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New Low or Reality Check - Raptors Lose to Maccabi

In front of 17,281 fans, many of whom were pro-Maccabi, the Raptors dropped their third straight game of the preseason and remain winless at 0-3. The game represented a true battle of styles and the Raptors couldn't make a 14 point lead stand up. Considered the "New York Yankees of European Basketball," Maccabi played team basketball to the end when former NBA'er Anthony Parker's jump shot in Mo Pete's face with less then a second left ripped through the net for the win.

After the game, a thoroughly frustrated and disappointed Sam Mitchell promised "to improve the team if he had to die trying."

All media aside this was a tightly contested game that the Raptors should not have lost. However what many people do not realize is just how good this Maccabi team is. One of our readers put it to us that "losing to the Celtics is one thing, but losing to a team from Israel?" and wondered what type of "spin" we'd put on the loss. In fact that quote, and the general consensus from the media shows just how far behind most people still are on international basketball. Was the US losing to Lithuania, Argentina and PUERTO RICO a sign of just how bad the 2004 Olympic team was? I mean, that was a roster FULL of NBA superstars, not just a Chris Bosh or Jalen Rose here and there! Or how about Serbia & Montenegro being blown out of this year's Eurobasket competition. This was a team sporting 6 NBA players including Marko Jaric, Vladimir Radmonovic and Nenad Krstic among others and yet they failed make the playoffs falling to teams with little NBA talent! Maybe yesterday's loss to Maccabi and the preceding examples show simply how much better international competition has beome!

In fact ESPN's Chris Broussard recently posted on his blog that "it's time for a legitimate world championship" and went on to say that the NBA Champions should go on to compete in Europe against its best squads in order to determine a true "world champion." Broussard states that "at the end of the day, it doesn't necessarily matter who's got the best individual players, the best dunkers or the best-looking moves. It matters who has the best team, and I wonder how one of those unselfish, ball-moving, shoot-the-lights-out Euro squads with no-name Europeans and a couple of third-tier NBA rejects would do in the NBA."

Well folks, we saw it yesterday afternoon. We'll see more of it too I'm sure.

The other thing we'd like to point out is that Maccabi is not simply a "team from Israel." In fact 4 of the team's players hail from the US, including former Toronto Raptor Maceo Baston, and only half of the team were actually born in Israel. Nationalities aside, it was Maccabi's free-flowing offense, aggresiveness and experience that won this match for them. With the exception of a handful of players, the rest of Maccabi's squad has played together for an average of 3 seasons and it showed, especially late in the game. The Raptors had great difficulty converting offensively down the stretch and transformed into a 1 on 5 offense vs. Maccabi who got great ball movement for easy baskets. In fact, if it were not for some of Mike James' driving layups, Maccabi wouldn't have even needed Anthony Parker's shot to win.

From a fan's standpoint, this is perhaps my biggest worry. Last year the Raptors struggled late in games and lost countless heartbreakers due to inexperience and lack of defensive stops. So far through 3 games, nothing has changed. Even though they outrebounded Maccabi, Toronto failed to come up with key rebounds and stops down the stretch and their offence ground to a stop. In addition, the Raptors put Maccabi on the line to shoot 42 FREE THROWS. And this was after Friday's game vs. the Celtics where the Celtics SHOT 60! If the Raptors are going to win ANY games this year, this has to stop. Time and time again yesterday the Raptors committed stupid fouls including several agrecious ones by Loren Woods and Rafael Araujo. Yes, Nikola Vujcic is a talented center...but he's no Shaq.

The Raptors best player yesterday was Chris Bosh who posted 27 points in the loss. While it's great to see CB4 at the top of his game, Sam Mitchell was forced to play him for 45 minutes with many of those minutes from the center position. If the Raptors don't get something quick out of Araujo and Woods, Bosh will be forced to play much more at this center position where he is undersized and may wear down through the course of the season.

Several of the other Raptors had good games including Mike James and Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva still must help out more on D but his offensive moves are quite polished with an array of drop steps and up and unders.

Mo Pete on the other hand must have thought from all the Maccabi fans at the ACC that he was playing on the road and shot only 3 for 16.

So what can the fans take from this loss? Simple...the Raptors were beaten by a better team. Maccabi is no slouch and simply played better team basketball displaying the European style that's been so successful in international competition as of late. Maccabi has the Orlando Magic up next on its schedule and it will be interesting to see how they fare. This might be a better indication of how far the Raptors have to go. For now though Sam Mitchell knows he must get more from his center position and must get the team more focussed on defence while avoiding stupid fouls. After all, with Vince and the Nets in town Wednesday night, the last thing the fans want to see is VC AND Lamond shoot 200 foul shots....