After opening the season with a win over the Cavs, Franchise saw many of last year's familiar issues rear their ugly heads in last night's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies...
I'm guessing most of Raptorsnation is in an uproar this morning.
That was certainly the case last night, with Tweets ranging in anger from this summary courtesy of Mr. JE Skeets:
"I'm a fairly laidback guy, but wow do Raps losses -- to teams they should beat -- put me in a bad mood. I want to punch a bear in the mouth."
to a more balanced approach from another follower:
"Well, at least my Raptors are doing better than the Cavs"
Either way though, there's no disputing that this was a game the Raptors needed to win, and certainly could have.
However as I tweeted post-game, I'm not that surprised Toronto lost, and I'm also not that upset, as Memphis really did play their asses off in this one.
The Grizz shot 51 per cent from the field, got to the free-throw line 35 times, and most importantly, crushed the Dinos on the glass and in the paint. In fact, Memphis scored almost half their points in the key and players like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol essentially had their way down low. It's the rebounding area that I want to talk a bit more about, because it's something that plagued the team last year, and was supposedly addressed in various fashions in the off-season.
It's extremely hard to win basketball games if you repeatedly give your opponent second and third chances to score. This is especially true on nights when your offense is sputtering. Not only are you allowing the other team more scoring opportunities, but if the other team is controlling the flow of the game by continuously out-rebounding you, then you're limiting your own ability to score and get back in the game. It's just simple math in that respect; the more chances you have to score, the more likely you are to score, and that's why it's paramount that you maximize your possessions via successfully rebounding the basketball.
Why the professor Franchise basketball 101?
Mostly because I think this rebounding issue is one that's going to haunt this team all season, and I'd rather go into some detail now on the subject, rather than harp on it all year. At some point, if this club wants to become one of the league's elite, they simply have to do a much better job on the glass, and also in terms of defending the paint. There's simply no way Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol should be dropping nearly 50 points on Toronto. And what's scary to me is that if these two can do it, what the hell are the Raps going to do with combos like Howard and Bass (Sunday), or West and Okafor (next Friday?)
And while I don't want to turn this into a "pick on Andrea" post, the bullseye in this regard unfortunately is on his back. He's simply got to produce more than five or six rebounds a game from the center position, and I truly felt that his play this evening was a big reason for the team's loss. Let me explain.
Bargs' value is one of the most polarizing topics in Raptorland; some feel that he's a rare offensive weapon on his way to becoming a star. Others feel that he's extremely overrated, and that statistics bear this out.
Myself, I see both sides, and a sequence in the third quarter perfectly illustrates the issues with the Dinos' former first overall pick.
Andrea started out the game unable to hit a shot, or do much of anything on the court. However midway through the third, his offense started to click, and suddenly the Raptors looked like the same team that wacked the Cavs over the head on Wednesday night. He was dishing, driving, and most importantly knocking down 3's. And then with his long-range game going, suddenly the Grizz were unable to stockpile defenders on Chris Bosh, thus giving CB4 more room to operate as well. It was a perfect mix, and lead to an 88 to 80 lead for Toronto.
However prior to this successful offensive series, Bargs was having issues. He failed to cut-off a baseline pass to Zach Randolph leading to an easy Randolph deuce, missed a defensive assignment leading to another basket, bobbled two missed Memphis shots leading to second chance opportunites, and drew a few completely unnecessary fouls.
What shows up predominantly on the score sheet is the scoring.
What doesn't show up so well, are the defensive gaffes.
This is why various metrics constantly penalize Andrea, while many fans and onlookers feel that these same stats are incorrect. They're seeing the scoring Bargnani, the wizard with the ball that can take over a game for stretches offensively, while the stats are capturing many of these defensive miscues, and penalizing him for that.
I believe the truth regarding Il Mago's worth lies somewhere in between but it's hard not to lean to the stats side after a game like this. There's only so many times you can watch Andrea lose post-position, or fail to keep his man off the glass. Even Jack Armstrong was calling Andrea out for "not wanting it as much as Gasol." Andrea's this team's biggest X Factor and if he's scoring and defending like he was against Cleveland, suddenly the Raptors are a pretty solid team. If he's not, then you get games like last night's.
And as follow-up to the rebounding issue, I fear that Reggie Evans is hardly the silver bullet here.
While he may have tipped the scales slightly in Toronto's favour last night, make no mistake about it - the Raptors need Andrea's offence. Reggie might have kept the Grizz from second and third opportunities and given the team a boost on D, however in stretches like last night's where no one but Chris Bosh could put the ball in the basket, would Reggie really have been the answer?
And yet while I felt Andrea's play at the 5 was a major issue last night, he wasn't the sole offender. If Andrea needs to play better on D and in the paint, Jose Calderon needs to play better at both ends. Last night looked like three seasons ago as he couldn't buy a basket early, forced the action uncharacteristically at times, and badly lost the point guard battle with Mike Conley Jr. One of the reasons Andrea was so ineffective on the glass in fact was because he kept having to show, or come to Jose's aid, as Jose was being beat time and time again off the dribble.
But let's not get too down here, this was game two after all.
Earlier in the week when I predicted that Toronto would start its season with a 5 and 13 record, this Memphis game was one I had slotted amongst those 13. For all the jokes about the Grizz, this team played very hard last night and brought a much better intensity level than did the Raptors. The result was a very close match up until the last few minutes, and I actually enjoyed a good portion of this game. It's interesting to see this Raptor-team trying to find its way amongst all the new players, and really, games like this shouldn't be too much of a surprise early on. This team is going to be a streaky one offensively, so until they can get the rebounding and defence pieces up to par, there will be many more nights like this, no matter what Chris Bosh does.
Yes, let's not forget Bosh, who was absolutely dominant trying to will his team to victory with 37 points and 12 boards as well as 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. He really did do everything he could to carry his team until he got some help.
Unfortunately for fans, that help didn't come, and now the Raptors stumble back to Toronto with the Herculean task of facing the Orlando Magic tomorrow afternoon.
Let's hope the team can regroup, and capture some of that opening night swagger for Dwight Howard and co.
Because Vince or no Vince, I have a feeling they're really going to need it.