I attended the game last night and it is hard to describe what I witnessed. Knowing I was going to do the recap I spent the Subway ride home trying to figure out just what to say. There are a thousand things to talk about when it comes to last night’s event.
Where do I begin?
The comments section in the preview is already filled with rants about Sam Mitchell and how he is light years away from being half the coach Lawrence Frank is.
There is just something about watching Vince take over like he did last night that makes me wince.
It’s impossible to forget watching JO crumble to the floor and it’s even more difficult to try and figure out what happens to this team if he is out for a long period of time.
It impossible not to be excited by just how good CB4 is.
It is equally difficult to not to get uber frustrated with the Raps bench.
Each of these items makes for an article on its own. So, I am going to do just that.
Lawrence Frank –
What can you say about this guy that Raps fans have not already said in years past? This guy can flat out coach and gets the absolute best out of his players. If you look at the Nets roster outside of Harris and Carter this team is pretty weak. No they are not the Oklahoma Thunder, but they are not far off. Nevertheless he puts his players in a position to succeed, he is great with x’s and o’s, and he keeps his guys motivated.
If you look at the key moments in the game last night, in particular the inbounds plays off time-outs the Nets were always prepared and more often than not got a solid look. He also did a solid job helping to protect his young big men by throwing a zone defense into the mix after it was clear early on that CB4 was going to have his way with Brook Lopez, Sean Williams or any other big man populating the Nets bench.
Frank has an ability to break down what is happening on the floor and get his team to adjust faster than most NBA coaches. He was never a player and has spend his life being a coach. It showed tonight.
Now on the flip side….
Sam Mitchell –
Oh Dear. I am really of two minds about Coach Mitchell. On the one hand here’s a guy who does a solid job getting a quality effort out of each of his players. He cares about his players, they seem happy to listen to him and for whatever reason I want him to succeed. Despite being short in interviews with the usual beat grunts he seems like a genuinely nice guy. I have seen a few examples of this being down at the ACC during the draft workouts and a perfect example of his strong character was when O’Neal went down. Even though Mitchell probably should have been scheming up ways to help compensate for JO’s loss on the defensive end, he was at the other end of the court tending to the Raps $44 million dollar investment. I liked to see that.
On the other side of the coin I don’t think there has even been a more glaring example of just how questionable some of his pure "coaching" is. In my mind I keep coming back to the inbounds play late in the fourth when AP could not get the ball in and had to call a time out. Mitchell drew up a play and Bargnani was asked to inbound the ball. He didn’t and 5 seconds was called on the Raps. This was a huge turnover in the game and I was in complete awe of what had transpired. Two opportunities to inbound the ball, one timeout, zero execution.
If tonight’s game was compared to a chess match then Frank countered all of Mitchell’s best moves and in the blink of an eye…check-mate.
Which brings me to….
Vince Carter -
First off, a few quick thoughts on the newest member of the Raptor killer club. Enough with the VC Sucks cheers. When VC came back to TO the first time after the big deal the ACC and its fans were so rowdy the atmosphere was almost violent. I was a part of that. The fans felt betrayed and rightfully so. Now though it is overplayed. It is three years later and it’s time to get over it. The biggest reason I say this is that he feeds of the hatred. The more the fans get on him the more he wants to elevate his game. It’s like feeding raw meat to a lion.
Now if Carter was shying away and underperforming because of the chants (much like Dwight Howard at the line in last years playoffs) then I would be for it. The problem is when you give Vince something to play for he plays really well. We all know that as Raptors fans. When Vince focuses he is one of the best players out there.
Second, I can’t help but watch him play and see exactly the kind of player this team is missing. Vince still has an uncanny ability to create his own shot and create opportunities for others. He definitely has some flaws but his strong traits are exactly the things this team is missing. The reality is he was simply awesome on this evening and it makes me sick to type that.
Despite the jaw dropping performance however there were some positives for Raps fans.
At this point giving the guy praise is almost redundant. He is right on the brink of superstardom. If this team were to get on a roll and leave the .500 mark far behind there would be a lot of talk about CB4 throughout not only Toronto but all of North America.
Some of the plays Bosh made tonight were absolutely outstanding and borderline unbelievable.
He get’s it. Other than one or two questionable passes he was pretty much flawless.
Andrea Bargnani -
This was easily Andrea’s most complete game of the year. He was more than solid on both ends of the court and grabbed…wait for it…10 rebounds. That is just one rebound short of his career high. Not having to defend anyone of note for the Nets, Bargnani managed to stay on the floor for 49 minutes which was the most of any player. His performance was something we have all been waiting for. It was also essential because…
The Raptors Bench –
Well if the Raps have any hope of making some noise this season (depending on JO) they absolutely have to get more from their bench.
Right now things look pretty bleak.
Outside of Jason Kapono there really isn’t much there. Now that Jamario Moon is coming off the bench he is being exposed for what he really is…a below average player. Without playing alongside the starters he can no longer rely on the games of others to be effective. Joey Graham is totally MIA, Humph is a good tenth man and the rest ladies and gentlemen is just filler.
As Franchise mentioned yesterday there is now pressure on BC to find some serious help because without it the results may not be too pretty.
Entering into the luxury tax may be essential, but of course only if JO is healthy.
Jermaine O’Neal –
I left this part for last. If you attended the game you know that when JO went down the life of the building was sucked out of it instantly. It really was like a morgue as everyone was holding their collective breath wondering if he would get up. It was so quiet you could hear the toilet’s flushing in the men’s room and I was left wondering if I was listening to the Raps season going down the drain.
This was the risk BC took when he brought O’Neal into the fold. Everyone knows that once you hurt your knee it is never the same. You can get healthy, build the strength, but it is always weaker than it was before. To help compensate for the loss in strength O’Neal has been rocking the Don Joy brace which is like the Godfather of all knee braces. I was told when I started wearing one playing basketball that their guarantee in the U.S. is if you hurt your knee wearing a Don Joy brace they pay for the surgery. Well hopefully the Raps won’t have to take them up on that guarantee.
As of the time I typed this it was reported that JO has a knee sprain. The severity I don’t know. The time he could be out is also an unknown. I do know it took no time at all for the Nets to take full advantage of O’Neal not being on the floor. As soon as number 6 went back to the locker room the Nets went into full attack mode, in particular Devin Harris, and as a result were successful in coming back to win the game. As much as Jermaine’s offense has been hit or miss this season his defense has been solid through and through. Without him anchoring the paint I am hard pressed to believe that the Raps are not going to get bludgeoned defensively going forward.
The severity of JO’s injury will really spell out the rest of the season for the Raps. When he was brought in I truly though this team was either going to be really good or really bad depending on his health. I still believe that.
Unfortunately it looks like it could be the latter.
Up next for the Raps is the Boston Celtics. After this loss and seeing JO go down I am actually finding it hard to get excited for this match-up despite the fact that the last game was a battle. I may change my tune by Sunday but I am still hung up on this loss and looking ahead is difficult. That brings us to our three keys.
1. Don’t Dwell on the Loss – The Raps, with or without O’Neal have to look past this loss and try to regroup and get prepared for the Celtics. As much as I fully expect them to get blown out, a victory on Sunday would make it a huge statement game. I don’t expect the news to be good on O’Neal but injuries are a reality and the Raps need to come together and collectively step their games up. The worst thing that could happen here is that they get blown out at home.
2. Bargnani, Bargnani, Bargnani – There will undoubtedly be a ton of pressure on the kid to help lessen the blow from a JO injury. Playing at home he has been very good and that is going to have to continue for the Raps to have a chance. It will be fascinating to see how Mitchell uses Bargs if there is a hole at the five spot. Will Bargs still play the three or will he once again be asked to play a different position? Whatever is asked of him he needs to play like he did last night for the Raps to have a chance.
3. Coaching – There is not a lot of time between now and Sunday but Mitchell is going to need his best thinking cap to come up with a game plan for this match-up. Isn’t it bizarre that I wonder if a day and a half is enough for Mitchell, yet Lawrence Frank can adjust a game plan in a spit second?
Here’s hoping JO is OK.