Raptors go 1-2 on the roadtrip with the 1 coming from the unlikeliness source, I’ll take it. Just like the other two games on this trip, the G1H2 (good first, horrible second) syndrome reared its ugly head, only this time there was no recovery in sight as Houston’s bench pummeled the Raptors into a 65-23 submission.
The defensive quality of the shorthanded Raptors in the first quarter matched their shooting (54%) and it appeared the Raptors had picked up where they left off in Dallas. Warm and fuzzy feelings disappeared as soon as the benches came into play; a hobbling Jerryd Bayless was unable to sustain the momentum provided by his predecessor, and after shooting 32% in the first quarter, Houston bounced back by shooting 64% in the second and converted a 14 point deficit into a 7 point halftime advantage. From that point it was all about whether the Raptors could find a way to get three consecutive stops to get themselves back in the game, and it seemingly never happened. Even late on when DeMar DeRozan was tearing up Chase Budinger and the Houston defense, the Raptors defense kept giving it back in the form of offensive rebounds, missed interior rotations and a general lack of an answer for Kevin Martin’s sneakiness.
The Raptors spent the last three quarters in a quest to find their form of the first but it wasn’t to be. DeMar DeRozan’s quick start was stymied by Kevin Martin sending him to the bench through two quick fouls, DeRozan ended up with a career-high 37 points on 12-21 shooting thereby disproving the theory that two early fouls can take you out of the game permanently. Jose Calderon was the player of the first quarter, his three points and four assists sparked the Raptors offense which was already working off the support of the defense. Joey Dorsey and Amir Johnson were overwhelming Jordan Hill and Luis Scola with their activity on the glass, and the Raptors held an early 18-8 advantage on the boards and a 13-2 edge in fastbreak points – it was your classic defense generating offense.
Jerryd Bayless, already nursing ankle issues, got his broken by Kevin Martin on a baseline drive which reduced his impact to zero. Jay Triano went with Barbosa at the point, though the Brazilian was doing his fair bit on offense with an effective jumper, his creation wasn’t there (3 assists in 34 minutes) and without a double team threat a distributing point guard is essential. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but without Calderon in there the Raptors’ defensive energy seemed to dip. He picked up two steals last night and was causing Lowry and Brooks difficulties that Barbosa couldn’t replicate. It didn’t help that the Raptors’ demise coincided with the Rockets’ resurgence in the second quarter. Patrick Patterson (completely outplaying Ed Davis), Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee did for them what the starters couldn’t – stretch the Raptors defense and force them to make interior rotations. Houston’s bread-and-butter is ball movement and when they weren’t coughing it up, the Raptors found it very difficult to contend with them. The bench really bailed Houston out because other than Martin, their starters were really not up for this one.
Getting outscored 65-23 off the bench is pretty ridiculous and there’s no way on earth Chase Budinger should be going 8-10 against you. Linas Kleiza, DeMar DeRozan and Julian Wright’s defense was shaky at the best of times, and Ed Davis missed a few shots you would normally count on him to make; the same can be said about Dorsey, an absolute beast on the glass with 6 offensive rebounds. If those two things would’ve been a little better for the Raptors, there was no reason why this came couldn’t be had. It’s not like Houston was dominating us in any way, in fact, the Raptors should be given credit for sticking around in this game while being short-handed. Obviously, DeRozan needs to be given loads of credit for his work along with Amir Johnson (14pts, 11 reb), still suffering from the effects of his back problem. The fact that the Raptors only lost the second-half by two points in a game that never even came close to entering garbage time deserves a lot of credit.
As the Raptors shooting percentages fell and Houston’s rose, the visitors needed an element of defense to support them and nothing quite materialized. P.J Carlesimo described the overall defense as “disgraceful” at halftime. Unfortunately for the Raptors, it didn’t get any better as Houston was always able to maintain an 8-12 point edge for the rest of the game. The spark that the Raptors rely on Bayless and Davis to provide off the bench was never there, and without that the Raptors were always longshots to take the spoils, even without Andrea Bargnani.
The former #1 pick is the subject of this next little bit where I ask the question Are the Raptors better without Bargnani?. Based on empirical evidence and simply watching the games, my feeling is that we’re better off defensively but worse offensively. To answer this question statistically, I relied on the defensive and offensive ratings (points per 100 possessions) which seem to be well respected across the board. Realizing that the Raptors have only played 5 games without Bargnani and 27 with, the sample size might be brought into question. Without further ado:
I was surprised when the Excel file popped out these numbers because I was expecting a much more drastic shift in both directions, turns out the impact of Bargnani’s absence on the offensive and defensive ratings is rather minimal. The most significant shift is probably in league defensive rank, where the Raptors jump three spots while improving a little more than a point. Of course, the on/off stats are another matter.
I mean this, I really do: Thanks for visiting RR and Happy New Year.