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Adam Francis describes why last night's loss to the Golden State Warriors represented a perfect example of the flaws associated with this current version of the Toronto Raptors.
Sometimes it feels like every Raptors season is one season, and that season is a mixture of fool's gold and doomed hope and opponents' dunks
I felt that tweet was an appropriate way to start this recap.
The National Post's Bruce Arthur tweeted it in the waning minutes of last night's match versus the Golden State Warriors, a match the club lost 125 to 118 despite a season-best performance from Andrea Bargnani, 26 points from Rudy Gay, a near triple-double by Kyle Lowry, and a pretty much perfect game from Amir Johnson.
Yes, despite all of those potential feel-good speaking points, the result was the same, another loss, a fifth-straight in fact, and a sense of "deja-vu" as the same issues that we've seen from Sam Mitchell to Jay Triano reared their ugly heads.
And indeed the season represents this same feeling of deja-vu, as the Toronto Raptors stare down the barrel of fifth straight playoff-less season, on pace for 31 wins, barely an improvement on last year's mark when adjusted for a full season of play.
Toronto now sits at 7 and 7 in the Rudy Gay era, 7 and 9 if you count the two games he hasn't appeared in, and despite the inevitable playoff miss, don't even have a lottery pick to look forward to.
But let's look on the bright side shall we?
If anything, last night's loss did a great job of showing the fundamental flaws in this current line-up, starting on O.
Toronto's offense of late has been relegated to a series of perimeter passes until one of Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan, or last night Andrea Bargnani, go one-on-one, looking to create for themselves. Only 20 per cent of Gay's field goals were assisted on yesterday evening, and overall the club had 16 assists to Golden State's 33. The Dinos posted only one assist in the fourth quarter, and that was in garbage minutes!
It would be fine for the these three to play in this manner if they were Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but all in reality are mediocre shooters at best, posting field goal percentages currently of 39, 40 and 43 per cent respectively. Bargnani started off hot last night, Gay heating up in the middle of the match, and DeRozan equating to a bit of a slow burn. This trifecta kept Toronto in the game early, even helping to grab the lead going into the final quarter of the match.
But as we've seen in other recent games, there's a reason the term "regressing to the mean" exists and indeed, these three, as well as their teammates, struggled in the final frame, going 8 for 29 en route to the loss.
The 8 of 29 doesn't hurt so much when you can get stops but herein lies the other issue with this Raptors' club - they're not a good defensive team. Sure, the overall metrics have improved post-Rudy Gay, but that was with Andrea Bargnani firmly nailed to the bench. Last night the Warriors got easy baskets at the rim over and over with Bargs trying to hold down the fort with rookie Jonas Valanciunas, and you can bet we'll see a lot more of this if Casey continues to trot Andrea out to inflate his trade value.
Let's face it. It's not like the Warriors locked Toronto down last night. Golden State has struggled defensively post All-Star break and lately have won games simply by scoring more than they give up, something Grantland's Zach Lowe recently explored. Had Toronto locked in defensively, they could have likely stayed in this game longer despite their shooting issues. Again, if you're a Golden State fan, you're hardly calling last night's win a dominant one.
Mix the offensive inefficiency with the defensive ineptitude and you've got the perfect storm for losing games, and it was on full display last night.
So what's the fix?
That's the million dollar question on my mind right now as the Toronto Raptors play out the final 21 games of their 2012-13 schedule.
On one hand, the club feels it needs to give major minutes to Bargs to boost his trade value (a fallacy in my eyes but I'll save that dissertation for another day) but he's part of the offensive problem here, not solution. He actually played a good game from a scoring standpoint last night, but adds another layer to the "black-holishness" of DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay.
Last night Bargs had zero assists, and took only one shot between the rim and nine feet.
He did take five of the worst kind of shots, between 16 and 23 feet, and hit only one of these.
I'm picking on Bargs a bit here, so let's look at Mr. Gay. Rudy actually was quite good in close, going 9 of 14 on shots between the rim and 15 feet out. It's when he settled for longer-range shots that he got in trouble.
Gay was 1 of 9 on shots from 16 feet out, many of which were rebounded by the Warriors who then ran the ball right down the Raptors' throats at the other end.
One play late in the game was a perfect example of this. Kyle Lowry drove to the hoop, was unable to convert, but came up with a huge offensive rebound to give the Raptors a second chance to score. He fired the ball out to Gay to re-start the offence and Gay...stepped into a long-range two that clanked out, the Warriors securing the rebound, and sprinting the other way.
Overall, the Raptors took 22 shots from that deadly 16 to 23 foot range, nearly more than they took at the rim, and hit only three of them.
The Warriors took 20, but hit 10 of these.
If you scroll through the recent box scores for the DInos via Hoop Data, you'll see similar trends and again, if your club isn't good enough defensively, these types of inefficient possessions are killers.
And this is where Dwane Casey comes in.
Yes, he's currently saddled with a bevy of inefficient types (we won't even get to Alan Anderson or unfortunately, Terrence Ross) but until BC (hopefully) can clear some out in the off-season, he needs to get these guys playing to their strengths more often on O. If not, he needs to find some line-ups that fare better in combination because right now, I'm afraid we're going to continue to see last night's results repeat themselves over and over again.
Also, how about playing the rookies?
The playoff dream is dead, and Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas have the ability to help fix mitigate some of the club's offensive and defensive issues long-term. There will be short-term pain obviously but what's the downside here? The club loses the rest of its matches and even gets a shot at retaining its lottery pick?
The future is now for this duo and Casey and co. need to get them on the floor for meaningful minutes starting tomorrow night in Phoenix.
The longer this learning process is delayed, the more inefficient, frustrating basketball we'll likely see, and Bruce Arthur's apt tweet that started this recap, could will likely be applicable again around this time next year.