"Our fours couldn't stay at all with Harrington...he just drove past them and used his quickness and they spread the floor."
"He's a nightmare matchup for guys. I couldn't keep Ed Davis on the floor, I couldn't play Amir (Johnson) because they couldn't guard him. I had to go with somebody smaller."
If you watched last night's 123 to 116 barn-burner between the Toronto Raptors and the Denver Nuggets, you know exactly why the above quote is so important.
Al Harrington was indeed the difference maker in the Nuggets' win, a win minus their superstar, Carmello Anthony, as it was Harrington that repeatedly forced Toronto to adjust on D and created mismatch after mismatch.
He finished with 31 points and 6 rebounds in the win, but had plenty of help from his teammates as the Nuggs dropped a now Raptors record 74 points on the Dinos at the half, and shot a blistering 57 per cent from the field overall. Toronto lit it up from the field as well shooting 51 per cent in the match, but got behind be nearly 20 points in the third quarter thanks to a series of turnovers and horrendous defensive plays, and just couldn't climb all the way back.
After a big 3 by Andrea Bargnani in the game's final minute, Toronto got the stop they needed on D, only to have a miscommunication between Linas Kleiza and Sonny Weems result in the ball bouncing out of bounds off of the Raps, giving the ball right back to Denver, and forcing Toronto to foul.
1000th win for George Karl.
The loss was Toronto's fourth straight, and now they have the unenviable task of turning around and heading to Detroit to take on the Pistons tonight.
To me, there's not a lot of analysis needed regarding last night's loss. If you look up and down the box score, from shooting to rebounding, Denver was just a tad better, and it showed up in the final score. The Raptors' defense was abysmal as usual, and the Nuggets had a better game plan overall, one that made sure that Al Harrington was very involved on offence.
On the flip side, I didn't think Andrea Bargnani was involved enough on O. He played 40 minutes but took two less shots than Harrington, and as we've seen so often in the past, without him involved on offence, the other parts of his game can become pretty invisible. He had only one rebound heading into the match's final minutes, and after a great start in which he had three free-throw attempts in the game's first minute, he had only five more the rest of the way. As has occurred in the past, his teammates kinda forgot about him I thought, and considering he's the team's most legit offensive weapon, he simply needs more touches in games like this. Nene was a tough match-up for him all night and if Andrea doesn't get a chance to get those points back at the other end, it really diminishes from his overall impact in games.
On the plus side, some of Toronto's wing players got back in fans' good books.
Sonny Weems had 21 points but took much better shots overall, finishing 10 of 17 on the night. He was also extremely active all over the court, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
Leandro Barbosa was 8 of 12 en route to 22 points, including some timely ones that helped the Raptors get back in the game in the fourth quarter.
And nice to meet you Mr. Kleiza.
Linas Kleiza busted out of his slump en route to dropping 26 and 12 on his former team.
However I wasn't as impressed as some people were with his performance. I thought a lot of his offence last night came at the expense of good ball movement and defensively he left a lot to be desired. A good chunk of his scoring too came from beyond the arc so I'm going to wait a few games before getting too excited about the rebirth of Linas.
On one side, DeRozan. After some aggressive takes fairly early, again he was invisible in this one and shot only 3 of 11 from the floor. You can just see defenders now daring him to take open jumpers and he's simply got to start knocking them down. In a wide open, no defense game like last night's, DeRozan is the type who should thrive. Instead, numerous times I had to make sure he was even on the court as he simply didn't attack with the ball, deferring to teammates. That's fine to a certain extent when guys like Kleiza are on fire. But Toronto desperately needs what he can bring to the table offensively and last night he didn't make a single trip to the free-throw line.
Contrast that to Julian Wright.
In only about 15 minutes Wright was a team-high +6, had two free throw attempts, and simply hustled his ass off. You could immediately tell when he was on the court whether it was because of a nice put-back off a Toronto miss, or simply getting after it on D. I'm not sure how Triano's going to do it, especially if Kleiza plays like last night consistently, but Wright does things on the court, especially defensively, that this team needs in order to win.
Luckily there could be two wins in the Raptors' future.
Let's cut to the keys to a win tonight over Big D first:
1) More Andrea. We've seen how horrendous the Raptors can be on D. Unless there are major personnel moves, I can't see this changing which means Toronto again this season is going to have to rely a lot of the time on their O to get wins. And for more O, I'd like to see more Andrea. I've been one of Bargs' harshest critics the past few seasons but offensively, he's really developing a dynamic skill set. Even last night in an "off" night, he looked like he could dominate his match-up every single time down the court.
But the Raps can't forget about him.
That's not to say I want to see Andrea the black hole, but after his explosion vs the Knicks, I want to see just how badly he wants to take over games, and how effective he can be at initiating the offense and getting his teammates involved.
2) More fire. The Raptors are the 4th worst team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. The 5th worst? The Pistons. The difference is, Detroit is also one of the least efficient offensive clubs so tonight I want to see another all-out offensive attack by the Raps, something I don't think the Pistons can replicate.
This means though that the Dinos get better play at the 1. Jose Calderon won't make the trip to Detroit so the onus is on Jerryd Bayless to step up against a similar guard in Rodney Stuckey. I thought the absence of Jose Calderon was a big factor in last night's loss as Jerryd Bayless struggled with his shot, and with foul issues at times, and on many occasions when it seemed the Raps needed a timely bucket or execution on a play, things were just a bit too scrambly.
I'm hoping to see improvement in this capacity tonight.
3) More boards. One of the big plusses from this Toronto team this year has been the club's rebounding. They've been one of the best in the league in this capacity, and it's helped garner extra possessions and extra buckets leading to wins. However last night Denver out-rebounded Toronto without their best board grabber, Carmello Anthony, and even against the Knicks and Pacers, the Raps haven't had the advantage in this area that perhaps they should have.
Detroit ranks 28th in rebounding rate so it's pretty obvious that this is a big point. If the Raps can dominate inside, then this only bodes well for a 9th win on the season.