The Raptors continued their roller-coaster ways on Friday night. After taking a commanding lead early in Friday night's affair the Dinos allowed the Heat back into the game and barely managed to secure the 120-113 win after some big shots from an unexpected source.....Mr. Jarrett Jack
After games like this one I have a difficult time trying to recap what transpired.
I mean, where do I begin?
Well, there is no better place than the beginning...and at the beginning it was all good.
Although things started slow out of the gate (a pace that favours the Heat) the Raps were staying in the game, as opposed to say... falling behind by 20. Actually, had it not been for a few turnovers the Raps would have been beating the Heat at their own game.
Having managed to stave off a slow start things started to turn heavily in the Raps favour when Coach Triano went to the bench - Sonny Weems and Pops Mensah Bonsu in particular. In a somewhat surprising move the first two guys off the Raptors bench were not named Marco Belinelli or Amir Johnson. The insertion of Weems and Pops sent a clear message to anyone who cared to take note. That message? Guys willing to play defense will get playing time. A commendable message and one that needed to be sent.
At that point the Raps really turned up the temperature on the Heat. The Raps were holding their opponents to a more than respectable shooting percentage and their offense started to click. Suddenly the tempo of the game was more up-beat and the Raptors offense was starting to thrive off the D. The Raps started to play what we all view as "Raptors Basketball".
Triano's message seemed to have reached it's intended targets. When Johnson and Marco entered the game both seemed focused and ready to play - in particular Marco. Belinelli was a force in the second quarter. Not only was the "chucker" making his shots but he was also creating for others (4 assists).
The bench play seemed to inspire the starters and before you knew it the Raps were up by 20. The proverbial shoe, was now on the other foot.
Now if you only watched the first half and then looked at the box score this morning it looks like all went well in the last 24 minutes. What the box score tells you is that Turkoglu was strong in all areas, Bargs had a double-double (gasp), Bosh continued to be a beast and Calderon handed out 10 assists. Well this is one of those times when the box score doesn't really tell you what happened.
The box score doesn't tell you how the Raps managed to do a complete about face and fall back into being the team we saw on the West Coast.
So what happened?
First off, Coach Triano, seemed to go completely rogue. After showcasing an impeccable substitution strategy in the first half, the Raptors Head Coach shortened the bench and for unknown reasons seemed committed to leaving the same guys responsible for the great first half on the bench. In the alternative, Triano favored playing Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack at the same time and for the majority of the second half.
As Franchise and Defensive Stance have discussed, this back-court duo just is not getting it done when playing together. It was no different tonight. Jose and Jack just don't make good back-court mates and the statistics support that proposition. Watching Triano see the J&J back-court squander the double digit lead without so much batting an eye or turning to the bench is baffling. I am left scratching my head.. I can understand why Triano didn't want DeRozan guarding Wade (early on Wade was schooling the rook), and Marco had apparently tweaked his ankle, but I am not sure why Triano wouldn't have gone with Jack at the point with Weems at the two.
Why no Calderon you ask?
Well, it is quite simple.
First, Calderon is playing horrible defense right now. Actually horrible is probably an understatement. Jose is getting killed off the bounce and as a result the Raps collective team defense is suffering. This was clearly obvious in the second half where Calderon's defense left the Raps big men no choice but to leave their man to help resulting in some open looks for the Heat. Jose was also the man guarding Mario Chalmers who helped shoot Miami back into the game.
Second, last night Jarrett Jack played easily his best game as a Raptor.
After a slow start to the season Jack finally broke out and was absolutely clutch down the stretch scoring 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter including two big three point shots. His was more confident shooting the ball he simply looked more "in control". He not only has a nice scoring night but he also had three assists with no turnovers. Hopefully this is a turning point for Jack and he can start playing at a level we all expect. He is a much better player than shown so far.
Speaking of turnovers, the Raps did a poor job protecting the basketball and this was a major factor in allowing the Heat back into the game. The Raps turned the ball over 20 times as compared to the Heat's 9. The turnover differential really hurt given they were shooting so much better than the Heat (57.5% vs. 43.8%). The Raptors gave the Heat more opportunities to score and Dwyane Wade and Co. took advantage.
The Raps, despite a terrible second half, still managed to get the win and now find themselves just one game under .500. It is nice to see the Raps get back to winning but I have to wonder whether this type of basketball is conducive to winning.
The most concerning thing in my eyes is the lack of consistent effort that continues to plague this team. It's clear that this team can play respectable defense and when sharing the ball the offense can be an unstoppable force. Yet for some reason, they cannot, or at least they have not, put it all together. As a result we are seeing 20 point deficits turn into close games and 20 point leads disappear in a quarter.
Does it make for entertaining ball? Absolutely.
Does it make for winning ball? On this evening yes, but long term I have my doubts.
Up next for the Raps is another team from the Southwest Division...the Orlando Magic.
The Magic are coming off a statement win in Boston where even without Jameer Nelson they were able to get a W at the Garden.
So what are the three key's to tomorrow's game?
1. Stay Afloat Early - This upcoming game strikes me as one where the Raps could find themselves down by 20 in a blink of an eye much like what happened in Denver. Even without Nelson the Magic had a lot of firepower and if facing little resistance on the defensive end could bag this game early. Don't forget this Magic team, even without Carter and Rashard Lewis, put 125 points up on the Raps in the last meeting. The Raps need to protect home court and not allow this game to get out of hand. If they can stay in it early the fans should give them the much needed extra boost (with Carter in town) to try and steal the win.
2. Bosh vs. Howard - Remember in the last match-up when good friends CB4 and Dwight Howard got into it under the hoop and Bosh didn't back down? It's that kind of attitude which can help this team win. No-one on the Raps can back down and that includes Bosh who is going to have to put up another massive game. Bosh, and Bargnani for that matter, will have to attack Howard time and time again in hopes of either putting Goliath into foul trouble. If Howard is given the chance to dominate the painted area it is going to be an uphill battle. Look for Rasho to get some burn as well.
3. Jarrett Jack - Now that Jack had his breakout game let's see if he can continue to build off that performance. Given the lack of depth the Magic have at the PG position Jack will need to take advantage of the likes of Anthony Johnson. Again second unit play is going to be big in this game. Here's hoping that Jack gets his minutes at the PG spot on Sunday because if J&J end up together on the floor again I may just have to turn to football.