Tip-In, Toronto Raptors' Post-Game Report: A Toothless D

After calming himself with a few episodes of Entourage, Franchise sits down to discuss last night's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, all the while discussing the Raptors' defensive issues...

It would be pretty easy after last night's loss to write a scathing review of the Toronto Raptors.

Even Jay Triano would probably say they deserved it.

I mean, how else can you explain a team shooting essentially SIXTY per cent from the field, and SIXTY-FIVE per cent from beyond the arc, and yet still losing?

It's almost unfathomable!

Well...

...almost.

It is the Toronto Raptors we're talking about here, a team that hasn't played a lick of sound defence in nearly three seasons.

And folks, I'm not holding my breath for this season to be a break-through in that regard.

If Toronto's loss to Dallas on Saturday night was a warning of what could happen on nights when Toronto's outside shooting went cold for stretches, last night was further proof that all the offense in the world isn't necessarily going to compensate for defensive letdowns.

Wait.

Scratch that.

Make that a complete and total absence of defence.

Because make no mistake about it, had San Antonio suited up Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, or even had the Raptors' own gunners on their side, the end result would have been a lot worse than a 131 to 124 loss.  I mean for all their open looks, the Spurs "only" hit about 48% of their shots from the field.  They had 28 3-point attempts for crying out loud!

However I'm not going to rant and rave here.

I did that last night during the game's final quarter, on the site's live-chat and via Twitter, and believe me I was livid.  Performances such as that of last night infuriate the "analytical" Raptors' fans, myself being one, who cringed at the idea of letting Shawn Marion go and signing Hedo Turkoglu for more money; fans who to this day can't understand Bryan Colangelo's fascination with the Bosh/Bargnani combination, and fans who readily point to various statistical measures that seem to indicate why this current Raptor squad, while an upgrade over last year, is still miles away from being a contending team.  As a fan of this squad, I often hope that these notions of mine and others are incorrect, but then games like last night's come along and it's tough not to want to scream "I told you so" to no one in particular.

And of course seeing statistical draft darling DeJuan Blair, an HQ favourite all of last season at PITT, single-handily match both Toronto's center and power forward in terms of total rebounds, while playing a quarter of their combined time on the court...well...that's just rubbing salt in the wound.

But I digress.

The bottom line here is that last night's game probably shouldn't have told you anything new about this Raptors' team.

They can light it up with the best of them on offence...

...but on defence they are quite possibly the worst in the league.

And it's not simply a matter of "not boxing out," or "closing out on shooters."  There's a whole mess of issues, starting with the inability to stop dribble penetration.

Right now, opposing players, guards in particular, are simply getting anywhere they want to on the court, and that's throwing the rest of the Raptors' already shaky D into fits.  If another defender rotates over, said guards are finding team-mates for open looks, or if no defender makes himself present, that same guard is going right to the rim.  If you watched George Hill drop 22 points on the Raptors' last night, you saw these scenarios time and time again.  There's a reason it looks like Toronto is leaving 3-point shooters open all the time - the team is so concerned with trying to help out on dribble penetration, that it's making it impossible to adequately recover and close out on shooters, especially in the corners.

Further complicating matters is that when you're constantly scrambling to get out on shooters, you're out of position then to rebound the ball, and therefore giving the opponent second shot opportunities.  For an already poor rebounding team like the Raptors, this can be a death sentence.  Last night the Spurs scored 32 points off second-chance opps so you see, while the defensive issues start on the perimeter, they expose most of Toronto's other issues as well.

"Ok Franchise, if you've got all the problems identified, how about coming up with some solutions?"

Solid point.

For starters, the effort needs to improve.

A perfect example of this is the fact that on a few occasions last night, Spurs' guard George Hill split Toronto's defence at the top of the key.  Fans are seeing this "splitting" at least once a game (Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey had a field day doing this last week) and this isn't solely a matter of quickness or athletic ability.  These scenarios to me are indicative of both effort and comfort with defensive schemes as well.  Maybe you get beat one-one-one on the wing or on a curl to the hoop...but having your opponent go between you and your other back-court mate at the top of the key time and time again?  Purely criminal.

Also criminal?

Matt Bonner blowing by you, and the rest of your team, and going in uncontested for a dunk.

If you're allowing Bonner to do this, what are you going to do against the Iguodalas and Wades of the league?

Outside of the effort, Triano may need to start being more match-up focussed during games.  If Jose isn't getting the job done against the opposing guard, either switch him off onto the opponent's two-guard or give him the yank.  Use Jack (although he hasn't fared much better on D of late) or even someone like Antoine Wright or Sonny Weems.  Weems finally got off the bench last night and while his play was up and down, he's got the length and quickness to be a stopper at this level.

Oh, and getting Reggie Evans back would be a nice too.

Finally, I'd also preach patience as it will invariably take some time for the team to get on the same page defensively.  I'm not expecting this club to transform into the Boston Celtics on D, they just don't have the personnel.  However there's no excuse for repeated performances like that of last night so over the course of the next few weeks or so, you have to believe things will improve just by virtue of repeated practice and increases in the familiarity between players.

You hope so.

Last night's loss was perhaps my most frustrating experience as a fan since last season when the Raps were blown out by the Nuggets, a loss that ended up being the last straw for then-coach Sam Mitchell.

That certainly was a low point, and I'm just not sure I can take a whole season full of debacles like this.

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