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The quintessential preseason game

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Raptors top Knicks in a game of basketball, sort of.

How to summarize the abomination that took place in Madison Square Garden last night?

Here’s how: New York Knicks point guard Jose Calderon, who is as accurate of a spot-up three-point shooter as there is in the NBA, curled around a down screen in the middle of the third quarter, cleanly caught a pass, had an wide-open look at the basket, and launched a shot that hit nothing but air. His attempt veered wide right of the basket and landed out of bounds.

Ordinarily, when a game ends 81-76, the low tallies point to a grind-it-out defensive slugfest — something out of a nineties playoff series between the Knicks and Pacers. Last night’s contest was not a well played defensive showdown. It was a sloppy match between two teams who wanted nothing no part of basketball on a Monday night.

Positives

Lou Williams’ breakout game — We finally caught a peek of #LouTrillVille at his best. He came off the bench and poured in 21 points in 24 minutes of play. He was one of the few players who successfully managed to push the pace — something the coaching staff is drilling into the team — and operated effectively in the pick-and-roll. Aside from Carmelo Anthony and DeMar DeRozan, Williams was the only player who could make something positive happen on the court.

The most impressive aspect of Williams’ outburst was the seven free throws he attempted. Williams isn’t very efficient when he shoots the ball, but his herky-jerky way of manoeuvring around picks allows him to create decent separation from his defender, and with his slight frame, it’s not hard for him to sell the most minimal of contact.

Games like this is why Williams makes for a smart gamble. He cost almost nothing to acquire this offseason, but could potentially fill a big deficiency on the team. Williams provides a mix of ball-handling and the ability to drive, something the Raptors lack outside of Greivis Vasquez, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Williams’ contributions will often come with the sunk cost of ill-conceived pull-up jumpers, but he has the ability to buoy the offense for a backup unit.

¡ Bruno ! — Finally, our prayers for #FreeBruno were answered. Dwane Casey took him off the leash and allowed him to roam free for 13 minutes, mostly in the fourth quarter. He canned an open corner triple, he dunked on a leakout in transition, and he swipped a steal.

Altogether, the bar is admittedly low for Bruno. He just needs to show what he did last night — the ability to function as an NBA-level player. The occasional flashes of promise and the talk of endless wingspan is great, but he’s still on the court for the same reason everyone is, which is to play basketball. That’s what he did. He sunk his open three-pointer and did his best to defend a tricky player in J.R. Smith, who shot 4-for-12 in the game.

Hamilton’s ability to attack — I continue to be impressed with Hamilton’s game. He has just enough quickness, athleticism, ball-handling and spot-up three-point shooting ability to keep defenses on their toes. He was one of the few players who actually could execute the Raptors’ plan to attack in transition for easy buckets. Although he only scored one basket and finished with a measly six points, Hamilton stood out as a difference maker.

 

Negatives

Ross’s decision making — Terrence Ross tried to push the ball in transition. It was obvious effort made on his part. He dribbled with a purpose, and that purpose was to shepherd his squad down the court.

However, doing so much attacking and ball-handling clearly took him out of his comfort zone, leading to mistakes being made. He looked timid when attacking the basket as he tried to dodge defenders rather than aiming to draw contact. The trade-off wasn’t great, as he finished 2-for-12 on the night, including just 1-for-8 from behind the arc.

Ross does deserve some credit for his four steals, which is partly why he found himself in position to push the tempo so often. He got bullied by ‘Melo, though that’s to be expected. Squaring off against big wings has always been a problem for him.

Raptors’ bigs not being threats to roll — Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are exempt from this. They can roll, it’s just a matter of whether the guards can find them or not. Johnson sets great screens and makes himself present whereas Valanciunas tends to slip instead of setting a solid screen, but they can finish when given the responsibility to.

This, however, does not apply for everyone else: Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Greg Steimsma. A big part of why the Raptors’ second-unit looks stifled offensively is because the defense faces almost no recourse in doubling and trapping the ball-handler. Without the bigs being a threat to roll, there’s little motion generated and it doesn’t provide much opportunity for Williams or Vasquez to create. Patterson helps tremendously as a pick-and-pop option, but he too is limited heading towards the basket. Without the bigs presenting a threat to score, the second unit offense is liable to devolve into Williams and Vasquez pounding the rock for 20 seconds before heaving up a shot.

James Johnson brushing off Dwane Casey — There’s no excuse for Johnson brushing aside Casey in the final minute of the game. It doesn’t matter that the call against him was a bad one. You don’t push the coach aside, ever. Not cool.

Hansbrough committing flagrants in preseason — Come on, man. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s preseason. Not cool.

My splitting headache — Also not cool. It’s keeping me from writing a semi-decent recap.

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