Those damn team meetings. We really needed to have another right after Miami had theirs, problem was that we won our previous game so everybody assumed everything was all rosy. The warm and fuzzy feelings from Sunday are now gone and replaced with a cold disgusting chill. The Raptors tried to stick with the Heat in a gritty and physical first half where the refs allowed enough contact for it to be considered illegal at the Rail. Offensive slumps in the second and third quarters proved to be our undoing as the relentless Heat wore on the Raptors who were once again left desperately searching for answers on the defensive end. Another blowout ensued.
Let’s talk about effort and execution. The two need to be present on a nightly basis for any team to be any good, last night we had the effort in bits and pieces, but lack of execution and deviation from team-play led to poor offensive possessions which allowed Miami to pull away. I accept that this team doesn’t have the greatest of defensive talent and that they’ll get beaten in certain situations, I can maybe understand Beasley torching Bargnani/Bosh since it’s tremendously hard to guard a big who can drive and knock down the jumper as we all know. However, I can’t explain why we are so confused when defending screen action up top or why we’re unsure as to who is supposed to cover when somebody’s man is leaking out. These things have as much to do with effort than intelligence, they’re all about knowing your responsibilities and something I thought we covered all training camp. Come to think of it, what the hell did we do in training camp?
I was actually proud of the way the Raptors started this game, Bargnani looked smooth as ever netting 10 first quarter points, all golden. A confident jumper coming off a screen, a beautiful drive against three flailing Heat defenders, a flash-cut for a layup, a post-up for a short jumper, just beautiful. Bosh didn’t look to get too involved and was only 2-3 at the end of the first but we didn’t need him yet. Even the defense was tight, DeRozan was all up in Wade’s face, sure he got torched a couple times but who didn’t enjoy seeing the rookie stand toe-to-toe with Wade. Even Weems (first wing off the bench instead of Belinelli) did a commendable job against the All-Star. Bargnani was playing in the paint, getting contested rebounds and even Marcus Banks got excited enough to cheat on jumpballs. Our help defense did break down at least four times in the first quarter but that’s because of pure confusion, not lack of effort.
Wade demands so much attention that the Raptors were always cheating to help on his drives which left us exposed elsewhere – pick your poison. Beasley and Arroyo knocked down clean early looks and because of that it got them going, Beasley especially. At the end of the first it was 26-24 Raptors, thanks to Bargnani’s offensive effort and some determination on defense. I was happy with the pace and flow of the game, I thought if the Raptors could sustain the defensive effort, Bosh was eventually going to get going and give us a shot. We just couldn’t let the defensive floodgates open.
Turns out I was being wildly optimistic, the Heat scored a season-high 36 points in the second quarter! Their previous season high for a quarter? Yup, you guessed it, 34 against the Raptors on November 20th. A lot of the Heat offense here was generated by poor Raptors shooting (5-15 FG) and their interior defense, they took the rebound and ran with it as the Raptors defense was miles behind. The refs allowed a lot of contact on Raptors drives (especially on DeRozan’s, the rook got no respect) which made O’Neal, Haslem and Beasley’s jobs much easier. Bargnani only attempted two shots in the frame and Hedo and Jack’s handling of the offense wasn’t ideal. Hedo forced up a couple very bad shots and instead of calming the offense down by slowing the pace in our favor, he played into Miami’s hands by speeding it up. Jack was having offensive issues as Arroyo and Chalmers weren’t giving him an inch on his drives, he looked frustrated for most of the game. Belinelli came in and was terrible, 0-8 on the night and two clean misses in the second, shots that he is getting paid to make. Terrible.
At the half it was a 10 point game and we needed Bosh to wake up on both ends (he got his first rebound at 8:19 of the third), Bargnani to assume his first quarter form and the pace of the game to slow down. The third quarter saw the offensive awakening of Chris Bosh as he scored the first 11 Raptors points, but it only shaved the lead by 3 since we were unable to get stops. Beasley got four against Bargnani, O’Neal got the better of Bosh on a drive and a post-move, and it felt like the Raptors threw everything they had at the Heat and Miami came up with an answer. A 17-7 Miami run followed as the Raptors only scored one field goal in 6:02. Arroyo continued to be the beneficiary of Wade doubles as the latter hit some contested shots which took the life out of the Raptors. Our offense in the third went dead as Hedo and Jack started to go away from what had worked in the first (Bargnani) and the early third (Bosh). Bosh only had one FG attempt after scoring the first 11 points and Bargnani went 0-3. Turkoglu was again forcing stuff without the help of a set which really meant he was going 1 on 3 and the Heat were ready.
The starters got taken out right in the middle of the Miami run which left me confused until Triano explained it later:
By the time it was 12, 13 points, our guys needed a rest and we gave them a little bit of rest and tried to make a run in the first part of the fourth and see if we can get it close. We tried to get it to 10 going into the fourth like it was at the half and couldn’t do it.
So when the going gets tough, we turn to our bench? That doesn’t sound right, right? The bench couldn’t muster up anything other than more Belinelli misses and more freestyling. The score at the end of three was 91-74. The Heat had a 52-30 point-in-the-point edge thanks to their 19-8 fastbreak edge, they converted every Raptor mistake to points in the second quarter and as soon as the Raps went cold in the third, the game was over. They beat us in second chance points (14-6) and offensive rebounds (12-4) and shot 51.7%. The Raptors three-point shooting failed them again; we went 2-11 and once we missed those threes in the third, it signaled our doom. Triano said he wanted the team to take more threes but those last-gasp attempts we saw in the third were more like desperation heaves that we hoped would fire us back in the game, not organized offense. Defensively, the interior help was brutal, nobody made an interior rotation all night and Miami had Wade, Wright and Anthony getting clear paths to the rim by using a simple double-screen. No wonder they had 52 in the paint.
It’s also important to note that during both Miami runs, Triano chose not to call a timeout until the lead had ballooned. He called one at 3:55 of the 2nd when the lead was 9 and did not call a third quarter timeout till 2:34 when the lead was 17.
Triano on the threes:
We got to shoot the ball better we got to shoot a lot more threes. We’re taking 11, we need to shoot more than 11. We’re supposed to be a pretty good three point shooting team and that’s not the case right now.
Makes sense, if you suck at something, keep at it. Whatever happened to the mentality of driving to the rim, getting fouled, grinding it out? The order to shoot threes shouldn’t be coming from the coach, that’s just a sign of bad strategy at the top. The Raptors made one last attempt at a run in the early fourth but it came in the form of 1on1 play, not as a team, and Triano threw in the towel with 8 minutes to go by clearing the bench.
Jack Armstrong’s thoughts about where the team is 1/3rd of the season in (download):[audio:http://raptorsrepublic.com/audio/2009-12-15-clip-JackArmstrong.mp3]
I don’t know if he’s right about the 5th seed or not, but he’s bang on about one thing: You are what you are. This is what the Raptors are, a bad defensive team that is peppered with inconsistent players which make us liable to go into offensive slumps. Even though we had a good showing in spurts today, the overall result is unacceptable and we can’t simply wait for the bad play to just magically disappear and the good play to become permanent. We are what we are.
We can talk about some of the positives, like the way Sonny Weems came on in the second to give us a lift, Bargnani’s great first quarter play, Bosh’s great third quarter play, but let’s not forget it was accompanied by a -13 on the glass with Bosh only collecting 4 rebounds. Our bigs had good offensive games but Beasley dropped 28/11 on them with ease. Our lack of depth at PG was exposed, Triano even resorted to playing Belinelli ahead of Banks in the third only to be abused by Mario Chalmers. The SG scoring is an issue, DeRozan and Weems could be great future pieces, maybe even useful ones today, but they’re not to be relied on to save us. That job belongs to Turkoglu who went a measly 3-11 while being guarded by Yakhouba Diawara, is that what $53M buys you these days?
Whenever we did run the pick ‘n roll with Hedo and Bosh, good things happened or at least there was potential of good things happening. I have no idea why we don’t do more of that instead of our wings just wasting clock by using screens they don’t really use. What is the identity of our offense? What is the identity of our defense? What are our strengths and what are our weaknesses? 27 games in we got to stop pretending that there’s something better ahead, I get a sick feeling that it’s just more of the same. I know there is potential buried on this roster, but can it ever be turned into a consistent product on the floor? I know we have nine new players but 3/5ths of our starters are the same and Hedo’s game is adaptable to any situation, I’m having a hard time coming up with a single thing Triano has been able to get out of this roster as a whole. Maybe Johnson and Weems’ play, but those guys are hustle guys that just go out there and play.
We were relying on our coaching staff to carve out an identity for this group of strangers and have them play like a unit, you know, one for all, so far it seems like they’ve failed. As a Raptors fan, I can handle losing but check out the margin of defeat in our last 11 losses: 18, 13, 8, 35, 13, 19, 4, 31, 22, 22, 20. That’s an average of 18.63! We’re not just losing, we’re getting ripped to shreds. I’m out of answers, and when I try to come up with a reason for hope my sentences are of the following structure: Hopefully player X can get Y going for him. Problem is that other than Turkoglu, X has never actually shown he can do Y consistently.
Tonight it’s Orlando on a back-to-back. God help us all.
Check the Roll Call and swing by around 11AM or so for a more “visual” representation of the game. There’s also phdsteve’s podcast a bit later.