Game 3 Preview: Sea of Red looks to even series

It’s do or die time, no exaggeration. If we lose Game 3, there won’t even be a point in continuing in the series and we may as well empty out the bench and get Maceo Baston some playoff experience in Game 4. The Raptors have their backs against the perennial wall but lucky for them they’ll be coming home to the cauldron that is the Sea of Red at the ACC. If the crowd and atmosphere can inspire them to play any form of consistent defense, they will have a chance to send this series back to Orlando all tied up. No, I’m not crazy.

It goes without saying that the difference between winning and losing in Game 2 couldn’t have been more than a hair’s breadth. Mitchell’s unimaginative play calling, questionable non-calls, missed FTs and a furious defensive sequence where we failed to keep possession did the Raptors in. If any of those one things go our way, we win the game. Let’s also not forget the horrible first quarter. It’s natural to feel hopeless but there is one singular reason to feel optimistic: we were in both games late in the fourth quarter despite giving up a massive spread early in the game. A simplistic line of thinking would be that if we have a better first quarter, we’ll be alright.

So to ensure a better start Sam Mitchell’s tweaking with the starting lineup yet again but is keeping it a secret. A logical change would be to insert either Moon or Rasho back in the lineup over Bargnani and replace TJ Ford with Jose Calderon. As impressive as TJ was in the second quarter of Game 2, Calderon was instrumental in the fourth quarter run and has done a better job of guarding the pesky Nelson. When playing against TJ, Nelson is shooting 9-14 (62%) for 28 of his points while against Calderon, he’s 4-9 (44%) for 14 of points. The better defensive performance is reason enough to make the switch. Here’s Michael Grange’s thoughts.

If Andrea Bargnani starts the game again, Sam Mitchell should be fired at the end of the first quarter. The experiment has failed and Sam should’ve accepted that after Game 1 to prevent articles like these that rip him to shreds. Game 2 should serve as further confirmation of the fact that Andrea Bargnani is not read to play the SF position and putting him in a situation where he’s bound to fail is detrimental to the team. Bargnani’s lone rebound performance in Game 2 is unacceptable and he must help out Chris Bosh in dealing with Dwight Howard. More specifically, he needs to make the rotations and box out Howard when Bosh goes off to help. It’s not so much Howard’s offensive moves and muscle that’s hurting us but his putbacks which are the source of second chance points after taxing defensive stands. Maybe Brezec can trouble him? Surely, he’s good for something. In other Bargnani news, Bryan Colangelo has an “extensive off-season program” planned for Bargani. We’ll analyze the results to death in September.

Are the Raptors problems a lack of preparation or a lack of execution? If you ask Doug Smith, he’ll swear its execution but that’s because he’s Sam Mitchell’s little pet. The truth of the matter is that execution has been a problem all year long and nobody will doubt that. However, looking closely at any Raptors offensive or defensive schemes, the underlying basketball philosophy is too simpleminded to be effective in a playoff series where preparation and adjustments are paramount. In other words, these Raptor players and coaches are not ready for the playoffs. Exonerating Mitchell by saying its a problem with team execution and not with what’s happening between games is ridiculous and the two first quarters beg to differ.

Jason Kapono’s been a breath of fresh air and has taken it upon himself to manufacture some shot attempts. One of Stan van Gundy’s concerns will be Kapono getting open looks and Sam Mitchell should expect life to be much more difficult for Kapono in Game 3. He’ll have to make some in-game adjustments to whatever SVG will have implemented in an attempt to contain Kapono or else the sharp-shooter will regress into his late-season form. Anthony Parker’s zero point performance could easily be seen as one of the prime reasons for the Game 2 loss, his defense on Turkoglu almost made up for it until he let Keith Bogans drain two wide open threes in the fourth. Parker tends to bounce back from bad games and I’m expecting him to step up and score somewhere between 15-18 points on Thursday night.

Looking forward to Jamario Moon realizing he can’t shoot and either passing the ball up or doing something that might draw some contact, it’s probably too much to ask this late in the season but a man can dream. His rebounding is always welcome but if he can manage to neutralize Hedo by 50% and/or completely take out Bogans’ outside shooting, he’d have done his job. The Raptors need to come out with an end-to-end defensive effort and sustain it for the entire game, it might be too much to ask but these are trying times. We’ve shown that we can score against the Magic, its obviously the defensive end that’s the issue. Rectify that and we’re in business, it starts with close-outs on Nelson, Bogans and Lewis and ends with crisp rotations inside the paint.

I’m watching the Lakers/Nuggets as I type this and Phil Jackson just reiterated the importance of preventing guard penetration by saying nothing else really matters if you’re letting the other team get to the paint and pick out scoring options. Sounds simple enough and if I’m whoever’s guarding Turkoglu, I concede the three until he makes at least a couple before challenging him to drive. He’s shown he can take it to the rim, it’s time we make him shoot some threes which he’s only 1-7 at and hopefully the ACC atmosphere can add some additional pressure.

On a betting note, I told you to take the Raptors +7 in Game 2 and if you did, you made some money. The Raptors are favoured in Game 3 and laying 4, take the Raptors to win this one for the crowd in the same way they won Game 3 against Philadelphia many moons ago.

More links tomorrow, got nothing to do until then, chew on this: Dwayne Wade and Star Jones are an item.

Let’s go you Raptors!

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