RaptorsHQ had a chance to go one-on-one with Marco Belinelli pre-game, and Grant Hill post game yesterday...
First off, a big thanks to the Raptors for granting us media access to yesterday's game. Despite the loss, and as I touched on this morning, it was a very interesting look behind the scenes at a team in the midst of some turmoil.
Besides facilitating our own analysis, the opportunity also presented a chance to go one-on-one with various players. While one of my original interview targets, Reggie Evans, was nowhere to be found, I did manage to get a chance to talk to both Marco Belinelli pre-game, and Grant Hill post-game.
For Raptors' fans, Marco is obviously the more intriguing interview so I've transcribed it below. The Grant Hill piece I've left in an audio file and it can be heard by clicking on the following link - Grant Hill Post-Game.
For me, it was a huge thrill to speak to Grant, my favourite NBA player of all time. My interview with him was sidetracked at the beginning thanks to Jared Dudley doing a mock interview of his own but soon after Hill and I got into various topics; from the Suns' secret medical facilities to Duke's potential this season, a topic that as you'll hear, Hill went into great detail about to the media's amusement.
As for Marco, I found him lounging in the Toronto locker-room pre-game, watching game footage from the last time Phoenix and Toronto met. He was sitting on one of those foam rollers players use to stretch and smooth out cramps with. Not long after I started to talk to him, Hedo Turkoglu came over looking for the roller which precipitated the following hysterical exchange:
Hedo (ala monotone): "Hey, I need that."
Marco (not really paying attention to him): "What?"
Hedo (again in monotone motioning to the roller): "I need that for my back."
Marco (in a similar monotone style): "I need it for my ass."
Of course at this point, I started to crack up, and they both realized how ridiculous this whole discussion was, and started laughing themselves.
Marco then gave up the foam roller, and we settled into a good conversation:
RaptorsHQ: When you were at Golden State, how frustrating was it sometimes for you...
Marco Belinelli: ...a lot of times, almost every game...
RHQ: ...you must have been thinking "when the hell am I going to play?" As a competitive individual, you've played at a high level your whole career, so this (in Toronto) must feel good to get a chance to go in there and show what you can do.
MB: Definitely! And that's what I'm doing, coming in and showing again that I can play at this level and help the team...I feel good about that. You know last year, with the Warriors was very difficult to me because I never play a lot; last year I played like 20, 22 games and I don't want to think about that you know.
RHQ: So when you first found out that you were coming here, with the trade, give me your reaction.
MB: I was on the National Team, and I heard the news about me in the trade with Marion I was so happy you know, it was like a new life. I was very happy to be here, to play with Andrea, you know, other guys, CB, Turko, Rasho, all the European guys...it's just perfect and I'm really happy to be here.
RHQ: You've already become a fan favourite, we do a Raptors' blog and everyone's always talking about you, and screaming if they don't feel you're coming into the game soon enough, and I think it's because you bring some of that energy, that spark, and something the team can really use.
MB: This is my job you know, when I spoke with Jay, he told me that when I was out there on the court, try to be aggressive and do my job. And the first thing that's really important is to try and be aggressive because if you are aggressive you can steal the ball, you can run faster, you can take a shot that other team doesn't expect; but first of all you need to have that aggression and that's my mentality.
RHQ: You're one of the more aggressive players on this team, you and that guy over there (I point to Pops who's doing a little solo dance near his locker), the team seems to need more of that lately. After that last game, can you describe the team mood?
MB: You know, we lost two games, especially the game against Charlotte, we lost by 35 and the team was really pissed off, like everybody, because we lost by 35 to them. They're a good team but 35 is too much for us and we just talked about that and we can't do that. We've got a lot of games left, we've got like 65 games...we have to do a good job on the court, try to stick to together and everything will be good. It's not easy for us because you know, we've got nine new guys. Me too I'm new. Everyday gets better though and we'll get there.
RHQ: You just touched on the fact that you have so many new players, do you think that's been one of the issues with the defence and turnovers lately?
MB: Maybe, maybe. But first and foremost you need to be aggressive on defence, more aggressive on defence, me, everybody. If you play good defense, it makes such a difference. Offense we have no problem, we can score 100, 120 points easy. We just need to focus on defence and on fast breaks.
RHQ: Now in practice lately, has that sort of been the focus?
MB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. Every day we talk with Jay and the staff about defence. We know at this moment that we are not a good defensive team but we can be better and we're working on that.
RHQ: And is it from a positive reinforcement standpoing? I mean, each game you do see good flashes of defence so the ability IS there...
MB: ...you're right, you're right you know, because sometimes we play good defence for like 20 seconds, and then in the last four seconds they score. That's really terrible and we have to be more focused. We work on these things every day...offence too but if we want to go in the playoffs or far, you have to play defence. That's my opinion and everybody knows that, if we play good defence and we don't have problems on offence we can make good decisions and have success on the court.
RHQ: Just talk about the pick'n' roll a bit. This is one point a lot of people have pointed out defensively as being an issue for this club. Talk a little bit about what Jay and the coaching staff has wanted you guys to do from a technical standpoint in terms of defending this type of attack.
MB: You know I think our problem is not so much style of defence; you know if we switch on pick'n'roll, double-team pick'n'roll...like I told you before, you just have to be more aggressive because if you are aggressive that plays into everything; you can switch, you can double team hard, you can do everything. But our mentality has to be more aggressive on defence and after we can do everything.
RHQ: So that's the main issue then in your opinion is it; being more aggressive in situations whether it's showing or hedging or...
MB: ...more hungry about the ball, that's my opinion. I think that in a couple of games we didn't play good defence but I remember the good defence against Cleveland, Chicago...in Chicago they only scored like 82 points and barely scored in the fourth quarter you know so we can do it.
RHQ: Thanks Marco, good luck tonight.