After last night's loss apparently Sam Mitchell had a closed door meeting with his team. While RaptorsHQ was not in the room or even remotely close to the Rose Garden we're pretty sure that Mitchell posted a note on the team's chalkboard that read something like this:
Raptors - You ARE NOT the Detroit Pistons
In the past and even this season the Pistons (and in previous seasons the Lakers when Shaq and Kobe were still both playing for the Zen Master) have been accused of "turning it on and off" at their discretion. A team built for the playoffs at times the Pistons simply would only play to the level of their competition and rely solely on having a more talented team to pull things out in the final minutes.
Apparently Mike James, after spending some time with that Pistons club, has somehow through osmosis spread that mentality to the current version of the Toronto Raptors.
As they did at home against the Bobcats a week before, the Raptors slept through basically the first 3 quarters before coming alive at both ends of the court to attempt to win the game in crunch time.
Sure Morris Peterson was the victim of a bad call that put Juan Dixon on the free throw line and the Blazers up for good.
Sure Mike James had a great look at the basket on the ensuing possession and the shot just didn't drop.
And sure the Raptors turned a 17 point deficit in the third quarter to an eventual 1 point lead in the game's final minutes...
Portland is no Charlotte. While the team is young and missing a few of its more established players (both Darius Miles and Ruben Patterson sat due to injury), it does have talent and some players who they can go to down the stretch in close games. The Raptors simply looked at this team's overall record playing to that and even though they mounted a magnificent comeback, it was indeed too little too late.
In his recap yesterday my colleague Jeff Chapman alluded to some key stats (the four factors) which usually determine a game's outcome. In last night's 96-94 loss, this was certainly the case. While Toronto shot 53.3% overall as opposed to Portland's 50.7%, the Raptors turned the ball over 18 times resulting in 27 Portland points! The Raptors also only shot 69.4% from the free throw line missing 11 of their 36 attempts! And perhaps the clincher is that despite shooting almost 70% (67.9) from the field in the first half, the team trailed at half-time! When you're missing foul shots that you normally make, turning the ball over repeatedly, and obviously playing little or no defence, this simply equates to not being mentally prepared to play.
Which of course goes by another term in sports; taking your opponent too lightly.
Chris Bosh and Mike James made some key plays and put up decent stats but neither were consistantly good on either end of the court and just seemed a bit fatigued or disenthused. Jalen Rose was actually Toronto's best player last night which really goes to show how disconcerting this overall team effort was. Rose had 23 points on an effective 6-10 shooting and was 9-12 from the free throw line. He also played well defensively down the stretch and could be heard trying to keep his team in the game calling out defensive assignments. It would not even surprise me for Mitchell to shake things up and perhaps reinsert Jalen into the starting lineup.
But regardless of whatever personnel changes the Raptors make (Pape was recalled from the NBDL yesterday) one thing is for sure...this team can't simply rely on talent to win close and easily winnable games. Toronto has to play each game as if it was the 7th game of a playoff series from start to finish regardless of their opponents' record. There must be no night's off.
In fact the Detroit Pistons' motto is "going to work every night..." and hopefully the Raptors can start absorbing some of that mentality. I know it certainly would be welcomed by one Sam Mitchell and Raptors fans.