After a loss to a more-talented Denver team last night, the Raptors prepare to take on the Utah Jazz tonight in a back-to-back. The HQ looks at last night's loss and discusses the keys to rebounding tonight with a W...
With the Raptors facing another tough test tonight against the Utah Jazz, I thought it would be apt to post a recap/preview combo a bit later today than usual.
After all, there's not a lot to discuss regarding last night's loss.
The Raptors hung tight with Denver for three quarters, even leading the game for most of the first half. Then in Part II of the affair, Toronto started to run out of gas on offence, and us fans all know that when that happens, the defense usually isn't good enough to keep things close.
This is especially the case when playing against a team as talented as the Denver Nuggets, a squad I described in my preview yesterday as being maybe the most balanced in the league.
You could see that balance last night too. If Melo wasn't attacking from inside and out, Denver was pounding the ball down low to Nene, or getting half-court heaves from JR Smith. Throw in some clutch 3's by Arron Afflalo, D in the post by Kenyon Martin, shot blocking by The Birdman, and of course, heady play at the point by Chauncey Billups, and they're a pretty intimidating group.
Toronto was simply out-classed talent-wise in the end, especially with Hedo Turkoglu sitting this one out, and kudos to Jay Triano for realizing this with lots of time left in the fourth quarter; with about six minutes left Raptors' fans were treated to the Patrick O'Bryant show.
Even the newest old Raptor got some minutes. (Although strangely, Marcus Banks did not - how much does Triano have to hate Banks for O'Bryant to play and not Banks???)
Yes, Pops Mensah-Bonsu is back with the Dinos as he was snatched off of waivers yesterday, and even in limited time late in the game, showed the same qualities that made him a desperately needed commodity last season. The kid simply brings it every night, and is a tenacious rebounder and defender. I mean, how many players get signed into the season, then in garbage time take a painful charge in a blowout?
However as much as I like Pops, I've been pulling for Toronto to take a flyer on him since he left George Washington, I'm not quite sure I like the fit this time around. When Reggie Evans returns it gives the team seven big men for two positions; meanwhile, the wing positions, the 3 in particular, looks quite shallow. I love Sonny Weems but he's not quite big enough to guard the Carmelos and Kobes of the league. Outside of Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright is the only player with the size for the 3.
Can Mensah-Bonsu play the 3?
Perhaps defensively, and maybe that's what BC and co envision with this signing.
However last season I remember him being much more effective at the 4 and if that's the case, I think he's going to have a tough time finding minutes unless Evans ends up being out for a very long time.
Is there anything else to break down from last night's loss?
Not really in my book, although I do want to touch on Toronto's play in the first half. Even minus Hedo, that was the best the team looked in my eyes (especially the first quarter) all season at both ends of the court. The club seemed very prepared and while they had no answer for Anthony, they didn't come unglued at the seams when he was putting on a clinic. Toronto played to its strengths and did a nice job keeping the rest of Denver in check.
Well, except for JR Smith.
But how exactly do you guard a player like that when he's taking shots from five feet behind the 3-point line and has the athleticism to get to the rim at will?
It's very difficult; he's like Ben Gordon on Red Bull and HGH.
Overall though, I've seen some nice stretches from the Dinos over the past week, even in losses and I'd actually say that last night's game was an analogy for how this team looks to me at present; three quarters of the way there.
When the defense is at least somewhat locked-in and the gang-rebounding is in effect, TO's offence is powerful enough to beat most teams in this league. The chemistry is coming (Jose looks like his old self again) and outside of Jarrett Jack, the players seem to be settling into their roles; DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli in particular.
The light seemed to come on for DeMar in particular last night, and I'm hoping to see a continuation of this tonight against the Jazz.
Incidentally he helps lead off our first key:
1) Supporting Cast Play.
The Jazz are banged up. They're already short on the bench minus CJ Miles and Kyle Korver, and while Deron Williams appears to be playing tonight, he's missed the past few games to take care of some personal issues. Add these to the fact that Utah comes in with a disappointing 4 and 6 record and this is a great chance for Toronto to grab a win in a notoriously tough arena.
However to do it, they're going to need more than just the usual suspects.
As previously mentioned, players like Johnson, Belinelli, DeRozan, and even Sonny Weems have been providing solid minutes lately and I'm expecting that to continue tonight. Utah doesn't take a night off under Jerry Sloan and on the second night of a back-to-back, it's even more imperative that these types bring their respective fortes.
If they can do that I believe it seriously tips the scales in the Raptors' favour.
2) Bosh and Bargnani.
While the referees were hardly doing these two any favours last night, both weren't nearly aggressive enough offensively last night, something that they'll have to remedy this evening. The two have tough match-ups (Bargs looking at himself in the mirror in a sense if he's guarding Okur) but Toronto will need to lean a bit more on their scoring if they want to achieve victory and keep pace with what's become a high-scoring Utah team.
One thing that irritated me last night, even in garbage time, was JR Smith's showboating. Toronto was already down big, and Smith bowing to the crowd and performing other theatrics was hardly endearing to me, and probably many others. In fact I was hoping that Pops would catch him with a good clothesline the next time down the court.
Point being, this team has had a rep of being "soft" for years now. Some of Toronto's additions this past off-season are trying to change that, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Contrast that with the Jazz who for decades under Sloan have held a "non-crème-puff" status and who generally fight and claw on each possession.
Therefore I'm wondering if tonight's game may end up being decided by simply "who wants this more."
Toronto and Utah believe it or not are actually quite similar statistically (great in terms of offensive efficiency, bad to terrible in terms of defensive ability) so this isn't a game where the Raps can just rely on streaky shooting. The Dinos need to come out hungry from the tip in order to grab an important W and I'll be looking for this all night.
No weak "second night playing in a row, Western conference road trip, blah, blah, blah" excuses.
If the Raptors want to be considered one of the better clubs in the league this season, they need to start winning these "gut it out" type of games.