The Toronto Raptors under Bryan Colangelo have never been a great defensive team.
They've also always had a bit of a "soft" label.
However they have held several positive traits that have remained consistent over this same time period as well, things like excelling as a free-throw shooting club.
Maybe their best trait though has been their ability to maintain possessions via lack of turnovers. It's not a glamorous trait, but an important one nonetheless, and I think this season has illustrated just how valuable it is not to give an opposing team "free opportunities."
Especially when you're a basketball team that is possibly the worst defensive unit in the league, are missing key players, and have a sporadic offence to begin with.
Last night, in a 96 to 85 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, turnovers, a problem for the Raptors of late, were the may issue yet again. Toronto coughed it up a season-high 25 times, and the Grizzlies simply put, took advantage.
A 12 point Raptors lead early in the game therefore slowly turned into a 4 point deficit at half, and by the time this was over, the Grizz has scored 27 off those 25 turnovers, and the Dinos were waving the white flag. Toronto's defense, especially on the perimeter, was horrendous as always, but it really was the turnover issue that put the early nails in the coffin, and Memphis never looked back after half.
So what's going on with the turnover situation?
Is this simply a matter of Jose Calderon, who turned it over an uncharacteristically high 4 times, forcing the issue? He's played much more aggressively this year, so is this new style the reason?
Is it a product of the personnel overall? Does this team simply have bad decision makers this year?
Personally I don't think it's either, although watching last night you could make a case for the latter to a certain extent. Players like Barbosa, Bayless and DeRozan force the issue at times (each had 3 TO's last night), but I think the obvious issue is a lack of cohesion on this team thanks to injuries. No Bargnani last night, the team's center-piece offensively, no Weems, one of the few Raptors who can create when the clock is winding down, and even Reggie Evans' passing in the paint has been missed. Now players are outside of their roles to a certain extent, and as a whole, the club just doesn't seem comfortable on O.
Toronto still shot 50% from the field...but when you keep giving your opponent, a more talented one at that, more opportunities at the hoop, and don't exactly excel in getting stops...
...yep, you get losses like last night.
This of course doesn't bode well for tonight's match against the Mavericks, and in that sense I'm not sure "3 Keys" is really warranted. There's one here, and that's to take care of the ball. You simply can't expect a virtuoso performance on D, or a juggernaut offensive attack minus certain players, so for this one to even be close, the Raps need to maximize possessions.
Bright spots from last night?
Once again, not too many.
Linas Kleiza would be my top pick as he dropped in a team-high 22 points on 10 of 16 shooting. He dominated Rudy Gay early in halfcourt sets, but as the game turned into a loose, run-and-gun affair, Gay was able to play to his strengths and Kleiza wasn't nearly as effective.
I also like the play of Joey Dorsey.
Yes, he got abused in the second half by Zach Randolph (who scored 21 for the Grizz), but I thought he did a decent job considering this is someone you probably want as a 9th man on a good team. He finished with only 6 points but had 13 rebounds, by far tops on Toronto.
Outside of that...well...some might say DeMar DeRozan; a few nice takes and 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting.
But he was only 4 of 8 from the line, terrible on D, looked uncertain on O (hence the turnover story above) and again to me, he just didn't display anything last night that made me think: "ok, this kid is going to be unstoppable in a year from now."
Again, it's hard to criticize one of the only Raptors last night who put forth a solid offensive performance, but the fact is that if Toronto is going to start winning games and developing into a better team, DeRozan HAS to be one of the players leading the charge, and as such, the spotlight shines brighter on him.
DeRozan has his work cut out for him tonight against guys like Caron Butler and Jason Terry, as does the whole Raptors' squad, and I'd be lying if I said I expected this one to be close. Dallas is perhaps the best team in the league at present, and Toronto, well, not so much.
However this season as a reminder is all about growth towards the future so again, I'll be ok with a loss provided we see some individual and team progress in the right direction.
Admittedly though, minus some of the players expected to help spur on this growth, it's a tough proposition.