Ball-handling at its worst in Thunder rout

Very disappointed in our PGs, not because they got torched by Russell Westbrook - that was to be expected - but because of their inability to control the tempo of the game. We don't want to go up and down the court with a team like OKC, nobody does, but some measure of control needs…

Raptors 99, Thunder 119 – Box

Very disappointed in our PGs, not because they got torched by Russell Westbrook – that was to be expected – but because of their inability to control the tempo of the game. We don’t want to go up and down the court with a team like OKC, nobody does, but some measure of control needs to be exacted by our ball-handlers so that the game is played in a framework that could yield success. I can’t even remember the last time the Raptors went run ‘n gun and came out on top, it’s too hard to play that style of basketball with the defensively challenged personnel that we have. Even our offense isn’t suited to that style, with Nesterovic, Bargnani and Turkoglu in the lineup, you don’t want to run, you want to crawl. I wasn’t expecting the Raptors to succeed at that, but wasn’t expecting us to fail miserably either.

Teams like OKC, Charlotte and GSW have always given us trouble because of two things: 1) the tempo they play at and 2) our thinking that we can match that tempo. I was hoping for a first quarter score like 23-18 but instead we gave up a 30+ point first quarter for the fourth straight game by losing it 34-24. The defensive effort got progressively worse as the game along but early on it wasn’t bad; the issue was that the matchups were too much for us to handle, Westbrook on Jack, Green on Bargnani, and Durant/Sefolosha on Turkoglu/DeRozan were all matchups we were losing by allowing dribble penetration. There was no answer for their athelticism and quickness off the bounce and conceding points was always inevitable. The hope was that the offense could keep the game in check and slow the tempo down – no such luck. The only bright spot in the offense were some isolation sequences for Bargnani in the block and some aggressive DeRozan drives.

It was the first time since Bosh has been out that I’ve seen the Raptors go to Bargnani right at the start of the set, good things happened early but as the game wore on, his decision making in the face of doubles and off his drives was poor and his 3 turnovers speak to that. It should also be said that the Raptors didn’t go to him in the second half and that’s partially bad offensive direction by the coach/floor generals and part Bargnani not asking for the ball. In the end our PGs have to recognize that Bargnani isn’t the type of player to demand anything, hell, he doesn’t even ask for his own change back when ordering coffee. They should make it a point to get him going because if they don’t, nobody including Bargnani will. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

Jarrett Jack is supposed to be the rock of the team right now and how easily he was molested by Westbrook took me by surprise, I was expecting a little more resistance since he’s had decent showings against Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings and Tony Parker. He’s credited with 2 turnovers and Jose Calderon’s got three in the game, but both were extremely poor at recognizing what the team needed (composure and leadership) and instead over-dribbled, made careless passes in transition and of course, got rocked on defense. In the first quarter we had 5 turnovers for 12 points which fed the already potent OKC offense; we finished with 18 turnovers for 29 points. Anytime those kinds of numbers pop up you expect to lose the fastbreak battle too and sure enough, that read 21-10. With the PG gate wide open, OKC dribble penetrated their way in and picked out a multitude of options both inside and out.

The Thunder are the third best defensive team in the league and have the personnel to basically switch 1/2/3/4 and still manage to guard individually. They pressure the ball by picking it up early, cause deflections with their length and don’t relent. Our PGs and Turkoglu needed to be at the top of their game at protecting the ball and dissecting their aggressive defense, it just didn’t happen and we were forced to scramble for points which is exactly what a good defensive team wants you to do.

Down by 10 to start the second it was still a game and the lineup of Evans, Weems, Calderon, Nesterovic and Johnson provided some surprising offense (3/4 and 2 missed FTs by Evans). BTW, for those of you keeping track, Evans is stealing the role of the first big off the bench from Johnson and you can’t really blame Triano for going that route, even though Johnson had 11 rebounds, a few of them of the Moses Malone variety. They’re both garbage men who provide very little offense and are inconsistent defensively. As much as one appreciates Evans’ hustle, you saw today how exposed he is whenever put in a face-up situation, he played two screen ‘n roll situations about as poorly as you can. Jose was looking for his offense and had a couple hoops which cut the lead to 6 midway through the second, but stopping OKC was a tall order tonight and that was as close as the game got.

The hope is that Hedo Turkoglu gets out of his funk and last night we needed him to supply some direction to our fledgling offense but he didn’t deliver. Forget his defensive effort, it’s his desire on offense that I’m starting to question. Anyone can take step-back threes, shoulder-fake without actually driving, and stand in the corner like he’s the fifth guy on a roster making the minimum, but he’s not that, he’s supposed to be so much more to us and it’s disappointing to see him still not find his game. The jumper he took when matched up against Nick Collison on the perimeter was exactly the lazy offense we’ve seen too much of from him this year. In his post-game interview he’s talking about taking it to the hole stronger. Pot. Kettle. Black. You’d think with Bosh out of there one of the Raptors would want to make this team “his own” and Bargnani and Turkoglu have disappointed in that regard. Turkugolu’s 7 points and Bargnani’s 2 rebounds stick out on the box score.

When it became crystal clear that there was no way we’d stop them, Triano did the wise thing of dropping in the 2-3 zone but it didn’t matter. OKC busted it without a problem by having everybody from Krstic to Green cut to the key and make little jumpers. Switching on defense is another way to conserve energy (you don’t have to fight through screens) but OKC did a solid job of exploiting the first available mismatch, whether it be Green dunking on Hedo or Westbrook blowing by Bargnani. They’re a very alert team that seeks out mismatches in the half-court and looks to force turnovers, very much enjoyed watching them.

The lead ballooned to 14 at the half and if there is a lesson to be learned from history, it’s that the Raptors are not great at coming back when down on the road against teams like OKC. Triano felt the need to match OKC’s tempo if the lead kept getting bigger. When asked at halftime whether he’d like to play run ‘n gun, he responded:

We don’t want to go up and down but if we get down, we’ll have to.

In my humble opinion, the answer shouldn’t be to match their offense, it’s to have faith in your defense and slow the game down so you have an outside chance.

Turkoglu and Bargnani hit a couple deep threes to keep the offense chugging, but the Thunder response was immediate and fierce. Westbrook getting past Jack at will, drawing fouls against our bigs and wreaking havoc with his passing – he had 10 assists and about 18 hockey assists. We scored three points in the final 5:50 of the third quarter as Turkoglu couldn’t find his game and the Raptors offense looked lost without the pillar of Bosh to go to in times of crisis. No leadership from the PGs, no production from Turkoglu and no spark from Bargnani – what did you expect to happen? The same lineup that surprisingly produced offense in the early second scored 1 point in the final 3 minutes of the third as the turnovers kept piling up, including some very careless ones from Calderon. A couple minor bright spots on the night were Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan who you expect to fare well in these types of open-court games. Unfortunately, the Thunder have far more refined models and took it right to us from start to finish.

The same Raptor lineup that had produced points in the early second quarter went 3+ minutes without scoring and the Raptors went into the fourth down 24. Game. Set. Match. How do I know Triano gave up? He put in Marco Belinelli.

We took care of the soft schedule pretty nicely, but hit the tough part of it without our main player and 0-3 shouldn’t be surprising. What shouldn’t be lost in this game is that Rasho made a sweet move which I’ve taken the liberty of posting to YouTube. Triano’s post-game interview is full of praise for the Thunder but summed it up nicely:

They outplayed us on both ends of the floor.

Thanks for reading.