If it’s possible for a team that’s 16 games over .500 to hit rock bottom, this was it. Other than the first quarter this was a continuation of the Bucks game, made more painful by former players drilling daggers and the Raptors responding to adversity by doing the opposite of what they should be doing.
There are some obvious issues with this team. They don’t play defense, and worse, they don’t know how to play defense. At least not in the “system” that Casey has put in place, which is thoroughly juxtaposed to the strengths of the roster. There are egregious decisions being made on defense which fly in the face of common sense that happen to go unmitigated. There’s too many examples to give, I’ll just pick the ones I have Vines for:
Both defenders backing off of Joe Johnson on a screen ‘n roll
A center forced to make a rotation to a wing player at the three-point line
Not having any idea of how to close-out shooters
Inviting the opposing point-guard to pick up a head of steam and drive right at the heart of your defense
Trust me, there are a lot more of these plays in this game. If it didn’t look so stupid for a grown man to be filming Vines on his TV while his wife shakes her head, I’d give a lot more examples of our defense than what’s here. And this isn’t even counting the silly tactical errors of presenting the Nets with a matchup of Brook Lopez against Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson, thus immediately conceding offensive rebounds and losing the early momentum the Raptors had gained.
This is not a team simply in a funk which they can easily play themselves out of. Their offense has dried up and their defense doesn’t hold water, which means the only way they know how to get back into games is jacking up one-on-one shots, and that too threes. So it’s not surprising that in a four-point game heading into the fourth, the Raptors idea of winning this one was to go 1-10 from three, and that lone three was an inconsequential one hit by Ross on the last possession of the game. Instead of doing the hard thing which was looking at each other in the huddle and realizing your’re getting your ass handed to you by the Nets, buckling down on defense, playing inside-out, they just decided to take lazy, low-percentage shots to get themselves out of trouble. I almost looked around to see if Sam Mitchell was coaching the team.
Dwane Casey didn’t do much to stop this sort of play and instead chose to call it out after:
“If you don’t make shots, you really got to go back down and tie it back on the defensive end. That’s why defense is so important in any sport. We want to go and out-score people and you’re not going to win many games in this league doing that.”
Well, this sort of play was happening right in front of his eyes in the second-half and he was waiting for TV timeouts to happen instead of actively stopping it, nor did he make any sort of adjustments to see what the response might have been. It’s easy to complain and point out what went wrong after, it’s what you do during the game to fix a problem or pattern that counts.
My “favourite” moment of this game had to have been Lou Willams getting a steal, and then pulling up for three with a sea of black jerseys underneath the rim. This might be one of the most selfish plays you’ll see this year. This is from a guy who was 1-10 in the game and was getting lit up like a 4th of July firecracker. Check the play and tell me if this doesn’t make you shake your head:
The sad part is that this won’t be called out as a bad shot, but something like “Hey, that’s Lou, when he’s hot he can win you games, but sometimes he has off nights”. The problem isn’t that he has off nights (which he will just because of the sheer iso nature of his entire game), it’s that in the case where the offense has an off night, there is not really a system underneath that can manufacture efficient looks. It’s feast or famine.
I’m not just picking on Lou Williams either. I saw three Bruno Caboclo D-League games, and I can honestly say that Kyle Lowry, right now, would get torched in the D-League if he plays the way he is. Pretty much everything he’s doing is wrong: biting on pump-fakes, angling defenses right into the paint with no help present, conceding dribble penetration on every possession, etc. As great as he is at moving his feet and picking up charges when others are driving, his footwork when guarding his own man are at Bargnani levels. Then there’s the Jonas Valanciunas story. It’s the same old, same old. Last night, Mason Plumlee had shown nothing to say that he was able to guard Valanciunas:
The man was 3-5 in the game, and was completely ignored in the fourth quarter in favor of YOLO three-pointers. He was the only blatantly clear mismatch the Raptors had in this game, and despite showing that he could produce out of his matchup he was cast aside, and this time there was no foul trouble or poor defense to use as an excuse. I am at a loss to explain this. Why would you not establish him inside against Lopez or Plumlee, especially after he showed early that he was up for it?
If I’m Valanciunas, I’m seriously considering leaving Toronto because in order to get paid big in the league, you need to showcase yourself (much like Lowry did last season), and it’s unlikely it’s going to happen here. He’ll forever be treated as the step-sister and an after-thought on offense because, 1) Dwane Casey has a crazy notion that Valanciunas is ill-suited in a matchup where he’s not guarding a very similar player, and 2) his offense isn’t seen as valuable as Lowry or DeRozan’s, despite it having a greater impact in balancing the offense (i.e., establishing an interior game).
I’m tired of talking about Valanciunas because it’s the same story every time.
DeMar DeRozan, out of frustration, picked up a Flagrant 2 for this viscous foul, which he got rightfully ejected for:
It’s pretty stupid, but if it sparks the team in some weird sort of way, sure. Let’s not forget that he’s as culpable as anyone else for letting Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson (combined 16-23 FG, 46 points) to go off. Offensively, he shot poorly again (5-13) , had six assists, and had some good interplay with Ross, with the latter having a strong shooting night (first since Milwaukee) for 23 points on 9-16 shooting.
Picking between the soul-sucking offense and the soul-destroying defense is tough, but I have to give the edge to the defense. I’ll suspend my disbelief and say that the Raptors can find their shooting strides, and once DeRozan is fully healthy, their FTs will go up and they’ll become a better fourth quarter team. Maybe it dawns on Casey that the people who were 7-9 FG in this game (Johnson, Valanciunas) need more touches going to the rim and that the PnR is simply too perfect of a fit here. The defense, though, that worries me because it’s not a question of effort but more of planning and execution.
I honestly feel Casey is getting a good effort out of these guys, and this is a group that genuinely wants to compete and be great, and is willing to expend the effort required. It’s just that what they’re being asked to do is beyond their natural abilities, since none of them are great defenders (with the exception of a healthy Amir Johnson and James Johnson). Casey, though, boils it down to effort:
“If you don’t come in with a mindset that you’re not going to outwork that team, you’re going to have these type of nights”
“For whatever reason, we’ve lost that work ethic, that fight, that grit, that grind, and we got to get that back.”
I’m not buying the argument that the poor defense is due to lack of execution or effort, and not due to the lack of a feasible plan. The players are being setup to fail because of what they’re being asked to do. They’re conceding penetration and have been instructed to help aggressively, scramble, and then do that three or four times on each possession, which means the other team just has to move the ball around at average levels to get very good looks. Brooklyn, led by Jack, Anderson, and Bogdanovic, did nothing special. This was not a Brooklyn team that pulled tricks out of their bag to beat the Raptors defense, they simply took what was on offer.
And that’s scary because the upcoming schedule is a death wish:
This is a team that’s reeling and a hurricane is coming. They need to sort out matters fast, maybe have a team retrospective about what was working well, what isn’t working well, and what they can do to fix it, because doing more of the same will result in things turning ugly fast.