Avoidable Loss in Charlotte; Weird Decisions Made Again

See if you can explain some of these decisions.

Raptors 90, Bobcats 92 – Box

The Raptors drop what on paper would be termed a winnable game in Charlotte.  Throw the back-to-back excuse out the window since Charlotte was on one as well (beat the Knicks) and what you get is a game that you’re “supposed to win”.  At least you are if you intend to be a playoff team which is the narrative.

The egg the Raptors laid in the first quarter was both depressing and amusing.  It was depressing to see the Raptors go down 16 to a Charlotte team which features Kemba Walker, MKG and Gerald Henderson as their three best players.  At the same time, it was mildly amusing to see DeRozan treat a screen set on him as an invitation to take a break from play instead of fighting through it and contesting Gerald Henderson’s jumpers.  Conceding 75% shooting to a team that’s at the bottom of the league in total offense flew in the face of all that defense Dwane Casey talked about in training camp.

[See Also: Reaction: Raptors 90, Bobcats 92]

Whilst the Raptors were being torn apart, Amir Johnson took an opportunity to shoot and miss a three, which tells me that that shot is endorsed by Dwane Casey.  It’s fine I suppose but when you’re struggling to score and everyone’s guilty of early shot-clock jump-shooting, that particular choice might not be the best idea.  Just sayin’.   The early stretch also saw Rudy Gay being outplayed by MKG.  I don’t want to knock on Gay’s effort because he is putting the shift in on the rebounding side, is getting down-and-dirty contesting loose balls, blah blah, but man, it must make it a lot easier for a defender to guard him knowing that he has no intention of passing the ball to make a play.

After going 8-21, he’s now 21-65 (32%) on the year.  This isn’t a shooting slump where he’s missing makeable looks, this is a systematic problem as the looks he’s getting aren’t coming from a team context.  I’m sure his percentages will rise but that doesn’t mean the Raptors will be  playing team-ball.  Right now, Rudy Gay is playing like he’s been allocated a set amount of shots a game and he’s taking them as he sees fit, when he sees fit.  In his 37 minutes of play, I can point to one example in the fourth quarter when he passed to DeRozan for a score as an instance of team-ball.

Despite Jonas Valanciunas’ (4-7 FG in the first quarter) inspired play in the post, in face-up situations, and on the boards, the Raptors were down early.  The 16-point hole created by Kemba Walker’s dribble penetration, Gerald Henderson’s punishment of DeRozan, and the Raptors’ excessive jump-shooting was erased in the second quarter mostly because of bench play.  Augustin did well to up the tempo a little (though he got unceremoniously benched after one bad play), Tyler Hansbrough got involved in the block, Landry Fields provided good point-forward play, and Terrence Ross even hit a three.  DeRozan came back in the game to nail two threes and on the backs of the bench, the game was tied.

Somewhere in there Rudy Gay lost a jump-ball to Kemba Walker by casually tapping it to a Bobcat player.  Now, in any form of organized basketball there’s always a jump-ball play that’s practiced for these situations, and watching the Raptors make a mess of it followed by Dwane Casey’s reaction to it, I figured one of two things: 1) They don’t have one such play, or 2) Nobody was listening when that play was being taught.  Both are bad, one of them is worse and I’m not sure which.

You might be wondering where Jonas Valanciunas is in all of this. He’s an afterthought on offense with not even a simple pick ‘n roll being designed for him, and that happens to be his primary, historical strength.  I don’t have any explanation for this and can only speculate that this is coaching error:


A tie game to start the third and Dwane Casey finally made a proper defensive adjustment by switching Gay on Henderson which had some effect.  Gay did well getting a deflection, contesting Henderson, pushing the ball in transition, and it was fueled by the Raptors having a stretch where Amir Johnson made it a point to get down low and the bigs followed a rebound-and-release approach to catch Charlotte in transition.  Why we can’t score against Charlotte in the half-court is another matter entirely, but let’s just accept that in this game the Raptors best bet to score was in transition, not against the vaunted Charlotte half-court set.

The Raptors got cold in the second half of the third, at one point missing three shots and committing four turnovers in a 7-possession stretch.  They shot 28% in the third compared to Charlotte’s 56% – that’s right, after the halftime talk the Raptors conceded 56%.  Remember, this is a team that’s supposed to be good at defense.  The third quarter is also where Kyle Lowry got benched after Walker got the best of him on a drive, to which Lowry’s response was to commit an offensive foul by kicking out his legs.  I mentioned this in the recap but it still seems that Lowry is struggling between being the type of player that he is and the player that people want him to be.

The Raptors started the fourth quarter down six and with a lineup of Stone, DeRozan, Ross, and Johnson.  Casey made three substitutions in the fourth in this order:

  • Lowry for Stone – 8:56
  • Gay for Hansbrough – 6:52
  • Fields for Ross – 6:52

That’s it. Jonas Valanciunas sat on the bench despite being our best rebounder on the night (team-high 10 reb in 28 min), despite the Raptors struggling to collect key momentum-shifting defensive rebounds, and despite him being our best low-post threat and someone who could contend with Biyombo from a physical perspective.  I cannot explain this behaviour.

The Raptors were down 8 in the fourth and made a run after Fields ran some good sets as a point-forward, and the Gay/DeRozan combination flickered briefly, but on the last few possessions when the Raptors needed a basket, there was no “go to” play at hand and the Raptors defaulted to the “high screen with no movement on the weakside followed by freestyling” play which went nowhere.  After electing not to take advantage of a potential 2-for-1, it came down to the final play where the Raptors were down two and elected not to foul with a 2-second shot-clock differential, which is obviously a terrible decision since it takes about 2 seconds for the ball to be in the air, hit the rim, bounce around and the rebound to be collected.  Dwane Casey was given a reprieve for his poor decision when the ball went out of bounds with about five seconds left, only for him to repeat his poor decision.  See if you can figure out what he was thinking.

Here’s what Lowry thought:

Either this is a really elaborate tank-job or Dwane Casey is making some serious miscalculations that are directly costing games.  The explanation for this move was given as:

“We felt like we had five seconds and as soon as we got the rebound (the team was) going to call timeout,” Casey said of why the Raptors fouled so late. “(If Charlotte makes) two free throws, it’s over with anyway “. We felt like we could get one stop and then get a timeout. That’s the way it went down at the end, it should never have gotten to that.”

Note that the Bobcats were 17-30 (56%) from the stripe in this game. There’s more quotes here if you’re interested.

For now, I’m taking the view that he’s making miscalculations which, if they continue, will not go unpunished.