Sometimes you need to win ugly and Toronto did just that last night, besting Milwaukee 101 to 96 to again reach .500 on the season. The HQ breaks down the win and chats with various Raptors, from Hedo Turkoglu to Patrick O'Bryant.
I love talking to Antoine Wright.
Last year, Shawn Marion was my locker-room go-to-guy for quotes because of his candour and responsiveness to the media questions.
This year, it's Wright, for nearly the same reasons.
After witnessing what can only be described as a horribly played game by both the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks last night, I wanted to talk to one of the players about Jay Triano's use of a 2-3 zone, one of the key factors in the Raps eventual 101 to 96 win.
Therefore I headed straight for Wright:
RaptorsHQ: "You guys went zone for a bit tonight, talk about what Jay said in the huddle...what constituted that change."
Antoine Wright: "We've just been a different team you know as of late, we've been really buying into what the coaches want. Tonight, they (the Bucks) did a good job of driving us and we couldn't keep them in front of us. They went small, and we didn't have an answer, so I think our coaches just did a good job of answering the bell and switching it up to give them (the Bucks) a different look."
RHQ: "Now when you got in that zone, it seemed like Bogut kind of got lost in the flow too, he didn't have the same touches he did in the first half...was that something Jay talked about?"
AW: "I think sometimes when you give a good player different looks, they struggle with trying to adjust their game to it. I mean, there were a lot of guys around him, so it may have seemed to him that there was a double-team when there wasn't. So it kinda threw him out of his rhythm a little bit."
RHQ: "I talked to you back in November about the defence and the system and you had mentioned that there was too much going on - too much confusion. Now of course we hear that things have been simplified, what exactly did Jay do? Did he sort of change how you guys were going to play certain scenarios like pick-and-rolls etc, or was this more a matter of you guys getting more familiar with each other on the court?"
AW: "I think the most important thing was putting the onus on each individual player. You know, this is how we're going to play it and this is what we expect you to do. When a message comes across that way, you have no choice but to do it and then when it's working, you really stick with it. My hats off to our bigs, who really struggled early in the pick-and-roll defence, but Andrea's been great lately talking to us, and you know, he's not a real vocal person but they've all really bought into the system.
RHQ: "It seems like that, those bigs get talking it gets so much easier for you wings obviously..."
AW: "Well the thing about it is that we haven't taken the path of least resistance lately; the path of least resistance is to switch it, and I think that's a cop-out. I think the most important thing is to put our imprint on the game and you know, that's what we've been doing.
RHQ: "Ok, so finally, you've played with some solid defensive teams, Dallas, Nets, and some solid defensive coaches - how would you compare this team? I mean, not at those levels obviously but would you say you're headed in that direction as a team? Are you seeing some of those previous attributes come through?
AW: "I think just closing the game tonight you can see that we're all trusting each other on defence, and that is one of those things that was so important with the clubs you mentioned, and for those coaches. You have, Belinelli, who's not one of our better defenders, out there on the floor late in the game tonight. And he's out there with Turkoglu. You know, guys are just talking to each other and communicating, and the better teams that I've been on, that's been the main thing. Just being able to tell a guy to be there and hold him accountable and trust he will be there.
Some really interesting stuff in there, from reinforcing the point that Turk and Belinelli are hardly Battier and Artest on D, to the pride with which Wright feels this team needs to play defense. I think the idea of switching on screens being a cop-out is especially intriguing, as he's right; for anyone who's ever played ball, yelling "help" or "switch" is the easiest thing to do, but if you can fight through screens and stick with your man, it completely changes things. Suddenly the other club gets the memo that they may come to set a hard pick on you, but they're going to pay the price in doing so, and it's not going to slow you down.
It's this type of attitude that the Raptors finally brought out towards the end of last night's game, and such an important one for this team to harness and run with in the season's second half. In games like yesterday evening's affair when the club is struggling to score, it's even more imperative.
Let me put it this way - the Dinos did not deserve to win last night.
Against 95% of the league's other teams, playing the first three quarters the way Toronto did, would surely have resulted in a loss. From terrible shooting and shot selection, to turnovers and porous defence this wasn't exactly the Raptors' best peformance of the season by any stretch.
However Milwaukee was terrible enough themselves which allowed the Raps to keep hanging around.
Players like Ersan Ilyasova and Charlie Bell, who were quite effective on Wednesday night, were quiet from the field, Brandon Jennings looked a college freshman, not an NBA rookie, and Carlos Delfino showed his streakyness going 4 of 16 on the night with only 9 points after dropping 22 on Toronto earlier in the week.
Luke Ridnour, who finished with 27 points off the bench, was the only player able to effectively solve for Triano's zone D using his long-range shooting and as Milwaukee's offence dried up, players like Calderon, Jack, Bosh and Turkoglu started making key baskets down the stretch, and that was enough for the win.
He was booed at times during the game (going 2 of 10 from the field will do that) and was unfortunately the butt of various running jokes amongst the media all night.
It's just too easy!
When you're leaning against the padding under the basket with your arms folded during time-outs, sucking wind at the free-throw line like you've run a marathon, and picking up 3 fouls in about 8 minutes of action causing you to essentially miss the first half of the game, the jokes just come naturally.
The best one though?
I was told to take note of Hedo's photo in the media room pre-game. All of the other Leaf, TSC and Raptor players were shown in various action poses.
His blown-up shot is one of him bent over holding his shorts...
Make no mistake though, boos or no boos, Hedo knows he's not getting the job done, and I talked to him about this post-game:
RaptorsHQ: You've been in the league for a while, so you've been through your share of ups and downs, you look at this current slump you're in, do you just take it in stride and say, I've had stretches like this maybe in Orlando or Sacto? Is that the approach you have to take?
Hedo Turkoglu: Definitely. I can't really get upset with myself, put my head down and quit playing. You just look for the next possession and try to stay aggressive. Instead of settling, maybe head to the free-throw line and get my game going. Like I said, it's normal to face these kind of situations and really, all you can do is keep working and get ready for the next game, try to go out there and do my best and help the team win.
RHQ: But would you say this is the worst slump you've been in? Would you say that the pressure from the big contract is making that worse?
HT: Not the worst slump but it's frustrating. You try to make shots, some tonght just don't go down but what can you do? You keep at it and know that in the past, you've gone through it and come out fine. The rest of the team has been supportive and that helps too. I'm not sure it's a contract thing, more, I just want to make the people who come happy as well as my teammates.
RHQ: Do you notice anything physically? Or has your shot changed at all during this stretch? Or would you say nothing's changed and it's simply a matter of, like you said, the shots aren't going down?
HT: Like I said, it's a situation sometimes you get in; you don't get a foul (call), you miss a shot, you still look bad even though you make the right play. I don't think it's anything physical, I feel fine. All you can do is try to move forward. I've been in this before and hopefully I get out of it quick and make a lot of people happy.
Unfortunately Hedo was called away at this point so I didn't get to go into more detail with him, but you can tell that he's obviously frustrated. He wants to play well, and knows he can contribute more to this team. I actually felt sorry for him yesterday as like Hoffa before him, he didn't put himself in this situation, Bryan Colangelo did. Therefore I hope that BC realizes that the boos directed towards Turk yesterday were in fact, directed at him too, for a signing that clearly isn't working. Even if Hedo was shooting above 40 per cent, this acquisition has a lonnnnnng ways to go before justifying its mammoth price-tag.
However I wouldn't be doing my duty here if I didn't note that of all the Raps post-game, Hedo's definitely not the "leanest, meanest, fighting machine."
Fat? Definitely not - but let's just say he's not going to win any of those Mr. Fitness competitions right now.
Hedo gets another big test tomorrow night against the LA Lakers.
Kobe and co. will be in town and it's going to be very interesting to see both how the Raptors come out, and how Triano plays this one. Last night he rolled out the "triangle of death" closing line-up, something I unfortunately didn't get a chance to ask him about last night. However I did get to ask about an assessment of his own growth and development as a coach in this league:
RaptorsHQ: "What about yourself Jay now that we're halfway through the season, how would you evalute the job you've done and any growth, development, changes, things you've noticed on this wild ride? Nothing that sort of stands out?"
Triano: "You know, it's like looking at your kids every day, you don't notice till they're grown up; you don't see the growth every day. Every day that you go down and you break down film and come up with strategies to try to win basketball games, whether it's X's and O's, or dealing with players, you just learn something new and you get a little better at it. You chalk that up to experience, realize you've made some mistakes perhaps in the past, and hopefully that makes you a better coach as you go."
Not quite the answer I was looking for but unfortunately there's only so much time in pre-game scrums. If the triangle of death keeps getting rolled out, we'll be back in a few weeks to focus in on that.
To end this recap and assortment of Q and A's, I give you an audio file of a chat I had with Patrick O'Bryant pre-game last night: