Porous Raptors defense can’t stop anyone

Raptors 101, Bobcats 114 – Box

Maybe once the dust has settled we’ll look at this season in the same light as the 1997-98 campaign when the team finished 16-66, got a high pick, and found themselves Vince Carter to change the fortunes of the franchise, however briefly. Until then though, it’s more of the same with just the names of the opponents changing. These Raptor recaps are practically writing themselves: DeRozan with an improving jumper, Ed Davis looking strong, the scattered Andrea Bargnani performance, and of course the overarching terrible defense.

These sequences usually end up in a loss and last night in Charlotte was no different. The All-Star break merely served as a momentary interruption in the Raptors’ charge towards the bottom of the Eastern conference cellar, with Cleveland firmly standing in their way. If you’re the typical Raptors fan, you thought better than seeing this game and were surprised to see Sonny Weems’ 9-13 line; I’m here to tell you it means nothing and that none of his points were significant in the least. Thought I’d get that out of the way early.

The Charlotte frontline may not be formidable or fearsome, but it is defensively well-rounded with Boris Diaw adding a bit of pizzazz. The Raptors coaching staff and frontline of Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani have a general understanding: Bargnani will guard the weaker offensive player leaving Johnson to cover the tougher matchup. Last night the matchups fell in a way which suited that philosophy and lead to the expected cross-switch of Diaw guarding Bargnani and Brown checking Johnson. Putting a quicker, mobile defender on Bargnani did the trick for the Bobcats as Triano never quite adjusted to Charlotte’s play. There were two instances where the Raptors worked a switch with Wallace guarding Bargnani and the latter stuck a jumper or two over him, that was it though. Bargnani kept at it with the jumpshot game, ended up with 18 points and 8 rebounds, and barely broke a sweat. His offensive game was benign to the Bobcats who the Raptors never put under any sort of defensive pressure at any point in the game.

The PF/C combination for both teams played themselves even with Charlotte having a one rebound advantage. Remember, the frontcourt is not Charlotte’s strength, it’s supposed to be the Raptors’, at least offensively, so when those matchups come out even, you’re in trouble because you’re bound to lose the wing matchups. And the Raptors did just that. The size and agility of Jackson and Wallace were no match for Weems and DeRozan, two players that hope to one day be at the physical level of the Charlotte tandem. Charlotte’s active defense, pressuring of the ball up-top, and the Raptors’ carelessness with the rock had the Bobcats netting 15 points of 12 turnovers in the first half.

So let’s recap, Johnson (bad game, poor performance) and Bargnani play Kwame and Diaw even, Wallace and Jackson have their way with Weems and DeRozan when it counted (Weems’ late flurry can be safely ignored), which leaves us with one matchup to dig deeper into: D.J Augustin vs Jose Calderon. Poor Jose, his wife must’ve made him shovel show all weekend long because he had no energy whatsoever. Augustin was lighting him up from all angles, driving to the rim, faking him from the elbow, killing him in transition, making his momentum work against him, you get the picture. Twenty-three points and eight assists for Augustin, many of them coming in that second quarter which swung the balance fully in favor of Charlotte.

Augustin’s game looked very fluid right from the beginning, his early scoring boosted his confidence and from there he just let the game come to him and made it look easy. Jerryd Bayless tried guarding him as well and didn’t do much with the opportunity, he had four turnovers in his first stint and was very erratic. The second-half (particularly the fourth when the game was over) was a bit better, he put his head down to and went 11-12 from the stripe. He had 10 assists, not a bad number except that 7 of them came in the fourth quarter which the Raptors started down 20.

I once slept through a risk management course which spoke about dealing with dependencies, they said the best way to do so is to eliminate them. Easier said than done and it applies to basketball as well. In a perfect world, everybody keeps their man in front of them, a jump-shot is taken and one of our bigs collects the rebound while being in sound rebounding position. In the real world, the guards are dependent on the help defense when they are vulnerable at the point of attack, but at the same time the help defense is dependent on the guards to not put them in a position where they are being called into action every single time. The two sets of players are dependent on each other and right now nobody is helping each other and its’ a free-for-all for any opposing player. The wing is the first line of defense so the blame is often assigned there, when in reality both parties are equally guilty and should be sanctioned. Oh well, carry on.

If a team is unable to stop guards on the perimeter and is late rotating inside, the fouls are soon to follow. Charlotte shot 42 free-throws in this contest, and it was pretty much one of the following three scenarios:

  1. Point guard gets into the lane, no rotation, dumps to a big who is fouled.
  2. Raptors lose track of random big man right in the middle of the paint, Charlotte wing can’t believe how wide open he is, passes him the ball and he gets fouled.
  3. Gerald Wallace (14-15 FT) swears on his mother that he’s going to get fouled and goes right at Sonny Weems whose defense is so bad that one can only assume he’s listening to an iPod with some very cleverly disguised headsets.

Time for the optimism.

DeMar DeRozan (7-15 FG, 14 points, 0-0 FT) hit some shots that you would previously not have given him a chance to make. A fluent drive followed by a fade, a pull-up which faked the defense out, a catch-and-shoot motion so quick that you would’ve put money on it to be a brick, that sort of thing. His drive-game didn’t fool Jackson or Wallace, neither of whom felt enough pressure to foul DeRozan who blanked out at the line. Ed Davis was active too, with ex-coach Roy Williams in the stands he was active around the rim and had a couple dunks but was met with the wall of Brown, Diaw and Mohammed, none of whom like to concede rebounds.

Raptors were down by 6 at the end of 1, down 17 at halftime, and down by 20 at the start of the fourth. Maybe I should’ve put that last sentence at the start of the post and saved you the time.

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