As a fan looking for the "bright side" of things this loss can be explained away in a variety of ways. On paper a win against the powerful Denver Nuggets wasn’t to be expected. The Raptors were shorthanded given O’Neal and Kapono were out with contusions and the team was coming off an absolutely brutal road swing when it comes to miles travelled.
For quite a while I have been a staunch defender of this team. Even last night at my New Years Eve dinner I found myself defending this team by trying to explain away their deficiencies. I had taped last night’s game and got up early this morning to watch in hopes that maybe this team could pull off the much needed upset.
I think it is fair to say that after watching the Raps squander a totally winnable game again
I am done defending this team.
I am sick of hearing about the "bright side".
I now refuse to hear any more excuses.
Last night’s game, despite being shorthanded and tired, was within this team’s grasp. For a majority of the game the Raptors showed they could keep up with the Nuggets and could play with one of the best teams in the league. The players were running, not forcing the action from the outside and doing just enough defensively to not only stay in the game, but be leading at a variety of points. Outside the first two minutes when it looked like the Nuggets were not going to have to shoot outside of 6 inches of the hoop the Raps looked solid.
All the signs of a big Raptors win were there early. Bargnani found his stroke, Moon was getting to the glass and it looked like this team really wanted to avenge the blow-out in Denver from a few weeks ago. The rebounding was better, the fast-break points were actually in the Raptors favour, and the team looked ready to go. It was a back and forth affair early and the Raps were holding their own.
This team showed it can play at a high level. They can make the smart plays and expose the other team’s weaknesses. The major problem with this team is that they just don’t do it for a full 48 minutes. They have a hard time playing a complete game. That to me is inexcusable. It’s watching the team doing the right thing some of the time, and then only minutes later making boneheaded decisions that has brought me to the end of my rope. It’s become extremely frustrating.
These losses are not hard to explain either.
One of the biggest culprits for these mounting losses is the Raptors inability or perhaps, unwillingness, to close out quarters. Great teams in the NBA finish quarters by either closing the gap or expanding the lead. The Raptors seem to do the opposite. Last night the Raps had managed to build a respectable lead in the second quarter but then during the last 2:30 or so simply gave it away with the icing on the cake being a Nene three. The results in the third quarter were much the same.
Had the Raptors managed to play the Nuggets to a draw in the last 2 minutes of each quarter this L would have been a much needed and highly praised W. The importance of playing all 48 minutes is nothing new, yet the Raptors seem to have a tough time grasping this concept or at least putting it into action. The last two minutes of each quarter should be the time, in particular at home, when the Raps should be putting the pedal to the metal. Right now that is just not happening and there is no good excuse to be found.
The second reason why the losses are mounting is that this team seems to shoot itself in the foot and the worse possible moments. At key moments of the game the Raps are not taking advantage but rather making a series of bad, sometimes brutal, decisions. This game was a perfect example. With over 7 minutes left in the third quarter the Raptors found themselves in the bonus. This was a perfect opportunity to get to the rim, get easy points and help slow down a team that loves to get out and run. The Raps had a chance to dictate how the rest of the quarter was going to be played. Rather than taking advantage the Raps took jumper after jumper and blew a great opportunity.
Yup. A moment you can expect in almost every game.
It was an opportunity that every saw or made note of and the players were well aware that they were not executing. During the quarter Triano had to call two time outs just minutes apart in the third quarter to make his point.
For the second time out Triano simply sat on the bench and let the players figure it out for themselves.
I like the approach by Triano and of course it was good to see Bosh take ownership of the huddle, but the reality is Triano shouldn’t have to call the second time out. The players should just know what needs to be done. Triano can tell the guys to get to the rim time and time again but it’s the players who had to do it. Once again Moon was guilty of a brutal three and if you tuned into the game you saw Bosh take an inexcusable three midway through the fourth that sealed the deal.
The Raps just made bad decisions and you couldn’t help but feel bad for Triano. He is doing a solid job on the bench and doing his best to put players in a position to be successful. It’s the players who are making it difficult on themselves. Call it low basketball IQ, forcing this issue, or something else, but the players are not getting the job done and you can see the frustration building in the interim head coach.
When Mitchell was fired all of the talk was about how now it is on the players. The message was that the players would have to respond and right the ship. It’s clear to me now that this isn’t going to happen. The players just won’t or can’t get it done. There have been too many games when the Raps could have won but didn’t and there are too many games when players are having brain cramps at the worst time. There’s also too many excuses being bandied about and until now I have been guilty of the "excusing".
Yes there were some good things to make note of. Bargnani played well, even Jake Voshkul was useful, but all of this was overshadowed by the repeated lack of execution.
For me it’s come to a point where I won’t defend what can’t be defended. At a time of year when people talk about resolutions I have made mine when it comes to this squad and the upcoming year – No more free passes. This team has to earn praise from this writer and it’s going to be an uphill battle for 2009.