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Frustration with a Capital F - Raptors Lose Winnable Match in Phoenix

In contrast to my usual style of game recaps I decided that with a laptop at my disposal, I would do more of a running commentary on this game, breaking it down by half. Here are the results:

First Half: The Raptors started out strong controlling the tempo of the game and finding Chris Bosh early and often. As a result the Raptors had great ball movement resulting in easy buckets. The Raptors even led by 10 points early in the game. Phoenix of course made its run cutting into the Raptors lead. Interestingly though it was Phoenix's bench players like Eddie House and Boris Diaw who did most of this damage. Contrary to the Raptors first 10 games it was their bench who let them down settling for quick jump shots, playing lackluster defence and not rebounding the ball. The human pogo stick Shawn Marion was a huge force already notching a double/double (16 points and 10 rebounds by the end of the half!) Phoenix, behind Marion and their bench's performance, took the lead eventually keeping the Raptors at bay by 9 points. However Sam Mitchell wisely reinserted most of his starters resulting a mini run to finish the half. Jalen Rose played his best half so far this season continuously punishing his defender in the post, drawing double teams, hitting shots and making great decisions with the ball for the most part. Although the Raptors were only down by 4 points at the half, it must be said that the Raptors should have been UP by at least 10...or DOWN by 20. What I mean by this is that if the Raptors had not had so many turnovers and missed so many open looks, this game would have been easily within their control. Conversely, I've never seen the Suns play this poorly (Nash has 7 turnovers in the first half) and had Phoenix themselves not made so many errors, the Raptors, with their own poor play, would be in serious trouble on the score board. In the second half it will be imperative for the Raptors to take better care of the ball on offence and rebound the ball on defence. The Raptors current defensive scheme has been to switch on all screens and while it's been effective in stopping the initial shot for the most part, the Raptors aren't rebounding the misses well enough resulting in easy Phoenix baskets. At the half Phoenix is out-rebounding Toronto 25-19 and has gone 8-8 from the free throw line. Toronto has only gone to the charity stripe 5 times hitting only 2 of these. Toronto also must start hitting shots as they're only 39.5% from the field. On to the second half...

Second Half: Ugh...definitely the ugliest 3rd quarter I've seen in some time. Neither team could have shot a beach ball into the ocean. The Raptors played slightly better then Phoenix and managed to hold onto a 63-61 lead at the end of the quarter. However this was a huge concern. Phoenix has just missed so many shots that at some point they are bound to start hitting them and the Raptors HAVE to start converting on their side in order to build up a lead. Even in the fourth quarter the Raptors were able to maintain this narrow 1 or 2 point lead...however all that changed with about 4 minutes left in the game. Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni thawed out Brian Grant and his impact on the game was immediate. He forced Chris Bosh into 2 tough shots and then stole the ball from him on the next two Raptors' possessions. On the other end, Phoenix's shooters started hitting their shots and Shawn Marion was simply a force on the offensive glass. And once Phoenix started coming, the Raptors could do little to stop them. Phoenix went on a 12-0 run, took the lead and eventually the game for good winning 90-82.

Analysis: This game was the exact opposite of Sunday's win over the Heat and was immensely frustrating to times it was more excruciating then listening to Lindsay Lohan's prime time singing debut on the American Music Awards...yes...that horrific. Toronto had 18 turnovers and probably 14 of these were unforced...bad passes, dribbling off of feet resulting in balls going out of bounds, illegal screens (Bonner was called for this on TWO CONSECUTIVE POSSESSIONS, offensive fouls (yes, Joey Graham got his mandatory 1 a game in), you name it. In fact this game was a clinic by both teams on "we need to learn basketball fundamentals." The rookies looked very much rookie-like tonight with Calderon forcing up a few uncharacteristically bad shots, Joey Graham playing out of control and even though Villanueva grabbed 8 rebounds he simply didn't bring the energy and hustle that he had in previous games, especially on the offensive glass. With Toronto hoisting up so many jump shots at times, it was IMPERATIVE to have someone there to try and grab these rebounds. I do have to question Sam Mitchell's decision to leave Matt Bonner in during Phoenix's game ending run too. While Bonner played well offensively, he's simply too slow to stick with Steve Nash on switches and isn't athletic enough to get above the rim with the Shawn Marion's and Brian Grant's. CV Smooth or even Rafael Araujo (who in only 12 minutes and with the exception of one dropped pass played quite well) may have been a better option.

Chris Bosh was by far Toronto's best player displaying an ever-more impressive display of low post drop steps and fakes. You really have to feel for Bosh in games like this where besides Jalen Rose in the first half and Mike James at times, he got no help what so ever. He can't do it all himself but once again he was the sole reason the Raptors were in this game for as long as they were. Bosh finished with 23 points and 8 rebounds. Shawn Marion led Phoenix with 28 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks with 9 of his rebounds coming on the offensive end. Eddie House was huge for Phoenix too. The former Sun-Devil played his usual "fill up the stat sheet" role of the bench pouring in 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting and really helped turn the tide for Phoenix towards the game's end.

The bottom line is that Sam Mitchell lost about 2 years of his life watching this game and may have to be put on suicide watch after this performance. With games against the Western Conference leading Clippers, always dangerous Kings and upstart Warriors on the horizon, this is one game that the Raptors HAD to win considering how poorly Phoenix played. The loss will be a huge letdown and does not bode well for the remaining games on this road trip.