Still can’t score when it counts

OK, has anyone here heard of this thing called “boxing out”?
Nets 94, Raptors 87

It doesn’t even register with me when this team builds a 16 point lead, they could be up by 32 and I’d still be worried if there were more than 5 minutes left in the game. Why? Because when it matters the most, when the shit’s on the line, when it’s time to weigh your nuts, when it’s time to step up and prove your worth, we always come up short. We choke, we fold, we wet our beds, we shit our pants, we just don’t come through. We start doing the dumbest things you can possibly do with the game on the line, we shy away from taking the big shot, we’re unsure of ourselves, we take terrible shots, we become passive, we bail out defenses, we allow ourselves to get dominated, we don’t accept the challenge of rebounding, we play scared and most of all, we don’t play to win, we play not to lose.

The Raptors jumped out to a big first quarter lead because of their defense which fueled the offense, Jose Calderon was hitting zone-busting threes, Jermaine O’Neal was getting paint-scores, Jamario Moon was moving without the ball for scores and it all seemed alright. It looked like we’d be getting a comfortable home win against a team that we’re supposed to beat before we lost on Wednesday against a team we’re supposed to lose to. This team is so terribly mediocre that I’ve readjusted my expectations to be just as mediocre as them, unfortunately they can’t even live up to the low standard set for them. Just as everyone in the live chat had feared, the Nets started chipping away at the lead as our defense grew softer and softer and New Jersey increased their defensive pressure and started doing smarter things on offense. Hot starts are anomalies, you can’t stay hot for the entire game and once the hot-streak is over, you still have to play solid and sound basketball in order to sustain the lead you worked so hard to build.

Once everybody had cooled off and the defense had loosened up, we needed our big gun, Chris Bosh who had had no part in our early success, to start taking control and keep the Nets at bay. Just like how Vince Carter led the charge to bring the Nets back, Chris Bosh needed to lead the charge to keep the Raptors in control of this game. And what does he do? 4-15 FG. Oh, don’t worry though, he did make 8-10 FTs so I guess it’s all good and he did his part, eh? No!! I’m tired of watching the Raptors look to him to deliver points in the paint and him responding by taking the easy way out. This team needs a go-to guy and if anyone thinks Bosh is that player, they’re wrong. I don’t blame him though, he’s caught up in his own hype and the expectations from fans are too high, he’s just not good enough to deliver in clutch situations against set defenses. We knew this two years ago when he faced the Nets in the playoffs and we know this today when we lose to an entirely different Nets team at home in December. We were 6-14 in games decided by 5 points or less last season for a reason, it’s because when it comes time to score, we can’t.

Devin Harris took a night off in New Jersey on Friday but he was back torching Jose Calderon again when it mattered, 16 of his 20 points came in the fourth quarter. The guy went on a 9-0 run on his own to start the fourth for the Nets erasing the 9 point lead the Raptors were nursing like a hot potato. In that stretch Parker, Roko, Bargnani, Calderon and O’Neal all missed shots and our leader, Bosh, didn’t even take one. When he finally took one after crawling out from under his shell with the Raptors down 2, you guessed it, it was an 18 foot jumper which he missed. All this happened with Carter on the bench so when he finally came in he was fresher than a spring daisy and immediately converted a three-point play to hammer another nail in our coffin. Soon after Jose Calderon had snapped Harris’ run with a couple FTs, it was Ryan Anderson’s turn to go on a 7-0 run to ice the game. All in all the Nets went on a 23-4 to start the fourth quarter, is there a greater sign of choking?

Blaming it entirely on Bosh calling in dead isn’t fair. Rebounding numbers like these should be plastered on practice walls just as a reminder of the degree of humiliation. -16 total rebounds, -11 offensive rebounds and -24 second chance points. That right there’s your game, aren’t you glad we signed Jake Voshkul to help the situation? Andrea Bargnani and his 2 rebounds shouldn’t be able to sleep today, there’s no way a 7-footer can live with himself after his team got crushed on the boards and he only got two rebounds. Imagine walking into the dressing room like a stiff with your two rebounds in your travel pouch and everybody’s got the boxscore in their hands and they look at you like, “WTF man, two rebounds? Jeebus H Krist man, you’re useless!” If Jamario Moon can grab 9 rebounds in 28 minutes, he should be able to grab more than 2 in 23. I mean, how much do you have to pay someone to put a body on Ryan Anderson? Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh might have 6 and 9 rebounds but that doesn’t count how many rebounds the 38% shooting Nets peppered on our defensive glass – we only grabbed 67% of the defensive rebounds available today. That’s terrible!

Ryan Anderson coming in and grabbing a rebound over Anthony Parker (0 rebs), Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh at 1:40 of the fourth quarter was perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the night. We had cut the lead from 12 to 8 and needed a defensive stop and got it as Vince missed a tough jumper, but we couldn’t come up with the rebound because Anderson eluded Parker, went around O’Neal and got it as Bosh was ball-watching. In addition to giving up the hustle rebounds, we also fail to execute simple box-outs and lose track of our man easier than anyone else in the league, our guards are the guiltiest party. Our entire team came up with 7 offensive rebounds, Carter and Hassell alone came up with 8. Their guards hit the glass and ours didn’t. Rebounding is a team effort, not something you look at your bigs to do on their own. Calderon and Parker rarely go in the paint to contest a rebound which is inexcusable since we don’t even run the fast break and there’s no reason for them to be standing behind the three-point line waiting for an outlet.

This was exactly like the Nets game from two weeks ago, Raptors build an early lead, fall into a false sense of security, Nets chip away as Vince and Harris recover from slow starts and by the fourth quarter they’re firing on all cylinders and we’re struggling to string two passes together. The first and third quarters were excellent for us because we played high-energy basketball and were active on defense, Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono (runs around more screens than Reggie Miller, must be tired poor chap) were hitting their shots and our defense fed off of our offensive success. But you can’t rely on role players to pull you through the entire game, they’ll pull you through a stretch of play at best, after that you have to rely on your big guns. NJ had those big guns in Harris and Carter, we don’t. I have to give props to Jamario Moon for playing as well as he has all season, he was contesting for rebounds, moving without the ball and probably could’ve had at least a couple more alley-oops if Calderon had the ability to find people on the fly.

The Nets realized that other than Yi, they didn’t have to help out anyone when defending the Raptors. If they apply enough ball pressure at the point of attack, stick to Jason Kapono and check Bosh, they’ll be able to contest every shot we take. The way Jose Calderon and the Raptors run their offense doesn’t dislocate defensive players from their positions by much, the Nets were hardly ever scrambling to stop our offense as they never had to deal with dribble-penetration or providing consistent help to anyone. Thus the defensive assignment for them became simple: play solid main-to-man defense and fight through screens, they’ve got enough physical presence and athleticism to do both and don’t need to do anything special to deal with the non-threatening Raptors offense. We on the other hand have to deal with dribble-penetration, East-West ball movement and the threat of Brook Lopez (very good player) down low.

Jose Calderon’s point guard play was bad tonight, we already know what Harris did but his own passing play was the worst it’s been all season. If there’s one thing you can rely on Jose for is to take care of the ball and last night he uncharacteristically turned it over 5 times. He made some very bad forced passes which showed that he wasn’t reading the defense as he should. Harris got a key steal on him in the fourth quarter and he was unable to find the cutters that were there. Moon was always active going East-West on the baseline and Calderon only found him once. The problems delivering an entry-pass into the post continue as Jose, Bosh and O’Neal just aren’t on the same page in terms of angles. Ukic’s overall play in limited minutes was slightly better but that’s not saying much, he’s too raw and not enough of a scoring threat to have a real impact on any game.

Our bench got outscored 35-14 as Joey Graham was a non-factor and Parker sucked as usual (0 points). Bargnani had 10 points and managed to get fouled a few times which put him at the line where he got 6 of his 10 points. I guess he was more aggressive today than he was in the past but I’m getting tired of reporting baby steps of success for him. It’s almost embarrassing man, it’s like, “Today Bargnani dribbled the ball across the lane without travelling!”..Applause! Clap, clap, clap! Oh, you can see that he’s getting better, he’s going to be awesome…”Today Bargnani drove to the rim, he didn’t finish but the move was prettttyyyy aggresssssivvvee”…Woot! Woot! Baby steps are nice but how about a 25/10 game once in a while just to keep us hard, eh?

Since Jay Triano took over we’ve seen the Raptors take small steps in the right direction, last night we saw them take their first big step back. Raptors lose to the Nets for the second time at the ACC. This truly remains Vince Carter’s house. We’re 0-2 on this three game home stand with Dallas coming to town on Wednesday. If we can’t take care of the Nets at home, how can we possibly deal with Dallas?

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