I figured we’d start this preview with a quote that circulated through the media the past few days. It’s one from Magic coach Stan Van Gundy in fact when discussing the media’s rampant interest in analyzing NBA coaches and the decisions they make:
"I sort of laughed at the coverage, nothing personal guys, but here's what coaching comes down to," Van Gundy began. "When Chris Bosh raises up to shoot that shot at the end of the game (Game 2), and the ball is in the air, stop it right there and write your stories. Did Sam do a good job or did Sam not do a good job. If it goes in, you're writing about their resilience, how Sam kept them in the game, how he made great adjustments. It bounces out and all Sam's adjustments are screwing them up, they're confused.
"That's the game and that's coaching. The ball is in the air and you guys are going to write your stories based on whether it goes in or not."
"There is nobody writing what they wrote if that ball went in," Van Gundy said. "Then it's me. My team fell apart. I didn't keep them in it. Otherwise you're writing about how they made the comeback, they showed the toughness to stay in it."
It’s an interesting quote considering how much heat Sam Mitchell has been under these past few months, and especially after the first two playoff games…and hopefully today’s game doesn’t come down to a last-second shot.
I do agree with Van Gundy though. Without actually being privy to what goes on during time-outs and huddles, or in a certain coach's shoes during games, it's quite hard to make a fair evaluations of some of the decisions they make. The media can speculate all they want about a play that was drawn up...but the bottom line usually is that if it's successful, the pens and typewriters get put away.
It's when things don't go as planned, that the critics come out.
And as some food for thought, for those, myself included, who are leaning towards giving Mitchell the heave-ho, who else is out there as a valid option? Right now, there's just not a lot of choice and with teams relieving their coaches seemingly by the hour, Sam Vincent was let go yesterday by the Bobcats, competition for solid bench leaders is fierce.
Perhaps if Phoenix goes out in four, or if Dallas and Detroit bow out there could be some interesting choices...but for now, does a team really want to try someone like Larry Brown?
We’re going to leave all the in-depth Sam analysis till after the playoffs have concluded but you do have to give Sam some props for making the adjustments he made in game three. It wasn’t maybe the deciding factor considering that his team also finally played with a sense of urgency and passion, but it did throw a wrench in the Magic’s plans.
Therefore today’s game should be very intriguing.
Will Van Gundy make some alterations to his original plan to match-up better with Toronto’s small-ball line-up?
Will he get his players to try and take advantage of size mismatches down low?
And will Sam Mitchell stick with his game three starters?
As of now it looks like Mitchell will and why not. Toronto’s depth has been on full display this series so if Toronto starts getting down early, I’m sure Sam will not hesitate to switch things up.
So the three keys…let’s start with Superman.
1) Stop double-teaming Dwight Howard. Even though Toronto was much better defensively last game, there were still too many open paths to the basket and perimeter shots. Orlando struggled to knock down their 3’s but trying to double Howard 15 feet away from the basket at this point in the series simply makes no sense until he shows some semblance of a outside game. Howard might be Superman, but he’s not the type of player yet who can will his team to victory. Interestingly, in our final MVP tally amongst the NBA’s blogosphere, Howard finished fifth in MVP voting behind the usual suspects. However as dominant as Howard is, its players like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis that scare me the most on this team. These are the guys who get open looks thanks to all the attention Dwight creates and while they were fairly awful in game three, I expect them to shoot much better today.
So please TJ, stop trying to double Howard! First of all, that just leaves your man, usually Jameer Nelson, wide-open on the perimeter and second, all 165 pounds of your double team isn’t going to do much to stop him anyways! No, the Raptors should try and push Dwight out of his comfort zone in the paint and play tough man-to-man D, but until Howard suddenly morphs into Tim Duncan, no more useless doubles.
2) Get Chris Bosh more involved. This one should be easier today simply based on the way Toronto shot the ball on Thursday night. I just don’t think the Magic will throw three guys at CB4 each time he catches the ball when Toronto’s perimeter was shooting so well. However as Raps fans we know that Toronto’s outside shooting comes and goes from game-to-game so I don’t want to see the Dinos depending on it today. Get CB4 some touches down low early and force the Magic to react. It was nice to get the game three win without a huge game from Bosh, but make no mistake, this team needs him to help lead the charge.
3) Carry over the intensity from Thursday night. Perhaps the most important thing this afternoon is how is how aggressive Toronto plays and in particular, how they start. Do they come out fired up behind the home crowd once more? Or do they rest on their laurels after their last win and have to resume fighting late in games just to keep things close? It’s imperative that Toronto gets this win today and besides some more great support from the ACC faithful, the team simply needs to come out and attack. This is especially true of TJ Ford and Jose Calderon, two key players for Toronto in game three who helped set the tone the entire match. If Ford comes out looking to push the ball and get to the rim, it really changes the way Orlando has to defend Toronto. Penetration by our guards means open looks for the red-hot Kapono and others and that was a huge piece of Thursday night’s win. Defensively this series has still come down to whichever squad does a better job defending their three-point line and therefore the Raps need players like Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon to play with the same grit and determination man-to-man that they did two days ago. I still hate the match-up of Parker guarding the much bigger and stronger Turkoglu but if Mitchell can use guys like Delfino and even Bargnani on Hedo at times to give him different looks, this should help limit his effectiveness.
And of course, I’m expecting a repeat performance of Toronto’s sea of red fans this afternoon. Unlike Phoenix last night, whose spotty orange t-shirt wearing fans simply looked out-of-sync, or even worse in the NHL, Pittsburgh’s white t-shirt clad fans (their opponents the New York Rangers were sporting the white jerseys), Raptornation should once again provide a huge emotional lift for their team. Regardless of the unexpected TTC strike, the atmosphere should be a raucous one and hopefully Toronto can use that to vault back to Orlando with the series knotted at two.