Back-to-back solid efforts have led to back-to-back wins for the Toronto Raptors as they continue to work on the defensive side of the court. Two games into their new-found commitment, Vicious D takes a look at where the tangible changes are.
Are you impressed?
The Raptors beat the Chicago Bulls yesterday 110-78 in what could be called a rout from the first quarter to the end. Against a team that was missing a few key people in Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, the Raptors put up some impressive defensive numbers for once and even managed to keep a team under 90 pts for only the second time this year (the first being a win against the hapless Clippers). For three of four quarters, the Raptors held the Bulls to 20 points or below and managed to run up the score thanks to their hot offense.
One of the greatest surprises of the night was how DeMar DeRozan put together another strong performance. As I remarked about in the Washinton game, it seems as though DeRozan's limiters have come off. He's attacking the basket in the way we all expected him to thanks to his tweets, and he continues to impress on both ends of the floor. From taking it to the rack multiple times for dunks or fouls to drawing the charge, DeRozan was a momentum establisher throughout the game. Of course Bosh had his usual strong night but this time he had help from Belinelli, Wright, and Nesterovic as well. However I felt that it was DeRozan who was particularly impressive with another recent night of unmitigated aggression.
For the second night, I witnessed the Raptors providing aggressive help when needed, while other players would rotate to cover lost defensive assignments. For yet another night, I found the Raptors closing down the paint to make a bad shooting club try and make shots in order to get back in the game. And yet again, for another night, Jay Triano used his full club to try and get short but hard working minutes from his starters and bench.
However, the game was won on the inside as the Raptors relentlessly attacked the Bulls in the interior. By trying to get on the inside, Toronto got to the offensive glass more as their players were in position to at least try for a rebound. Chris Bosh set the stage with seven offensive rebounds, but the Raptors as a whole out rebounded Chicago on the offensive glass by seven. With the Raptors shooting a very respectable 48% for the game, the rebounding numbers were even more impressive. In several sequences, the Raptors managed to capture multiple offensive rebounds on one possession; something I've seldom seen in the past two years.
In fact, I'd say the Bulls were looking positively Raptors-esque at times.
Which is why while I'm extremely happy that the Dinos sustained their commitment and nailed down their offense in the second game of their back-to-back, I am still waiting to watch this team get challenged yet again. This kind of win against a beatable team is one that the Raptors needed, but more importantly shouldn't lose because it would damage their psyche. They pulled in the right effort to get themselves the blowout win and put down a team that was struggling. However Toronto had had the Bulls' number for several seasons now. Derrick Rose has always had some trouble with Jose Calderon and last night was no different. Calderon finished the game playing only 18 minutes thanks to a tweak in his leg but had very comparable numbers to Rose.
And if you're also wondering why the Raptors managed to grab 21 more rebounds than the Bulls, all you had to do was look at Joakim Noah who was in foul trouble all game before getting ejected in the second half, and Tyrus Thomas couldn't even play because he was out with an injury.
So for now, Toronto has beaten two teams that they hope to finish above in the standings. These are teams that are beatable. No, it's not right that we expect the Raptors to beat these teams, but they have to expect it of themselves. They have to step on these kinds of teams if they hope to make a serious push for a good playoff position. It's against these teams that the Raps need to establish their momentum. They need to build it so that when they go up against the tougher teams of the league, and afterward, hopefully will be brimming with confidence that they can make the defensive stop when needed, or make the right decision to take it to the inside, or communicate properly so that rotations still happen even in the face of vocal crowds.
And to think, all it took was one meeting.
If only meetings were always that productive in everyday life...