Sometimes the collective basketball IQ of this team drives me insane and today was a perfect example.
The Toronto Raptors watched Lebron James coast through basically 75 per cent of the match. Yet the Raps failed to take advantage and stretch the game beyond reach so that even if James did get it going, it would have been a moot point.
However Lebron did get it going in a way that only he can and once again the team seemed intimidated at both ends of the court. In fact you could see this was going to be a Cavs win halfway through the quarter.
The problem is that the cracks started to show earlier in the game in the second quarter. Toronto was shooting over 50 per cent from the field, Cleveland was shooting under 40, but the Cavs kept hanging around for one simple reason.
A Numbers Game – 52 to 33.
So let’s cut right to the chase.
The Cavs absolutely destroyed Toronto on the glass, especially on the offensive end where they had an unfathomable 20!
These put-backs kept the Cavs in the game until it was Lebron time and LBJ took over. Sure, Chuck and Leo kept making comments about someone on the Raptors’ bench talking trash to Lebron (something he denied post-game) which got him going but had Toronto rebounded the Cavs’ misses, this game would have been out of reach no matter how many points Lebron would have had in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Toronto was content to have a 10 point lead, something any basketball fan knows is not nearly a big enough against a team featuring a player of Lebron’s caliber.
Rebounding wasn’t the only telling stat though on this afternoon though. Toronto once again got nothing from its bench and missed nine of their 15 free-throw attempts effectively shooting themselves in the foot.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Lebron James. This guy is an extremely special player and Raptors’ fans bore witness to this again today. His combination of size, speed and explosiveness makes him virtually unguardable, and even when the Raptors put a body on him in the fourth quarter, James still finished the play. What I didn’t understand, and of course what no one asked Sam Mitchell post-game, is why the Raptors reverted to single coverage on the sides in the fourth quarter? In the first half Toronto was trapping Lebron and forcing the ball out of his hands but in the fourth there was too much one on one and switching and King James simply had his way on O. Yes he hit some ridiculous shots, but I wonder if there was a decision made by Sam Mitchell to try and stay home on players like Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson, or if Lebron’s fury simply got the Raptors’ defenders away from their original game plan. Post game Mike Brown noticed the change in plan and even stated: "Hey, you guys wanna play Lebron one on one, go ahead."
Hot – Jose Calderon. I thought Jose did an exceptional job running the team today mixing his scoring in with his passing and he finished with 16 points, 11 assists and only one turnover. He
Cold – The Raptors’ bigs. This was the most frustrating part of the game for me today. Sure it’s tough to watch Lebron cruise to the rim but unless you’re trying to guard him yourself, I’m not sure you can really appreciate just how easy he makes it look. But Rasho, Bargnani and Bosh did a terrible job on the glass grabbing only 10 rebounds between the three of them! To put things in perspective, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon had 16 together!
Hot – Jamario Moon. This was Moon’s best game in a while and hopefully a sign of things to come. Some nice dunks, sick blocks (the swat on Gooden was my favourite of the year), timely scoring, you name it, Moon did it all. The problem is Toronto shouldn’t be relying on Jamario for this type of offensive production each game which points right at…
Cold – The Raptors bench. Anyone seeing a pattern here? Once again the bench might as well have stayed home. Delfino looks hesitant, Humphries isn’t getting much playing time and without Jose in this second unit, Jason Kapono has become absolutely useless. I’m not sure how many times we have to say this but Kap-One is not someone who can create his own shot and therefore needs to get the ball in the rhythm of the offense. Unfortunately there is no rhythm right now. It’s not all Juan Dixon’s fault either as while Juan did force a few shots, he also played some solid defence and made a few nice passes. It’s just that there’s a big difference between making a nice pass to find an open team-mate and getting a feel for leading an offence and running it. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think I’m ready for another look at Darrick Martin.
Hot – Mike Brown. The Cavs’ coach got the upper hand on Mitchell today. After seeing how ineffective his bigs were in the first half, Gooden and Big Z sat most of the second and Cleveland went small with 3 point shooters. This made Sam Mitchell go small hoping to have players who could help on Lebron and recover quickly to the snipers but unfortunately, this lack of size allowed Lebron to wheel right into the paint. This then had a snowball effect as with Lebron drawing two or three players into the paint, it left Anderson Varejao and others open for offensive rebounds and second chance points. A great strategy from Brown and the Raptors didn’t adjust.
Post-game Sam Mitchell stated that "We did a lot more good things than bad things" and I can’t say I agree. Had that been the case, the Raptors would have come away with a win regardless of Lebron’s play. In fact a comment by his counterpart Mike Brown really backed this up. Brown said that he "was shocked that (the Cavs) were only down by 10 at the half."
The Raptors should have been up by 20 at that point but missed free throws, poor rebounding, etc, etc, are not "good things" and it got this team in unnecessary trouble. The Raptors have been inconsistent in these areas all season and if they want to start getting a good stretch above the .500 mark, they need to start taking care of them. On paper the Knicks and 76ers look like easy matches but considering Toronto’s up and down nature this season, I’m not going to start thinking about Portland a week from now just yet.
In particular this is because the team still lacks that mental toughness. Even with Lebron going off, the Raptors still should have been able to score on the other end of the court and take advantage of some mismatches. However the whole team seemed to tighten up, the offense ground to a halt and soon the team found it’s once seemingly insurmountable lead cut to a few points. Toronto should have been thinking about then going right back at Cleveland but you could see from the body language on the court that the team was playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
Jamario Moon basically confirmed this observation post-game when he was asked if the team started to think about the zone Lebron was in. His response? "Oh man, it’s going to be a long quarter."