Any time you play a team like this the margin of error is so small that you almost need a perfect game. The Raptors got a good one, one that would have beaten a number of other clubs on this night for instance, but not one that was enough to topple the battle-tested Pistons.
You mean Spurs don't you Adam?
Actually, the paragraph above was lifted from a previous article I wrote.
As I watched the Toronto Raptors lose yet another close game, this time in double-overtime, 111 - 106 to the San Antonio Spurs, I was reminded of said article, mainly because in it, I talked about how small the margin of error was for that Raptors' basketball team.
And when you think about this year's club, it's the same story.
In fact I'll go one step further and say that nothing's changed in that capacity since Bryan Colangelo's first year at the helm of the Raptors. Every year Toronto seems to be an underwhelming group in terms of talent, but one that plays just hard enough that on the right day, and behind said solid overall effort, does enough to play with some of the better teams in the league.
But the majority of the time the end result could be called "close but no cigar." The Dinos come within a hair of getting that elusive W, but then, a five-second call happens. A defensive assignment is missed. A player isn't boxed out, or is left wide open for an open jump shot.
And in crushing fashion, the team goes down, another loss to add to a franchise that sports a beautiful winning percentage of .405 over its 18 seasons.
Now of course that's a bit of a "woe is me" statement.
The reality was that yesterday the better team won, and in many ways I wish we could extricate yesterday's loss from the litany of other "close-shaves" this year, for the Raps played as good a match as they've played all year, but still came up short to frankly, a better basketball team.
This wasn't fighting it out with measly Detroit, playing to their level and failing to topple them from the top of the hill when it counted.
Nor was it having a game in hand and giving it away ala the Sixers match last week, or simply seeing the opponent hit a lucky shot like Toronto's triple overtime loss to Utah.
This was two teams fighting it out, playing at essentially the same level throughout the entire match.
Remember, both clubs were neck-and-neck on the scoreboard for the pretty much the match's entirety and finally San Antonio pulled away after two extra sessions. Both teams had their chances, and it was hardly like Toronto was alone in their OT offensive issues. The Spurs missed a myriad of opportunities themselves helping to drag this one out longer than it certainly should have gone.
The point here is that I'm actually fine with this loss.
The team played its ass off, and did the best it could with the talent available.
You can rant and rave about Andrea Bargnani but his play yesterday shouldn't be a shock. Yes, 2 of 19 shooting might have been his worst outing ever, but not by a huge margin. We've seen plenty of 5 of 14 games so it drives me nuts when commentators are chalking this one up to him being way off. He's not Kevin Durant.
This is a player that's shooting 41 per cent on the season, not 53. He had a great shooting night the previous game in Detroit, and an awful one last night. There's a reason the term "regression to the mean" exists, and Andrea's outlier performances (considering he's only about a 43 per cent career FG% guy) put together aren't too far off from his year-to-date field goal mark.
So I hate the logic that "oh, Andrea never shoots THAT badly. A few more makes and the Raps win!"
Because not only is that an overly optimistic statement about someone who's never been a very efficient scorer, but it's also completely made in a vacuum.
Frankly, you could say the same thing about the Spurs' Danny Green, who missed two wide-open 3's towards the end of the game and was only 3 of 10 on the day from long-range. This is a 42 per cent career 3-point gunner so if he had shot closer to his average, this game likely wouldn't have needed a second overtime session.
No, to me this match was much less about Andrea Bargnani's horrific shooting than it was about the same old story for this Bargnani-Calderon-DeRozan core. (Throw in Amir here too if you want, although he's never been viewed I don't think as a central figure to this team.)
It's never worked that well, and I'm not sure why again anyone would expect it to now, with or without Kyle Lowry.
And these aren't terrible players. Even Andrea Bargnani has spurts of brilliance.
However for Andrea they're few and far between, and for the trio as a complete entity, we've simply never seen consistent production from all of them at once.
Again yesterday one of the three was dominant - DeRozan - and the others were nowhere to be found. (At least offensively.) I racked my brains post-game but couldn't think of a stretch over the time all three played together, that all three got going at once. I remember this being a huge issue in the back-end of DeMar's second season, and eventually we did see a few games where Bargs and DD were solid as a duo.
But other than that?
And all three at once?
I need to go back and look at the game logs but I'd hazard a guess that possibly as few as 15 per cent of the matches they've played together have resulted in games where all three had dominant performances together.
And if that's the case, again, why would anyone think this would start now?
That's why hearing Dwane Casey post-game state that he was going to ride with Bargnani "come hell or high water" was so completely discouraging.
Because he can't do it if he wants to get max wins out of this group.
This isn't LeBron James we're talking about here.
I'm not even sure at this point if it's Ryan Anderson.
He's simply not a valuable enough player to "ride with" through these shooting woes and somehow, this club has to start viewing him as Al Harrington and not Dirk Nowitzki. If Al Harrington was 1 of 12 on the day, would you leave him in as a coach?
Yes, I thought Bargnani's defence on Tim Duncan was fairly decent.
But guess where the Raptors had an advantage all afternoon?
How about on the glass where Toronto out-rebounded SA 61 to 52, including 17 to 7 on the offensive boards. Ed Davis was a huge part of this, finishing with 15 and 14 in 22 minutes, but he saw nary a second of action in the game's final minutes and OT sessions.
Meanwhile, Bargs continued to fire up bricks, and simply wasn't enough of a factor around the basket, negating one of the main advantages the Dinos had maintained up to that point.
Again, the margin of error for this club continues to be very small thanks to the talent Bryan Colangelo has assembled, and in many ways it's no surprise that the club has lost so many close games. They've got the fight and effort needed, but lack the talent and consistent production to get over that hump.
Remember recently when I talked about the definition of insanity? The idea of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
That' was yesterday's match to me, not only in regards to Casey's decision to keep playing Bargnani, but also on a macro level, Bryan Colangelo's reluctance to break up the Calderon-Bargnani-DeRozan core.
It's not working and it never has, and until other talent is brought in to overtake this group (Lowry is a start and hopefully Jonas and Terrence take some Shaq-sized steps forward this season), I fear more games like yesterday's are on the horizon.
For Toronto to beat a team like San Antonio, they need to play pretty much a perfect game.
And as long as the Raptors continue to "ride with" the trio of Bargnani, Calderon and DeRozan, said perfection seems less and less like a realistic outcome.