What’s worse than getting humiliated? Getting humiliated on national TV. Last night Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal, Jose Calderon and the Raptors were in full view of the American public on ESPN as they got driven to the ground by the Jazz in such a systematic fashion that if you’re a basketball purist, you hardly care that the Raptors lost, you’re just impressed by how they dismantled us. The Jazz are basketball’s version of porn – you can get off watching them. The only reason you didn’t is because the team being f*cked was your Toronto Raptors.
This game was over after the first quarter. After we jumped to an aggressive 6-0 lead by taking everything to the paint on the first few possessions, the Jazz responded with a 17-0 run and in this stretch we reverted to taking bad perimeter shots and gave up any sort of momentum we had on our side. The quarter ended with the Jazz up 33-23 and more importantly their offense was clicking on all cylinders. It became obvious that our defense was overmatched and could not counter Utah’s efficient offensive sets because we’re not athletic, aware or talented enough to do. The amount of high percentage shots Utah got is even more unsettling because they didn’t had to work hard for them. If a simple PF to PG hand-off followed by a pick and roll is enough to throw us a curveball, we have no hope in hell of containing their weak-side cuts, slip-screens or scissor cuts. There’s hardly a team in the NBA that isn’t outmatched in the playbook when they’re playing the Jazz but what made things even worse is that pound-for-pound they have more talent than us at every single position except one and even Chris Bosh got embarrassed tonight. The Jazz are obviously the better team but are they 27 points better? Earlier in the year I would’ve said “No” but as the season has gone along and I’ve gotten a chance to see this bunch play more and more, I’m leaning towards “Yes”.
Our offense is very susceptible to the quicksand of one-on-one moves because we don’t know how to play as a team. We don’t have the cohesion or chemistry to function as a unit and staying with a team like Utah is a very tall order. Once our players realize that our sets are futile against a high-caliber team, their natural instincts tells them to improvise because there’s nothing else to fall back on. There’s no concept of an offensive system here and when you play the Jazz where everyone is on the same page, a night like this is the result.
The guy sitting next to me was a huge Jose Calderon fan and as we were getting blown out he kept on praising Jose. I asked him why, and he gave the whole AST/TO spiel, his potential injury and how his stats are never that bad. As he’s saying this they show Deron Willams and Jose Calderon’s stats on the screen which turn out to be very comparable and somebody who’s not paying attention to the game can easily come out with an opinion that they played each other to a draw when that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Jose Calderon’s numbers have been very hollow this year, his impact on the game is minimal and he’s almost a non-factor. In a game against a disciplined Jazz team we needed someone to throw their defense off so that they’d be forced to help, rotate and in the process give the Raptors an opportunity to score. Jose Calderon is the guy who’s supposed to be doing this, instead he’s always delegating to Chris Bosh and refuses to assert himself or be aggressive on offense. I don’t know whether its because of instruction or limited skill but he’s allergic to the paint. His idea of helping out with scoring is to pull up for a jumper every few minutes and if it goes in, great, if not, oh well, we’ll try again in five minutes or so. Unos, dos, brick!
Chris Bosh got outplayed by Paul Millsap and had a very weak performance in a very important game. I thought this was supposed to be a turning point in the season, instead we saw Bosh become passive on offense and settle for jumpers at an alarming rate. He even took a three with almost 16 seconds left on the shot-clock. That’s not what MVPs do. I thought not having Carlos Boozer in there would give Bosh a chance to abuse Millsap through his quickness but the exact opposite happened. Millsap used his size and footwork to get Bosh into very disadvantageous positions where he could make a simple head-fake or use his size to create a good shot opportunity. After being scored on by Millsap you’d think Bosh would come back and make him eat crow but instead he faced him up, faked the drive and launched 18 footers. It’s one thing to perform against Miami and Charlotte, he’s got to show up in big games and so far he hasn’t. Eric Smith countered this point a few days back with his stats against Boston and Detroit, but if you saw the game you know how he played when it mattered in the game.
This was the first game where Andrea Bargnani’s defense looked very shaky against an opposing SF. Jerry Sloan had a plan to test Bargnani and isolated Ronnie Brewer against him in that crucial early 17-0 run with great success. Bargnani tried his best but is limited by his lateral quickness against quicker threes, we knew this was a problem when he got the nod at SF and in the dozen or so games so far, this one resembled the Magic series the most. 7 points on 3-12 shooting is not going to do it and so far this year we’ve been cutting him some slack because of his improved overall defense but at some point we’re going to look for him and expect him to deliver good offensive numbers, not just satisfactory defense. That time is here. He was matched up against Okur as well and we saw just how superior and smarter a player Okur is. You could even say that in the best case Bargnani will turn out to be Okur. He doesn’t have the athleticism, hops or fluidity in his game to be a superstar, we should all accept that. If anybody is looking at him to suddenly break out of some shell and take over the team’s scoring and defense, don’t hold your breath.
I’m used to Anthony Parker’s low key, subpar and meaningless contributions so his 8 points make total sense to me now. I can’t wait to see who we get for him at the trade-deadline, or maybe we can sell him back to Maccabi Tel Aviv as some have suggested. Jamario Moon got in the game and immediately I turned to the Jose fan sitting next to me and go, “I hate Moon more than any Raptors player, ever”. And as chance would have it, Jamario (still tired from sleeping all day) throws a lazy pass which is easily picked off for two points . Moon’s reaction? “Oh well”. I still can’t get past Hollinger’s “defensive ace” comment but if he caught the game today he saw a few fine moments from Moon, one where he got faked out so hard underneath the basket that I thought he was going to break the Jazz players’ back when he came down. Disgrace.
I thought the effort was there today, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Denver and the problem was that we are too easily confused by the simplest of sets. We don’t know how to play defense and even if we did, we don’t have the talent to do so. If Jay Triano manages to do a sell-job on this team and commits them to playing defense, I still think they wouldn’t be able to – Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono all play significant minutes and cannot be trusted or counted on to make consistent defensive stands. None of these cats can pressure the ball and are always retreating and recovering when playing defense rather than dictating what the offensive player does. Having said that we still need to make-do with what we’ve got and Jay Triano has a very difficult task of instilling defensive ideas and techniques into this team. If tonight is any indication of what our defensive state-of-mind is its going to be very difficult to turn things around with this current unit of players, especially this season.
Sobering stats to think about: Ourebounded 52-38, Utah shoots 52%, 23 turnovers, Utah with 66 points in the paint, Second chance points 15-2 in favor of Utah. And this is without Carlos Boozer. How do you even summarize all this? The domination on the glass was embarrassing, Kirilenko and Millsap were keeping balls alive as their guards hit the glass. The thing about Utah is that they truly believe that rebounding is a team effort and not something that is the responsibility of your big men alone. We haven’t grasped that concept yet and that’s why we ball-watch so much. I already mentioned how easy it was for Utah to get high-percentage looks because they were able to confuse the Raptors as easily as I confuse my 5-year old nice with the coin-behind-the-ear trick. A general mess of a game where our core flaws are exposed by a superior team.
Jermaine O’Neal came up with a block in transition and went down funny. He went to the bench and looked to be in some pain. He comes back, plays about 10 minutes or so and then is done for the night since the game is technically over. Sitting on my other side is another Raptors fan, a tall funny guy who likes to drink like a fish, he turns around and starts blurting stuff as he’s spraying in my drink. I tolerate this offense in hopes of getting some sort of basketball wisdom from him. Turns out he drops some. He says that the Jermaine O’Neal in Toronto is reminding him of the Jermaine O’Neal in Indiana. He’s once again playing through pain and next thing you know he’ll be back to eating Advils with his cereal only to keep up appearances. I don’t know what O’Neal’s physical condition is but I sure want to find out and the way to see just exactly what he can do for us is to feed him the ball consistently. Let it not matter that it’s not the smartest offensive decision, let’s give him 20 post-up moves in a game and see what he gives us, play him 35 minutes for 10 games in a row and pretend its mid-season. At the very least it’ll give us an idea of what his physical condition is and what level of skill he still possesses.
Jay Triano says that the Raptors are trying to “relearn” things:
We have been through a lot in the last couple of days, trying to relearn things. I think until it becomes a natural thing for us to just flow, we are going to look a little lethargic like that. They were trying to do what we asked them to, so I applaud that.
It’s hard to be critical of the guy, he just took over. Let’s give him a few games before we unload reams of shit on him.
Raptors lose in Utah and go 0-3 on the roadtrip. Very expected. We finally come home to face the Trailblazers who’ll be looking at this game as a great chance to pick up a win. The first home game coming back from the West is very tough and we have a lot of things to figure out before Sunday. Good luck Jay.
Oh look at that, it’s 4:15 AM. Probably should’ve come home straight after the game and written this post by 1AM instead of trying to forget this loss.