In what seems to be a regular occurence the RapsHQ team all attended the game against the defending world champs....sans Timmy Duncan. All three of us were situated in different areas of the ACC and just like the Liberal Sponsorship scandal we all had different "takes". In the end though, regardless of the Raptors' 125-118 loss, this was the best game of the year to attend. The seats were filled, the crowd was live and the game was entertaining...even if you were from Eaganville...
Sometimes when we sit down to give a recap and some off the wall thoughts on a game, it's tough to come up with more than your run of the mill "Give it to Bosh", "Play some D" and other such regular themes. It is not that this is not an accurate description, it's just that it gets repetitive. Tonight however, it was another matter as it marked the return of Antonio Davis.
Davis looked all-too-familiar starting at the center spot and was introduced to a mixture of cheers and jeers with the cheers seeming to outweigh the jeers. His play was both up and down but this was indeed a winnable game that took overtime to decide its outcome.
But to set things off, two things from this game stood out first and foremost:
(1) The complete inability to stop Tony Parker's dribble drives and penetration over and over and over again and,
(2) Free Throws....or more specifically the teams' inability to hit them in the clutch.
Tony Parker scored 32 points and dished-out 13 assists giving the Raptors defence fits all night. He repeatedly ran Mike James, his defender, off screens and dropped uncontested floaters and lay-ups in the lane or found open teammates.
Perhaps the biggest benefactor from Parker's forays into the paint was Sean Marks. Marks, a former Raptor who had seven field goals in his entire Toronto career, had a career-high 16 points on eight of nine shooting. He was instrumental in making the Raptors pay for attempting to double team Parker on his drives as the open New Zealander hit shot after shot.
However the Raptors weren't without offensive options of their own. Without Tim Duncan in uniform, Chris Bosh posted 30 points, 14 rebounds and four assists and Mike James almost single-handedly carried the Raptors into OT scoring 18 of his 36 points in the game's final 10 minutes.
Both teams exchanged baskets down the stretch and into early overtime before free-throw shooting became a major factor. The Raptors, one of the league's best free throw shooting teams and the Spurs, the team with THE WORST percentage in that category, switched places as Toronto missed a number of crunch-time freebies on the way to a sub-par 70 per cent night from the line. The Spurs on the other hand made 76 per cent of their shots even though they shot 15 less.
If Toronto had avoided some costly turnovers with time running down, hit some more free throws and even gotten a FEW more defensive stops (they allowed San Antonio to shoot almost 60 per cent for the game) than this win would have been theirs.
Nothing like the first words out of Chapman's mouth post game being, "I want off Space Mountain". Sure he scored 30+ and hit some clutch shots. But he also dribbled way too much, ran out shot clocks, tried to do way too much, and was torched by Tony Parker all night. Did he not read the scouting report? Why was he guarding Parker so far outside the three-point line? Everyone knows that Parker wants to get into the lane to get close to the "panier" (for our French readers)...yet it somehow made sense to James to guard Parker so far from the hoop making it virtually impossible to stop him once James got beaten off the dribble? I don't get this at all. Once James was left in the dust, Parker had all day to watch the D collapse and either dish for the open three or drop his patented tear drop shot.
Don't get me wrong, James is a hell of a player and without him we would be in much worse shape. But sometimes his pride just gets in the way. There are times when you wonder if him and Rafer are brothers. It's now official though, James is definitely more of a shooting guard than a point guard. He is a scorer and although he has some nights with good assist numbers, he is not a playmaker in the true sense of the word.
As much as Mike James deserves some credit for the pure entertainment value of the game he also is responsible for the loss.
The AD Factor
I think once AD gets his legs under him, and gets accustomed to the offence, his addition could be a great one and could result in an extra 3-5 wins. We are sporting a crazy big starting line-up with CV Smooth at the three and Bosh and AD patrolling the paint. I realize that the Spurs were missing TD but we did out-rebound them.
Speaking of AD, tell me this was not 100 times better than playing for the worst franchise in sport. Yeah that's right, the Knicks.
Howland's Quick Hits
- Can someone please go and buy Sean Marks some lottery tickets and bet all his cash on red 23? This guy had the night of his life. Stroking the J's from the outside and a HUGE put back. We all know that Crawford, Curry, Cassell and Kobe are guys who should star in Jurassic Park...aka Raptor killers...but this was just plain odd.
- Note to the Rap Pack...those boots are NOT made for walking...use them to kick some sense into your choreographer...
- The best match-up of the night was easily the MoP and Manu match-up. These guys were going at each other all night and made for great viewing.
- The in-game entertainment host is way better than at the beginning of the year. She has her gig down without a clip board and it makes the world of difference.
- What this city wouldn't do for a winning team...man the energy in the ACC tonight was savage.
- Paging Brent Barry...Brent Barry...the IRS have looked into your income for 2004, they are wondering what percentage of that you actually EARNED.
- Greg Popovich is without a doubt the best coach in the NBA. His substituting is perfect (offence for defense before half to keep Parker out of foul trouble) and he gets every last ounce of talent out of most of his guys.
- If NBA refs were cars the commish would have to recall most of the newer versions due to manufacturer flaws. Some of the worse calls tonight, mostly in favour of the Spurs.
FRANCHISE'S CRITICAL BEATDOWN:
My analysis of the game may sound a bit harsh considering the jubilant atmosphere at last night's game. Toronto had its largest crowd of the season on hand for AD's return and played fairly well down the stretch against the defending NBA Champions to take this game to overtime...my problem is that Toronto should have won this game even before overtime.
So far this season Antonio Davis has averaged about 20 minutes a game of playing time. And if you look exclusively at his playing time with the Knicks during his last gig it's even less than this. Why then Sam Mitchell decided to play AD for 33 minutes last night when he provided little in terms of scoring or even rebounding (seven points, seven rebounds, no blocks) and when he missed five of his six free throws, is beyond me. The Raptors fourth quarter run courtesy of Mike James got Toronto neck and neck with the Spurs with a good six or seven minutes left left yet Mitchell replaced one of the factors in the run, Pape Sow, with Davis. Davis promptly committed some haphazard turnovers, was late rotating on defense and with the exception of a game-tying putback, looked generally tired in my opinion. Sow played only nine minutes yet had six points, two rebounds (both during the Raptors' run) and was four of five from the line. It doesn't take John Hollinger to tell you who had the better per minute contributions.
More than this though, Pape was an active an athletic body to switch out on Parker during San Antonio's screen and rolls. When Mitchell used Matt Bonner or Davis, both were simply too slow side-to-side and fouled Parker or let him get to the rim. When Spider-man Sow was in the game he had more success bodying up Parker and Ginobili on the perimeter after switches and was using his athleticism to tip rebounds to his teammates even if he could not haul them down himself. In contrast, as soon as Davis came in he lost position to Rasho Nesterovic for an easy tip-back that had all the fans in my section soon calling for Sow.
I do agree with my counterpart Howland however that Davis will be a boost to this club resulting in five-or-so more wins. It was actually a nice throw-back to see Davis in his classic 33 reminiscent of the Raptors' "golden days." As mentioned, with him, Bosh, CV Smooth and Peterson playing at once the Raptors should have a size advantage over most clubs and this was evidenced by Toronto's out-rebounding of San Antonio 39 to 32. Mitchell however, just like with Jalen Rose when he was here, is going to have to resist playing Davis simply because of their "veteran connection" as Davis is simply going to be too slow to guard certain players.
The other thing I feel that Mitchell and his coaching staff are going to have to do is get more plays to free up Chris Bosh in crunch time. Yes, perhaps Mike James forced the issue a bit much towards the end of the game and in overtime...but if you're in Mr. Space Mountain's shoes, can you blame him? Chris Bosh was being guarded by a smaller Bruce Bowen for much of overtime due to San Antonio's foul troubles, yet Bosh was PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO GET POSITION ON BOWEN. While this was troubling, even more troubling was the result of this inability to get Bosh touches. On two distinct occasions that I recall, James dribbled at the top of the right side of the court, waiting for Bosh to get position. Once it was obvious he could not, James had no option but to launch a shot to prevent the shot clock from expiring.
One may argue that James should have tossed the entry pass over Bowen's head to the taller Bosh, but San Antonio does such a good job rotating on defence that invariably Popovich had probably instructed his rotating bigs to be expecting this type of pass for easy steals. In fact I'm almost positive this WAS the defensive scheme. After Sean Marks fouled out in overtime, Pop could be seen pointing instructions at Bowen to guard Bosh and front him. And sure enough Bowen did this and was so effective that James was relegated to going an inefficient one on five most of the time. I still feel Bosh needs to exert himself more in crunch time, especially since he's playing with the uber-competitive James.
Yes, Mike "Space Mountain" James.
While I've always held the opinion that James can at times be more detrimental to this team than good, the fact is that without James last night, Toronto wouldn't have even gotten to overtime. And until other players on this team consistently step-up, especially in crunch-time, than I don't see what choice James has but to take control of the offence. How can you tell a streaky player like James, who has just scored 18 of his 36 points in the last crucial 10 minutes of a game to keep your team in it, to stop shooting and driving to the basket?
Which brings us back to Mitchell. It's his responsibility to dictate the offence as much as possible if he feels James is holding the ball ala Iverson too much. So why the Raptors didn't run a play to screen Bowen on one side of the court so Bosh could catch the ball unimpeded on the other, is beyond me. Not once did they attempt to run such a play and for some reason Bosh never attempted to post-up on the left side of the court either. Without even attempting this, it made it quite easy for San Antonio to setup their defensive scheme.
For the Raptors to advance to the next level, defence is indeed where this team needs to make great strids. After watching the game last night I really feel that this team is a few good defenders away from being a really good squad. Already the team has more offensive punch then most others in the league being able to score from inside and out. Chris Bosh looks to be headed the way of KG (yes, tipping my hat again to you Howland) and even before AD joined them recently, the Raptors were doing a much better job in the rebounding department.
It's really the team's perimeter defence which is just woeful. This is where your defence must start and with the exception of Mo Pete, this team simply isn't getting it done. As long as Eric Williams is nailed to the bench, Alvin Williams is injured, and Joey Graham (who I believe could use a D League stint for his confidence, ball handling and various other aspects of his game) is still too much of a college four than an NBA three, there's no immediate solution to this conundrum either.
Put those Peja banners on hold from the printing press fans...the current Indiana Pacers member is definitely not the answer for this club at this point.