CSKA impressive as Raptors scrape through

CSKA Moscow 78, Toronto Raptors 86

CSKA Moscow was fun to watch. I can see what the hype about Ettore Messina is, his team moves without the ball, consistently communicates on the court, doesn’t take bad shots and is extremely disciplined in their approach. With CSKA down by 10 late in the fourth, they ran a sequence of five exquisite plays that cut the lead down to 4. Two back-cuts which were picked out beautifully by the guard followed by three straight right-elbow screen ‘n rolls punctuated by shovel passes which led to scores. That cut the lead down to two possessions but Bosh countered with a score like he had done all evening and the Raptors escaped with a narrow, scrappy win against the Russians.

The Raptors were sluggish coming out of the gates; we turned the ball over frequently in the first quarter and compounded the problem by taking bad shots which didn’t seem to come out of any sort of offense but were just sort of there for the taking. The off-the-ball movement was poor and the only scores we seemed to get were when Calderon pushed the ball early to find Bosh or stuck the jumper himself. O’Neal looked rusty and unsure any time he had to interact with a teammate and looked most comfortable when he was given the ball in a post-up situation. He missed some of his early shots but by the end of the game had racked up a few impressive scores where he manhandled his defender in typical O’Neal style.

O’Neal finished with 11 points on 5-9 FG which is probably a little lower than what he’s likely going to average this season. He’ll average more than the 2 rebounds he had today but his scoring numbers will be comparable to tonight. If anyone’s expecting him to average 20/10 or even 17/8, I think they’re in for a disappointment. When was the last time two All-Star caliber big men played with that kind of efficiency? The last great ‘twin towers’ of Tim Duncan and David Robinson averaged 21.7 and 15.8 points and that combined point total is probably the best-case scenario here. Shaq and Malone averaged 21.5 and 13.2 in 2003-04 and James Worthy and Kareem averaged 19.7 and 14.6 in the year the Lakers won the title so asking/expecting O’Neal and Bosh to put out those kind of numbers is a tall task. Anyway, O’Neal saw something positive in his play:

“I was very, very pleased with my defensive efforts. I was able to take a charge, I was able to block a shot for the first time in the pre-season which I was probably on myself more about than scoring. I think the next three games will be very important for myself and the rest of my team, because we’re getting prepared for the real games now.”

The night belonged to Chris Bosh who easily had his best game of the preseason. Bosh always looked to attack first and made a beautiful play in the first half where he drove to his right and pulled it back for a jam. You sort of knew that he could do that anytime he wanted to because the CSKA defenders just are not laterally quick enough to stay with him. I thought Bosh and Calderon were going all-out in this game and were the reasons the potential embarrassment was avoided. Calderon’s aggressive defensive plays and ability to push the offense in the third quarter sparked the Raptors rally and left CSKA wondering how they could bring the ball up the court without turning it over.

It’s a good comeback win but the pessimist will say that we should’ve done to them what the Magic did to them. The difference is that the Magic have a dominant player that nobody has an answer for and is someone who can do whatever he pleases against smaller opposition. In our case things are a little different, Lorbek and Siskauskas were not shy to attack Bosh and met with success. Khryapa dragged our big men to the perimeter forcing them to defend out there leaving us vulnerable at the back to drives which Planinic and Langdon apparently love to do. They were able to get penetration, were patient in their swing sequences and used pump-fakes wisely (just ask Jamario Moon who got a first-hand lesson in how NOT to defend Europeans). Bottom line is we’re a much less athletic team than the Magic and this worked in their favor.

I’m concerned about Anthony Parker, he looks completely lost out there and I think its because he’s not getting enough touches. He’s a shooter that needs his shots to stay interested in the game and have an impact for us; he’s not the type of guy who will ever sulk because he’s not getting his shots but its something that definitely helps him get going. Parker had the 5th most shots in today’s game and that’s likely going to be the norm for him. He played 30 anonymous minutes and was constantly being broken down by CSKA’s quicker guards while on the other end he never actually looked to use his size and post-up game against Langdon or Holden.

Jamario Moon might become my least favorite Raptor this year. He was schooled in this game because of his lack of intelligence; he had trouble fighting through screens and could not anticipate what the offense was trying to do. He’ll never provide anything concrete for us on offense because he continually plays to his weaknesses and desperately avoids using his athletic ability. It’s almost like he’s thrown out there as a freelancer who has the freedom to do whatever he wants on offense as long as he looks like he’s playing defense. Remember, Parker and Moon are our starting swingmen which carries some basic responsibilities: provide athleticism, scoring, fast-break points, fourth quarter jump shooting and some consistent defense since they’ll usually guard the other team’s best SG/SF scorer. I’d actually feel better if Delfino was still on this team because his replacement, Hassan Adams, looks like he’s going to be utterly useless.

A word about Roko Ukic: He got in for about 6 minutes and had one gorgeous spin move for a score. Unfortunately for him he got in the game when the rest of the team was playing like crap and got the Mitchell yank. The crowd loved this guy and wanted to see more of him but given the need for scoring and how we were trailing for most of the game, Calderon was called in to right the ship. Will Solomon met with the same fate tonight.

Andrea Bargnani had a couple offensive rebounds and stuck one for a putback. He had two little jumpers a two horrible looking forced shots (one airball). He’s somewhere between “better than last year” and “still not worth the #1 pick”. The odds are that that’s the range on the spectrum where he’ll end up when his career is all said and done. He is showing signs of improvement and is trying to do the right things on the court, I can’t stress that enough. His defense was good and at the end of the first half he did a great job sticking in front of Planinic who was trying to break him down. Six rebounds ain’t bad either.

Hey, its preseason and its all a learning process. Sure, this game was much harder than we’d all like it to be but we saw some positives from Bosh and O’Neal, the two men we’ll be relying heavily on for the entire season. Calderon played well and we looked great in that third quarter. The improvement continues….

I was at the game and took some pics, most of them are bad but there are a couple good ones here and there.

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