3 in the Key - Raptors Game-Day Preview vs The Celtics

After a thrilling win in overtime Wednesday night against the 76ers, the Raptors are back in action tonight for a pre-season rematch against the Celtics...

Looks like I missed a good one Wednesday night.

You don't often get great pre-season games, and a double-OT one where the home team snatches the W would have to be pretty close to epic in this sense.

And I was stuck in Seattle for work.

That's why I'm really looking forward to tonight's match against the Celtics.  Toronto lost a winnable game to them earlier earlier in pre-season play, and I'm hoping they come out hungry tonight, looking for some revenge.

And, as the first game since the OT thriller, I'm also hoping the Dinos build on their last victory, which from the sounds of Vicious D's recap, and the amount of reader discussion, was a much better example in many ways of what fans this year are hoping to see from this club.

Well...

...except for from our buddy Andrea Bargnani.

I posted this from Seattle after the Bulls' loss but fans have been dealt a cruel hand with Bargs.

Essentially, as the top overall pick, IMMEDIATELY the expectations were pretty big for "Il Mago," and justifiably so.

Like the drafting of Rafael Araujo, no, it's not Andrea's fault he was picked first overall. But it's tough for fans to swallow the fact that we SHOULDN'T expect franchise-player production from him given that draft status, AND, given Colangelo's constant "pumping up" of his top pick...and yes, this includes the big contract extension.

The other cruel part is that he LOOKS like he should be able to do more...but he just doesn't, something Jay Triano has even alluded to recently.

Is it an effort thing? Sometimes it seems like it.

Is it a question of being put in the "best possible situation?" That seemed to play a part when Bosh was here etc.

It's an interesting situation, especially for us at RaptorsHQ.

We went from being a bit skeptical about Bargnani being the top overall pick (none of us would have taken him, although our other wishes, me with Tyrus Thomas, were hardly a big improvement), to being excited about his upside after year one, to quickly realizing in year two that he had to take some major steps forward on D and in terms of rebounding, to comparing him to Rashard Lewis in year 3 in terms of upside, to arguing that we'd seen pretty much all we were going to see from him as an NBA player by year 4.

And that's the position we've had since then, although some of us have feel more strongly about this than others.

It's tough though because after looking at things from 18 different angles in order to prove that Andrea is essentially a pretty inefficient overall player, and taking heat for that take, now, it seems that a great deal of fans are suddenly behind that movement and want to put the whole issue to bed!

And really that's fine.

We'd rather dig into other players' games and not constantly have to focus on Andrea.

The problem is, until Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors hit this point as well, we may have no choice.

It's hard to discuss a game and not point to a 6 of 22 offensive performance in 37 minutes against an undersized and frankly, soft front line.  That was Bargs' O-line from Wednesday night and while he did have 8 boards and 4 blocks, it's just hard to honestly recap a contest without noting things like this, especially considering this is the player expected to be the go-to guy on most nights.

Does that mean rehashing the whole "he's overrated," or "he can't rebound or defend" points over and over?

No.

But it also doesn't mean he's exempt from criticism the rest of the way.

Maybe the baseline for expectations has been lowered, but if he's not even hitting those, then it'll be tough not to give him some heat.

And with that...let's turn to our first key tonight against Boston...

1)  Get Andrea going.  The pre-season is all about testing out different things, whether it be line-up combinations, plays, defensive schemes, new food at the canteen...whatever.  So keeping in this theme, I'd like to see the Raptors put an emphasis on testing tonight, but in terms of helping Andrea.  It still looks to me like he's forcing the issue, and not comfortable in terms of where his shots are coming from etc.  The onus is on him of course to figure this out, and work hard in other areas when his offence isn't there, but I'd also like to see Jay Triano get him more involved in scoring attempts close to the basket.  

Simply put, he needs to be more of an offensive factor in contests as this the bulk of his game, so I'm hoping tonight we see Triano involving him in more pick-and-roll scenarios where Andrea is "the roller," and where Toronto is looking to get Bargs involved in mismatches down low.

2)  Knock down the free-throws.  57% from the charity stripe on Wednesday night?  Really?  While we worried this off-season that Toronto wouldn't get to the line nearly as much as they had during the Bosh era, this hasn't been the case in pre-season.  What has been the case is that when they get there, they aren't knocking them down.

At all.

We figured the team's percentages in this area would take a hit this season, sure, but to hover around 60% most nights?

That's going to cost the club many a game come regular season.

Part of the problem is that the folks who keep getting to the line more than others, Evans, DeRozan, Johnson, have never been good f-t shooters.  So with the ball in their hands more in these situations, it spells trouble.  Against a Boston team that is actually shooting a pretty high percentage so far from the stripe, Toronto needs to focus on knocking them down.

3)  Effort.  From reading the various recaps of the past two games, one thing really jumped out at me in terms of differences between the two - effort.  It sounded like Toronto basically slept-walked through the Bulls match, but came out with a lot more intensity against the 76ers.

The Celtics bring max effort almost every time they step on the court, even in pre-season, so it's imperative that Toronto not start by coasting this evening.

This is especially true of guys like DeRozan, Barbosa and Amir Johnson - so far when those 3 all have solid games, Toronto has looked pretty good.  When they've been tentative...

No word on who gets the starting nod this evening, I'm guessing the same 5 as the last match, but at this point it shouldn't matter.  There's only four pre-season games left, time to get after it in each and every one with the NBA regular season right around the corner.

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