Game 1: Horrible defense, lack of plan kills off Raptors

Toronto Raptors 100, Orlando Magic 114

The Magic came out with a plan. The Raptors came out with nothing. In addition to said nothing they also came out with a defensive attitude so complacent that instead of setting a tone for the series in the first quarter, they allowed the Magic to dominate and establish a lead they weren’t going to relinquish no matter how well the Raptors would’ve played the rest of the way. A 43 point first quarter where the Magic hit 9 uncontested threes made you wonder exactly what the “strategy” and “things” Mitchell had planned leading up to Game 1. We didn’t do a single thing differently on defense than when we had played the Heat in the second last game of the regular season. So when the reporters were asking Mitchell questions like “What are you plans for Dwight Howard?” and Mitchell responded by saying that he had some things planned and couldn’t give away secrets, he was really bullshitting. He had nothing planned.

Let’s talk about what the Magic wanted to do offensively and did: establish Howard inside by getting deep positioning, force the Raptors to play transition defense, drive ‘n kick using Turkoglu/Lewis/Nelson and hit open outside threes. That they executed with 100% efficiency. On defense, they forced the Raptors to go into Howard, put the athletic Lewis on Bosh giving him fits once again, pressure our point guards into making quick decisions and giving the ball up, played a weak zone that tempted Bosh, Ford, Calderon to attempt outside jumpers and finally they cleaned up the glass. Once again, job well done to the Magic. Very well executed game plan helped by some unbelievable outside shooting that buried the Raptors early.

The first quarter defense was the worst it has been all season which is alarming. This is the first game of the NBA playoffs and elements such as preparedness and effort simply have no excuse to be lacking. Forget about the “plan” for Dwight Howard, we didn’t even have a plan to contain the drives of Turkoglu/Lewis/Nelson who went past TJ Ford with a help of a screen, drew in the entire defense and kicked out to open shooters. I lost count how many times the interior defense parted like the red sea as their guards drove the lane, our PGs can’t expect the help defense to be there, you are the frontline of defense and you have to make a hard effort to get through the screen and stay in front of your man – just like their PGs were doing. The Magic got dribble penetration anytime they wanted and it was one of the core reasons why we lost. The point guard spot was to be our main advantage in this series but they were neutralized by the aggressive defense of Keyon Dooling and the superb play of Jameer Nelson. Once again, credit to the Magic for having a plan to neutralize an area where they were supposedly at a disadvantage. In short, Jameer Nelson: 24/7, 7-13 FG, Forderon: 14, 14, 4-20 FG. Pwn3d.

Any chance the Raptors have in this series is predicated on Chris Bosh canceling out Dwight Howard. It might be a tall task but any expert who picked the Raptors in this one is counting on Bosh/Howard to be a wash. When Howard goes off for 25/22, 8-13 FG and 5 blocks and Bosh counters with a hard fought 21/6, 4-11 FG, we’re already in a hole. Before we start bashing Bosh for not “stepping up”, let it be noted that he was the hardest working Raptor on the floor, played aggressively and did his level best to keep the Raps in the game. Unfortunately, he’s being asked to produce in one-on-one situations against a quicker Lewis without any help from Sam Mitchell or any other Raptor. You can’t give him the ball at the top of the key and expect scores. On the other hand, one can blame Bosh for not getting inside position on Lewis early in the game and making himself a real factor. Pick whoever you want to blame, I’d say its 50/50.

Sam Mitchell should attend Double Teaming 101 where the first thing they teach you is that you do not double from the strong side off of a shooter thus leaving him open. This is a problem that’s plagued the Raptors all season and it continues in the playoffs. The second rule they teach you is that if your guard just got beat, send help from the interior instead of the strong side wing player. See, if you send it off the wing player on the strong side, all the PG needs to do is make an unobstructed pass to an open shooter, if you bring it off the weak interior, he’ll have to go through your PF/C which is harder. Kapish? Of course this will only work if your interior rotations are tight but that’s another issue. Come on Sam, this is basic shit that we need fixed, we’re not asking for too much when we say to correctly double a player and make life harder instead of easier for him.

After the game Mitchell dropped a quote outlining the drive ‘n kick problems.

“The threes they got were draw and kicks, they sucked us in and kicked the ball to a shooter. We have to work on keeping our man in front of us so we don’t open ourselves to those type of situations.”

It’s this late in the year and we still haven’t addressed one of the most basic problems any team has when guarding PGs. It’s not like he’s tackling a complex issue here, its good ‘ol drive ‘n kick that we haven’t figured out in late April.

There was a lot of talk about X-Factors before the series. Jason Kapono found his touch and was the reason we got within 5, kudos to Calderon for looking out for him. So with the lead down to 5 in the fourth quarter, Sam Mitchell didn’t get Bosh off the bench and the Magic countered with some great plays coming out of a timeout to go on a 10-0 run. Game Over. WTF Sam? You are exactly where you wanted to be, your team just got hot and cut the lead to 5, what are you waiting for? Howard’s already in the game, why not bring Bosh? Huh? Mind boggling.

Aside from Kapono’s 18 point injection, Andrea Bargnani starred in yet another flop performance, 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2-8 FG. He was inexplicably inserted into the starting lineup and was a big failure. He couldn’t guard Turkoglu who made him look silly and couldn’t give us a thing on offense. Typical Bargnani really. I don’t understand why Sam Mitchell went with a brand new starting lineup, isn’t continuity the thing you’re looking for going into the playoffs. Why start experimenting now? This was a case where Mitchell tried to use Bargnani’s size as an advantage over Hedo/Rashard only to forget that Bargnani doesn’t know how to use his size. He sort of outcoached himself. Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon were non-factors, but it’s strange how Moon only got 5 minutes in a game where defense was our #1 problem and seeing how he’s our best defender, something doesn’t make sense.

The Raptors were down by 20 after the first, down by 13 going into the half, down by 10 going into the fourth. Playing from behind takes a toll on you and even if we had completed the come-back, the chances of us pulling out a win would’ve been very low given that the tank would’ve been running on empty. We weren’t playing Miami where we can just flip a switch and take the lead, these are the playoffs and we need to be well aware of that and come out with a sense of urgency, aggression and passion and avoid getting down early. You can’t decide when to play defense, that’s suicide and unfortunately a habit that the Raptors have to get rid off if they want to win more than a game in this series.

Here’s Bryan Colangelo’s thoughts on the game:

The phrases “defensively soft” and “need to pick up the intensity” come up which are no-brainers. He’s also complaining way too much about the officiating. Howard might’ve gotten away with a goaltend or two but to single out Keyon Dooling’s pressure defense on our guards and call it a foul while implying that’s one of the reasons we lost is a cop-out. There’s mention of our inability to defend the high screen ‘n roll, a problem that we’ve been having all year. Let’s face it, the chances of us fixing a problem so core at this point in the year are very low. There’s no magic formula (pardon the pathetic pun) that will make us a better defensive team overnight, it’ll have to come down to effort if we hope to close out shooters and fight through screens.

Chris Bosh’s comments about failed strategies and deviating from what’s been working might be interpreted as calling out Sam Mitchell:

Bosh, obviously a very frustrated team captain, said that the reason why the Raptors started Game 1 so poorly — falling behind by 20 points after the first quarter — was because the players were “confused” and “shell-shocked” and the point guards “didn’t know what to run at times.”

“We were trying to implement too many things and we’re not doing the things that got us here”.

Interpret as you wish.

Give the game ball to Dwight Howard for dominating the paint, outplaying Bosh, being a defensive presence and getting key offensive rebounds in the fourth. The Raptors have work to do before Tuesday.

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