It’s not how you start…

Raptors 108, 76ers 106

You know that Turkoglu commercial that looks like it’s been shot with an iPhone where he’s chomping pizza? I honestly think that’s how he is in real life, just too bloody laid back. At the tail end of a 0-assist stinker he had two chances to be the hero but faltered, luckily for us the two cornerstones of the franchise made two massive plays – one offensive, one defensive – and the Raptors overcame a lethargic and inexcusable start to beat a struggling Philadelphia team. Despite playing sloppy basketball and trailing for most of the night, you just had the feeling that the Raptors had another gear in them, and if they would just shift into it for 6-8 minutes this game was in hand. They did, and it was.

Jack Armstrong called it a “trap game”, one which follows a euphoric win and is almost too easy to look past. The Raptors are rudderless when it comes to leadership and it’s the reason we came out the way we did. We were sloppy and passive on offense, lacking energy in transition and gave Philly (10-25) a perfect opportunity to run at us and get themselves out of the rut they’re mired in. Lazy passes at the top were being picked off for transition scores and they were pushing us after makes and misses. Jack couldn’t get a handle on the pest-like Lou Williams and Hedo Turkoglu wasn’t doing much of anything. With the two creators ineffective, the Raptors through the process of elimination went to Bosh isolations and he was hampered by the length of Dalembert and ended up with 6 turnovers on the night (18 in the last 4 games), many of them costly in terms of momentum.

Bargnani’s aggressive drives weren’t rewarded enough but the center didn’t let that affect his defensive game and was a stalwart all night long. He picked up a technical after the refs looked the other way on a clear goaltend and as if to say f**k you to them, delivered on the very next play with a drive and dunk. Other than that and few DeRozan drives, the offense was too perimeter-oriented and stagnant.

Iverson’s quick, hesitation-filled drives were giving DeRozan a lot to chew on as the Hall of Fame guard was in rather vintage form, getting scores and assists with seeming ease. The rookie finally responded and soon became the lone bright spot for the Raptors as he used Bosh screens well to get himself to the rim on a few occasions. However, whatever little the lethargic Raptors managed to muster on offense, they gave right back because of poor transition defense and a 32-23 first quarter deficit flattered their play. Philly’s 34-16 edge in fastbreak points is indicative of how they seek out easy points and the Raptors defensive game-plan hadn’t accounted for it.

The second quarter was played closer to parity with the bench coming in and providing a quick lift; Jose Calderon took advantage of rookie Jrue Holiday but it was on the defensive end that the problems lay. The inability to keep the usually inefficacious Philadelphia offense in the half-court meant we were back-tracking on defense and thus struggling to defend without fouling. Philadelphia was sensing blood as Andre Iguodala’s ferocity in transition was continually fueled by their backcourt’s desire to get something on the cheap. Despite all this, Philadelphia wasn’t able to blow us out as they missed several chances in transition, partly because of some great defensive work from Bargnani who refused to give up on plays in transition. Even though the Sixers were +5 in offensive boards, they were only +1 in second-chance points.

After a pair of hard-earned DeRozan FTs, a couple foul-hunting drives by Bosh and a step-back jumper by Jack, the Raptors had manged to slash the Philly lead to only 5 with a 1:10 left in the half, not a bad position to be in considering the energy level. Philly’s ensuing 6-0 run can be largely credited to lazy Turkoglu ball-handling and wastage of shot-clock. Down 11 at the half and conceding 60 points to a team that averages 101.9 ppg isn’t something to hang your hat on, but you knew this game was there to be had if we only played right. The rookie had a good game (12/6/1 in 24 min) but didn’t see the floor after the 3:47 mark of the third as Triano went with Belinelli who had meshed well with the second unit. A win’s a win but if we had lost this game rest assured that this would’ve been a huge talking point.

Bosh’s stat-line at the end of the night read 29/9/6 (6 assists = good passing out of elbow-double) but you wouldn’t have known it watching the game, especially given his first half display after which it was hard to believe he was the leader in points and rebounds. I suppose good players are effective in mysterious ways and I don’t know how he did it, but he made up for his six big turnovers. Triano’s message at the half had to be about energy because the Raptors were the aggressor to start matters in the third. The defensive intensity had picked up and Bargnani and Jack nailed two huge threes to get the bench out of their seats. Lou Williams continued to be a thorn in our side, he discovered his outside shooting in the third and was giving Jack, and later Jose, fits. Trading punches with Philly had us chasing the game by 9 with 3:19 despite the second unit forcing 9 Philly turnovers by pressuring their suspect 3/4/5s’ whenever they had the ball.

In a role-reversal from the first quarter, the Raps went on an 8-0 run where they were the aggressors on defense and got the transition points that oh so frequently change momentum. With the lead slashed to 1 thanks to Belinelli and Weems’ aggressive play on the break and a bad-shot-good-shot Bosh jumper, Philly was rattled. Marco Belinelli’s +14 isn’t a throw-away stat, in both his stints he pushed the issue on defense against Iguodala and Green, and hit a massive three which tied the game with seconds left in the third. This was in sharp contrast to Turkoglu’s play which can best be described as passive.

Bargnani’s defensive effort has been absolutely rock-solid the last few games, his three blocks (including a late one on Iguodala) show up in the boxscore but the number of shots he alters are also on the rise. His increased agility and awareness has also helped his ability to recover on defense and you see him challenging shots even after conceding position or rebounds. He wasn’t put in compromising defensive situations on the perimeter so he was more or less at home defending the offensively-challenged Dalembert or the smaller Young. It’s good to write that there is no questioning his defensive effort of late.

Triano, with good reason, stuck to the second unit majority of Calderon, Bargnani, Belinelli, Johnson and Weems to start the fourth. Calderon had played well against the rookie Holiday but once matched up with Williams, the difference in offensive creativity was visible as Williams had little trouble breaking his defense. Still, the Spaniard was doing his best to keep the ball moving in the face of pressure and his efforts led to Bargnani knocking down a huge three early in the fourth as the Raptors held a modest three point lead. The decision to keep the subs on midway through the fourth quarter had worked, Johnson had 3 rebounds in 13 minutes but managed to make a stamp on the game with his strong defensive play against Dalembert and Young, Belinelli continued his strong defense up until Iverson burned him for four, but most importantly the energy was maintained.

With the smaller two-guard lineup of Jack and Calderon in a switching scheme was adopted and the main threat for Philly had become Lou Williams who was coming at them every time. I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t play a better defender like DeRozan in that situation since Jack was reduced to standing on the perimeter for most of the fourth, at least DeRozan would provide a slashing factor. After Williams propelled the Sixers back to water level at 95, then came Turkoglu’s first major contribution to the game. After Bosh was doubled on the strong-side, he had the presence of mind to recognize Turkoglu in the weak-side corner (something we don’t do enough) and he nailed a three. After that Bosh had made up his mind to not be seduced by the jumper and went into drive-mode, earning himself 4 trips to the line and restoring the lead. It was short-lived as Williams again moved well without the ball as an aggressive Raptors double paid the price by conceding a three; the deceptive guard then drove down the lane for a dunk as the Raptors help defense failed in every regard.

Nursing a one-point lead, Chris Bosh had a chance to put the pressure on Philly but his sixth turnover of the night had Philly back on the break. Bargnani’s massive block on Iguodala saved face. We had another chance to ice the game but Turkoglu managed to make a muck of the possession and on the missed shot Philly ran it back textbook style for the lead with 19 seconds to play. Down by 1 on the road, Triano gave the ball to Turkoglu but the offensive set was stagnant and the pass to Bosh on the left-block seemed like a last resort. Bosh, being pressured by Dalembert, held the ball for too long and it looked like this one would end in tears, but a voice in his head yelled “DRIVE!” and he did. And1. Raptors escape. Triano later explained that the idea was to get a two-man game going and that he had anticipated Hedo being forced to give up the ball.

We tried to get Chris and Hedo in a two-man game, use the screen or don’t use the screen. They overplayed it as they’d been trapping Turkoglu for most of the game so Chris slipped and went down to the low block. They recovered, we tried to get him in an iso at some point and that was it, we preferred more at elbow so they woudnt double. They didn’t double and he was able to take Dalembert to the basket for the And1.

The bench led by Calderon provided the defensive spark in both stints and they supplied that crucial 8-0 run at the end of the third. They outscored the Philly bench 25-16 and turned the game on its head so that the starters could do their job in the end. Who knew that the biggest reason not to start Calderon would be his great play in the second unit and not Jack’s in the starting lineup. With the way the bench is playing being under him, it’s going to be hard to justify a change at this point. Reminds me a lot of the 2006-07 season when the bench was a great strength of ours. The attitude and effort with which we started the game was very disappointing, but the way we ended made up for all of it. I’m willing to attribute the Jekyll and Hyde show to growing pains.

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