Lacing Them Up –
Hands up, how many of you had an Etch A Sketch as a kid?
I had one, probably used it more as a pretend computer than anything else, but what I liked about it was that if you screwed up, you could just give it a shake, wipe the slate clean, and start again.
I badly wanted an Etch A Sketch of last night’s game.
Up until the final minutes of the fourth quarter it was one of the worst exhibitions of basketball by two teams that I’ve seen in a while. Turnovers, bad decisions with the basketball, and enough long-range jacks to make you think you were watching a game at the local Y.
And the 700 or so fans in attendance didn’t exactly dispel any notion that you weren’t watching the action live from your local rec centre.
In fact my favourite line of the night by the Toronto Raptors’ commentators came from Rod Black, who when announcing the halftime lineup on TSN stated: "Coming up at half – I will interview everyone in the building!"
The laughs stopped there though as this was another example of the Raptors’ inconsistency at its best. Toronto turned the ball over only nine times against the Knicks on Sunday night, only to follow that up against the Pacers last night with an ungodly 17. There was rarely a rhythm to the match as a result, and all I kept thinking was "get out the etch a sketch, let’s just start this thing from scratch."
A Numbers Game – 27.
This was the number of points Indiana scored off of Toronto’s turnovers and the main reason the Pacers hung around in this one. In the other statistical categories, Toronto out-rebounded Indiana, had one more assist, blocked two more shots, and shot a better percentage from the field and beyond the arc. Therefore it was bad decisions, lax passes and sloppy play that kept the Pacers alive, and had it not been for some great free-throw shooting by Toronto, the turnover situation might have been their undoing.
How good was that free-throw shooting? Besides hitting almost 82 per cent of their attempts, the Raps managed to get to the line 33 times.
The Turning Point –
I really thought the turning point in this game was the play of TJ Ford. Jose Calderon just didn’t have it going and the two quarters which TJ anchored the point, the second and fourth, were coincidentally the two in which Toronto outscored and outplayed the opposition. I thought Ford did a great job of getting into the lane, terrorizing Travis Diener, and finding open looks for team-mates as he finished with a team-high seven assists. At one point in their careers, I remember thinking that TJ and Jose were too similar to provide changes of pace for Toronto. As both have developed their games though, they’ve become a nice complement to each other and Sam even went so far as to play them together in spurts to finish this one off.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Carlos Delfino. Besides TJ’s play, it was Del the Funky Homosapien who also stood out for me in this contest. Del made six of his seven three-point attempts matching the Pacers dagger for dagger and finished with 23 points and five boards. He’s extremely streaky, he might go 0 for 7 Wednesday night, but his aggression from game to game is commendable and he did a nice job defensively in this one as well. It would be great to see him be more consistent of course, but you could probably say that about 90 per cent of his team-mates too.
When Delfino is on his game like last night, there is "No Need for Alarm"
Hot – Danny Granger. Like Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger will forever be "the one that got away" for me as the Raptors passed on a chance to draft the forward out of New Mexico to select Joey Graham. Joey didn’t play a single minute last night, while Granger had 20 points on 50 per cent shooting from the field, hit four 3's, was perfect from the line and had 10 rebounds. Granger is now a deadly outside shooter in addition to being a solid defender and scorer down low and at some point could represent the East in the All-Star game. While many people believe that the drafting of Hoffa was Rob Babcock’s biggest faux-pas along with the Carter deal, I’d disagree and say that passing on Granger tops both.
Think about it for a second. In retrospect, Carter didn’t exactly take the Nets to the NBA Finals, while the move eventually paved the way for Bosh to take over, Toronto to clear cap space, and Embry and BC to come on board. And as for Hoffa, well even though Babcock was at the helm, he had only just been brought on as GM and most people have stated that that decision had more to do with poor prior scouting.
But Granger? This one he really blew. Sure there were apparent whispers about his knees and many other GM’s passed on Granger as well but the whole thing still makes me scratch my head. Anyone who actually followed him in his senior season knew that his knees were fine and his selection would have given Toronto the 3 they now so desperately seek.
Hot – Mike Dunleavy Jr. Dunleavy is the classic NBA late-bloomer, perhaps more a victim of too much hype too soon and a bad situation than lack of talent, and he’s showing now just what scouts expected when he was the third overall pick in his draft class. Dunleavy can create his own shot off the dribble, is a deadly spot up shooter, and has the ball-handling abilities and size to provide match-up problems at various positions. In the past, I’m just not sure he was in the best shape possible for his position as he seemed too weak to guard the bigger 3’s and 4’s, and not explosive enough to stay with the faster 2’s of the league. However this off-season, both Dunleavy and Troy Murphy dedicated themselves to a new workout routine and you can definitely see the results so far, especially in Jr. I’m a strong believer in sport-specific off-season training so it was interesting to read the following article about he and Murphy’s regimen, especially considering it was penned prior to the season. In Jim O’Brien’s free-flowing offense Dunleavy is a perfect fit and if they could ever get some help and health for him and Granger, this could be a solid team.
Lukewarm – Sam Mitchell. In the first half, I thought Mitchell did a great job getting the right players in to change the pace in the second quarter and grab the lead. He went small to defend against Indiana’s perimeter shooters, and he made a point of benching Jamario Moon for missed assignments. (In fact, at one point Moon jumped off the bench as he thought his number had been called and Mitchell basically chest bumped him right back to the bench as it had been Ford who Mitchell wanted to insert into the game.) However in the third quarter he made some puzzling moves rotation-wise and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t try going really big to force Pacers’ coach Jim O’Brien to adjust. Tell me a line-up of Primoz, CB4 and Andrea wouldn’t have been interesting, especially coming off the game Brezec had just had? Nothing else was working, and considering how small the Pacers were for most of the night, I thought going big might have really given Toronto the push they needed to close things out much earlier. On top of this, I couldn’t understand the need to rest CB4 for so long at the start of the fourth quarter considering how little he had played against the Knicks! Maybe Mitchell was confident that his troops would figure things out in the end but I wasn’t and the end result was a match that was way too close for fans’ comfort.
He didn't make our "Temperature Check" section, but Daniels was a pain the Raptors' tails all night...
Cold – Jose Calderon. Jose looks a bit worn out doesn’t he? I mean, 24 minutes without a single assist? Granted his team-mates weren't helping much in the first quarter but I think Calderon needed the break. I thought that he played his worst game of the year on Friday night and last night, he just seemed sort of invisible. That’s why it was so important that TJ stepped it up. Post-game Sam mentioned that JC had been playing a lot of minutes as of late so it looks like TJ’s improved health couldn’t have come at a better time.
Moving On –
It’s understandable that the second night of a back-to-back with very little turnaround time is a tougher go for teams. But Toronto has to stop doing this against inferior competition. This team on most nights plays to the level of its opponents which is great when you are beating a San Antonio, but not when you are barely beating a battered Pacers’ club. This year off the top of my head I can think of five cases in which they've done this, meaning instead of sitting seven games over .500, Toronto should probably be about 12 games over!
And with the coming schedule showcasing perennial cream-puffs like Minnesota, Charlotte and Indiana again, I’m slightly concerned. Toronto needs to start games much better and not simply rely on their superior talent to eke out a win. Last night concluded the second semester of the season for the Raps so it’s time for this team to show just what they are capable of and make that post-season push.
Because the reality is that there are no "in game etch a sketches" and a performance like last night’s against the Cavs, Magic or a healthy version of the Wizards won’t be eraseable – they will end up in losses.