How did this team go from entertaining last minute wins against the top of the East to playing almost unwatchable basketball in the past week?
Some have suggested that the Raptors are merely playing down to their opponents, which isn't surprising when you consider that this team is still very young and is lacking a steadying presence now that Jose Calderon is in Detroit.
In my opinion, it just shows how badly our lineups and rotations are being utilized.
For example, if the Raptors are playing with lackadaisical effort and there's no energy from the bench, why wouldn't you play our most passionate players such as Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray? I get that Ross has been jumping at every pump fake lately and hasn't been shooting well. So what? Wouldn't you rather give him experience? After all, he can be just as ineffective as Alan Anderson or Landry Fields.
If you can't get your stops and scoring opportunities down the stretch, why don't you play Jonas Valanciunas who was a +14 in +/- yesterday and didn't see himself leave the bench in the fourth quarter? He was the most productive big man for most of the game and was a physical presence throughout the game. When you're lacking grit and hustle, isn't he your man?
But that brings us to the seething issue that now is continuing to fester.
Andrea Bargnani was given those minutes instead of Valanciuans down the stretch. Despite not playing well in the first half and not showing any motivation to do better in the second half, Andrea got the call. After going scoreless the past two games, Bargnani was rewarded with 10 minutes of playing time in the fourth quarter. The result? Bargs third scoreless game in a row with one defensive rebound and one assist in his box score.
It speaks of an underlying problem and a feeling of hypocrisy which is enveloping the team. Dwane Casey has demanded his team play hard or there will be consequences. He has shown rookies like Terrence Ross an extremely short leash and has even sat him out last night. Meanwhile, Mr. Italian Job gets extended minutes despite being unproductive.
If I was a player on the Raptors, I'd say "what gives?"
I mean, you can praise the Raptors for some good individual performances. Guys like DeMar DeRozan who filled up the box score and kept the Raptors in the game by getting to the line and scoring 34 points for the night. Or Rudy Gay who 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
But the sum of these good individual performances was not a win against a team which is 20-38 and missing their best player. The result is sloppy defense which allowed a team averaging 98 points a game to get 103, once again, without their top scoring option.
The list goes on and on and on.
And you have to credit the Cavs. Dion Waiters had an excellent effective game and was able to match Rudy Gay's output with 23 of his own points. The Cavs bench was also extremely effective. Led by the experienced Luke Walton, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights both had efficient scoring nights and both contributed in other areas; Ellington with 3 steals, and Speights with 9 rebounds.
Contrast that with the Raptors bench which managed to net two whole rebounds the entire game and zero steals.
The Cavs then put in a better 3 point shooting effort compared to the Raptors, and voila. It's not rocket science.
So the question is, where do the Raptors go from here?
Well, while the Raptors were on their little winning streak, they could ignore issues thanks to the high output they got from their bench. Due to the streaky shooting from John Lucas and Alan Anderson, the Raptors managed to open up leads and build a cushion. Now that the bench has cooled, the Raptors are exposed for not having a back up plan when their bench offense stalls.
It's why Terrence Ross, with all his flaws, is such an important player. He has the tools to be a consistent threat who doesn't always have to rely on his jump shot. Same goes for Landry Fields who at least cuts to the basket and works hard to get open. It's why guys like Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy need to be played more, because when those shots aren't falling, you need guys who can rebound those shots and give your shooters another chance.
For all this love of small ball and wanting to dictate the tempo, the Raptors most effective lineups (based on Net Rating - Offensive Rating minus Defensive Rating) all have two bigs, a point guard and two wings. At the very least, they have Rudy Gay at the 4 position playing next to Jonas.
It's just too bad that we're stuck with a coach and management that says they're aiming for the playoffs but just have no clue how to get us there.