With last night's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers the Toronto Raptors kept two streaks alive. Mo Pete's 3 pointer with almost a minute left in the game kept the Raptors consecutive 3 pointers made in a game streak intact...but unfortunately the 3 wasn't enough as the Raps lost their fourth game in a row, 105-93.
Lebron James led the Cavs with 27 points, 3 rebounds and 6 assists. He got lots of help as well though. Drew Gooden put up 12 points and 10 rebounds, Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 15 points and 8 rebounds, Larry Hughes had 16 and 5 and Donyell Marshall had 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Chris Bosh had a monster game, his best of the season, leading Toronto with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Jalen Rose, Mike James and Morris Peterson also scored in double figures. Jose Calderon led the Raptors with 7 assists.
The Raptors kept the game reasonably close up until the fourth quarter when the Cavs went on a Lebron James led run. James repeatedly got to the basket with a series of strong post moves and drives. Rebounding was a problem for the Raptors again as they were out-rebounded 33 to 21 however they did a much better job in other areas. They matched the Cavs in the personal foul department (20 each), had 5 less turnovers, had 4 more assists and actually shot a better percentage from the field (49.4% to 48.6%). However the Raptors had their problems at the foul line hitting only 16 of 26 attempts whereas Cleveland attempted 34 foul shots hitting 26 of them.
FRANCHISE'S CRITICAL BEATDOWN:
There were signs of improvement in this game for the Raptors. They did a better job defensively as a whole, and finally had success scoring in the paint. They could not contain King James, but few can. James scored 9 of his 27 points from the free throw line however showing that Toronto was at least challenging his looks. Sam Mitchell must be looking forward to having a few days off before Friday's game vs. the Utah Jazz. The Raptors still need to do a better job guarding man to man defensively as there were still way too many open layups and dunks due to players losing their men or simply falling asleep on defensive rotations.
Perhaps what I noticed most last night in the loss however were the little things in this game. Tapping the ball to your own players when you couldn't grab a board, switching off defensive assignments for mismatches, hitting open 3 point shots...all things the Raptors need to do much better and all things incidentally that were done last night by one Donyell Marshall. Marshall played well for the Raptors last year but wasn't known for high flying dunks or blocked shots...instead it was shooting ability and his knowledge of the game, doing the little things that make the difference between wins and losses. This is something the Raptors dearly miss this season and as I alluded to in the title of this article, sometimes you really don't know what you've got...till he signs elsewhere as a free agent...
-Chris Bosh - Bosh brought his A game against the Cavs. The Raptors finally got him touches inside and once that started happening, the game fell into place for CB4. Bosh got touches on offence for easy dunks (including a few NASTY throw downs) and then as a result started hitting the boards on both the offensive and defensive ends. Bosh looked much more comfortable matched up against Ilgauskas and Gooden then he did against the Wallace boys in Detroit and hopefully this gets his confidence going for the rest of a season where the Raps will be leaning heavily on him.
-Mo Pete - Peterson has surprisingly been the Raptors most consistent player through the first 4 games of the regular season. He did a decent job on Lebron forcing him into some tough shots but more importantly showed great hustle and did the little things to help Toronto. Perhaps a perfect example of this was a play in mid-game when Mo Pete stopped a ball from careening out of bounds as he himself was tumbling out of play yet he still managed to have the sense to throw it off Lebron James to retain possession for Toronto. I'd still like to see a little more driving to the basket from Mo but that's been the case since Mo's come into the league. And besides, his 3 pointer kept Toronto's 3 point streak alive at 536 games.
-Aaron Williams - Williams play tonight made me want to scream. No, not because he could have played better or because he was a Shaq like dominant force...but because I have NO IDEA why the team hasn't used him more since his arrival from New Jersey. Williams is no Yao Ming, but he does provide rebounding, defence and a decent touch around the basket...aka better then anything else we're getting from Loren Woods or Rafael Araujo.
-The Rookies - Calderon had 7 assists, Joey Graham started out well in the time he was given, and CV Smooth was once again solid offensively. While none had huge games, all 3 were solid contributors and look more comfortable with each game. Villanueva and Bosh worked quite well together and hopefully this exposure will translate into continued improvement and aclimatization...these two are going to HAVE TO get used to playing together...at this point they're the Raptors' two best bigs.
-Loren Woods - Not to beat a dead horse but it's mind boggling how someone over 7 feet can only grab 4 rebounds. Yes Loren got in foul trouble due to some EXTREMELY cheap calls...but until Loren demands respect through his play, the calls aren't going to go his way. Some fundamentals are simply lacking in his game and he's going to have to give the team more then what his current numbers are if he wants to keep playing in the league after this season. A perfect example of this is on one play when he had an open dunk, Loren cocked the ball way back for the two handed slam, only to have the ball stripped from him from behind. I'm not even 6 feet and know from basketball camp that you DON'T bring the ball low if you're a big man...KEEP IT UP HIGH LOREN, UP HIGH!
-Matt Bonner - I feel bad for Bonner in one sense...he's caught in a bit of a logjam with the new rookies playing the same position as him. He's not a great defender and therefore if his offense isn't going (which it isn't), he's simply a liability to the team on the court a lot of the time. Opposing players eyes are lighting up when he enters the game and they're going right at him. Until his shot starts dropping, he may have to ride the pine for a bit.
-Sam Mitchell - Here's the caveat to the previous point. How subbing Bonner in when the Raptors are trying to keep the Cavs at bay early in the fourth, makes no sense to me. Yes Bosh and Aaron Williams needed a rest. But why wouldn't you bring Eric Wililams or even Joey Graham in with Villanueva? At least they would be better defensive options. Bonner needs game time early in games to get his confidence going...not when the Raptors need every point to climb back into a close contest! I realize that Mitchell has too many players at certain positions all needing minutes, but he's sharing Larry Brown's playbook right now and I'm not quite sure how either of them are deciding on substitutions.
In any event, this is going to be a learning process for most of the team and the hope is that the losses don't pile up too much early on. The Jazz needed OT to beat Charlotte last night and both Seattle and Philly are winable games. If the Raptors can even win 1 or 2 this will go a long way towards getting some confidence. Remember, all 3 rookies come from winning programs and GM Rob Babcock's gotta hope that they keep their spirits up for the duration of the season. After all, if my roommate and I are cheering like we won the NBA Championship when Mo Pete extended the Raptors streak of hitting a 3 pointer in a game to 536 games...we really are in for a long season.
Howland's Random Game Thoughts:
- Is there a worse finisher in the NBA than Loren Woods? This guys is 7'2" and plays like he is three apples high.....think Smurfette....just without the dress.
- More Eric Williams and a whole lot less of Matt Bonner. Let's tighten up the bench.
- I never thought I would say this, but more Hoffa please. Other than the fact he travelled in one square foot of space (3 steps, one square foot...his feet are likely that big) he did show hussle on the defensive end, and played ok. All about confidence.
- Was Damon Jones auditioning for the role of a ninja in Jackie Chan's next flick? What are those kicks when bringing the ball up the court? He is a disgrace.
- Feed Chris Bosh the ball everytime down the floor and if he is not open right away, wait.
- I love when Mike James lets the ball roll down the floor and then picks it up at half, gives us the whole 24 to work with.
- Lebron James is the most un-selfish superstar in the NBA. It's been said before but I'll say it again, do anything to keep this guy. We debated this last night, but with $135M in endorsements and his desire to win it would not be out of the realm of possibility for him to take less than the max in order for the team to bring in another piece to become an NBA Championship team.
- Loren Woods - 7'2"...the guy is enormous.....enormously bad. He should not see the court again this year.