Somebody come over here and slap me silly for thinking that the “red hot” Raptors would cruise at home against the Redd-less Bucks. A three game winning streak against Chicago, Sacramento and New Jersey wasn’t exactly highly impressive but it did signify one of the best stretches of ball we’ve played all season. So coming into this one you’d think the momentum, playoff hunger and desire to salvage this season would push them through against the Bucks on their home floor. The first half had me feeling exactly the way I did against Memphis, you know, not a good half but the opposition isn’t exactly great and if we just wake up in the third and play with a little bit of intensity and passion, we should be able to push this team around. Right? Wrong. This is what happened in the third quarter where we shot 25%. I haven’t seen so many jumpers since the three-point contest.
We shot too high of a percentage in the first quarter which always makes me nervous because it gives us a false sense of confidence, we start thinking that we can shoot like that all game long and our defense lets up because things are coming too easy on offense. Those percentages always even out and they did again last night. At the end of the first quarter we were shooting 60% and the Bucks were at 45%. By the end of the evening we were at 43% and the Bucks were at 47%. ‘Tis better to shoot consistently well rather than spectacularly in one quarter and flame out for the other three.
Andrea Bargnani went 5-7 for 13 points in the first quarter, he was receiving the ball at the top of the key/arc after the high screen and nailing his jumpers. He was shooting over Bogut, driving past Charlie V, and drawing fouls leaving the Bucks defense utterly confused as to how to stop him. Turns out we did the job for them, Bargnani did not attempt a single shot in the second quarter as the Raptors got outscored 25-17. He was taken out at the 3:15 mark of the first, brought back at the 8:37 mark of the second and taken out at 5:13 of the second for good. Is Triano alright? He had our hottest player play only 3:24 seconds in the entire second quarter? Insane coaching.
The defense was never great to begin with but with Bargnani out of the picture the offense dried up and we went back to seeing Chris Bosh try to draw fouls on jumpers by getting the defender in the air on pump-fakes. It worked in the second quarter but failed in the third and fourth, that’s how jumpers work. Charlie V and Francisco Elson must be laughing it up as Bosh tried to multi-fake them 18-feet out and try to draw contact against a vertical defense. The refs didn’t buy it and neither did the fans, he’s supposed to be the leader of the team and when he plays as passive as he did last night how can you expect anybody else on the team to be aggressors? A scout once said that Charlie V has more basketball sense than Chris Bosh. I agree and so do his seven ubiquitous turnovers agree. Elson was giving him the space up top and Charlie V was playing him tight in the block challenging Bosh to beat him for quickness. Bosh tried but failed and looked unsure, uncoordinated and unnatural in the process. That’s what a lack of a post-up game does to a player, it forces him to beat a player for quickness when he should be beating him for height and strength in the post. Everybody agrees that the +/- is a red-herring of a stat but Bosh’s game-high -18 says something.
Give credit to the Bucks, they’d lost 5 out of 7 and smelt blood coming into the building and why not. Ramon Sessions, Charlie Bell and Charlie V beat their man off the dribble all night long without the help of a pick forcing the Raptors defense to rotate, which it did to some degree. But after the second rotation you’ll end up having a matchup like Bargnani or Bosh trying to check a guard on the perimeter and if that guard decides to ball-fake and drive there’s just no way your defense can handle it. Case in point was Jermaine O’Neal unsuccessfully trying to guard Mbah a Moute one-on-one on the perimeter in the fourth quarter or Bargnani stepping out to close-out Sessions only for him to whiz past him as he’s coming out. Our perimeter defenders always over-commit on anything they’re trying to do, if they have to challenge a shot they’ll challenge so hard that a simple fake will get the defense a clean look. If they have to close-out their footwork and stance will be such that it’ll give the offensive player a clear path to the rim. Against an unmotivated team you might even get away with it but the Bucks meant business and we didn’t.
The other problem of course is the unnecessary shading. If Charlie V is catching the ball in the low-block, there is zero reason for the weak side defense to be out of position or lose track of their man. I lost count of how many cross-court passes were thrown by a Bucks post-up player for an open look on the weak side which invariably led to a score. Inexcusable and confusing stuff because we have no idea whether this is some sort of strategy to deter drives or just plain bad perimeter defense, nobody in the post-game interviews seems to ask that question. They did ask Triano about effort:
“I give them credit because they outworked us. We told our guys we can’t be outworked and we were. They’re a good defensive team, they locked our guys up. Jose Calderon couldn’t shake their defense and (Bosh) couldn’t shake their defense. We got behind and that was it.”
The Bucks came out with great intensity and effort in the third and went on a 13-4 run to start the quarter as Jefferson finally hit a couple shots. The Raptors were the complete opposite, we simply refused to drive the ball and settled for jumper after jumper, ending with a whopping 2 PINP in the frame. The plan at halftime was to get Bargnani involved and he came out looking for his shot but if you haven’t taken a shot for 40 minutes you’ll be cold. To his credit he tried to mix it up by going to the rim when his jumper didn’t fall and managed to throw off the defense which came to help but there were no offensive rebounders to take advantage of a scrambling Bucks defense. We’re dead last in the NBA in offensive rebounding and this quarter was an example of why – nobody wants to hit the glass. Even when Triano called a timeout to settle the team they came out shooting two straight jumpers which were missed. Nothing was working, it was as if they were shocked that the Bucks had dared to compete with them with Michael Redd being out.
The Bucks never felt a need to double Bosh as Elson, Charlie V and Mbah a Moute were keeping him in check. This meant that somebody else needed to step up on offense and it wasn’t going to be Jose Calderon. Much like Bosh, his game is primarily perimeter oriented and if his off-the-screen jumper is working then the offense opens up but if he’s firing blanks he becomes a non-factor. He’s supposed to be the #2 scoring option on the team and he went 3-11. Still did a good job of sprinkling the shooters with the ball and racked up 11 assists but pulled back in transition too many times opting to go for a wing option rather than straight to the cup. It’s not like the Bucks were making a serious effort to get back, a little aggressiveness was needed and Jose didn’t bring it. Watching Ramon Sessions attack the paint you can’t help but feel that that’s an element of the game that Calderon needs to add to his arsenal before he is seriously talked about as “one of the best PGs in the league”.
The fourth quarter was pointless, the Bucks had built a 70-59 lead and the Raptors offense remained toothless. Our best weapon on the night was Jermaine O’Neal who finally figured out that Charlie V is too weak to defend his post-up game and went straight at him for 10 fourth quarter points. Unfortunately, Richard Jefferson, who had been quiet most of the night, knocked down key fourth quarter jumpers and Charlie V continued his assault against Parker, Kapono and Bosh by continually slashing and creating/scoring. Their big guns held down the fort for them, Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon had 2 and 3 fourth quarter points, respectively.
The only mini-run we made in the fourth was Bargnani hitting a three and then Calderon getting a mid-court steal for a layup. That cut the lead to 10 and got the crowd back into it but the Bucks responded quickly with a hard Bogut dunk after he cut and O’Neal/Bosh lost track of him. There were definitely a couple questionable calls in this game, Jermaine O’Neal was called for an offensive foul when Mbah a Moute was incorrectly adjudged to be outside the circle. O’Neal picked up a technical for arguing. Later on with the Bucks up 9 with 2 minutes left, frustration kicked in and he shoved a Buck after the fact, Charlie V took offense and after the double technical his night was over. He finished with a tidy 16 points (7-10 FG), 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, easily one of his best games this month. Should help the trade value.
A word about Charlie V. He seems exactly the player the Raptors need, an athletic scoring option that can slash. There’s no doubt he’s an inconsistent offensive player and that his defense is shoddy, but so was TJ Ford’s and so is Jermaine O’Neal’s. It’s a joy to watch a player when he’s playing hard and in the groove and he was in it tonight. He had a couple drives against a clogged paint tonight that he had no business finishing. He was emotionally into it and his aggressive play gave his team an example to follow.
- It seemed like Sam Mitchell was coaching this game.
- Very disappointing result, especially on the heels of a 3-game winning streak. As always, just when you think this team might have an outside shot at showing some character and resolve they come out with a performance like this.
- Jason Kapono played the first 9:13 of the fourth quarter and went 1-4. For a guy that’s put in entirely for his offense in a game he sure provide enough of it. I’m sure you can guess just how much he was exploited off the bounce in this stretch. BTW, our three main wings (Parker, Kapono and Moon) have the three worst PER48 PPG on the team.
- Best Lineup: Kapono, Bargnani, Bosh, Calderon and O’Neal going +8 in a fourth quarter stretch. It’s mainly due to to O’Neal getting his scores one-on-one. Worst Lineup: Graham, Kapono, Parker, Bosh and O’Neal. -9 in the early second quarter where we went all jumpery.
- Not enough is being done to make Joey Graham an effective player. We need to recognize that he has strength over players like Mbah a Moute, Charlie Bell and even Charlie V, something as simple as setting a screen for him on the elbow so he can slash to the block and catch the ball in the post would be nice. We saw it earlier under Triano and I have no idea why it doesn’t happen enough.
- Has Chris Bosh checked out? I’d hate to think so but his play in the second half spoke of a man that didn’t seem to care much about which way the game went.
- Jamario Moon played good enough defense to earn him a hate-free post, certainly played much better than Anthony Parker who despite all his recent successes cannot guard a player with a half-head of steam under him earning him a deserving -16. We need to trade him ASAP!
- Roko Ukic and Will Solmon got the call, Triano tried everything he could to find a spark to light up this dead time and maybe find a defensive answer for the Bucks’ guards. Nothing worked. I have to give Roko credit for continually trying to drive the ball despite getting rejected almost 50% of the time he gets to the rim.
- Hopefully Victor didn’t lose too much money.
- Maybe a loss like this is needed to remind everybody that this team isn’t going anywhere and can expedite the process of fixing it.
- Jose Calderon’s FT streak ended.
Up next we have…get ready for this…Orlando, Cleveland, Lakers, and New Orleans. There’s a great chance that this season will be put to bed in the next four games.