets, TNT
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 30, TBD at Toronto, TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, May 2, TBD at Nets
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, May 4 at Toronto, TBD at Toronto, TBD
According to the lovely and talented Eric “Buzzkill” Koreen (h/t: Seth Partnow on the nickname), the corps of Raptors beat-writers have yet to be informed of the Canadian broadcast schedule. One presumes that they’ll be shoved to Sportsnet One, or whatever they’re calling The Score nowadays, in lieu of some super-important NHL playoff games. Given that this is Canada, and it’s Rogers/Bell in charge, Ducks-Stars will probably take precedence over any sport played between tall men without knives strapped to their feet.
Buzzkill Koreen reports that the start of game two will be pushed back to 7:30, rather than 8:00
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 15 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -10
Amir enjoyed the freedom of a (relatively) meaningless game to uncharacteristically freelance at will on defense in the 1st quarter. He pushed Amare out of the low post, which was nice to see after Stoudemire eviscerated the Raps down low last week. And then Amir sat down.
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -9
A year ago, how many of us were still angry about the Warriors tanking one spot ahead of the Raptors to snag Harrison Barnes one spot ahead of the Raptors grabbing Ross. A year later, who would rather have Barnes than Ross heading into this year’s playoffs and the next five years? Let’s see what kind of a leap Ross can make on Saturday in a game that actually matters.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 16 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -7
Jonas had a low post possession against Amare 2 minutes into the game from the right side of the block. Jonas has taken very few post-ops from that side of the hoop and not looked comfortable (or successful) on the occasions when he has. But Jonas looked strong and confortable faking Stoudemire inside before spinning baseline and dropping in a pretty off-hand hook shot. This guy can play. A slow-paced, physical series against the Nets is going to feature a lot of Valanciunas.
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 8-15 FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 22 PTS | -10
The Bargnani deal was a train robbery, but the best thing James Dolan may have done for the Raptors this season was kai-bosh the Lowry trade. I don’t know why so many Knicks fans tear their hair out over James Dolan. I happen to think he’s one of the most kind, thoughtful and generous men on the planet. Unlike Kyle Lowry, who is a badmotherdude. Lowry put up a very respectable full game stat line in just 26 minutes of play.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | -11
DeMar was sloppy early on with turnovers. But I couldn’t care less, because he was attacking and looking to get to the hoop. The Raptors have been putting up almost a basket a game running DeMar around a pair of perimeter screens to hammer home a weak-side alley-oop. Love it. If that’s the game he brings to the playoffs (and limits the turnovers) then get ready to start hearing some TV analysts who’ve hardly mentioned the Raptors all season start getting excited about DeMar like they’ve just discovered something great that nobody knows about.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-5 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +5
Hansbrough really enjoyed playing with De Colo, who made a point of consistently looking for the Big Effort near the basket. Hansbrough could have had a few more baskets if he wasn’t surprised by a) someone actually rewarding him with a pass, and b) said pass coming from out of nowhere.
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +14
Patterson is starting to look like his shot is back in rhythm, but he’s still missing the aggression that he was playing with before getting hurt. Granted, this game wouldn’t have been the wisest place for him to unleash it. He’s going to match up this weekend with Garnett and Teletovic in the all pick-and-pop all the time power forward showdown.
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -6
Boxing out Cole Aldrich once would have helped his grade a bit here. Not passing the ball to the wrong team to effectively end the game would have been even more helpful.
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2
Steve Novak airballed an open 3 with 4 minutes left in the game. He then politely ushered JR Smith to the basket for a transition slam with 2 minutes left. It’s cool though, because he made up for it with another airball 10 seconds later, prompting some courtside trolling from Spike Lee. Not his best MSG performance of all time.
|Dwight Buycks, PG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 2 PTS | -1
Dwight hasn’t seen the court in a while and boy, did he want to make up for that. Buycks threw the ball away a few times when he got excited and tried to do too much. Why not, they were almost definitely his last minutes of the season. At least we can rest easy knowing that we didn’t foolishly bench a lights-out jump shooter all season.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 22 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +16
General Grievis always gets carried away with one or two extra heat-check shots, but the man does get buckets. And like the great Bill Russell says, this game always has been, and always will be, about buckets. How many backup point guards are there in the playoffs on Vasquez’ level? 3, maybe 4? You can make a case for Darren Collison, Patty Mills, CJ Watson and Jeremy Lin. I’m happy to have Vasquez out of that list.
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 26 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +6
Nando De Colo plays basketball exactly like a San Antonio Spur. I really can’t think of a better way to compliment a player. De Colo could have easily had double-digit assists in the 4th quarter alone if he was passing to San Antonio Spurs instead of Buycks, Hansbrough, Hayes and Steve Novak.
It’s important to keep in mind that this game was completely irrelevant. Nobody got hurt, so it’s a win, regardless. Casey played General Grievis, Nando Calrissian, Dwight Buycks, Patrick Patterson and the The Big Effort as a five-man unit for a stretch through the 2nd quarter. Three point guards, two power forwards. Why? Because tonight, Dwayne Casey was the honey badger. And it was awesome. At least it was in the first half. It hurt to watch the end of the bench unit (sorry Landry Fields, but whatever it is you did, Casey still ain’t having none of you.) refuse to help Nando De Colo play functional basketball down the stretch, but they’ve earned those minutes.
Huskies Republic? How does that taste in your mouth? If the appearance of a husky towards the end of this seizure inducing video is any indication, this could be a prelude to more than just new uniforms next season. On a brighter note, Wolves are easier to market than Raptors i.e. Game of Wolves; The Howling Dead; The Big Fang Theory; the t-shirt potential alone might be worth it.
After we posted this GIF of Amir Johnson leaving a gentle soul hanging, the man in question, Mark Littell, a Day-1 Raptors Fan who holds season seats reached out to reap the reward of a free Kings In The North Raptors tee, as promised by RR.
RR would like to thank Mark Littell for being a fantastic sport about all of this. To this day he maintains that Amir never saw him. Alternate theories suggest that since Mr. Littell was wearing the same clothing as a nearby security guard, thus causing confusion. However, true justice will only be served if Mr. Littell is given a personal high-five by Amir Johnson.
Do check out Mark’s set of promotional products which range from items such as Dora the Explorer party balloons to skydiving gear. What a tremendous human being!
You know what’s nice? The last game of the season being important because it determines playoff seeding and not the number of ping pong balls in the lottery. There is a lot riding on tonight, not just for the Raptors, but more than half of the playoff teams:
What does that all mean? Tonight has the potential to be greatest night of regular season basketball the league has seen in a while, starting with the Raptors who wander into New York to face a Knicks team who didn’t get the memo that their season is over, they aren’t playing for anything, but have been beating teams above them in the standings rather handedly (Raptors, Bulls, and the Nets; in that order).
The Knicks…what a beautiful disaster their season has been: no 1st round pick; no playoffs; paying your president $12m/year to not be physically there…wasting another year of Carmelo’s career. It’s almost sad, but inspite of all that, they are playing spoilers this last week of the regular season. With Carmelo a game-time decision, the Raptors can’t be looking past them to the playoffs, they need to write their own destiny. Doesn’t matter who finishes 4th or 5th, the Raptors need to head into the playoffs on a winning streak, as well as looking the part of a team that knows what the playoffs has in store for them, and are doing something about it.
Keys to the game:
The line is set to even on this; it’s basically hit or miss. A win would be very meaningful for this team, regardless of who-finishes-where in the standings; living on your feet and all that good stuff, right?
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No need to fret Raptors fans. The Nets might be trying to tank and get sixth so they can face us, but it won’t help them.
Can we all agree Raps fans that we haven’t seen anyone this important to a Raptors franchise then we do with Lowry at the moment?
Bayno is a former head coach at UNLV and a long-time assistant in Minnesota. Nurse ran a very successful program in the D-League and Mermuys came to Toronto after stints in both Houston and Denver. Nurse has brought his unique offensive flair to the Raptors while both Bayno and Mermuys are tireless developers, willing to go to the gym at any hour of the day or night to get a player some extra work. “Nick Nurse has come in and done an unbelievable job figuring out sets and bringing in a different type of offence, a more up-tempo type of offence,” Lowry said. “Jesse and Bayno? Their energy has been great. Their enthusiasm and pushing everybody to keep being aggressive and shooting shots and making sure that even if they miss a few, it don’t matter, just keep going.”
“We haven’t thought about it or talked about it,” guard Kyle Lowry said, about the ramifications of Wednesday’s schedule. “We’re just going to go out there and play our game.” Raptors coach Dwane Casey has been resting his starters — all-star DeMar DeRozan got the night off Monday. Casey said he would consider resting DeRozan again Wednesday, despite what outcome that might have on the game, and their conference seeding. “I’m more worried about us moreso than who we play. It’s about us. About our health, rest, whatever we decide to do in that situation. If we play Brooklyn, we play Brooklyn, if we play Washington, we play Washington, there’s no easy teams left in the playoffs right now, all the teams are very capable,” Casey said. “Brooklyn is probably more playoff-ready, but we can’t control that and we’re not going into this game trying to control that. I’m more worried about our guys’ health — rest if we rest them — and our rhythm. And it’s a fine line between the two.”
The Raptors may not be the most athletic team in the NBA, but they could exploit a speed advantage over the somewhat senior Nets. It would be up to the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, two playoff neophytes, to feel comfortable right off the bat but their familiarity with the division rivals should be a boon. A size advantage up front would also be something Toronto might be able to take advantage of, if Jonas Valanciunas plays well.
When the 27-year-old arrived here in a 2012 trade with Houston, he was not fun. He was anti-fun. He had a way of eyeballing you that made you feel like he was reading something off the back of your skull. When he returned after the first year, he was different. Physically, but that was the least of it. When I begin a question like so – “Now that you’ve become the most important athlete in Toronto …” – Lowry pulls back and interrupts. “Do you really think that’s true?” he says. He’s really asking. He wants to know. Yeah, it’s true. It’s true because Lowry from a year ago would just have nodded along in agreement. More to the point, he wouldn’t be wasting his time talking to you in the first place. A bunch of reasons have been mooted as the catalyst for this shift – a heart-to-heart with GM Masai Ujiri, getting married, having a kid. Lowry lists them all off. “Sometimes, you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re the one who needs to change,” he says.
Campsall compares not the Bosh-led group though, but the vintage Vince Carter 47 win team with this year’s squad and at the time of its penning, statistically, you’d have to say the 2013-14 team comes out on top. I’m going to argue however that it’s too early to tell. The Carter squad not only made the NBA playoffs, but defeated a tough Knicks’ club in their second kick at said can, so let’s hold off on “Best Ever” titles until we see how this group performs.
The biggest breakout (literally and figuratively), however, has yet to come. In an Eastern Conference lacking quality big men, this postseason can be 21-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas’ time to shine. To his credit, he’s finishing the season strong. In his last five games, the big Lithuanian is averaging 17.8 points and 13.4 rebounds. That includes a 14-point/21-rebound performance on April 11 against the Knicks as well as a 26-point/12-rebound night against the 76ers on April 9. Those kind of games will only help build Valanciunas’ confidence. With more development on the defensive end, he’ll be even more of a monster on the inside. Toronto’s trio on the perimeter has been good enough to carry the team to the third seed in the East, but Valanciunas’ potential emergence makes them a very scary team going forward.
Why they’re dangerous: Everyone’s underrating them, when they’re the likely third seed. They have depth, size inside with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make up maybe the best backcourt in the East. And this team believes, which is dangerous. They have nothing to lose. Weaknesses: Defensive schemes can solve most of their players, who have almost no playoff experience. They close games by giving the ball to John Salmons. Reasonable ceiling: A thrilling first-round victory leads to a noble second-round, six-game loss to Miami. Reasonable floor: The Nets wind up facing them in the first round, and spring the upset. You can talk me into Washington knocking them off but you have to get awfully creative.
Despite losing count of his ankle sprains long ago, Johnson never complains. Like clockwork, he sits at his locker after games, the messiest in the room, with shoes — mostly his, some stolen from DeRozan — strewn around him. Feet submerged in an ice bucket, he talks to reporters pushing their own deadlines because his candor is worth it. Johnson said his motivation to play through damn near anything stems from the simple fact he wants to always be there for his team. “It’s like, if you see somebody in trouble, your mindset, first reaction is to go help them, see what you can do,” Johnson said. “That goes on and off the court. If its a family member, anybody. If I see somebody in trouble, if I see somebody down, my first reaction is I’ve got to help them, by any means possible.” That dedication has endeared him to Toronto fans who expect passion from their players and embrace blue-collar work ethic above all.
For starters, the Raptors post-season drought has driven away its fair share of fans over the years. As they flock back, those who stuck it out through the hard times are ensuring that they are in the house for the good times as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff absence this season also creates a void of sorts among local sports fans, whose other options for live events are limited to early season baseball and soccer. And we all know Toronto is a world-class bandwagon sports town, meaning that the Raps are attracting more and more casual fans as the post-season nears.
Atlantic Division Champions banner | Being named NBA Executive of the Year in Denver | Bigger challenge in Toronto for him | Working in Toronto before | Changes | Rudy Gay trade | Finding chemistry after the Gay trade | Kyle Lowry | Lowry off the court | His story | Being from Northern Nigeria | His goal was to be an NBA scout | Getting an opportunity with the Orlando Magic | Meeting with Nelson Mandela
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This weekend the NBA Playoffs tip-off, and for the first time in forever the Raptors will be participating. The club has put together what has arguably been their best regular ever, notching a franchise-best 48 wins (and counting) and securing the third seed in the East for only the second time in team history. As good as their regular season has been, however, the club does not look ready for what awaits them in the postseason.
The Raps have been in a noticeable funk for weeks now. Despite maintaining an impressive winning percentage since the All-Star break – 20-9, .690 – the team has struggled to maintain the defensive bona fides that defined them during their mid-season turnaround (their defensive rating has fallen to 9th on the season and has ranked 16th since March 1st). The focus and intensity that was once a game-to-game staple has become a wavering distinction that has driven Dwane Casey to burn timeouts like they were incriminating photographs. The club is allowing teams to shoot 46% from the floor since the break, and a scorching 48.8% in the first quarter of games. They either spot opposing teams big leads to start games or get big leads themselves and squander them shortly thereafter. Consistency has been lacking, and it’s because of their fall-off at the defensive end.
So, how has the club kept winning during this downturn? Their offence has caught fire. Since the All-Star break they’ve ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.8 points per 100 possessions), largely on the back of the team taking fewer shots per game but hitting those shots at a higher percentage. They’ve also been assisting more without adding turnovers and have been hitting threes at a higher-that-normal rate (DeMar DeRozan’s and Greivis Vasquez’s inflated April numbers have certainly helped with that last part).
In the Playoffs, though, you’d much rather be going in with killer defence than killer offence. Defence is habit and it’s repeatable. Offence comes and goes, and when opposing teams can really scout a club to take away their tendencies, those sky-high percentages can quickly fall back down to earth. Remember that Washington and Brooklyn are both top-15 teams in terms of defensive rating since the All-Star break, with Washington (Toronto’s likely opponent) sitting pretty at eight. The Raptors have veered away from what made them successful for the bulk of the season and that could work to undermine all of the good that it took to get them to this point heading into the weekend.
Most frustratingly, however, is the fact that all of this is totally understandable and perhaps should have even been expected in spite of the stellar December-through-February output that put the team just below the elite of the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors are not a typical third seed. They are a young, inexperienced team that earned their distinction as much by luck (in the form of a terrible Eastern Conference) as by merit. This is a team still trying to find its identity, still struggling to understand how to execute consistently over the course of an 82-game season and, considering how new expectations are for a team like this, those struggles are totally appropriate.
The problem is, in a way, us. We see a third seed that played so well for a good chunk of the season, that crawled into the top-ten in defensive and offensive efficiency, and we expect more. We expect the Raptors to perform more like a club that’s been here before, more like a club that understands the gruelling path that a winning team faces and how to manage it for an entire season. In an analytic-driven media landscape, the numbers suggest that the Raptors have perhaps leapt a step further than they actually have. This is an exceedingly young team. They are starting two second-year players and two veterans that have zero Playoff experience (heck, they have zero experience playing heavy minutes for a club over .500).
Even Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s spirit animal out on the court, has only played in thirteen postseason games and started exactly none of them. Considering all of this, why should the Raptors know how to prepare themselves for what is about to come? How are they supposed to be ready for a situation that is unlike anything they’ve experienced in their professional careers?
Look, no one should be happy about the fact that this team barely limped to victory against Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit, nor should anyone be impressed by their desultory loss to New York. The last week has been a fitting conclusion to a weeks-long span that saw the Raptors, as we thought we knew them, crumble under the weight of expectations, precious little rest despite logging a loooooooot of on-court minutes.
Nonetheless, the club did come out the other end with the best record in team history. They also look ready to at least make some noise against their still-unknown first round opponent, even if a first round victory doesn’t seem as inevitable as it did a few weeks ago. This season has always been about laying the foundation for the future, and in that way this stretch of mediocrity might be the best thing to happen to the club since they jettisoned Rudy Gay back in December.
You don’t have to look too far back to remember the club’s first full season under Bryan Colangelo, another regular season that was capped with an unexpected Atlantic Division banner. Colangleo, believing that his team was far further ahead in their development than they were, doubled-down on his current roster in the summer and watched the whole thing implode within eighteen months.
Masai Ujiri, on the other hand, has had a weeks-long look at exactly how far this team really is from where they want to be. This recent slide represents ammunition for Toronto’s high-priced GM when he hits the open market this summer. This team still needs a lot of work to be able to consistently be the kind of club that they need to be. They need players who can reliably execute Casey’s defensive game plans. They need more players who can create offence for themselves and others. They need a squad that can hold onto leads and exert their will on opposing teams better than this current assemblage has been able to manage.
To get there Ujiri cannot be precious about the assets that he has in his arsenal. Whether we’re talking about draft picks, cap space or popular current players, everything has to be on the table to help this team take the next step next season. Remember, 48-plus wins is now the benchmark. Simply nipping and tucking around the edges isn’t enough for this Raptors club to improve upon that mark. They are good, but they aren’t great, and as Jack Armstrong repeated – ad nauseam – during Toronto’s loss to New York, good is the enemy of great. Ujiri and the Raptors cannot be satisfied with good. They cannot look at what has happened this season and think that they’ve achieved anything. They capitalized in a season when the East was particularly bad and while that demonstrated a certain level of capability, that demonstration should serve as nothing more than a springboard. It’s a starting point, a way of saying that there are the seeds of something potentially great, but there is a lot of work left to be done before the team gets to where it wants to me.
So, as frustrating as it can be to watch the defence fail to get back in transition or to watch DeMar DeRozan disappear for long stretches or to watch the team struggle against the NBA’s bottom-feeders, think of it as a crucial step for the team’s development. Even if the team looks less ready today to tackle the postseason than they looked back in January, it’s all a part of a bigger process. Think of it as a defence against anyone within the organization thinking that they are any further ahead as a team than they actually are. It’s a little pain now that, hopefully, prevents the team from self-inflicting more pain later. It’s a desperately needed reminder that a third-seed earning, Atlantic Division-winning season doesn’t mean anything on it’s own – it just represents the first steps on a long journey to take this team where Ujiri and Tim Leiweke want it to go.
And that’s a good thing, because if the Raptors want to get out of their cycle of mediocrity, they have to stop overvaluing the meaning of any single season and keep a keen eye on the many seasons it’s going to take to achieve their goals.
This week on Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry discuss the week that was but more importantly, welcome a very special guest. On this episode, the guys were privileged to head down to the ACC and be joined by Raptors broadcast legend Jack Armstrong for a great chat.
-How Jack got his start in broadcasting.
-Preferable first round Playoff Match-ups.
-Is this team “one piece away from being a true championship contender”?
-How Chuck Swirsky is doing.
-Refs and the seemingly terrible relationship the Raptors have with them.
-Drake and what he’s doing for the team.
-How does this team stack up against the past teams in franchise history?
and so much more.
Jack is genuinely a great guy and the guys had a fantastic time talking with him. Thanks for listening and as always enjoy!
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Bucks 100, Raptors 110 – Box
Fanapalooza was in effect at the ACC; DeMar DeRozan was given the night off after ushering in the Atlantic banner to the tune of fireworks; There was a dude doing an oil painting on the sidelines of an in-game Ross dunk; The well-fed ACC crowd executed a flawed but respectable Mexican wave; and the night was capped off with an ever-so-tasty ‘Za made extra special by a franchise-high 48th win which was never, ever in doubt.
There was an opposing team at the ACC, namely the Bucks who were no more than a prop in a stage show. Their role on the night was reduced to playing mannequins to the Raptors shopping themselves to any shot they fancied, and it was the three they fancied. The Raptors were 14-32 (46%) from long-range and were in cruise-control past the first minute of the game.
This was a night of celebration more than competition, one which was long overdue given the meagre returns on past seasons. Even Kyle Lowry, the focused veteran who has been the Raptors’ heart and soul all season, decided to play around a little and shot the ball 24 times, a season-high by some distance. It was an amiable night for everyone – Greivis Vasquez Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, everyone. Vasquez got to shoot his floaters and trailer threes, Ross threw a few down, Johnson hit some “summer” threes, and Valanciunas dominated in the same fashion as he had in Milwaukee a week past.
The Raptors were up by 13 in the first quarter and extended their lead to as many as 22 in the second half, but it may as well have been 74. Any time the Bucks got a couple in a row to cut it to 12 or so, the Raptors executed a modest and predictable play to get a score and pull the game back. Even when the Bucks slashed it to six in the fourth quarter, you knew a response was coming and it did in the form of forced turnovers punctuated by more threes. Given the quality of the opponent we can’t quite draw any conclusions about anyone’s play, except to say that the team is having fun, clicking well, and that this game served as a good stretching exercise before things get real in a week or so, regardless of opponent.
“It felt good to get my bounce back. It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”
The Bucks did shoot 52% in the game, one which the Raptors didn’t necessarily approach with a view to tightening a leaky defense, but that of down-shifting on a back-to-back, so I’m not going to dwell on that little negative, nor am I going to read much into them crushing the Bucks 46-32 on the glass. This was a glorified pick-up game where the outcome was settled very soon after tip-off.
Speaking as a fan rather than someone assigned to report on the game, it’s great to be in springtime (ignore the bloody weather for a second) and still have the best part of Raptors basketball to look forward to. This has been a season of labour and toil. The team has undergone a transformation, achieved surprised success and more importantly, sustained that success after the secret was out. They’ve won big games, lost close ones, and have been in every contest. The Raptors remain the only Eastern-conference playoff team not to suffer a 20+ point blowout this season, and you already know about how we’re amongst the leaders in every meaningful statistical category since December.
The final game of the regular season looms large – Chicago is in Charlotte and the Bobcats have all to play for. They’re one game back of Washington for the sixth seed and hold the tie-breaker, meaning that with a win coupled with a Washington loss, they could steal the sixth spot. Washington, in turn, could move up to fifth with a win in Boston combined with Brooklyn losing to the Knicks and Cleveland. Everything’s possible. All teasier tors have to do is maintain their seeding is beat the Knicks on Wednesday, which is very much a possibility given how poorly we played last time out against them and how close the game was. Taking the longer view, with the Pacers grabbing the top seed the silver lining in a Nets 4-5 matchup might be that the second round, if we get there, might be easier than if we progress as the third seed.
“I’m more worried about us than I am who we play. I’m not going into this final game trying to control who we play. I’m more worried about our health, rest for our guys, and rhythm, and there’s a fine line between the two.”
- Dwane Casey
The playoffs will be challenging. It would be foolish to discount the lack of playoff experience on the roster as a non-factor. Playoff jitters are a fact of life, Vince Carter felt them, Chris Bosh felt them, and DeMar DeRozan will feel them. There will be moments of self-doubt and hopelessness where every aspect of the game will seemingly go against them, and in those testing times it’s the safety net of the team that can buoy them. Carter was eaten alive by Latrell Sprewell, Bosh was handcuffed by Mikki Moore, and the playoffs will bring rise to a nemesis for DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as well. The difference between these playoff virgins and those of Carter and Bosh’s will be that this version of the Raptors is more likely to respond as a team rather than individually. The mantra of the season has been collectiveness and winning without a bonafide superstar, and as much as you need a “star” to bring you playoff success, earlier versions of the Raptors had that player yet failed. This group is the opposite, this wolfpack’s strength is in numbers rather than the size of one lone wolf, which makes them better equipped to handle the adversity that any playoff appearance surely brings.
Coming up a bit later, the Nick and Barry have Jack Armstrong on the pod but if you really can’t wait…
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If you haven’t been able to snag tickets to Raptors playoff games, don’t worry. Every game will be broadcast on the giant screen in Maple Leaf Square outside the ACC. “Party in the Square,” as the Raptors are calling it, will start two hours before tip off for all home and away games. DJs will provide tunes and prizes will be handed out. Admission to the party is free, but capacity is limited.
“They’re a good team,” Head Coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve been playing well. They are gearing up for the playoffs. Even minus DeRozan, it just goes to show you how much talent they have on that team. We fell behind, we tried to fight back. We got it under 10, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.” In Toronto, Drew’s comments sound like the eerily familiar voices of Raptors head coaches in seasons past and with the loss, the Bucks guaranteed themselves last place overall heading into the NBA Draft Lottery. The Raptors could afford to rest DeRozan against the Bucks who only had 9 players available as injuries have been an unpleasant theme in Milwaukee all season, however, the rationale really was to hopefully add some ‘pep to DeRozan’s step’ in the postseason.
Kyle Lowry made a strong contribution all game. When the Bucks looked like they were on the verge of completing the comeback in Q4, Kyle drove to the hoop several times for layups. He ended with 24 points. The Raps were expected to own the boards, and did, as two big men enjoyed double-double nights. Jonas Valanciunas’ 14 points and 13 rebounds was aided by hitting all 6 free throws he tried. Tyler Hansbrough’s run of disappointing efforts ended with 12 points and 11 rebounds. One memorable bucket occurred after he received a nifty behind-the-back pass from the always-surprising Amir. Solid passing was in evidence all night. The Raps had 25 assists, including 5 from the solid Nando De Colo, who has pushed aside the pretenders to earn regular minutes. Milwaukee received solid games from Jeff Adrien and top scorer Ramon Sessions, but surrendered 11 steals. With a short bench, they get credit for “winning” Q4 when by rights they should have been cooked. The Bucks had best hope for luck in the Draft Lottery, and good health next season, as they are a lot more hole than donut.
“I think it gets wiped away. I think you are who you are going into the playoffs,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “You’re not going to be 10 points better or 10 points worse, momentum or not. “I don’t think you’re going to become something if you have momentum, and all at once become a much better team because you’re playing well going into the playoffs.” On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled.
“All it takes is the right chemistry, the right group of guys, and you can do whatever it takes,” DeRozan said. “You don’t need no big-name players, you don’t need this, that. . . what people supposedly say you need. “I think we’re proof of that, and we continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep building and it’s on to the next step.” The Raptors stumbled out to a 6-12 season start. The about-face came after the blockbuster seven-player trade in December that sentRudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Vasquez, John Salmons,Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes. “I’m glad we made the trade for those guys, they came in and they’ve done an unbelievable job and the coaching staff has done an unbelievable job also,” Lowry said.
We can finally exhale. With a 110-100 loss to the Raptors tonight, the Bucks locked down the worst record in the league, and thus will have the highest odds at landing the number one pick and no worse than the fourth pick in this June’s draft. Thoughthis wasn’t the intention at the beginning of the year, we’ve made it to this position. You may pop that champagne you have been saving in your refrigerator. Coming into tonight with a two-game cushion on Philly with only two games remaining, Milwaukee had to win out to not be the sole proprietor of the bottom slot in the the league standings. The Raptors, in their own battle to lock down the third seed in the East, had no plans to allow the Bucks a chance out of the basement, coming out early with way more energy than Milwaukee.
“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests.
“It definitely means a lot,” DeRozan told reporters after the game. “If you really sit down and look at it, that’s big, to be tied with the franchise record and have a chance to break it. “We’ve come a long way. A lot of people wouldn’t have counted us to be in the position we’re in now. It’s definitely a credit to our hard work, both the players and the coaching staff.” The franchise record currently stands at 47 wins in a regular season, with Toronto needing one win from their final games to set a new tally.
“I’ve been ready for any opportunity since I got here,” said Vasquez. “I’m all about winning and when I have a chance to start, I want to help the team win and have a presence in the game. Now we have 48 and that’s important, but we’re not satisfied and we need to get better. Johnson, hurling into the front row of seats after that monster dunk, took a moment to pop his jersey among the crowd in the sort of small, prideful gesture this franchise had seldom enjoyed in recent years. The veteran power forward, who only returned two games ago from a four-game layoff with a sore ankle, had 10 points, five boards and three assists, working back into 27 minutes of playing time as he continues to improve his game-conditioning after missing contests. “It felt good to get my bounce back,” said Johnson, the fifth-year Raptor. “It made me smile to look up [to the rafters], to have something accomplished, to look up and see a banner up there.”
“You’re not going to sneak around people,” Thibodeau said. “If you’re going to be successful, you have to go through people.” In other words, all systems go and full speed ahead? This is known: The Heat rested LeBron James and Chris Bosh at Washington and the Heat got drilled by the Wizards, handing the Eastern Conference’s top seed to the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Raptors won their home finale against the Bucks. That means if the Raptors win at the Knicks on Wednesday, the Bulls will finish fourth and face either the Wizards or, most likely, the Nets in the first round. If they prevailed in that series, they would draw the Pacers-Hawks winner in the second round. It’s the same scenario if both the Raptors and Bulls lose on Wednesday.
On that count, we will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s consider if these Raptors, who set a franchise record Monday with their 48th victory, are the best of the 19 editions of this club. Monday also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have ever been 15 games over .500. Casey sounded a little less than thrilled. “I know it’s ringing hollow, but we still have to continue work to get better,” Casey said. “We’re not where we need to be defensively, offensively for the playoffs. We’re not a veteran team that can take three or four games off and expect to come back and keep the rhythm.”
And perhaps that’s how the team must play in the post-season, resorting to a style featuring solid ball movement and running in transition following stops or turnovers, basically trying to outscore its opponent, which is not in head coach Dwane Casey’s basketball DNA. What can be gleaned from win No. 48 is anyone’s guess, an evening that was more pre-season than end-of-season basketball with the post-season on the horizon. DeMar DeRozan would usher in the banner ceremony, engaging with the fans, then enjoyed his courtside view from the bench as the team decided to sit its all-star wing, even though DeRozan did dress in the event the Bucks somehow mounted a charge.
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Amir Johnson is a great dude, and so is that dude in the blue shirt. The dude in the blue shirt deserves better than paying for those expensive seats, getting up off his comfy 100-level chair to high-five Amir, and then be left hanging. RR advises Amir Johnson to find that man and send him a gift basket containing playoff tickets. Now. As a token gift, RR pledges to give that man a free Kings In The North shirt if he contacts us at [email protected]
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +20What more do you want from him? Second game back from injury, started the game gangbusters, and had to deal with the long, athletic, Bucks front-court, or Pachulia jamming elbows into his chest. A couple threes, a couple dimes…he’s the hero this city deserves (sorry Patman; we just like you, we don’t love you).|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 33 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +18I’d be more concerned if the rest of his game disappeared alongside his offense, but he did a great job of rotating on defense, getting out in passing lanes and chasing his man around the screens. I’m concerned with his inability to consistently score heading into the playoffs.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 27 MIN | 4-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +8This is not the Jonas we saw to start the season. This is not the Jonas I would have gladly flipped to Detroit for Drummond. This is the Jonas who came “this” close to losing it all with a stupid mistake, and has made a commitment to putting it behind him and doubling down. He was a beast tonight, and did a hell of a job against a quicker, more athletic frontcourt. I appreciate him swinging his elbows when he comes down with the ball.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 36 MIN | 10-24 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 24 PTS | +15Sick handles, sick buckets, sick. You almost forgot about him from time-to-time with Vasquez handling the ball so much, but as an off-guard, he’s lethal because of his playmaking ability. Picked up in the 2nd half where Vasquez left off and made a lot of things happen. When the Raptors need something to happen on offense, there should be no doubt who the ball should go too.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 8-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | +21There’s no question he belongs in this league; wish he didn’t think he needs to repeatedly defend that…it’s quite clear. That said, he made it rain in the 1st half, and makes a legit running mate for Lowry in the back-court. Pretty quiet in the second half, but Lowry picked up the slack like a good backcourt mate should. Sessions took a few too many liberties on offense, but you could see he tried to keep up; gotta appreciate that|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 4-5 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +6How did the Pacers not have a spot for him on their bench? Everytime there was a skirmish under the rim, or someone getting tangled up, he was there.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 19 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -6He grabbed the few rebounds Hansbrough couldn’t scoop up. Had a hard time with Adrien/Henson, but he rarely has to deal with opposition A-squad for extended periods of time.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -4He actually jumped to pass the ball from the corner, and ended up throwing it away, that sent the Bucks out on the break and cut the Raptors lead to 6. That’s all I can think about. Nando should have slapped him for that transgression.|
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -8Good with the ball, good off the ball, set a nice pace, but he’s not as good a shooter as you’d like. His ball movement and court-vision surprised the Bucks who couldn’t make any adjustments.|
Did a great job of managing minutes, but not a good enough job of managing the game allowing the Bucks to make the 4th quarter run that forced him to play the starters down the stretch more than we all would have liked.
Celebrate the Raptors Atlantic Division title by sporting this classic-lookig “Kings in the North” tee. At $14.99, the shirts are priced with a low profit margin – profit made from sales helps Raptors Republic provide daily, free Raptors-related content such as articles, podcasts, videos, and all the stuff you’re used to.
WAAAA BRENDAN SHANAHAN AHHHH RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!!!
Hey, guess what, an actual game is being played at the ACC on Monday, too. I know, secondary to a new president of the Leafs, but we’ve got to cover it, assuming it isn’t cancelled because the local media is still fellating Shanahan at Gate 6. If the game does go down, it’ll tip off at 7 p.m. on TSN, and features your 47-33 Toronto Raptors against the 15-65 Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks, in April? Well, here are a few reasons to care:
*The Raptors will be raising their SECOND Atlantic Division Champions banner to the rafters before the game. Please use the hashtag #bannerz when discussing on social media.
*The Raptors can set the franchise record for wins with a victory. The current 47-win mark is tied with two other seasons as the best mark in franchise history.
*The Raptors are tied with Chicago right now and own the tiebreaker. A win with a Chicago loss would clinch the three-seed and almost surely mean they avoid Brooklyn in round one, if that’s something you care about.
*With a loss, the Bucks will clinch the best lottery odds.
*Jonas Valanciunas has been beasting of late (18.3 points and 11 rebounds on 60.7 percent shooting over his past eight).
*DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry making final statements for Most Improved Player voting.
1. The Bucks magic number is 1. As in, one Bucks loss or Sixers win locks up the league’s worst record and, therefore, the best chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. The Bucks are also assured of a top-5 pick already. This must feel good after a year of feeling bad. How would you rank your top-5 draft prospects, and was a 15-65 season worth it?
It really does feel good, though the process to get there wasn’t organic (read: this was soooooo not planned). It’s essentially a toothless smile after all the beatings they’ve endured this year, but whatever. It’s still a smile. They’re in this position and tomorrow looks a lot more promising than today.
With regards to the draft, the excitement for the best odds at the no. 1 is definitely there, but I think what Bucks fans are most amped (or maybe relieved) about is that no matter where they fall in the draft order, they’ll have a chance to pick up a premier prospect and add that to their small group of intriguing young talent. That being said, there is still a wish list within the broader wish list (mine goes Wiggins-Parker-Embiid-Exum-whoever, by the way…I think) that folks are surely going to argue about for the next two months. It’s fine; people have their preferences, but we Bucks fans can sleep easy knowing that one of these super highly touted guys will be dressing in Bucks gear next year. That’s nuts. This doesn’t happen too often ’round here.
Was all the losing worth it? Technically yes, because high draft picks are cool and exciting and the Bucks need that buzz surrounding them. The only concern I would have going forward is that this young little group of players that are here already (Brandon Knight, John Henson, Giannis, Nate Wolters, Larry Sanders, Khris Middleton) aren’t as good as they’re expected to be once the primary talent is brought in. There’s a fair amount of potential in that cast, but when you lose 65 or 66 games in a 82-game season, the question of ”well, are they really going to be any good?” has to creep into your mind a little bit. But, they’re all under the age of 25 and have pretty solid potential going forward, so we’ll see. I think this whole year was worth it if it means that this young group plus the pick(s) are the ones leading the campaign next year.
Milwaukee hasn’t beaten a .500 team since Dec. 6. Give me one reason Raptors fans should be even remotely worried about this game, which actually means something to Toronto.
I’m pretty sure there is some incentive among professional athletes to not be known as part of the worst team in the league any given year. As much as almost everyone around the situation wants the Bucks to lock down that worst record, I can’t imagine the players are like, ”yeah! Let’s try and lose and not be embarrassed about it!” So basically, if the Raptors have their sights set on the playoffs while Milwaukee is trying to not be the cellar-dweller, there could be a chance that Milwaukee steals a victory. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN, TORONTO.
Giannis Antetokounmpo. Still the best?
Yep. He’s certainly reached the limit on what he can accomplish on the court in his rookie season, but he’s still brought so much joy to a team that’s had so little to smile about. Some people have considered that over-saturation of a player who isn’t that good yet, but whatever. Let us be the slightest bit happy (even if it gets crazy once in a while) about something that’s gone well for us, please and thank you.
Despite owning the league’s second-worst defensive efficiency mark, the Bucks do a decent job chasing teams off the 3-point line above the break. Is this a positive sign for the defensive system, or is it simply indicative of the Bucks bleeding attempts in the paint and from the corners? (I’m stretching to find positives to say about their play, sorry.)
I have no idea, honestly. I can’t really say I’ve picked up on any patterns for this defense other than sighing deeply. Sorry.
O.J. Mayo has gotten quite fat this season. Milwaukee’s known for their beer, but what local foods do you think he’s been plumping up on?
Before I answer this, I want to express regret for not starting a Fatty Mayonnaise craze. That meme/photoshop would have gotten me ALL the retweets and groupies that come with high retweet totals.
So I looked up foods to avoid belly fat (which is where his gain has been, mostly), and I’ve come up with this list:
-ice cream sandwiches
-doughnut holes (glazed, probably)
-ice cream sundaes (you could totally see him hosting Sundae Sunday at his place, couldn’t you?)
Vegas says: Raptors -11 or -12 depending on where you go, with an over/under of 205. No data is available on where the action is going.
Hollinger says: Raptors -14
Nelly says: Treat ‘em like they’re from Milwaukee, send ‘em Green Pay Packin
Blake says: Bullying is morally apprehensible but I would like for the Toronto Raptors to raise a banner and then raise the bar for ass kickings and raise the roof with their great play and raise expectations entering the playoffs. Raptors by one point for each heart Giannis warms during the game.
“Warrior”. “Humble”. “Determined”. “Heart”. These are just a few words used to describe Amir Johnson. He is the heart and soul of the Toronto Raptors, on and off the court. Not a game goes by where Amir isn’t diving on the floor after a loose ball, battling for a key rebound, or making us all hold our breath while he attempts yet another “summer three”.
Off the court, Amir is one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met. He is a fixture in the community, and loves taking part in events around the city. So it’s was no surprise that 4 years ago, in Amir’s first season with the Raptors, he decided to do something no professional athlete in any sport has ever done. He took 50 lucky fans to a Raptors game and dinner afterwards… on him! I was one of the lucky 50 to attend, and I have attended every year since.
The event is called “i Roll With Amir” and was held over two evenings last Wednesday and Thursday. Night 1 began at Home Of The Brave, where we picked up our tickets and were gifted with a Roll with Amir swag bag filled with a sweatshirt, t-shirt, and water bottle with Amir’s face and the event logo on them. We then went to the ACC, where we witnessed the Raptors take down the Philadelphia 76ers and inch that much closer to the Atlantic Division title (which they won 2 nights later.) Thursday was night 2 at Medieval Times, a place Amir chose because it reminded him of attending the show as a child in his hometown of LA. The night began with an hour and a half of socializing prior to the show. He greeted us as we entered and thanked us for attending.
A group photo was taken and we were told to line up – as he sat in a chair fit for a King – he spoke to everyone individually. Many excited fans met Amir for the first time. We moved into another room where Amir was “knighted”. Following that, we entered the Tournament court – and were seated at long tables – dinner was served and the show began. Demar DeRozan, along with his fiancé and young daughter, arrived to show support for their teammate and friend. I was lucky enough to be seated directly behind Amir and Demar, and watching them watch the show and interact with each other, has me so excited for the future of this team going forward. These are guys who genuinely like each other and enjoy being together. Our Raptors are in good hands.
On behalf of everyone in attendance, the biggest THANK YOU to Amir and his friend Veezy, for putting on another spectacular event. We can all look forward to what amazing idea they will have for Part 5! But first… a deep playoff run – this city, the fans and Amir truly deserve it!
Alrighty, first things first: I’m here to put myself at the feet of the RR faithful for missing my scheduled quick reaction post yesterday. The quick and dirty explanation: I’ve been away from the site for the last couple months while I finish my thesis, which was presented last week. The Pistons game was supposed to be my glorious reintroduction to RR to help bolster the rotation come playoff time.
Instead, my sleep-deprived, graduate school-addled brain convinced me that the game started at 3:30 Pacific time, instead of 3:30 Eastern. When I sat down to watch the game, I found myself looking at TV listings filled with Masters coverage and highlight shows, but nary a Raptor game to be seen. I then found an e-mail from Zarar asking where the hell I was.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t even pop on the site myself, as I’d somehow broken my computer charger the evening before.
In any case, the blame is mine, and it’s my bad. I’m sorry.
Now, enough of my rambling. Let’s get to the game, which was a pretty pivotal one once the Bulls lost the Knicks later in the day, as it not only tied a Raptor franchise record for wins but also pulled them back into pole position for the 3rd spot in the conference.
It’s hard to describe how dominant the Raptors looked at the start of this one. They came out of the gates like a house on fire, and offensively, everything (and everyone) was clicking. The Raptors’ strategy to begin the game seemed to be to feed Jonas and a much more spry looking (at least on offence) Amir Johnson as much as possible, with the intention of getting Detroit’s imposing Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond front line in foul trouble. The strategy worked, and both players had some nice buckets inside as Monroe and Drummond found themselves both on the bench less than halfway through the quarter.
More from RR:
In the end, that turned out to be more of a premonition than a great thing for the Raptors (holy crap, were there a lot of fouls called in this game), but in the first, it was a thing of beauty. With the lane wide open, it seemed like the entire Raptors team was either scoring at will or getting to the line (and, in multiple instances, both). The score quickly ballooned to 20-5 and you kind of felt like this thing was over before it had even started.
Side note here: Detroit is a super-talented team, but they’re a bit of a mess mentally. It seems like all of their stars ride a roller coaster all game in regards to effort. Like a big roller coaster, with loops and stuff, not the kiddy one that takes you around the perimeter of the park – one quarter, Greg Monroe is grabbing every board in sight, the next, he looks like he’s not sure what sport he’s playing. The weird thing is that their players don’t even ride the same roller coaster – they all peak at totally different times. It’s quite odd (and reassuring, if you’re a fan of the opposing team). But anyways.
The Pistons managed to claw back a tad thanks to some sloppy Raptor defence, which was a bit of a theme tonight, as you’ll see, but the Raptors ended the quarter up 42-26 – setting a new season-best for points in the first, and, quite likely having Casey and his coaching staff feeling like all that was needed for a win was three more quarters of coasting. This was evident in his lineups, which were far more evenly spaced in regards to minutes than they have been in games previous (though, again, this is partly due to the ridiculous amount of fouls we saw on both sides).
The second quarter began with a bench + DeMar unit that had the Pistons quickly keying on number ten every time the ball came near him. He hit a lot of tough shots today – including a four-point play in the quarter – but it’s tough to stay ahead while the number two option on the floor appears to be Tyler Hansbrough. Andre Drummond, obviously, dominated the matchup with Hansbrough – he dominated most of the game against everyone, honestly, and helped the Pistons out to a huge rebounding advantage, particularly on the offensive end, that allowed them to claw back in the game.
Seeing this disparity grow (offensive rebounding was at 20-4 Pistons at one point, and ended at 21-8), particularly with their vertically-challenged second forward unit, the Raptors seemed to try and make up the difference in possessions by gambling for steals. It was a strategy that paid dividends in some ways – the Raptor fast break was extremely effective – but also left perimeter players out of position regularly. Quite frankly, it looked lazy. The Pistons used the free space to cut the lead to 8 points with 30 seconds left in the half. That’s where the title of the article comes in.
You see, sometimes things don’t always work out your way on a team level. As a whole, you’re a step slow defensively, or your three-pointers aren’t falling. Your secondary scoring options are having up and down games. You’re getting horribly, horribly outrebounded. It’s a game that by all accounts, you should lose.
Yet for good teams, with legitimate stars, they often find a way to win, thanks to just sheer will and effectiveness of their top players. And, from a Raptor standpoint, this game turned into a two-part special: the Kyle Lowry show, followed by the DeMar DeRozan show.
With the Raptor offence struggling all over the court, Lowry took the opportunity to end the half with two huge spot-up three pointers that he sunk with a hand in his face, ballooning the lead to 14 just before the half and completely killing Detroit’s momentum. He then started off the 3rd with another, and continued to look for his own all quarter with aplomb. Lowry ended the 3rd with 14 of the Raptors 24 points in the quarter.
This was important, because aside from him, the third quarter was a train wreck. Detroit, led by their twin towers of Monroe and Drummond, absolutely DEMOLISHED the Raptors in all facets. Jonas, in particular, had an extremely rough quarter, being rejected by Drummond a couple times before losing his confidence and bricking a few short hook shots. It seemed like Monroe and Drummond were catching every Detroit miss and putting it back up and in, a problem exacerbated with an ineffective Jonas, a still-hobbled and burdened by 5 fouls Amir and an injured Chuck Hayes (he left the game on a Monroe poster dunk and later returned). Hansbrough and Patterson as a duo are just far too small to effectively guard Monroe and Drummond, and if you weren’t sure about that to begin the game, well, you sure as hell are now.
Somehow, someway though, the Raptors ended the quarter up 1. And by “somehow, someway,” I mean “Kyle Lowry.” This guy was absolutely everywhere, as usual – hitting spot-up threes, finishing tough buckets at the hoop, ripping rebounds away from Monroe, and just generally being a menace, a superman, KLOE. The Detroit broadcast team called him a star and said “we’d be hearing a lot more about Kyle Lowry over the next few years.” I’m fully convinced that if the Raptors were more popular, any semblance of the debate regarding Kyle Lowry staying in the city next year would be completely over. The guy should be the most popular athlete in Canada.
With Lowry taking a blow to start the fourth, the Raptors looked to DeMar DeRozan to continue Lowry’s path of singular destruction. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that DeMar was an all-star this season – his shot selection can still be questionable at times, particularly in the fourth when he attempts to take matters into his own hands.
When they start going down, though, wow, is it fun to watch. And man, does he ever look like an All-Star. With the larger Kyle Singler spending the entire quarter more or less draped all over him, DeMar hit a litany of tough shots from all over the court, ballooning the Raptor lead to 10 points and essentially sealing it with a massive dunk of Singler with a couple minutes left. His alpha dog status assured, DeRozan’s dominance seemed to have significant emotional impacts on the Pistons players, too – Monroe and Drummond became visibly more timid around the rim, and Jonas was able to repeat his early effectiveness to help finish the game off and at least make the rebounding disparity respectable. Even when Lowry fouled out with 5 minutes left, it didn’t feel like Detroit had any chance. That’s the superman effect. And it’s fun when not one, but two guys on your team can do it on the same night.
Was this a perfect win? No, not even close. The team defence as a whole was sloppy and the rebounding was abysmal at times. Was it a big win? You bet. And for your big players, sometimes big is a bit more of an incentive than perfect.
Breaking it Down
Because I missed the original airing of the game, I ended up watching it on NBA.tv (thanks, Zarar), which allowed me to pull some gifs. So let’s take a look at a few specific plays from the game:
This first clip is a good example of the Raptors’ early mindset, which seemed to be to feed Jonas and Amir as often as possible. It’s also a great example of how Terrence Ross has come along this season with his decision-making in the lane.
1. Lowry moves the ball to a slashing Ross, who is picked up on a switch by Kyle Singler.
2. Noticing the switch, Amir Johnson (who looked far, far more mobile yesterday on offence, anyway), immediately breaks for the hoop. He’s picked up, belatedly, by Jonas Jerebko.
3. With Ross rolling hard to the basket, Greg Monroe stays back, both to put a body on Jonas and to avoid being taken out by a falling Singler, who’s overcommitted to helping on Ross.
4. Amir finishes the hoop and is fouled for a nice and-one. It’s plays like this that allowed the Raptor bigs to be effective. When the wings are creative in finding looks, the size disparity faced by Toronto against a team like Detroit isn’t nearly as pronounced.
This next play is another example of some creative work by the Raptors to free up space around the rim (as well as an example of great passing/athleticism).
2. Patterson pops and calls for the ball. Seeing his man open, Patterson’s check (Tony Mitchell), doesn’t hedge on DeRozan’s screen, and Kyle Lowry’s man sags.
3. DeRozan rises over a frantically recovering Singler, who is late returning to his check thanks to Patterson’s excellent screen and his own teammate Mitchell’s immobility during the play. Lowry delivers a perfect dime, the Raptors go up 28-12 (yes, the start of this game was super fun).
As I said in my recap, things started to break down in the second as the Raptors started gambling for steals. Here, we see Nando de Colo and Amir Jonson making poor individual decisions that lead to an easy Piston bucket:
1. De Colo leaves his man (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, in the far left corner) to attempt to pick off a pass out to Monroe, who is standing near the three point line. Spoiler alert: Monroe doesn’t score from there. Ever. The ball is nearly stolen by de Colo and recovered by Detroit.
2. With de Colo out of position, Grevis Vasquez rotates in to help, finding himself checking Monroe. Once Monroe begins to rotate to the basket, Vasquez leaves him for Hayes, finding himself in no-man’s land.
3. Amir, who was guarding Monroe, rotates out to the line to guard a now wide-open Caldwell-Pope, who’s man (de Colo), is now standing on the free throw line. In his haste, he dives out to cover, biting on what can be described as a pre-pump fake. Caldwell-Pope shakes Amir and is left wide open for an easy basket.
In the fourth, some defensive issues continued, particularly when the duo of Patterson and Hansbrough was charged with guarding Monroe and Drummond:
1. De Colo, guarding Peyton Siva, is picked near the three point line by Monroe.
2. Hansbrough sags hard on Siva, leaving Monroe alone near the 3-point line. Patterson steps up to cover the rolling Monroe.
3. Hansbrough fully commits to the driving Siva as de Colo proves unable to get back into position. Monroe begins his move to the basket, and Patterson responds by pushing Monroe on the back, allowing Monroe lane position and an easy dunk on the heels of the Siva miss.
And this one is here for obvious reasons:
1. DeMar DeRozan over everything.
2. Superman effect.
Odds and Ends
1. Amir Johnson looked better than he did against the Knicks, but still not at 100 per cent. It was particularly clear that he still has a ways to go on the defensive side of the ball, where he was a step slow and ended up committing five fouls in just seventeen minutes.
2. It was the Pistons’ home finale, and yet you could hear fans chanting “let’s go Raptors” and “MVP” for Lowry when he stepped to the line. Pretty cool stuff.
3. The win puts the Raptors’ destiny back in their own hands. Two wins to close out the season, and the third seed is ours. Of course, that may not be what Raptor fans want in the end, depending on how the Miami/Indiana dogfight shakes out.
4. With the win, the 2013/2014 Raptors tie the team record for wins in a season, with two games to go – one against the lowly Bucks, and one against the Knicks. I realize that in the larger picture, it’s just a number, but it’d be great to see this group of Raptors own the record. They’ve worked extremely hard this season and been an absolute pleasure to watch, and, if nothing else, it would be a great way to commemorate the season that was in the annals of club history.
Sunday was another example of the Raptors getting pushed around in the paint. The Pistons outrebounded them 55-40, with a 21-8 edge in the offensive-boards department. A healthy and mobile Amir Johnson would go a long way to addressing that need and Casey knows it. “We definitely do,” he said when asked how desperately they need a healthy Johnson back. “Any time anybody gets 21 offensive boards tells all of our bigs there’s a need. It’s timing, it’s grit, it’s anticipation and a lot of those things that we didn’t have. They basically manhandled us in the paint and we’ve got to better than that.” Coming into the game it was the defensive slippage that was of most concern and while the Raptors held Detroit to just 41.7% shooting, the Pistons also scored 107 points which is way too many for a team that has struggled as much as Detroit. Casey, though, was most concerned with the beating his team took on the glass.
Most fans will look back on this game as a bit of a disappointment. Once again, the Raptors played down to a level that shouldn’t be acceptable for a club that just laid claim to the Atlantic Division title. With that said, we witnessed yet another clutch performance from DeRozan who looks to be in top form just in time for the playoffs. In addition, we saw this team react to the loss of Lowry and not miss a beat. Detroit or not – a win, is a win, is a win.
Nearing the end of their magical, out-of-nowhere campaign, the Raptors continue to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Two days after clinching their second ever division title, they tied the team’s all-time win mark – previously set in 2000-01 and then again in 2006-07 – and have a chance to top it on Monday when they host the Bucks or in Wednesday’s finale against New York. “We talked about it as a team,” Casey said. “It wasn’t our goal going into the year but it’s good for this group. It’s something they should be proud of. They worked at it and it’s all their doing.” “Why not break it?” “It definitely means a lot, man,” said DeRozan, who scored 14 of his game-high 30 points in the final quarter Sunday. “When you look at it, if you really sit down and look at it, man, that’s big. To be tied with the franchise record and have a chance to break it. We came a long way. A lot of people wouldn’t have counted [on] us to be in this position that we’re in now.”
There will be a banner-raising ceremony to mark the team’s second Atlantic Division title before the game as DeRozan and the Raptors chase win No. 48 on the year. Victory No. 47 was far from pretty but with so much on the line in such an unexpected season, DeRozan’s 14-point fourth quarter sealed a 116-107 win over the Detroit Pistons and kept Toronto on pace for a record-breaking year.
The play in this game became sloppy and inconsistent and even the referees seemed to have trouble concentrating. Kyle Lowry was fouled out on successive lazy calls by the referees who couldn’t bother to pay attention long enough to get it right. Lowry was fouled out when Drummond tripped over his own feet all by himself. No one on either team had touched him, he just lost his balance. If the referee had of been actually watching the play instead of not paying attention, he would have gotten the non-call, nothing happened situation, right. It must be almost the end of the regular season and some of the referees – along with any number of the players – have one foot on the plane heading out on vacation already.
“We definitely want to pass that record,” forward Amir Johnson said. “We’re still playing hard, we’re still working on our game for the playoffs so we’re still playing for something.”
Send me your Raptors-related articles; I can’t keep track of them all rapsfan [at] raptorsrepublic [dot] com
Andrew and I jump right back into the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon:
Sources have confirmed that there was a two-car collision on the corner of Palace and Auburn Hills on Sunday afternoon. The victim, identified as one Kyle Singler, came into direct contact with a freight truck driven by one DeMar DeRozan. Singler, according to witnesses, chose to deliberately cross paths with the freight truck, much to his physical disadvantage and dismay. The below CCTV footage was released by the Detroit Police Department as a way of caution to others who might consider crossing paths with indestructible vehicles (video).
More from RR:
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 3-3 FG | 2-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +2
What a God-send, can we give this guy a contract extension already? Seriously, if he was any more consistent he’d be a brick wall.
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +17
Is there a stat like 1/2 triple doubles, because he almost nailed that with a 6/4/4 line. Sick player, sicker condo.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 30 MIN | 5-12 FG | 8-9 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +9
I want to be friends with this guy so bad. He’d totally let me crash at his place, bum a smoke, and playfully throw the XBOX controller at me after I crush him in FIFA.
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 9-18 FG | 6-8 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 28 PTS | +8
Are you watching Joe Johnson? Are you watching? This is what an All-Star looks like you over-paid, under-worked mushroom head of a human being.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 10-19 FG | 8-10 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 30 PTS | +7
Hah, if you caught the pod posted today I chose not to talk about him because he wasn’t doing much all week. Well, tonight he did something. Like a lot and got a tweet from Lillard appreciating the work.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 11 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +3
It doesn’t matter what he does in the regular season, as long as he knees Garnett in the groin reducing the thug to a pile of leaves, I’m all good.
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 25 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +6
Back to the bench, back to being a playa. I’ve ordered my gold-hemmed Patrick Patterson jersey and should be here in time for the playoffs. I’ll be at the ACC, just look for the guy getting the mad pu$$y. Three blocks tonight and they said he don’t play D.
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2
Playa, meet Balla. Solid rebounding game against a frontline some call formidable. Chuck Hayes calls them a bunch of pansies.
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5
Jesus man, even in a post where I’m giving everyone mad love, I can’t figure what to write for this guy. I presume he’s bored of the regular season and just waiting for the playoffs.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +3
Sixth man of the second half of the post All-Star game period.
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -3
Someone needs to pull up his average distance run/minute stat. I bet it’s sky high.
Coach of the Year? Probably not, but definitely an extension.
Time flies when you’re having fun and after today there’s only two games left in the regular season. On Monday the Raptors have their last regular season home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, who rank 6th from the bottom in points allowed this season at 103.4, which increases to 105.7 on the road and also allow 8.44 threes per game as well. On Wednesday the team will have an opportunity to take revenge for the lacklustre performance they gave last week against the New York Knicks and finish up strong as they head into the postseason. The Knicks are giving up 99.6 points per game on the season, which is good enough for 11th on the season, however allow 8.7 made three’s per game, making them the third worst team at guarding the perimeter.
I’m sure the Raptors are going to use these last two games to make adjustments to their defensive game which has slipped over the last month after being one of the few elite defensive teams of the year. If they can find that intensity and consistent effort that earned them that moniker earlier in the year, they have a shot at doing some real damage in the postseason. With many believing that 4th is locked up, we may see coach Casey decide to tinker with lineups and give needed rest or run to different players to get them ready entering the postseason. If so, it could make an impact to the end of your fantasy finals.
DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating drops from 35th down to 39th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last week, DeMar’s shooting percentage has been less than desirable, going 5.7/17.0 (.333 FG%) over the last 7 days. Despite that, he has averaged 22.0 PTS and hitting 0.7 three-pointers, with 4.0 REB, 5.0 AST and 0.3 STL per game. His points have largely come from his free throws, going to the line and hitting 10.0/11.0 (.909) helping to make up for his disappointing FG%.As long as DeRozan stays aggressive he will continue to find the charity stripe, which is often the way top players deal with shooting issues when they arise. He’s been very successful at finding open teammates as well, just another example of how DeMar has grown this year and has been able to stay effective.
Kyle Lowry – Season player rating drops from 13th down to 14th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. After it looked like Kyle may be out all week, he jumped back into the line-up and started where he left off, as the Bulldog of Bay Street. After only missing three games, Kyle came back and averaged 27.0 PTS off .500 FG% while hitting 3.0 three-pointers, with 3.5 REB, and 5.0 AST per game. He’s also brought up his free throw attempts, taking 9.0 per game since returning and shooting .889 FT%. The rest seemed to do wonders for Lowry, though he admitted that the while the week was great to help feel better, he joked it would take at least two months to recover from the long schedule of the regular season in the NBA. Well Kyle, we hope you recharged your battery, because we fans don’t want to see you start that two month recoup until July.
Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating bumps upwards again from 82nd to 81st and is owned by 97.3% of the leagues at ESPN. The 2.7% of the leagues that haven’t picked up the man should be ashamed of themselves. Over the last week JV went into full beast mode to help erase his past transgressions off the court on their day off. Well it worked, over the last seven days he has averaged 19.0 PTS off .564 FG%, with a whopping 15.3 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.3 STL and 1.3 BLK per game. He’s getting to the free throw line 6.7 times as well, but is hitting at only .650 FT%, below his season average of .751 FT%. I’m sure his dip in FT% is due to rushing his attempts some and exerting extra energy on both ends of the floor. He’ll quickly figure out to take a few extra moments to gain composure before his attempts and be right back on pace soon enough. Regardless, with the added production everywhere else, I’m sure fantasy owners are quite happy to see him continue to do exactly what he’s doing now. Dominating.
Terrence Ross – Season player rating dips again from 116th down to 117th and is owned by 31.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Over the last seven days T.Ross has struggled from the floor, shooting .368 FG%. Despite that he’s averaging 12.0 PTS and hitting 3.0 three-pointers, with 2.0 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.5 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. Still an effective option for any fantasy owner needing to add threes to their game, they must take into consideration his shooting nearly 9.5 shots, while only knocking down 3.5 per game. This is enough to affect your FG%, so if you’re in a close race in that category you may need to be weary of using his threes at the moment. With that said, Ross has been a solid percentage shooter throughout most of the season so it’s a gamblers option.
Patrick Patterson – Season player rating holds at 168th and owned by 0.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Patterson continues to get himself back into game shape and over the past seven days has begun to round himself back into the 2Pat we knew. He averaged 8.7 PTS off .466 FG% and adding nearly 1 three-pointer per game, with 5.2 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.8 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. If you did not stay in foul trouble during the New York game these numbers were sure to increase. You should consider that if Amir struggles to feel healthy again Patterson could be the perfect option on Monday’s contest against Milwaukee. I expect him to stretch the floor in both games and bring the level of defensive intensity that Casey expects from his entire team leaving him on the floor provided he stays out of foul trouble.
Amir Johnson – Season player rating drops from 59th down to 68th and is owned by 55.6% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir’s first game back left to be desired and still looked as though he could use some more time to recuperate. Failing to score any points he pulled down three rebounds, made two assists and had a block in 17 min. of action. This afternoon we will see if he is able to give more, and will be a good indication of what Amir Johnson we can expect in the last two games coming up. Hopefully with some added rest he’ll be ready to rock ‘n roll. Personally, I look to see him getting back to his season average of 29 min. per night by the time they go back up against New York on Wednesday.
Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating drops from 152nd down to 155th and is owned by 43.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Since Kyle’s return GV’s numbers have clearly regressed. With Lowry out, Vasquez was averaging 36.6 minutes, however since his return he is only getting 16.0 per game most likely due to the return of 2Pat as well. In the last seven days he’s averaged 7.0 PTS off .444 FG%, with 1.0 REB, 2.5 AST, and 1.0 BLK. He has managed to hit 2.0 three-pointers per game during that time keeping him a possible option from behind the arc if you’re in desperate need.
Toronto entered Friday’s game with three items on their check list: clinch the Atlantic Division, tie a franchise record for wins and retain their position as the East’s third seed. Despite the loss, Toronto managed to clinch the division due to Brooklyn’s loss.
On Friday, six of the seven confirmed Eastern playoff teams swapped positions. Saturday the top two seeds switched back and the final seed (Atlanta) was confirmed. Seven of the eight teams have yet to cement their seeding, and aren’t likely to until the last games are played Wednesday.
This afternoon the Raptors will look to get back in the win column in Detroit before returning home to play Milwaukee tomorrow and finish the season Wednesday in New York.
Chicago, having supplanted Toronto as the third seed will be in New York in their own back-to back series with the back end at home vs. Orlando and they’ll finish in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Knicks who came into Toronto desperate have since been eliminated and will have no motivation to play the Bulls with the same intensity and will likely rest injured star Anthony.
If Toronto wants to regain the third seed they need to take care of business by winning their final 3 games and hope Chicago loses one of theirs. The difference between Toronto and Chicago in March and April is Chicago has one additional win.
With so much jockeying back and forth within the standings it’s hard for the Raptors to pick a preference of position. Ultimately Toronto’s best bet is to do what they’ve done all year and rebound following a loss with a series of wins. That starts today in Detroit, so let’s examine the match-up.
Before we break it down, JM Poulard of ESPN True Hoop Network and writer for Piston Powered was kind enough to answer a few questions.
While Toronto is in a dog fight with Chicago to capture the 3-seed, Detroit had a completely different focus of maintaining their position in 23rd (or 8th in the draft lottery). Charlotte had the rights to the Pistons pick, however it was draft protected to 8. One could assume the front office probably mandated Coach Loyer to make sure they didn’t climb higher and the team delivered on this promise. Since Chicago won Friday it guaranteed the Pistons will retain their lottery pick. With this objective resolved, do you think Loyer pushes the squad to play spoiler versus Toronto and OKC to close out the season on a high note?
Honestly, it’s really tough to tell. It’s not like the Pistons were actually winning a multitude of games when they were trying to do so. Detroit “boasts” a bottom-third league defense, and they are the proud owners of the second-worst clutch rating in the league per NBA.com.
Detroit’s warts have an amazing knack for showing up in late-game situations. Thus, if the Pistons want to play the role of spoilers, it might basically not matter.
This past summer Joe Dumars acquired free agents Brandon Jennings (3 years/$24 million) and Josh Smith (4 years/$53 million). On paper the signings looked to be upgrades, however I posted it had the potential for disaster given the caustic nature of both players. Sure enough they are both having terrible seasons: many of Jennings stats have digressed and Smith has put up the most 3-point shots of his career (265) hitting on only 26% and has the lowest FG% of his career. Is this simply a chemistry issue and what can be done moving forward so these two players live up to their salaries?
Here’s the dirty little secret about Brandon Jennings: this is who he’s always been. Jennings is a low-percentage shooter that enjoys taking difficult shots off the dribble. Placing him alongside players that need the ball in their hands to be effective was never going to work out well. Still, Detroit’s offensive rebounding prowess certainly goes hand in hand with Jennings’ insistence to take odd shots.
As it pertains to Josh Smith, his evolution is somewhat understandable. He’s a power forward that occasionally drifts to the perimeter and settles for long jumpers. And yet, the Pistons have opted to play him at small forward without actually thinking through the consequences.
Smith is an underrated passer and solid defensive player when engaged, but Pistons fans will find that hard to believe since they’ve only seen that player sporadically. I don’t expect any change from Jennings going forward, but Smith can certainly be salvageable depending on the team’s philosophy and scheme next season.
On the subject of Dumars I’m surprised owner Tom Gores didn’t fire him after the debacle that brought Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to the Pistons. To that end, several media outlets report he will resign at the end of the season and there is speculation he may already have a position in Cleveland. His tenure includes several highlights (2004 championship) and lowlights (overpaying athletes, firing a succession of coaches and missing the playoffs the past 5 seasons). What are your personal highs and lows of the Dumars reign?
Joe Dumars pulled off one of the best and worst moves in Pistons history in less than a year. Dumars drafted Darko Milicic while the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were all still on the board.
His best move though? Trading for Rasheed Wallace. That move turned the Pistons into a title team. Dumars had a great read on the pulse of the 2003-04 team, and that allowed him to turn it into a title contender. An argument could be made that he has never had a better feel for any of his teams.
As for tonight’s match-up, aside from containing Detroit’s impressive front court what do the Raptors need to do to shut down the Pistons?
The Raptors need to be ready to defend the paint. The Pistons take a lot of shots in the restricted area via drives, post-ups and offensive rebounds. Toronto has done a good job this season of thwarting Detroit at the basket with their interior players, which explains why the Pistons have only converted 41.5 percent of their field goals versus Toronto.
As long as the Raptors protect the basket area with the same fervor, they should get an opportunity to win the game.
Back Court — Lowery and DeRozan have been stellar all season especially following a loss. What more needs to be said.
As per JM, Jennings loves to take difficult shots and forget about his wealth of talent in the front court. Add in the added incentive of showing off for fellow Californian and friend DeRozan and we could see some real crazy shots from him today. Stuckey replaces the injured Bynum as a starter. Last time out Stuckey had just 3 assists and 1 rebound to show for his 26-minutes on court.
Advantage — Toronto will dominate
Front Court —The marquee match-up of the day will be between Valanciunas and Drummond who have both been on a tear (see below). Johnson is still rusty after so much time off, however given how important today’s game is and the fact he always gets up for his old team it should translate into a big afternoon. Ross was not happy with the whistle or the difficult task of guarding Melo Friday so we’ll hopefully see a rebound game from him today.
Drummond is a beast and Monroe is equally talented, however they both leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end. Singler replaces Smith at the Small Forward.
Last 3 games:
Valanciunas: 19 points, 15.3 rebounds
Drummond: 18.6 points, 19 rebounds
Advantage — As per JM, Detroit love to score in the paint so taking away the paint and grabbing rebounds will be the Raptors emphasis today. Drummond will get his, but Toronto will take the category by game’s end.
Bench — Patterson appears back in form and will create nightmares for whoever guards him. Vasquez will have to guard Rookie Siva who has been getting more minutes due to injuries and had some good moments but it’s the type of contest GV thrives on. Bottom line without Smith or Bynum the Piston’s bench is pretty slim and with Toronto back to full health it should provide a big advantage for the Raptors.
Advantage — Raptors
Vegas Says: As of post time the Raptors favored by 6.5, over/under: 206 with public favoring Raptors by 56%
Tamberlyn Says — Expect the Raptors to come out focused and pounce on the Pistons. Look for a full 48-minute effort especially on the defensive end. In fairness, the defensive slippage had a lot to do with Patterson, Johnson and Lowry all missing games due to injury so they’ll want to get back on track starting today.
Toronto will sweep season series and win by 10+ points.
For anyone watching this game at home, you should have had the opportunity to fill out your entire New York Knicks viewing bingo card. JR Smith unnecessarily jacking up double-digit 3-point attempts? Check. Carmelo Anthony taking a series of well-contested isolation turn-around or fadeaway jumpers from the baseline and somehow hitting all of them? Check. Amare Stoudemire hitting the deck and staying down with an apparent “injury?” Check. Tyson Chandler making a cartoonish stink-face and walking around with his arms held out in a “what did I do?” motion after every single foul call? Check. And finally, a complete defensive breakdown leading to yet another embarrassing loss for the Knicks? Che…oh wait. One short of the Knicks bingo on that one, and one win short of the Atlantic division title too (for like 20 minutes until Brooklyn hooked us up, but still).
This game was entertaining and close from the opening tip until the start of the 4th quarter, when the Knicks played like a team that needed to win to have any playoff chances, and the Raptors played like a team that just needed to keep playing because there were like 15 000 people there watching and it would have been really awkward if they’d just kinda walked out, which is what they probably would rather have done.
Iman Shumpert may only be in his third season, but his hair-cut has been in the league since 1987, and that veteran savvy really comes through on the defensive end. Shumpert was credited with 2 steals, but he was responsible for breaking up what felt like four or five offensive possessions in a row for the Raptors in the 4th quarter that helped the Knicks pull away.
Amare Stoudemire looked fantastic. He scored at will in the low post, nailed an early jumper when the Raptors dared him to shoot instead of drive, he slammed home a pair of dunks on cuts to the basket amidst the Raptors’ defensive breakdowns and played well in the pick and roll whenever the Knicks decided to take a slight reprieve from iso-ball. The Raptors simply couldn’t keep Amare out of the paint. He was able to establish position early and seal either Patrick Patterson or Chuck Hayes almost underneath the basket before he even caught the ball. The bulk of his points came as easy points in the low post where he simply bullied those two. Amare may not have demonstrated the dynamic explosiveness that once made him the best pick’n’roll scoring big man in the NBA with Steve Nash and on the 2010-11 Knicks. Perhaps his uninsurable knees have relegated that man to memory. But he was dominant as a scorer nonetheless, and Amare Stoudemire-if-he-can-stay-healthy could spell some trouble for an opponent looking to cruise to a first round playoff win.
Now, having praised Amare for his offensive talents, it’s worth noting that his defensive shortcomings, in particular his disinterest in boxing out for rebounds, were also on apparent display. Valanciunas jumped on the opportunity and put up a positively Mozgovian stat line of 14 points and 21 rebounds. He had 8 offensive boards and he took Tyson Chandler, who could not contain his driving hook shot without fouling, completely out of the game with early foul trouble. JV was +5 on the night, compared to a negative plus/minus rating for the rest of the starters (not including Amir Johnson, who played a productive 17 first half minutes coming back from injury but did not return to play). I’m not a large proponent of NBA plus/minus numbers, but in this case they back up what looked apparent on the court (As an aside, an exception to this rule is adjusted or real plus/minus, like the delightfully insightful new system that ESPN launched this week. I completely support any kind of advanced metrics that tell that Amir Johnson has the 12th biggest impact on the court of any player in the NBA.). The problem came with filing the power forward minutes when Amir couldn’t go in the second half, and even more so with plugging in any of the bench big men at Valanciunas’ spot whenever he needed a breather. Casey ran a lineup to start the 4th quarter that featured the 6’6 Chuck Hayes as the only nominal big man on the court. It did not bode well. The aforementioned Amare Stoudemire manhandled anybody not named Valanciunas (He shot 10 of 14 and easily could have had 34 instead of 24 if the Knicks had simply gone to him more) and anytime the Knicks dribbled past their defender on the perimeter there was absolutely nobody to challenge the shot at the rim.
With the exception of Kyle Lowry’s impressively smothering defense on Prigioni in the Raptors noble final 3-minute comeback attempt, it was a bad defensive game from everyone. Offence wasn’t the problem, as the matador defenders of the Knicks allowed the Raptors to score at a rate of 114.5 points per 100 possessions, which is about 3 points better than the league leading LA Clippers offense averages. The problem was defense, where the Raps gave up a whopping 123.6 points per 100 possessions to the New York basketball shorts, a full 13 points worse than the Milwaukee Bucks average with the league’s most woeful defense.
The Bad News:
With the Raptor’s loss and Chicago win, the Bulls leapfrogged the Dino’s for the 3rd overall spot. Chicago closes the season out @Knicks, home for Orlando, and then @Charlotte, whom they may then likely face in the first round. Not a cakewalk, but not a rogue’s gallery of opponents either.
The Good News:
Who needs to win when your opponents lose without you! Brooklyn lost last night too, causing the three greatest words in the English language to apply to the Raptors pursuit of the Atlantic division title: won by default! WOOHOO! Its banner time everybody! Which is good, because the rafters of the ACC are shameful. The Raptors have one division banner in their history, which hangs beside an ‘inaugural season’ banner. When we hang the 2013-2014 Atlantic division champions banner, can we please take down the embarrassing inaugural season banner? It’s a joke. It’s like your parents keeping a participant ribbon pinned on the family fridge for a decade after you lost the consolation t-ball final in the 2nd grade. That banner is not an achievement; it’s an embarrassment that screams that we’ve never won anything. And that sentiment is echoed by the fact that the only banner to be raised in the ACC the last 7 years says “Bon Jovi” on it, because I have absolutely no idea why. Really? Come on MLSE, can you not see how you’re inflaming what’s already a problematic sports-fan inferiority complex in Toronto?
The fact they will open at home regardless has to be of some solace. “It does, because we’re a young team and whoever we play . . . is going to be more of an experienced team, so being at home will help,” said Casey. “But it’s not the answer, it’s not the cure-all, it’s not going to win the game for you. We still have to go out and compete and do the things we have to do to win.” What matters, however, is how the Raptors are playing far more than who they will face. They were good for stretches against the Knicks on Friday but not for long enough and, uncharacteristically, they faded in the fourth quarter.
Toronto’s defeat, at the hands of a desperate Knicks teams fighting for their playoff lives, exposed a series of lingering concerns for Dwane Casey and his club. Meanwhile, with Chicago coming back from an 18-point deficit to knock off the Pistons, the Raptors fell out of the Eastern Conference’s third seed. Do they care who they’ll face in the opening round of the postseason, beginning next weekend, on Apr. 19 or 20? “No, not at all,” Lowry stated. “We’ve proved we can play with anybody in this league,” DeRozan added. “We understand that, so it really doesn’t matter to us.” He was not alone. The consensus in the room was just that, no, they’re not stressing over their first-round opponent, or so they say. In the grand scheme of things it could be the difference between the team’s second ever series victory or an early vacation, a reality they all seem to grasp, given their expressions of discontent upon learning that Chicago had won.
Melo’s only consistent sidekick, save for spurts of help from his guards, was Amar’e Stoudemire, who had one of his finest games in by far his longest spin of the season. Amar’e waited on the weak side, caught passes out of good ball movement, and finished. Amar’e backed his man down, gained separation with a spin, and finished. Amar’e got touches in transition and out of the pick-and-roll and finished. The Raptors have decent interior defenders, and Amar’e jammed jams on all of them. Melo and the guards helped Amar’e out, too, by not just force-feeding him the ball but actually working around fronts and offering him bail-outs when help came. And he responded well, staying active off the ball and passing out a couple times when he was crowded. The begoggled one just had an especially lovely bounce for all his 40 minutes, and it even carried over to a weirdly productive stretch on the glass (11 boards in the first, 0 in the second half) and some spots of defense. Like maybe one or two defenses. A lot of fun to watch.
Not quite how fans imagined things going down. Unfortunately, the Raptors put on a pretty sad display of basketball this evening and fans were left with no choice but to wait and see what the outcome of the Nets/Hawks game was. Luckily, the Hawks prevailed and Toronto nabs only its second division title in franchise history. However overshadowing the division title clinching was tonight’s game, another showcase of some suddenly porous Raptors’ defense. The New York Knicks shot 56 per cent in the first quarter and jumped out to a decent lead, and turned up the juice again to start the third quarter, dropping 33 points on Toronto and never really looking back.
DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, the longest-serving Raptors, adamantly stated at the beginning of October that they were fed up with all of the losing and the playoffs weren’t just a goal, but rather a certainty. In a quiet 1-on-1 moment, Johnson managed a wide smile and admitted it did indeed feel quite sweet to finally be division champs after so many years of being fodder for other, better teams. While DeRozan said “it sucks” to lose, he also at least said it was a proud moment. “It sucks that we lost the game, especially with us trying to hold the third spot, but it feels great to win the division. I don’t think anybody would have picked us to win it. That’s definitely a great accomplishment,” DeRozan said. Kyle Lowry echoed those thoughts. “It’s sweet and sour. It’s very sweet that we won the division but it sucks that we didn’t win it by a win. But we’ll take the division champs any day.”
“I’m more concerned about getting better,’’ head coach Dwane Casey said when apprised of his team capturing the division. “It’s great for the fans, believe me. I’m excited for the fans, but I’m concerned about 30% (shooting) inside the three-point line (Toronto’s percentage against the Knicks). “This franchise has had a lot of ups and downs. It’s funny how the expectations change. We go from developing and now all at once we lose to Carmelo Anthony and a team like this. Believe me, we still have growing to do. “We just want to be ready to go into the playoffs with some momentum and not let a game like (Friday night define the unit). I tip my hat (to the Knicks). Sometimes someone just kicks your butt.”
In a vacuum, this was not a good day for the Raptors. The Bulls came back to beat Detroit, passing the Raptors for third place in the conference. If those seeds hold — and that is far from certain — the Raptors will play the Nets in the first round as opposed to the less experienced Wizards or Bobcats. It could also potentially put them on the same side of the bracket as the Heat as opposed to the struggling Pacers. Those are first world problems compared to where the Raptors started the year, but they represent the new reality. Both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan expressed a complete apathy about the identity of their first-round opponent. “We’re still anxious,” DeRozan said. “We still want more. We’re not satisfied with nothing [yet]. We understand we have much more basketball to play and a long road to go and we want to take advantage of it. Not just get there and say we got there, where people doubted us. We definitely feel like we can go in and make some noise.”
Raptors die a slow and painful death at the hands of the New York Knickerbockers.
|Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +7Looks like Dwane Casey didn’t have faith in his health, because he basically didn’t play at all in the second half. Let’s hope he comes back soon, because the Raptors defense absolutely stinks without him. Also, DeRozan’s effectiveness is also stunted without the ability to play freestyle two-man game with Johnson.|
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | -15Picked up five fouls because Melo’s superstar status must be protected at all costs. Every single one of his three-point attempts were open, and he didn’t sink enough to make the Knicks pay. Get ready for the playoffs when he’s guarding LeBron/George/Pierce’s superstardom.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 37 MIN | 5-14 FG | 4-7 FT | 21 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +7Dominated the Knicks in the second quarter, so naturally, his wings didn’t give him the ball at all in the second half, because that only would have made way too much sense. Beasted on the boards as he continued his recent run of dominance in the post. Struggled to guard Amar’e Stoudemire, who apparently took a time machine back to 2009.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 39 MIN | 7-13 FG | 7-9 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | -8He tried. He really did. With the Knicks trapping so hard in the pick-and-roll, he couldn’t generate enough offense, although his assist totals would be much higher had DeRozan and Ross sunk some of their open looks. Found success when he called his own number.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 43 MIN | 6-18 FG | 12-13 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 26 PTS | -14Lots of shots, not enough points. Struggled whenever the Knicks trapped him. He either needed to split the double, or swing the ball before the trap was fully set. You can tell the difference in the efficacy of his sets without Amir in the lineup. His defense wasn’t so hot either. Didn’t look all too interested in the fourth quarter.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1Take it away, netw3rk: Tyler Hansbrough always comes in off the bench like a guy inside an IHOP who just saw some dude lean on his car.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -18Found himself in early foul trouble thanks to the refs falling for every Knicks flop. Hit his open threes, but didn’t see more shots because his wings couldn’t effectively deal with traps, which meant the Raptors couldn’t capitalize on finding him while he was open. Basically, he played a Steve Novak game.|
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5He played? If you say so, boxscore.|
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +6Sunk his fair share of shots, but did nothing to deter Carmelo Anthony. Luckily, he’s the Raptors’ defender de jour on the wing. I have a feeling that Salmons will find himself in the Gay/Turkoglu/Bargnani purgatory for Raptors fans, provided he lands a roster spot next season.|
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9He came in and missed a triple. Cool beans.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -1Horrible effort for Vasquez, who looked extremely slow on the court. Again, yet another Raptor perimeter player who couldn’t deal with double-teams, except he fared the worst. Couldn’t even generate any offense in the two-PG line-up. A forgettable day for YOLO.|
You know, sometimes I wonder about Dwane Casey. I also wonder why Jonas was denied touches in the second half. I also wonder why every play coming out of timeouts were drawn up for DeRozan. I also wonder why he didn’t prioritize attacking Amar’e in the pick-and-roll. I also wonder why he went small with just Hayes as his lone-big at one point.
So last night on “Inside the NBA” Chuck said the Raps are going to win a round in the playoffs and cause a little trouble for either the Pacers or Heat. Thoughts?
Boom. Boom. Boom. Half a good season is enough for the ticket prices to be raised by about 9%, with the Lower Bowl Fanzone being hit hardest at 13%, and Balcony Prime 1 escaping with a 6.5% hike. I suppose if there’s a time to do it financially, now would be it. It just feels like a kick in the teeth because fans have supported this club through some rather, how do we say it, threadbare and pressing times, and this is how you get rewarded for it.
|Lower Bowl Fanzone||$2,261.00||$2,559.00||13.18%|
|Balcony Prime 1||$1,938.00||$2,064.00||6.50%|
|Balcony Prime 2||$1,661.00||$1,774.00||6.80%|
|Upper Bowl Fanzone||$562.50||$635.00||12.89%|
The 46-32 Toronto Raptors host the 33-45 New York Knicks at 7 p.m. on Friday on TSN 2, with a chance to put a sizeable nail in the Knicks’ playoff-hope coffin.
The only relevant news items are that Andrea Bargnani is out, Kenyon Martin is almost certainly out, and Amir Johnson seems probable despite the questionable tag on the latest injury report. The Raptors are 2-0 against the Knicks this year from a Christmas-time back-to-back, and they also beat them twice in the preseason which obviously doesn’t matter, but it’d be cool to go 6-0 against the Knicks just because. The two teams square off again on Wednesday at The Mecca to wrap up the season.
To help us set the stage, we enlisted the help of Gus Crawford of Knickerblogger, who was so helpful and thorough with his answers that he saved me from writing much, since this will already push 2,000 words.
1. With the Knicks sitting two games out of the playoffs with just four to play, the Raptors can push the Knicks to near-certain lottery status (without the pick) on Friday. What would be worse – that, the Raptors waiting to officially end the Knicks season on April 16, or having saddled the Knicks with Andrea Bargnani? (#TakeThatMasaiUjiri)
Can I take “option four,” some combination of all of the above? As if being the New York Knicks wasn’t spicy enough, someone in the Knicks’ brass/CAA family managed to find something appetizing in the man once affectionately known as “Primo Pasta.” Had you not mentioned Andrea Bargnani in the phrasing of the question, I may well have entirely forgotten that he existed — you know, because he hasn’t suited up for a game since January 22. To answer your question, few things have been as frustrating for Knicks fans as the hypnotic hold that Masai seems to exert over the organization’s chief decision-makers. It would be somewhat poetic if Bargnani were to return for the April 16 matchup, and that proved to be the game that explicitly eliminated the Knicks from playoff contention, as some have suggested.
While it would be nice to sneak into the playoffs, the cost of this underwhelming season does not amount to the excess baggage that comes with the aforementioned Italian stallion, and his egregious contract. Rumour has it that one mere glimpse at the gruesome details of Bargnani’s deal can have an affect not dissimilar to that of staring blankly at a solar eclipse, searing one’s eyes in an irreparable manner. It’s okay, though, at least they didn’t give up anything substantial in the tango with Masai Ujiri. Oh? I present, without any additional comments, Marc Berman’s summary of the transaction from July 2013:
“Because they were willing to absorb the final two years and $22.25 million of Bargnani’s contract, along with a 1.5 percent trade kicker, the Knicks weren’t asked to give up a big asset. They would part with two players with undesirable contracts in Novak and Camby. The Knicks don’t have a 2014 first-rounder, so they are not permitted to trade a pick until 2016.”
I think I’ll let R Kelly take this one.
2. Tyson Chandler’s defensive impact seems far smaller this season than in previous years. In fact, the Knicks’ D-Rating hardly changes with or without Chandler, though ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus metric still ranks him 21st defensively. Has Chandler lost a step, possibly due to his early-season leg injury, is it a motivational issue, or simply a matter of him not being able to make up the difference for a pretty bad cast of teammates?
A search party was sent out for “2012 Tyson Chandler” quite some time ago, but the results haven’t been too promising. Chandler earned the league’s premier individual defensive honour in 2011-12 by single-handedly vaulting a less-than-mediocre cast of sieves to a defensive rating of 98.4 across the lockout-shortened 66 games. His distaste for Mike Woodson’s defensive preferences has been apparent at least since his startling post-game remarks (saying the Knicks were “out-schemed” by Brooklyn) in late January and, realistically, even before that. Here is what he had to say with regards to the coaching staff’s penchant for persistent switching:
“I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility. I think switching should always be your last resort. That’s me, personally.”
Clearly, it doesn’t help Chandler’s cause that he has surrounded by such a ragtag crew of disinterested and/or inept defensive identities, yet the vibes surrounding his efforts have not been great. If it is any consolation, his individual defensive efficiency incrementally improved month by month, from January (108.0) to February (107.6) to March (105.7). There’s still plenty of room to move on that front, though. Aside from the opposition’s ability to light up the Knicks even with Chandler on the floor, perhaps the most damning metric on his continued slide is one that reflects his waning interior D. Chandler ranks just 37th in the league for opponents’ FG% at the rim (min. 50 games played and 5.0 attempts contest per game), allowing a very shaky 52.1% when within five feet of the basket.
It’s a far cry from a player who was once — and very recently — unquestionably placed in the category of the league’s elite rim protectors, and one that (I guess) is best attributed to the unkind recipe of losing a step or two, growing tired of his teammates’ play, and feeling isolated in the constant switching scenarios.
3. Who wins in a game of 1-on-1, Chris Smith or Inflatable Raptor?
“You know the sad thing about betrayal?” Ominously, once again you have managed to illuminate a vestige of a bygone Knicks-ian era (albeit earlier this season) where “Chris Smith, #0, New York Knicks” was a thing in real life. I was in attendance at the ACC after Christmas where Chris Smith received 36 seconds of his 1:57 of burn in the orange and blue. All it took was a Kyle Lowry triple double and the Knicks to be utterly decimated to bring that moment to pass. I can never un-see those thirty-six seconds.
I’ve seen Inflatable Raptor’s dance moves — he may not have the largest wingspan or upside, but he’s agile, has decent hops, and has assembled a solid internship underneath The Raptor and Stripes over the years. I’d set the line at Inflatable Raptor, -4.5.
4. The fact that Carmelo Anthony isn’t a great defender sometimes seems to push to far. That is, the gap between “excellent” and “mediocre” on offense is greater than that same difference on defense, so his shortcomings aren’t quite as impactful as what he does well. With another season in the books, where would you rank Anthony, overall, among the NBA’s top players?
I feel like Anthony’s stardom is the perfect sample of the ways of the “eye test.” If you allow yourself to sit back, ignore the white noise, and simply watch him effortlessly pour in perimeter shots and adeptly net his patented mid-range leaners, you’d think his game is almost unparalleled. And in many ways, it is. The “flavour of the month”/stat du jour for Melo is his season average — 27.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game — the first such combination to be amassed since none other than Shaq in the 2000-01 season. The refinement of his rebounding craft has been championed throughout the season, and perhaps not even enough. His defensive rebounding percentage has spiked up to 19.6% (a career-high), fuelling his per-36 average of 5.8 defensive ‘bounds. A case of “bounding and astounding,” as Clyde might say.
There is a strong, strong argument that could be made that 2013-14 has been Melo’s best individual season. Here are the categories where he has raised the bar and set a new personal best: 3P%, FT%, turnovers per-36, TS%, offensive win shares, total win shares. That list, in congruence with his typical offensive excellence, is the framework of the argument, and constitutes the bulk of the disappointment behind his teammates letting him down this season. All of that in a season where he has been ridden into the ground and nearing a stage where he may break down the 3000-minute barrier.
The process of ranking players can be exhaustive, a little hollow (due to the difficulties of positional overlaps), and feel a tad arbitrary. Based on the above, I’ll try to accurately gauge his status with the among the league’s elite. He ranks 9th in PER this season (and 7th among players with at least 60 games played), and I’d fix him somewhere in the 9-12 range on the list of the NBA’s best.
5. Despite many jokes to the contrary, the Knicks aren’t egregiously bad, simply “bad,” with a point differential indicative of a 36-42 team. Their defense, though, leaves plenty to be desired. Specifically, they allow a ton of threes – is this a system issue, a personnel issue or a mixture of both, and what kind of action can the Raptors use to exploit it?
The Knicks are 12-7 since March 1, the 14th best record in that window, and yet they have managed that standing while allowing opponents to register 107.1 points per 100 possessions — 22nd in the L. Notice the disparity? The defense has been repugnant for the majority of the season, permitting precipitous perimeter shooting (as you mention), and conceding an opponent FG% of 61.5% in the restricted area. Not a great combination there.
They have been blitzed by opposing backcourts all season long — including Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — and have failed to even remotely address high pick-and-roll situations. It is almost as if each and every guard has targeted Raymond Felton (as is the Knicks’ fortune) and licked their lips at the opportunity to blow by New York’s hapless defensive setup. What’s more, Mike Woodson’s recent weapon of choice — a Felton-Smith-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler starting lineup — owns a 111.6 defensive rating through 254 total minutes of shared court time, and 119.4 (!!!) in their past ten game appearances together.
The formula for Toronto is pretty simple. Involve Amar’e Stoudemire as much as possible, attack Felton off the dribble, run the high screen-and-roll, and look to cause damage from beyond the arc. The Raps are on a streak of four games with 10+ made three-point field goals, and I wouldn’t expect that to end against the sketchy ‘Bockers D.
Vegas says: Raptors -5 with nearly a dead-even money split so far. 72 percent favor the over at 192.5 which is moderately surprising given that these two play at well-below-average paces. Then again, they’re above-average offenses, and what do I know?
Hollinger says: Raptors -7
Big L says: You don’t know me, just say whatsup, gimme a pound, that’s it
No matter how many wins this Raptors group produces in the season’s final four, regardless of opponent in the NBA’s opening round, nothing will be gained if stops aren’t made, if rotations aren’t executed, if a mind-set does not change. “If we haven’t taught defence by now, we shouldn’t be coaching,’’ began Casey on Thursday following his team’s workout. “It’s a mind-set right now, it’s a focus.” Casey has been around the NBA block long enough to know how players and teams go about their business this time of the basketball calendar, a time when ballers are playing for contracts, when teams heading to the draft lottery are auditioning players for next year. Only the few elite sustain their level of play, playing a championship-calibre defence devoid of slippages.
Thanks in large part to a soft schedule and their improved efficiency on offence, they are finding ways to pull out games that they have probably deserved to lose. In that way, progress has been made, as Raptor teams of the past would universally find creative and increasingly frustrating ways to squander winnable games. The red flag is routed in their recent slippage on defence, Dwane Casey’s bread and butter. With the postseason around the corner, Casey knows that mental and physical toughness is about to become more important than ever. He can’t help but be concerned with what he’s seen. “If we haven’t taught defence by now we shouldn’t be coaching,” he said following a Thursday afternoon practice session. “It’s a mindset right now, it’s a focus. It’s this time of year throughout the league, it’s an epidemic.”
The Raptors have yearned for that type of stability for years now. June 2004 was the last time a general manager and coach ascended to their positions at roughly the same time for the Raptors, when Rob Babcock and Sam Mitchell landed those jobs, respectively. Last year, it was clear that general manager Bryan Colangelo and Casey, the Raptors’ coach, disagreed on some rather essential points. This year, it seemed like a lock for that pattern to continue. Colangelo was removed as general manager, replaced by Masai Ujiri, who was emboldened with a five-year contract. Ujiri retained Casey, but did not extend his contract, which ends after this season. The situation still looked like a petri dish capable of growing more organizational dysfunction. Yet, there was Casey on Wednesday, punctuating a four-game winning streak by harping on the Raptors’ diminished defence. He has continued to coach to his beliefs, and the players have not sensed any interference from above.
Johnson proved yet again Thursday night just how much he loves the fans who support him and his teammates, by throwing 70 of them a party at knight-themed dinner show Medieval Times. “It’s just a token of appreciation for my fans because we have the greatest fans in the world,” Johnson said before the show began, a black velvet cape trimmed with gold threads and sparkles draped around his hulking frame. “The fans are what makes our team.” It’s not the first time Johnson’s given back to his fans. This is the fourth year in a row that he’s thrown his “I Roll with Amir” party. And last September, he handed out free copies of Drake’s newest album to fans at Yonge and Dundas. He picked Medieval Times for this year’s party because he has fond memories of coming to the show as a child. “It looked a lot bigger when I was a kid,” said Johnson, now six-foot-nine.
The NBA issued Raptors guard Kyle Lowry a warning for flopping on Thursday. Lowry’s flop occurred in the second quarter of Toronto’s 125-114 home victory over Philadelphia on April 9. With a little under six minutes remaining before halftime and Toronto leading 50-45, Lowry fell backwards to the court while attempting to take a charge. Elliot Williams pushed the ball up in transition and Lowry prepared himself for contact outside the protected circle. Instead of being run down, though, Lowry slowly drifted backwards to the court because the collision never took place. Williams was able to twist his way around Lowry before laying off a pass to Thaddeus Young. No foul was called on the play.
Hypothetical situations — like how a team would perform with Player X on them — are nearly impossible to predict, but it’s clear Lowry could have helped the Knicks. How much? They’d be playing meaningful games right now, likely with a playoff seed sewn up. Perhaps they could have even found their point guard for the next few years if Lowry re-signed this summer. Would a very good point guard and a playoff spot convince Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York? Would it be worth giving up a pick and a young wing player? All tough questions to answer, but nonetheless interesting to hypothesize when looking at how this season turned out.
Two outsiders broke down the Raptors offense better than I ever could.
If you don’t already, follow Coach Nick and Seth Partnow on Twitter, watch Nick on SBNation, and read Seth on Where Offense Happens. I guarantee you’ll learn a little something about the game of basketball.
I felt like writing about two things today: How much I miss Amir Johnson being in the Toronto Raptors’ lineup, and how disappointed I’ve been with the Raptors’ play of late, despite the fact that they’ve won four straight, seven of eight and nine of 12, with shorthanded wins against Houston and Indiana in that span. Turns out, Johnon’s absence and the team playing below standards are related.
Now, I fully realize that complaining about a team’s play during a winning stretch – especially at the tail end of one of the franchise’s best regular seasons ever – may seem overreactive. It’s the basketball version of First World Problems or some other offensive hashtag trending to shame us all for whining about generally meaningless problems. Still, there are concering signs right now, and with the focus changing from appreciating the season that’s been to how it can become the postseason that was, it’s worth worrying about.
We’ll focus on the last nine games, in particular, narrowing in on the last four games. Prior to this nine-game stretch, the Raptors had a solid win against the Hawks, a double-overtime loss to the Thunder, and a mediocre three-game stretch against the Suns, Hawks and Pelicans. The four-game stretch also leaves out the Miami loss and focuses only on wins. That is, this isn’t a cutoff selected simply to highlight a point, because the team wasn’t exactly peaking to that point (they weren’t struggling either, but they’re also not struggling now).
Have a look at how the performance has changed:
|Raptors||Since Dec. 8, All Games||Last Nine||Last Four|
|Strength of Opp.||0.48||0.41||0.44|
While the wins have still been coming, the nine-game stretch shows they’ve been far less impressive, with the team’s victory margins shrinking against a relatively weak stretch of schedule. The offense has still been humming, which is impressive considering that Kyle Lowry missed time and Indiana was on the slate.
But the defense, woof. They gave up 103 points to a Rockets team without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley and mostly without Terrence Jones, gave up 94 to a struggling Pacers offense, and then gave up 98 and 114 to the league’s two worst teams, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, respectively. Pace plays a part in there, sure, but the team’s defensive rating – which accounts for pace – has dropped from a top-eight mark overall to a bottom-five mark over the last nine games. And again, look at the strength of schedule in that time, and keep in mind that it’s likely inflated given the realities facing Houston and Indiana when the Raptors matched up with them.
Part of this struggle could simply be late-season malaise. The team is assured of a playoff spot, they’re fairly likely to have home-court advantage, and their top players have endured quite a workload. It’s completely possible they’ve noticed the incredibly easy stretch to end the season – once looked at as a possible advantage – and taken their foot off the gas. That wouldn’t be an issue if this were, say, Miami, who have shown an ability to “flip the switch” when necessary. But the risk right now is that the Raptors could be entering the postseason playing somewhere below their best basketball.
But they’ve also played some of these games without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, two of their three best players, maybe even their two best players, full stop. Lowry has gotten plenty of love for how well he’s played this year, and deservedly so, but it seems as if Johnson has once again slid into being underrated, at least by some.
He’s averaging a career-high 10.7 points on 56.2 percent shooting, which is obviously great, but many have pointed to how banged-up he’s looked at times (which is why I’ve suggested over and over the team give him as much time to rest his ankle as necessary). His rebounding and shot-blocking rates are down, his player efficnecy rating is only slightly above-average, and the emergence of Patrick Patterson has led some to broach the idea that maybe 2-Pat should be starting at the four (Tyler Hansbrough started over Johnson for four games earlier in the season, too).
Not to further my reputation as an unabashed Amir apologist, but don’t let that last paragraph fool you: he has been very good, banged up or not, and continues to be one of the team’s most important pieces. The role he plays is not one that stands out with conventional numbers, as most are surely aware by now – setting some of the best screens in the NBA, providing help defense, the ability to switch out onto guards in the pick-and-roll or handle the opposing team’s best non-guard, these are all immensely valuable but generally immeasurable.
There are some numbers that can help show his impact, though they can get complicated or messy. To wit:
*Of all Raptors lineups that have played at least 10 minutes together, Johnson appears in four of the top five in terms of net rating. If that time constraint is upped to 20 minutes, Johnson appears in three of the top five and six of the top eight.
*When Johnson is on the floor, the Raptors outscore opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions (PPC), compared to 2.8 when he’s off the floor. That continues a trend that’s been apparent for Johnson’s entire career, as his teams have performed 2.6 PPC better with him on the floor.
*Using ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus statistic (don’t be scared, the math is difficult but it matches up fairly well with conventional wisdom/the eye-test), Johnson has been the league’s 12th most valuable player per possession this season, adding 4.84 PPC over a replacement player. The fact that he’s played slightly fewer minutes than other top names pushes him all the way down to 17th in total value, showing him as worth 9.19 wins over a replacement player.
*Like with on/off-court numbers, this extends back years – Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) over 14 years shows that Johnson has been the league’s eighth-best player since 2001 in terms of impact on his teams, ranking 79th in offensive impact and 13th in defensive impact, improving his teams by 5.8 PPC (over 40,722 possessions, which is pretty crazy, though if you think that’s a lot, consider that Dirk Nowitzki has played 143,773 possessions in that time).
I get that numbers aren’t everyone’s thing, and some will just snark in the comments at nerds loving Johnson and why that doesn’t match up with real life. That’s fine, you’re welcome to do that.
But it’s also not really a surprise, if you’ve been watching, that the Raptors are surrendering 32.8 looks a game in the restrcited area over the past four outings (Johnson played just three minutes in that stretch), compared to 26.3 before Johnson went down. The teams they played in those games? They rank first, fourth, 20th and 27th in restricted area shots, so it’s not just a case of sample bias. Opponents shoot just 47.8 percent at the rim when Johnson is guarding them, per NBA.com/stats, 19th best among qualified players, the same mark Howard allows.
There’s a great volume of evidence building that shows that Johnson is one of the most valuable assets in the NBA. Just because he’s not the traditional scoring four that some want, or a beast on the glass, doesn’t mean he’s not very, very good. Many Raptor fans already know an embrace this, others don’t.
Johnson’s return isn’t, on its own, enough to make me think the recent blip on the defensive end will just disappear, but he’s a really important part of what the team does on that end for about 30 minutes a night, and he’s definitely going to help a great deal. He allows guards to be more aggressive with their primary coverage, gives Dwane Casey more freedom in determining who and when to switch on pick-and-rolls, and, by being the primary rim protector, can lessen the defensive load on Jonas Valanciunas (which is suddenly important given how well he’s played offensively).
The team has to hope he returns at 100 percent, and that his presence helps push the defense back to being firmly a top-10 unit with Johnson as the anchor. Even at less than 100 percent, though, as he’s been for most of the year, Johnson brings immense value.
This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, I have called in the boys from the world wide roundtable to talk ball and we have a discussion about all the action in NBA and NCAA while continually tying it back to the Raptors! Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the prophet), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we discuss:
We get a bit silly this week and the pod is much more like 4 friends talking hoops than 4 reporters covering big stories. Can you tell we are a bit excited about this team? We hope you enjoy the pod and all the good vibes in the T-dot as we head back to the playoffs!
The Raptors played little-to-no defense, but the Sixers are historically bad.
I tend to get sentimental on account of the Raptors. It’s a weakness of mine.
For most of my life, the Raptors were little more than the laughing stock of the NBA. It’s sad, but it’s true. I experienced every season like a lucid dream. I bought into the hype, and I willingly suspended my rightful cynicism, but ultimately come April, I’d inevitably wake up, and find myself cheering for the likes of Sonny Weems and Solomon Alabi. It’s an all-too familiar routine.
In an desperate attempt to break the habit, many fans turned to the strategy of tanking. The idea of yet another season of hoping in hope was repulsive. Sometimes, things are so bad, change for the sake of change onto itself is good.
That’s the very same position that the Sixers found themselves in last off-season. Philadelphia’s distended run of treadmill trudging wasn’t nearly as long as ours, but they faced the same predicament. Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes all held promise, but as a collective, that team wasn’t going anywhere. When New Orleans offered a pair of picks, and a ticket off the carousel, GM Sam Hinkie happily forked over Holiday, and settled into a holding pattern for a tank-job of epic proportion.
As we know, Masai Ujiri chose a different direction for the Raptors. Rather than tearing down the walls, and strip-mining his team, he opted for optimality instead. He capitalized on a CAA-pimped Knicks, and shipped off Bargnani. He pulled a similar trick on the Kings.
Altogether, the moves paved the way for DeRozan and Lowry to take the reins, which has allowed the team to flourish. Instead of precious possessions wasted on line-drive bricks from Bargnani, or long-two iso-heaves from Gay, the Raptors ran pin-downs and pick-and-rolls. The difference has bore fruit on both sides of the ball.
But along the way, a sneaky side-effect reared its head — the absence of Gay and Bargnani freed up swaths of playing time for sophomores Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and both players blossomed. Much like Hinkie, Ujiri managed to till the soil and sow the seeds, only Ross and Valanciunas were given veteran stakes upon which to guide their growth.
Rather than letting Ross running wild on the perimeter without a leash — similar to that of MCW — he was taught the subtle skill of curling around screens, and finding opponents’ blind-spots for open spot-ups. Rather than having Jonas run aimlessly, crashing the board at random like that of the Sixers’ Henry Sims, Valanciunas learned the principle of verticality, and developed a post-game.
And although the Sixers’ process is less father along, the difference in results is already apparent.
Take last night for example. Yes, the Raptors’ defense was bad, but the game was never in question. For the most part, the Raptors led from start to finish. The Raptors couldn’t resist the temptation of playing up-tempo, which played right into the hands of the Sixers, but even though they were out of their element, the Raptors were still able to out-execute the opponent.
Consider the differences in their play. What’s the difference in the Suns ’7 Seconds or Less’ offense, and the Spurs’ meticulously orchestrated present-day attack? Randomness. Sometimes, NBA teams prioritize randomness, especially if they’re up against a superior opponent. More randomness means less place for order, of which favors the favored. The Raptors elected to run specific plays to get Jonas Valanciunas in the post, or have Lowry drive into the paint, draw extra defenders, and kick-out to find the open man on the perimeter. Conversely, the Sixers simply pushed the ball whenever they had the chance, and let the chips fall where they may.
And that’s not to say that Philadelphia’s play style was inferior. The results speak for themselves. When the benches matched up against each other, the Sixers ran circles around the Raptors’ snail-paced squad. My point is that eventually, when the Sixers intend to actually win NBA games, what purpose did this exercise serve for Carter-Williams? How did it serve Thaddeus Young, a disciplined defender in previous years, who was forced to repeatedly bail out his teammates on defensive miscues.
The truth, it doesn’t, at least not in a meaningful sense. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the Sixers — armed with a highly-touted prospect borne as the lone prize of a miserable and humiliating season — tread in the footsteps of the Thunder, and the Raptors’ bubble eventually bursts. If and when that day happens, I’ll gladly eat my words, and hope for the Raptors embark on a similar strip-down process of rebuilding. But until that day comes, I’m more than thrilled with the results of the present-day Raptors, who currently sit third in the East, in-line for a new franchise-high in wins.
It seems, at last, that the Raptors finally stepped off the treadmill, and they didn’t need to become the Sixers to do it. I, for one, am thankful for it.
As you’re undoubtedly aware, Jonas has been mired in a controversy surrounding a DUI charge. While I’m happy the Raptors have finally arisen to the top of the Canadian sports story-stack, I’m disappointed that it was Jonas’ legal troubles, rather than his team’s success, that captivated audiences across the Great White North.
Lowry on Jonas: “Much more aggressive. Much more hungry. He wants the ball. Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. And I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball, because he’s our big fella”.
DeRozan: “I hope everybody leave him alone. He understands we need him. We all go through things, especially at a young age and we all learn from them”
Personally, I think Jonas made a stupid and irresponsible decision, but by no means should it define his character, nor his career. Perhaps we’re ashamed to admit it, or to be fully truthful, but the incidence of driving under the influence is far more prevalent than that on legal censuses. As long as people understand the irresponsibility of their decisions, and seek to change their practice, they should be rewarded the luxury of forgiveness.
And, let’s be real here — Jonas is 21 years old. He and I were born in the same year, and I can personally (ron) attest: 21-year-olds are incredibly irresponsible. Maybe we don’t all get booked for DUIs, but we’re also not in a foreign country, constantly in the spot-light, and offered an open invitation to every party and opportunity to slip up wherever we go. His age doesn’t excuse him from his decision, but it should afford him some leeway in the matter.
Last night, Jonas made a concerted effort to redeem himself. Of course, succeeding or failing on a basketball court doesn’t tip the scales of morality one way or the other, but it was a relief to see his relief. As explained by Lowry, “basketball is like our space, our secret spot and that’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity”. Jonas came to play with a purpose, and thoroughly dominated the Sixers frontline. He executed a litany of beautiful drop-steps, he crashed the boards hard, and threw down a nasty jam over some dude named Jarvis Varnado.
He finished the night with a career high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in three days. That’s a good thing for both he and the Raptors.
Matt Devlin, as is his wont, had a hilarious slip-up on the broadcast. As per his “Ask Matt” section, he was asked for his picks for the Raptors’ most-improved, defensive player of the year, MVP, etc etc. He named Lowry as the defensive player of the year, he named Lowry the co-MVP (along with DeRozan), and stopped himself short of an answer for most-improved, presumably because one could connect the dots.
But here’s the thing: he’s right! Lowry is all of the above, and more to this team. He’s the facilitator, he’s the primary ball-handler, he shuts down the pick-and-roll, he takes charges, he fights through injuries, and most of all, he’s the closest thing this team has to a closer. With the game tight down the stretch, Lowry scored on four consecutive possessions to secure the win for his team. That’s what a leader does.
Cover photo credit: AP Photo, The Canadian Press, Peter Power
With Kyle Lowry back in the lineup and playing like an all-star, with Jonas Valanciunas having a career scoring night and enough complementary pieces making plays on either end of the floor, the Raptors were able to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 125-114. Way too many points were surrendered and not enough stops made, too may blow-bys, vulnerable on the perimeter, areas the Raptors need to somehow address by the time the playoffs arrive next weekend or face the real possibility of a one-and-done post-season. With four games left in the regular season, home court is a definite possibility, a mere formality with Brooklyn dropping its game to the host Magic. Toronto’s magic number to clinch the Atlantic and earn home court is now one, a title the franchise can earn for the second time in franchise history by as early as Friday when the desperate Knicks come to town.
“It’s been a rough couple of days, but I find power, find my energy to come out, fight,” Valanciunas said. “I felt really good [because of the] fan support, thank you to them. That felt great, because everybody supported me. I say sorry and [am] learning … to be better.” Irrespective of the incident, Valanciunas has been playing with the most confidence of his career, at least offensively. He has scored 65 points over the last three games, missing just 12 of his 39 field-goal attempts. “Much more aggressive. Much more hungry. He wants the ball,” Lowry, who returned with a 29-point performance after missing three games because of a bruised knee, said. “Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. And I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball, because he’s our big fella.”
Looking at the box score, you have some shiny offensive numbers from Lowry, JV, and Patterson among others. But the real story today was the defence — or lack thereof. Dwane Casey definitely won’t be thrilled with the way his team looked in this game. The Sixers shot 51% from the field in this one, and all time greats like James Anderson and Henry Sims had their way against the Raptors all night. Toronto got off to a fast start and held a 34-28 lead at the end of the first quarter. Every time Philly would make a run, the Raps would stretch that margin out back up to 6 to 10 points. The Raptors’ penchant for not putting teams away kept Philly interested throughout. After taking a 68-60 lead at halftime, and a 98-89 lead after 3 quarters, the Raptors stretched this out of ream once and for all when it was 116-110 Toronto. A couple of rare, good defensive sequences, combined with some shotmaking from Kyle Lowry had the Raptors winning this one comfortably 125-114.
A dude in an Iverson jersey right next to press row got a cup of Coke poured over his head by the Raptors mascot. Thought that was a little aggressive.
Maybe the Sixers aren’t the worst team in the history of the NBA. Not only have they gone 2-4 since their regrettable record-tying losing streak, they’ve looked pretty good in a couple losses, including tonight’s defeat to Toronto. It wasn’t all great–Thaddeus Young missed his first six shots and finished the night 7-for-16 from the floor for 16 points with only two rebounds, one assist and one steal. Jarvis Varnado got posterized twice by two different white guys, and Jonas Valanciunas pretty well ran riot, taking a 26-point, 12-rebound upper decker on Varnado, Young and Henry Sims. James Anderson hit three three-pointers early and spent the rest of the game taking heat check shots, only to find that his heat was not there. Kyle Lowry dropped 29 on the Sixers to lead all scorers.
Head coach Dwane Casey did not back down when challenged before the game about the optics of playing an individual who had just been charged with a DUI. “We sent a message,” Casey said. “We sent a clear message that we don’t condone it. We’re disappointed. By playing him, it’s not saying we’re condoning it. I think the organization — Masai (Ujiri), myself, Tim Leiweke, Larry Tanenbaum — sent a clear message that we don’t condone it. “He’s innocent until proven guilty — until the process goes through the legal system. He’s still a member of the team in good standing.”
“It’s a tough situation for him to handle, to be going through,” Lowry added, “but this is our sanctuary: basketball. We get a chance to be away from everything. Basketball is like our space, our secret spot and that’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity.” Scoring the first four points of the game, Valanciunas came out with a fire, a purpose and an air of confidence. He has been playing some of the best basketball of his career and those off-court distractions could not derail him. Leading the team with 23 double-doubles after recording just eight a year ago, Valanciunas has played 30 or more minutes and scored in double figures in eight straight games, matching a season-high. The biggest difference has been his comfort level and self-assurance, according to his teammates. The game has slowed down for him, he’s playing with patience and most importantly he’s not getting down on himself. “[He's] much more aggressive, much hungrier,” said Lowry.
“I’ve been on some selfish teams and some unselfish teams,” Hayes said. “It’s a great thing when you get on an unselfish team. It’s a great working environment but when there is selfishness involved, things can get ugly.” But that has not happened in Toronto this year. If guys have been unhappy with the minutes allotted them they have done a pretty solid job of keeping it to themselves. “In today’s NBA, young is where it is at,” Salmons said. “Veteran guys tend to sit more and more on the bench, but I’ve had teammates who were vets and sat and some took it well and some didn’t. It just depends on the character of the guy and we have high character guys here and it shows.” Hayes himself is getting more minutes these days than he did when he first arrived. It had to be tough watching Salmons and Patrick Patterson and Vasquez, three guys he came over with from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade, log minutes almost immediately while he sat waiting his turn.
“We all have our roles and certain rotation that we play,” Patterson explained. “Every time I come off the bench, I am backing up Amir (Johnson), certain times we play together and certain times we don’t, so I know my role and if I have to start, it is pretty much the same thing, the same opportunities, setting screens, popping, running in transition, rebounding shooting open shots, so it is pretty much the same thing. We all play alongside each other over the course of a game, so whenever one of our numbers is called, everyone is comfortable and everyone believes in one another.”
If Toronto can in fact dispatch Washington in round one, their chances of success in the next series are largely contingent upon who they face: the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers. As things currently stand, Indiana is the second seed and the Raptors are more than likely salivating. Why? Mostly because Toronto’s sturdy ‘D’ presents problems for the Pacers’ anemic offense and because Valanciunas is a big body who can legitimately bang with Roy Hibbert and disrupt his game. Considering Hibbert was a distinct advantage for Indy last year versus Miami, curtailing his production could be instrumental in a Raptors upset. Lastly, the midrange shots Indiana famously foists upon its opponents are actually a staple crop in Toronto’s offense. DeRozan in particular loves the 16′-23′ shot, while Lowry pulls the trigger when necessary and hits at a decent 34.4 percent clip (per Basketball-Reference). No matter what happens, the Raptors are a fun team that plays good basketball.
“It’s not a goal whatsoever. I haven’t even thought about it,” Casey said of getting to 47 wins. “It’s not important. My whole goal right now is to get better defensively going into the next few weeks. … It’s going to be a short ride if we continue to play defence the way that we are now. “My thing is us. We’ve got to take care of our business. We’ve got to continue to work and improve in different areas to get better. Those things are good. It’s not a have-to goal. A have-to goal is containing the ball on the perimeter and keeping people in front of us.”
“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said. “It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.” Casey’s protestations aside, the chance to equal franchise history is palpable. The win over Philadelphia coupled with Brooklyn’s loss in Orlando put Toronto’s magic number to win the Atlantic Division at one. And the victory, combined with Chicago’s win over Minnesota, kept the Raptors ahead of the Bulls in the race for third overall in the East. An Atlantic title would give Toronto the tiebreaker with the Bulls. To further complicate matters, the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Washington Wizards in overtime on Wednesday to take over sixth in the East,
“If they hadn’t made the playoffs this year, there wouldn’t be as much excitement heading into next season and, if anything, people would view the 20th anniversary season as 20 years of mostly inept play.” The Raptors fan base grew in 2006-07 when they won the Atlantic Division for the first time and the Leafs failed to make the post-season. But poor performances season after season whittled away fans until the Raptors were dismissed as almost an afterthought on the Toronto sports scene. This year, the team has already started building up its fan base by performing when expectations were low, said Richard Power, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
This time there was no declaration of innocence for public consumption. In statements, the Raptors chided their man, calling themselves “disappointed.” They released a statement from the player, apologizing for “any negativity” the incident has created. The implication was that the facts, as expressed in a banal OPP press release, weren’t in doubt.
|Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 38 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +23
His threes irk me a little until I realize that they’re all coming out of good, rhythmic offensive flow and his shot just happens to be a natural end to a good possession. The Raptors missed his mobility and in an up-tempo game such as this where positional play goes out the window, his contributions are invaluable.
|Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 34 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +6
Hit some huge threes in the third quarter to maintain that 7-10 point lead and ensured that the opening moments of the fourth weren’t nerve-racking. The defense? Meh. This was yet another game where a high pace, which you might expect him to savour, didn’t quite benefit him. Some nice passing play in this game, though.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 37 MIN | 10-14 FG | 6-8 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +14
You think he came out to prove a point that his recent off-the-court troubles weren’t going to affect him? He barreled his way to the rim like an eighteen-wheeler with a drunk driver drivin’, there’s no survivin’. Alright, that’s the last joke I’ll make. He is becoming quite fluid in his near-rim movements where you can pass him the ball on either block, run a pick ‘n roll anywhere on the court, and run hi-lows for him. That is versatility. The defense? He’s taking that principle of verticality thing a bit too far, I often find him being vertical in a defensive situation where he has no business being vertical. Post-Game Interview
|Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 38 MIN | 9-19 FG | 9-9 FT | 5 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 29 PTS | +12
I got some issue with his defense against MCW, he got stuck on the latter’s hip far too often and got punished for it. Offensively, his swagger kind of fuels the team and when he hits those step-back threes, especially for four-point plays, it galvanizes the team. Good to see him back, he looked rested.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-14 FG | 9-10 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +7
Sometimes I think this is like that Face-Off movie where it’s Rudy Gay wearing DeRozan’s skin. Some quite questionable shooting for most of the game and when he took it to the rim after his contorted dribbling, the shot got sent back like an undeliverable letter. Then again, you kind of know that even in a bad game he’s going to end up hitting a clutch shot or two to make amends. Hopefully that holds true in the playoffs.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 10 MIN | 2-4 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -6
Good second-quarter cameo where he partnered with Patterson well in a smallish Raptors lineup with him at the five. I liked it, too bad we didn’t see much of it again. I thought playing him would’ve helped turn the tempo in our favor rather than a track meet, too bad Casey didn’t see it that way.
|Chuck Hayes, PF Shot Chart 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -3
This was not the game for him, and it showed when he was on the court. I’m not a big fan of that play where Lowry’s running a pick ‘n roll with him 24-feet out.
|Steve Novak, SF Shot Chart 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -6
Was spotted reading ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ on the bench.
|John Salmons, SF Shot Chart 18 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +6
Played well in the first half, much more so than of late, but Casey thought Terrence Ross’s three-point shooting and athleticism to be of more value than Salmons, who isn’t quite suited for a fast-paced affair. Still, signs of progress from him.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 13 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +7
Good first half again, but like Lowry, victimized by MCG for not staying in front of him. The good news is that he’s orchestrating the offense a lot better of late, and has reduced his me-shots to the bare minimum.
|Nando de Colo, PG Shot Chart 7 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -5
Casey turned to him for some ball-handling after Philly started pressuring the ball a little; jacked up a lot of shots in the brief time he was there which made for good entertainment. Somehow I feel that even when he’s playing bad, he’s more or less benign.
Got suckered into playing Philly’s style of game rather than ours, I didn’t like that. He’s gone away from the zone of late, which was a good mechanism of throwing the offense a different look. Couldn’t really adjust to Philly’s hot outside shooting, which almost cost us the game.
See below or click here.
— Drizzy (@Drake) April 9, 2014
This was not met with rave reviews on some corners of the internet:
Drake is quite possibly the biggest bandwagon celebrity sports fan in the history of modern professional athletics, as he has a hilarious-yet-sickening tendency of latching onto the biggest athletes in American sports and celebrating their wins with them like his season tickets belong with the other WAGs.
Haha…little does this deluded writer know that “latching onto the biggest athletes in American sports and celebrating their wins with them” is the first step to making said athlete come sign for the team you support. RR salutes Drake’s master plan to land Kevin Durant and wishes him the best of luck.
As for the ESPYS, unless they have Anne Hathaway hosting it in her birthday suit, count me out.
Other corners of the vast bunghole that is known as the internet has taken a new swing at things, and go as far to suggest that he might be a candidate to replace Letterman:
He’s more than just a rapper, or just a singer. Regardless of your feelings about him, Drake can be charismatic and funny, and he’ll serve as a decent replacement for Jon Hamm, who was always a somewhat curious host. Maybe he’ll parley this into replacing Letterman. There is some precedent, at least.
At this point you might be wondering just why this is even on RR, and to that I remind you that he’s a global ambassador, which basically means he gets to park in handicap zones anywhere in the world and get away with it.
The 45-32 Toronto Raptors host the 17-60 Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Center tonight, with tip-off at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One.
This is exactly the kind of game where, under normal circumstances, a playoff-bound team may simply shrug and say ‘hey, whatever happens, we’re not going to worry too much about it.’ For the Raptors, however, the game matters.
First of all, the three-seed is still a contest, with the Raptors and Bulls tied with five games apiece to play. Because of a slightly easier schedule and ownership of the first tiebreaker, the Raptors are still favored for the spot, but it’s anything but assured. With Brooklyn looking like the certain five-seed, the three-seed takes on additional importance (and sure, look ahead to round two and a struggling Indiana team, but look past round one at your own risk). Washington can all but lock up the six-seed by beating Charlotte tonight, though a loss would mean the Bobcats are the likely first-round opponent for the three-seed.
In addition to the seed-jockeying, there’s also the matter of locking up the division. The Raptors are two games up on Brooklyn with five each left to play, meaning an additional year being added to THE BANNER isn’t a certainty yet.
There’s also this: By going 3-2 or better in these last five games, the Raptors would reach their best record in franchise history with 48 wins. Is this the best Raptors team ever? Should they win tonight, that’s something I’ll examine tomorrow. Should they lose, they are obviously the worst Raptors team ever. Primacy effect, in full effect.
As for the actual game, it seems as if Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson will both play. Both practiced on Tuesday, which has generally been a positive indicator under Dwane Casey. Lowry’s now had eight days off since he last played, which is hopefully plenty for the knee contusion to heal up. Johnson played last Wednesday, so he’s had about a week off to rest is bothersome ankle. Is it worth it to play them? On one hand, no, it’s the Sixers, so why risk it when they could instead have another two days off before the Knicks on Friday? On the other, it’d be nice to be able to ease them back in, and it’s probably not a bad idea to use the last five games of the season to find a groove and for Casey to nail down his non-injury rotations. My guess is they play and are capped around 30 minutes (Lowry) and 20 minutes (Johnson).
Jonas Valanciunas will also be playing, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Regardless of where you land on his DUI charge, the collective bargaining agreement is such that the team and league are unable to punish him, anyway, until the legal process plays out. Should he plead guilty, eventually there will be a (likely) two-game suspension coming his way, but the team has no choice but to play him until the process plays out. His teammates are mostly saying the right things, for what that’s worth.
Anyway, there’s a game to play. To help us set the stage, I reached out to Andrew Unterberger, who, along with banging out 10 million words on March Madness for my employer, also throws down at The 700 Level.
1. Since Jan. 6, the end of an unlikely four-game winning streak, the Sixers are 5-39, which is far closer to what everyone expected than their 12-21 record to start the year. In that span, they’ve been outscored by 14.1 points per 100 possessions, the worst in the NBA by a longshot. Where does this team rank among the all-time worst outfits?
Well, they rank pretty high, though I’d bet that of all the top 15 worst teams in NBA history–a list which the Sixers likely appear on–nobody else was half as OK as the Sixers are to be there. Not that Philly wanted to be historically bad this season, but they certainly weren’t proactively trying to be good–trading their best player, not signing or dealing for a single player past their rookie contract, and then of course, selling off three rotation guys (including their leading scorer) to the highest bidder, a bid which wasn’t even all that high. They knew what they were doing.
And believe it or not, the team’s actually been a lot better recently. They’ve won two of their last five, and of their last nine Ls–all coming against teams in the playoff race–only three have been by more than ten. Might not sound like a lot, and it certainly doesn’t make them finals contenders, but compared to where they were at a couple weeks before, this may as well be the ’83 championship team.
Oh, and if we’re putting the Sixers on the Worst Teams of All-Time list, be sure to carve out a spot there for the Bucks, who the Sixers have lost 26 games in a row trying to catch at the bottom of the standings and still couldn’t out-tank them. And they were actually trying to start!
2. Was Evan Turner sent to Indiana as some sort of false flag operation due to an unknown grudge Sam Hinkie holds against the Pacers?
Well, all of us Sixers fans had a good chuckle at the notion that Evan Turner would end up being The Difference for the Pacers in their race to the actual top of the standings with the Miami Heat. Not that a lot of smart fans or analysts really espoused that opinion, but there was Charles Barkley saying that the ET acquisition closed the book on the battle in the East–which may actually end up being true, but not in the direction Sir Charles was predicting.
Anyway, as for Evan being the dirty bomb that Hinkie unleashed on Frank Vogel and the Pacers for motivations known only to his sick, twisted mind…not totally implausible, but probably not the whole story. Truth is, the Pacers started their tailspin well before Evan got there: The Pacers had lost three of their last five before the trade, two of which were to the Magic and Wolves and one of which was a 73-point scoring night against the Mavericks.
Evan was never going to be the solution for the Pacers, which any Sixers fan could (and probably did) tell you right off the bat–his offense is too inefficient and ball-dominant, his defense is too sloppy, and he’s never been very good as a complementary player. But he isn’t the problem, either, and not even His Hinkiness could tell you exactly what is at the moment.
3. You suggested on GChat that I should allow you to be a Raptors fan for the playoffs, in return for me getting to share in the excitement of MCW+Noel+2 Lotto picks next year. What about this Raps team do you find endearing?
Well, I’ve greatly enjoyed the development of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. From his first few games as a Raptor, I was convinced Lowry was going to change the entire culture of basketball in Toronto with his drive and fearlessness. I was disappointed when it didn’t happen last year, but I feel vindicated that it’s eventually come to fruition. And DeMar, the Raps took so much crap for that extension they signed him to a couple years back, but I’d always liked him as a potentially elite scorer–it certainly felt like he was one whenever he played the Sixers, anyway. To see that be borne out this season is also somewhat validating.
And I’ve always loved Tyler Hansbrough. Nobody draws fouls–technicals, even–with the passion and shamelessness of Psycho T. Love watching him, love listening to his teammates talk about him, wish he was on my team. He’s also one of a number of really fun wildcard-type guys the Raps have: Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson…pretty much anyone except John Salmons, who single-handedly drags this team’s watchability level down about 35%.
Also, it’s always cool to watch a team that hasn’t had a lot of relevant moments in the league the past several years get to play exciting basketball again. They have great fans, great unis, a great home arena, a great mascot–two if you count Drake. It’s fun to have them be a thing again.
4. Poor Thad Young. I don’t have a question, I just feel so bad for Left Behind.
Yeah, you do gotta feel for Thad, but don’t shed too many tears for him. He’s gotten to do expand his game under Brett Brown this season in ways that never would have been possible under Doug Collins. He’s shooting threes, he’s reaching for steals, he’s handling the ball a ton–there was a time not that long ago where you cringed whenever you saw Thad crossing half court with a live dribble, now he might be the third-best playmaker on the team.
When Thad plays for a relevant team again–and I haven’t given up hope on that being the Sixers of two or three years from now–his game will be at its furthest level of development, and I believe this season will have a ton to do with that.
5. Despite the overall poor performance, the Sixers have won games before. Even if Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson sit, the Raptors would be favorites, but what bad habits should the team be weary of that the Sixers could conceivably take advantage of to steal a W?
Well, staying out of transition would probably be a good start for Toronto. The court has really opened up for Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten late in the season, particularly without Evan Turner needlessly trailing behind the play with his arm raised looking to be passed the rock, and while this team still struggles mightily to score in the half-court, they can go end-to-end as well as anyone. Well, not anyone, but, y’know. Some teams.
Also, keep an eye out for that boy Hollis Thompson. He may not look like much–nor does his stat line for the season–but he’s been absolutely lights out from beyond the past few weeks, hitting 18 of his last 26 triples. He and MCW have developed a nice catch-and-shoot rhythm, particularly with our new bigs Henry Sims and Jarvis Varnado–the first quality screen-setters the Sixers have had in about a decade–clearing space for the two of them up top.
And Sims…let him crash the boards at your own peril.
Vegas says: Off the board. It’s likely a case of Vegas favoring the Raptors regardless, but the line will swing dramatically based on the status of Lowry and Johnson (and possibly any context notes on Valanciunas). With both a go, it’s probably Raptors favored by 15 or more, otherwise by just a six or seven.
Hollinger says: Raptors -18
Will Smith says: Nothing. Will Smith don’t say nothing.
Blake says: This needs to be a summary ass-whooping. If Lowry and Johnson sit out, it’s another chance for the Next Man Up squad to continue their rhythm and fight for playoff minutes, and that motivation is probably enough given the talent level of the two teams. If Lowry and Johnson go, even with limited minutes, that opens up a pretty wide gap in team quality, one that no longer seems subject to the workings of randomness (the 76ers haven’t beaten a .500 team since Jan. 15). There shouldn’t really be much question here, and there’s not a lot of in-game stuff to break down. Playoff team, tanking team, win.
Per SportsClubStats, Raptors 81% to finish with 3-seed. Wizards 73% to finish 6th. Likely, but not even close to certain, matchup.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 9, 2014
What’s his source? This page which has tons of lines and charts and stuff.
Looking at it from an “Avoiding Brooklyn” perspective, the Raptors got to make sure that they finish, at worst, tied with the Bulls thus avoiding a 4-5 matchup with the Nets. Chicago and Toronto are tied, and in case of a tie-breaker the Raptors would get the higher seed on account of their division title (forthcoming, we hope).
Here’s Chicago schedule:
@ New York
vs Orlando – Back-to-Back
vs New York
vs Milwaukee (Back-to-Back)
@ New York
Winnable games everywhere for both teams, although Chicago has one more road game than the Raptors. The realistic chances the Bulls have of dropping a game is probably in New York and in Minnesota tonight (Kevin Love returned from injury last night). If Chicago drops one of those two games, it gives the Raptors a margin of error and affords them a loss in New York in the final game of the season. Until then, though, we got to sweep things – starting tonight.
If the playoffs started today the Raptors would face the Wizards in a 3-6 matchup. They have won the season series with the Wizards 3-1 and tied it 2-2 with the Nets. The Raptors are also 2-2 against Chicago, which comes into the play in the unlikely event of Brooklyn grabbing the third seed.
All season long, Kyle Lowry has acted as a vocal mentor for Raptors’ second-year centre Jonas Valanciuas. He’s prodded him on the court, he’s supported him in the locker room and worked to get him the ball when the rest of his teammates feel free to ignore him.
However, Lowry may have given Valanciunas’ season the biggest shot in the arm yet by getting his knee bruised against LeBron James in Miami last week. Since that game Lowry has been sitting and Valanciunas has been thriving. With Toronto’s offensive options limited by Lowry’s absence (that’s 17.4 ppg sitting inactive), the Raptors have had to go in search of points elsewhere, and Valanciunas has been the key beneficiary.
In the three games since Lowry’s injury, Valanciunas’ has seen his scoring spike from 11.0 ppg to 18.0 ppg and his involvement in the offence jump to a heretofore unseen level. All of the Raptors are now working to get him involved in the offence, none more so, perhaps, than fill-in starting power forward Patrick Patterson.
What is happening now is the Raptors are putting a great deal of responsibility on Valanciunas’ shoulders and he’s handling it admirably. That not only helps his confidence but it builds trust between him and his teammates. When teammates feel like they can trust a young player to make smart plays when he has the ball in his hands they are more likely to let him see it. Moreover, when that player proves dependable enough to bail those same players out when they get themselves into tight jams (especially guys like DeMar DeRozan who see frequent double teams) they actively begin looking for more and more ways to get that player the ball.
That has a trickle-down effect as well. With increased touches comes an increased belief that you’ll see the ball again. That means that when Valanciunas gets a touch he doesn’t feel obligated to make a big play with it. He blends into the offence better, acting as much as a facilitator for the greater good rather than as just a token option, which (again) breeds more trust and confidence in his teammates.
This is doubly important given the time of year its occurring. The Raptors were in a visible funk heading into their first postseason in seven years. With Lowry out, however, the club has to find other ways to maintain productivity. Lowry had become the team’s safety net; a last minute bail-out option that was being overburdened too often in late-game situations. When the Playoffs roll around and teams get that much more time to key-in on scouting one team that was going to spell trouble. Lowry’s injury has forced other players to step-up and alternate avenues to be explored. While it hasn’t caused a reimagining of the way the teams plays, it has reminded guys that there are ways to win games without Lowry hurling himself into the fray on each and every possession.
What remains to be seen now is whether or not the club will stay active at getting Valanciunas looks throughout the game and how often Valanciunas sees the ball when Lowry returns. Again, Lowry is one of the few Raptors that has consistently looks to keep Valanciunas involved in the on-court action, but DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Valanciunas’ fellow big men need to keep looking for him, as well. Opposing defences are going to be planning to lock-in on those perimeter guys because Toronto’s offence is so perimeter-heavy; having Valanciunas be a consistent part of the team’s attack will make a huge difference not just in getting post scoring but also pulling some defensive attention away from the club’s big scorers.
Let’s also keep in mind that, in a lot of ways, this season is found money for the Raptors. They were thought to be setting-up for a rebuild, but instead they’ve pushed themselves into an unexpected postseason berth. This is a golden opportunity to test the mettle of the core players that Masai Ujiri has (mostly) inherited before having to make some big decisions about the teams’ future this summer. Valanciunas remains a huge part of those future plans, and the team can only benefit by seeing how he responds to the pressure of the Playoffs as an active participant in the proceedings. Let’s face it, when Valanciunas is involved in the offence he is also more locked-in on defence, more apt to rebound, box out and set good screens and that that makes it easier for Dwane Casey to keep him on the court throughout the game and, most importantly, in crunch time. This little burst of effectiveness, brought on by Lowry’s injury, has given Valanciunas a platform to earn trust and confidence in the postseason – now the team just has to keep riding it.
Hayes, who leaned heavily on Juwan Howard in his early days in the league to show him the ropes, said the biggest difference come playoff time is the focus that is required on every single play. “Every play you have to be zoned in mentally, offensively and defensively to what’s going on,” Hayes said. “You have to know what’s coming, what is going to happen. Everything is a counter. They are going to take away your first, second and third options, so mentally you have to be prepared to know what you will do next.” Hayes said it’s not so much what the vets are telling the young guys now as what the young guys have picked up through the course of the season. “It’s preparation,” he said. “You have 82 games to kind of get a feel for it, but now you really have to zero in on things. What happens is we will take away every team’s strength and they are going to take away our strengths so now what are we going to do to counter that? Mentally you just have to be prepared for it.”
MASAI UJIRI On a potential suspension: “What generally comes out, that’s the league policy. I can’t sit here and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to suspend him for two games or going to fine him.’ I will say this: As an organization, it’s not something we’re going to take lightly. It’s not something that I feel we’re just going to brush aside. He’s a young kid. At 21 years old, I look at all of you here and wonder what we were all doing at 21. There are mistakes that are made. But we also want to understand the seriousness of it. Then we’ll deal with it from there.”
The ramifications for Valanciunas – the player – are modest. He’ll continue to play. Any suspension he faces won’t take into effect until the beginning of next season, at the earliest. He will not be required to attend his initial court date on Apr. 22, shortly after the Raptors begin their first-round playoff series. He’s been enjoying one of the best stretches of his career and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue, assuming he can stave off the legal distractions that are likely to ensure. For Valanciunas – the person – the consequences are intricate. He has some damage control, some image repair to do. Most importantly, he has some growing up to do. In the last year, his second in the NBA, we’ve watched Valanciunas blossom on the court, sometimes losing sight of the fact that he is also growing and learning as a young man. Valanciunas – less than a month away from his 22nd birthday – made a mistake, a stupid one. Thankfully no one was hurt as a result.
“We all know Jonas,” Novak said. “It was obviously a mistake. He’s said that, and it shows that it took him less than 10 seconds to come out and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ It’s so out of character for him that anyone who is even remotely close to him knows who he is, what he stands for and how hard he works and what this means to him. How much he’s improved over the past year, I think that’s very telling. I think we know that he’s going to be fine and he’s going to use this as motivation. I don’t even think anyone is very worried about it. It’s a serious thing but I mean that in a he’ll-be-able-to-focus way.”
The popular guard had just left a Halloween party in the early morning of Nov. 1, 1999 when he was pulled over for speeding on the Don Valley Parkway. Brown didn’t get a speeding ticket, but he was charged with impaired driving after a breathalyzer test showed his blood alcohol content was above the legal limit. He was fined $2,000 and barred from driving in Canada for a year. But Brown’s conviction was later overturned when his lawyer argued the only reason the Raptor had been pulled over was because he was black. The case launched an investigation into racial profiling by police not only in Toronto, but across Canada.
DeMar DeRozan has made a pretty serious leap this season. At 24 years old and in his fifth go-‘round of the league, DeRozan not only made his first NBA All-Star team, but he’s been the top scorer on what is officially the first playoff team he’s ever played for.
DeRozan is not the Raptors’ best player, as much as the 22.8 points stand out more than any other player’s statistics on the team. Kyle Lowry is this team’s best player, acting as the engine on both ends of the floor and the avatar for the entire team’s story and attitude this season. If you’re an advanced stats fan, you can make the case that Amir Johnson is right there with Lowry, though his contributions are obviously less superficial (screen setting, help defense, etc).
But not being the best player on the team doesn’t mean DeRozan hasn’t been incredibly important to the Raptors’ unlikely rise. After all, the trade of Rudy Gay left DeRozan as the offensive alpha and one of the dozen most relied upon offensive players in the NBA. DeRozan has answered that call, improving marginally in several areas and improving significantly in one particular area.
Shot mix and getting to the line – Simply by adjusting the type of shots he’s taken, DeRozan has improved his true shooting percentage this season despite his field goal percentage actually decreasing. Even though his 29.9 percent mark from long range leaves plenty to be desired, it’s still a shot that is worth 0.9 points on average, something long twos would have to fall at a 45 percent clip to do. More importantly, DeRozan has bullied his way to the rim, leading to a career-high 7.9 free throw attempts per game, good for seventh in the NBA. Considering the mid-range heavy game he plays, that’s incredibly impressive, and it speaks to the work he’s done to get stronger (he’s also getting blocked far less often than in years past and producing more And-1s).
Rebounding – DeRozan still isn’t an elite rebounder for a wing – he ranks 26th in rebound rate among qualified guards and guard-forwards this season, behind teammates Lowry and Terrence Ross – but it’s an area he’s improved on for the second straight season. He showed great potential as a rookie and while he hasn’t quite got back to that level yet, the additional half-rebound a game he’s pulling down isn’t nothing.
Steals and blocks – DeRozan has made slight gains in both steal rate and block rate, speaking to his modest improvements as a defender.
Defense – DeRozan is probably still, at best, an average defender, but it’s an area he’s clearly done a great deal of work. An analysis of his defensive improvements and shortcomings would require its own post, but Synergy data shows that DeRozan is on the right path, particularly as an isolation defender, where he somehow ranks first in the NBA this season. That should be all you need to make you take these Synergy defensive classifications with a grain of salt, but his improvement in isolation situations and guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers is clear, as his ability to chase players on the move. Some of this has to do with the help around him (hi, Amir) and drawing the lower-usage wing assignment in most cases, but there are real improvements underneath all of that, too.
|Play Type||2011-12 PPP||2012-13 PPP||2013-14 PPP||2011-12 Rank||2012-13 Rank||2013-14 Rank|
|P&R Ball Handler||0.81||0.7||0.73||126||45||58|
Turnovers – Ball control has always stuck out as an area where DeRozan was fairly effective but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. His handle is one of the biggest criticisms of his game, but he somehow rarely coughs the ball up despite having it in his hands plenty. You may look and see his raw turnovers up to 2.2 a game, a career-high, but this loses site of the fact that his usage rate has also increased a great deal. Overall, DeRozan turns the ball over on just 9.4 percent of the possessions he uses, representing not just a career-low but the 21st-lowest mark in the entire NBA. Among players who use at least a league-average portion of their team’s possessions, only nine players turn the ball over less than DeRozan. That’s an incredibly valuable trait to have in your primary scorer.
The Key Improvement
The biggest improvement to DeRozan’s game has been, without question, his playmaking ability. 16 players averaged 18-3.5-2.5 like DeRozan did last season; this year he’s up to 22-4-4, joined by only James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Those are random cut-off points, sure, but there are very few players in the NBA who score, rebound and facilitate like DeRozan has.
And this was largely unexpected. In each year of his career, DeRozan had taken small steps forward in assist rate, from 4.9 percent as a rookie to 12 percent last season. This year, that number exploded to 19 percent, a mark that sits him just outside the top-50 in the league, with primarily point guards, superstars and Josh McRoberts ahead of him. He’s still not an elite playmaker, but he’s gone from being appreciably below-average to being comfortably above-average from the wing. Think his 22.8 points a game are nice? He’s also generating an additional 10 per game via assists, per Basketball Reference’s advanced play-by-play logs.
How impressive is a jump from 12 percent to 19 percent in terms of assist rate? Since 2000-01, there have been 235 player seasons where a qualified player had an assist rate between 11 percent and 13 percent. Only 27 of those also had a season with an assist rate higher than 18 percent, with most declining to the 12-percent range rather than improving from it; Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, James Harden, Kevin Love and Josh Smith are the only other players to have made the jump in a single season. Players simply don’t make that kind of a playmaking improvement in one year.
Does He Have a Chance?
Well yes, sure he does. Unfortunately, there are some other players who have made a significant jump this season as well, some of whom either started from an even lesser-known place or have had their breakout become a key storyline of the season, or both.
To try and find (and compare) MIP candidates, I developed a really simply formula called Improvement Metric that just uses box score stats. It won’t include much defense or team context, but since voters almost surely look at box score averages to help guide their vote, it can give us an idea of who they may look at and how they stack up.
IM = 2013-14 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36) / 2012-13 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36)
Put more simply, we summed all of the counting stats, subtracted turnovers and field goal attempts as proxy for efficiency and then put it on a per-minute basis. Scores were compared between years, showing a percentage improvement.
Running that simple formula, here are the 2013-14 leaders by “IM” or “additional statistical contribution.” (Note: players had to qualify in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, and Anthony Davis was left out due to a discrepancy between BRef’s qualification standard and NBA.com’s.)
|Player||12-13 Score||13-14 Score||IP||Usg Inc|
Plenty of names on the list make sense. Markieff Morris and Lance Stephenson have had some MIP love thrown their way; DeAndre Jordan, Terrence Ross, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard are improving with experience; and Marco Belinelli, D.J. Augustin and Randy Foye are having solid bounce-back seasons. There’s also seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who improved from being a six-time All-Star. Bismack Biyombo seems out of place, and a couple of names are missing, so it’s not perfect by any means, but it seems a fair proxy to start with.
The Likely Candidates (in no particular order)
Anthony Davis – He’ll probably win, having transitioned from impressive rookie to superstar. Personally, I hate giving the award to sophomores since this kind of progression is expected, but this represents a pretty extreme case.
Goran Dragic – His scoring average has jumped 5.8 points without much of a minutes increase, he’s getting to the line more and hitting more threes and his PER has exploded, plus he’s leading a surprise team to a potential playoff spot. If Davis is No. 1, Dragic is probably 1B publicly.
Lance Stephenson – The most highly-publicized case of a breakout player having a major impact early this season, it’s certainly possible that the negativity around the Pacers of late will hurt his case.
Gerald Green – He’s proof that I need to loosen the qualification requirements in the future, and he’s firmly in the top-five in buzz for the award. He kind of did this in 2011-12, too, but over just 31 games, so this year has been a real statement given where he was in 2012-13 and before 2011.
Isaiah Thomas – As great as he’s been, his actual performance didn’t change nearly as much as his workload did. He’s improved, to be sure, but he was always pretty good and struggles to stand out given his competition here.
Markieff Morris – He’s probably the winner using that IP formula, and he’s been a core piece of the aforementioned rise of the Suns. However, any chance he had to win the award will probably be cannibalized by the two teammates on this list.
DeAndre Jordan – He’s gone from being a valuable piece to perhaps the best rebounder in the NBA (he’s neck-and-neck with Andre Drummond) and has been able to see a rise in minutes for the first time since 2010-11 thanks to a steady foul rate and improved play. Still can’t hit a damn free throw, though.
Draymond Green – Green’s impact on the Warriors may be too below-the-surface to get him the appropriate love here (he’s also a sophomore), but rest assured his leap has made a big difference as Harrison Barnes backslid and David Lee missed time.
Kyle Lowry – You thought I’d slight my guy without a mention? Like with some others, the minor issue here is that Lowry has always been pretty good, and the jump from pretty good to very good is less noticeable. Ast%, PER, TS%, FG%, 3FG%, they’re all up, and the turnover rate is way down. Looking at things in the aggregate, Lowry probably has a really solid case – no player in the NBA has made a bigger jump by BRef’s Win Shares metric than Lowry this year, nearly doubling his 2012-13 total (5.6) with 10.8 this year.
DeMar DeRozan- Of course, this article was about DeRozan, not Lowry. It’s possible that, like with the Suns, they may cannibalize votes from each other. Given the names and resumes on this list, it’s unlikely that DeRozan has a shot at the award – his improvements may be too marginal in many areas rather than extreme in a single area. Still, even if DeRozan doesn’t become the first Raptors player to win an individual award since Vince Carter was the Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, that shouldn’t negate the fact that DeRozan has taken a big step forward this season. He’s a key reason this team has gotten where it has and a great deal will be placed on his much-improved shoulders come playoff time.
|Season||3FG%||FTA/gm||PPG||PER||TS%||Usg%||Rb%||Ast%||TO%||WS||WS/48min||Team +/- Effect|
I was reading this article in Time and the following resonated with me from a Raptors context:
More importantly, these networks, and the powers than be in general in sports and TV, are well aware that live sports is the largest reason many Americans continue to cut a check for a monthly pay TV bill. Time Warner, which owns TBS, TNT, TruTV, CNN, and many other cable networks (and, for a little while longer, Time Inc. and Time.com), obviously has great interest in keeping levels of cable-paying households high. They want cord cutting to hurt, or at least be difficult and impractical for sports fans to circumvent, and moving the Final Four to cable does just that.
This is totally true. The Raptors are the only reason I have cable and I’m sure I’m not alone here. With Netflix, Hulu and “other sources” of getting your entertainment plentiful, the primary motivation for someone like me to even think about cable is live sports. The bad news for cable companies is that that won’t last either, because with increasing bandwith caps, the existence of offerings such as NBA League Pass combined with easy ways of circumventing location blackouts, fans will find a way to get to the content they want.
The issue here is ease. It’s not very easy for the “normal Joe” to get a VPN service or proxy service, configure and fire it up, startup league pass, and somehow project it onto your TV. Things like Chromecast might help but that technology is a little ways away from being perfect. Certainly, it’s not a one-click solution like your TV, but give it time and someone from Silicon Valley will see to it that I don’t have to have the third-level Rogers package just so I can enjoy the local basketball team.
You know the story, now tell us what the Raps should do:
On the previous episode of Talking Raptors, the podcast was hijacked and eventually destroyed by technology before it could reach any ears.
This week, the guys conquer technology and welcome a special guest, writer and media personality Darren Andrade. Darren joins Nick and Barry for a fun filled chat about the Raptors and what’s going on around the league.
Enjoy and thanks for listening.
Ontario Provincial Police officers responded to a report of a silver car going through a drive through with open beer bottles around 2:30 a.m. A search of the vehicle revealed that the driver was under the influence of alcohol, according to various reports. “I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously,” Valanciunas said in a team-released statement released Monday evening. “I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”
“I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously,” said the 21-year-old in a statement released by the team Monday evening. “I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”
According to an OPP release, open beer bottles were spotted in Valanciunas’ vehicle as he went through a drive-thru at 2:30 a.m. Police traced the vehicle to an address in town. After investigation, Valanciunas was placed under arrest there, charged with “Exceed 80 mgs.” It’s not clear who, if anyone else, was with him. Beyond the legal and safety implications, this creates turmoil in a locker room that was prepping for its first playoff appearance in six years. The hows and whys will become more clear on Tuesday morning, when Valanciunas will have to face a media onslaught after midday practice.
At about 2:30 a.m., OPP officers responded to a report of a silver car going through a drive-through with open beer bottles inside. Police say they located the vehicle near a residence on Oxbow Park Rd. After an investigation, officers determined that the driver was under the influence of alcohol while in control of the vehicle. 21-year-old Valanciunas was charged. The charge carries a $1,000 fine and one-year license suspension for first-time offenders.
Second-year centre Jonas Valanciunas has been charged with impaired driving, having been stopped in Wasaga Beach, Ont., about 2:30 a.m. ET after allegedly being spotted with open beer bottles while travelling through a drive-thru. Police say officers located the vehicle at a home, where they arrested Valanciunas alleging he was under the influence of alcohol while driving. Valanciunas is charged with having greater than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and is to appear in court in nearby Collingwood on April 22.
It’s too premature to speculate when Kyle Lowry (knee) and Amir Johnson (ankle) will be back, two starters who are key pieces with the post-season just around the corner, but each is making progress with no apparent setbacks. Greivis has filled in admirably for Lowry at the point, scoring and doing a solid job of protecting the basketball. Nando De Colo has been serviceable as backup, growing more comfortable as he gets more minutes. Without Lowry, though, the Raptors are susceptible on the perimeter, leading to far too many points in the paint. Johnson’s ability to show and recover on defence has been missed, while his ability to roll to the basket is second to none.
Still, with only five games left in the season, you have to like what you’re seeing out the Raps. This weekend, with two crucial pieces sitting out, they pulled out some big wins. You get the feeling that this team’s chances in the post-season will rest not on its stars, but on its depth and chemistry. For now, the Raptors are idle until Wednesday. It’s an opportune time to recharge some of the batteries, knowing full well that they’ll need everybody on board in time for the playoffs. “We need to get some rest, ” said Vazquez. “We need to get Kyle back. We need to get Amir back. We need to get back fully loaded to make a run.”
Is this core group good enough to be a perennial playoff team and legitimate contender to play for a championship? And what does general manager Masai Ujiri have to do to make sure growth is steady and that this isn’t a one-off post-season appearance that will simply tease long-suffering fans who haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2008? “I like their pieces,” said one advance scout for an Eastern Conference rival. “But they’ve got some work to do.” Ujiri has held all season that this is nowhere near a complete roster and his search for talent upgrades is all-consuming. But it would seem that the core is young enough and affordable enough that a natural progression and adding key pieces may not be too hard to accomplish.
“If the Leafs had a good product this year, maybe it would make sense. But the fact that they’re not going to make the playoffs — why not get the city of Toronto behind a team that will?”