I don’t want to hear about Delfino stepping out of bounds.
Or Bosh fumbling the ball.
Or Jose missing the lay-up near the end of the game.
Or Kevin Durant being unstoppable.
Yes Durant showed just how good he probably will be in this league, but none of that matters in the grand scheme of things. Toronto should never have put themselves in a situation where they needed to makeup 15 points in the final four minutes of a game to this year's version of the Seattle Sonics.
No, Toronto lost this game for three reasons:
1) They overlooked their opponent and had their eyes on Phoenix. Toronto played the first half in way too care-free a manner, especially on the defensive end. In the post-game talks with the media, Bosh even admitted that he and his team misjudged Seattle’s speed and ability to move the ball. As a result, they allowed a young team to gain confidence and by the time the Kevin Durant show really got going in the third quarter, Toronto was at Seattle’s mercy.
2) Their defence was atrocious. Atrocious isn’t even the word, I can’t even think of a worse performance defensively this season or maybe last. Even in games when Toronto got blown out this year, a lot of it had to do with the quality of the other team or early season personnel changes. But last night was much different. I saw a team that was rotating on the wrong players, not switching on screens or switching too late, and worst of all, they just weren’t stopping the ball. I can’t even describe how sick I am of hearing about Calderon and his assist to turnover ratio. Yes, offensively he’s been amazing, but there’s no way in hell that Luke Ridnour should be blowing by him like he was a pylon. If Toronto doesn’t start getting pressure on the point of attack, there are going to be many more games like this to come.
3) They were too one-dimensional on offence. Right now Chris Bosh is having to do everything for this club as no one else is a threat to get to the rim. We discussed Toronto’s inability to get to the free-throw line this season and once again last night Toronto struggled in this area taking only 12 foul shots. Therefore for big parts of the third quarter if the jump shots weren’t falling it was "one and done." And the Sonics were taking those rebounds and ramming them right down the Raptors’ throats through fast-break baskets.
It was a game that Toronto should never have lost and now the worry of course is "can they win another match this year?" as heading into January having lost six in a row is suddenly a very real possibility.
A Numbers Game:
We mentioned in our "3 keys" segment yesterday how important it was for Toronto to prevent easy looks. The Sonics were one of the worst teams in the league field-goal percentage wise and you wanted to make them work for each shot. So what do the Raptors do? They go out and allow the Sonics moribund inside attack to plant FIFTY POINTS IN THE PAINT on them. Disgusting.
I didn’t think there was so much a "turning point" in this game but a "turning player." And that player was without a doubt, Kevin Durant. Durant showed just why he was neck and neck with Greg Oden as the top pick in last year’s draft as he was absolutely dominant throughout the game. He hit some ridiculous long-range shots, fadeaway jumpers and turn-around shots but he saved his best for Rasho Nesterovic’s head. Poor Rasho is going to have nightmares about Durant skying for the "And 1" dunk right on his crown and certainly there’s already a poster in production. In any event, it was Durant’s play that seemed to spark his teammates in the third Q, and from then on the Sonics offense was unstoppable.
Hot - Kevin Durant I’m not sure what else you can say here about a 19-year-old kid who took over a game played by men. Durant’s length and ball-handling abilities make him a terror on offense and as he bulks up and learns the finer aspects of the NBA game, he should be a force to be reckoned with for the Sonics.
Hot - Wally Szczerbiak Wally’s World absolutely torched the Raptors last night. He was especially deadly from long range as he hit four of seven 3’s and together with KD, broke Toronto’s collective backs. Szczerbiak is still one of the league’s top pure gunners and the Dinos did a terrible job reigning him in.
Hot - Seattle’s Offence Besides the aforementioned Sonics, it’s worth noting just how hot the rest of this Seattle team was as well. They shot 56 per cent from the field and almost 60 per cent from beyond the arc. They came out aggressive and made the extra pass therefore keeping Toronto one step behind. And the Sonics got out on the break and ran the Raptors into the ground keeping them in a constant state of confusion on defence. PJ Carlesimo is doing a great job with these young kids and hopefully the Sonics ownership situation stays stable enough for him to keep working over the long term.
I’m not saying we need to start pushing the panic button as fans but the worrying thing is that you could see this loss coming on the horizon. Toronto has given a weak effort now their past four games and have lost three of them and barely won the fourth.
And of course they follow that up with games against San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans. Oh and then when they do go back home, they get to take on Detroit...
Howland is going to stop in tomorrow with the keys for Toronto in trying to get a win and his thoughts on last night’s game, but it’s safe to say that tonight might not be pretty. Toronto absolutely needs to start games with more intensity, especially on the defensive end, and I wonder if we’ll see Sam Mitchell shake things up (Delfino at the 3 instead of Moon?) Toronto is a much better defensive team than they’ve shown lately and need to get back to the style of play that made them so successful just a week ago.
One final thought regarding last night’s game and that’s the lack of depth on the team. It seems weird to say that but has anyone else lately felt that something is just "missing?" In the past three games when Toronto has fallen behind in the score, I find myself waiting for someone to come off the bench and help boost the club back up. This just doesn’t seem to be happening as more and more I’m finding that the bench is basically starting. For instance both Jamario Moon and Rasho Nesterovic were ineffective last night and only played about 12 minutes each. This meant that we saw the likes of Humphries, Delfino and Kapono much earlier than usual and it felt to me like the Raps ran out of options later in the game.
Andrea Bargnani’s struggles have compounded this and right now Sam Mitchell and the Raptors’ management is in a bit of a quandary. Bargnani needs minutes to play through some of his struggles and get his confidence back (he looked decent last night) but then the worry is that leaving him out there too long if he struggles will hurt the team’s chances at wins. Last year there were really no expectations as to his performance, and the team’s for that matter, so the stakes weren’t as high if Mitchell let Il Mago run loose for a while. Now that’s not the case as Toronto is trying to field a top four squad in the East after running a perennial basement dweller not three years ago. And that’s got me wondering.
Perhaps the solution is to take a step back to take two forward.
With the injuries the Raptors have endured this season I’m just not sure the gelling has been nearly complete enough and maybe Toronto needs to struggle through a few games just so that the players they’ll need to eventually lead them get playing time and get comfortable in their roles.
I’m pretty sure Andrea has no idea what his role is right now and as this article from the Globe and Mail so eloquently puts it, from a "big picture" perspective Toronto really needs to know if Bargnani can take that next step as a core piece of this franchise. Andrea not only needs to know his role but he also needs minutes so BC and co. can properly evaluate his contributions. It’s great to have depth but teams need a star to step up in crunch time be it in the regular or post-season and while Bargnani looked to have that in spades last year, we haven’t seen it nearly enough this season.
I guess what I’m saying is that at some point management needs to decide what its main priorities are - winning games or developing current talent to win even more games down the line. At present I see a club lacking an identity that is not doing either of these things and I believe that’s a big part of the team’s inconsistency so far.
I’m confidant that last year’s version of the Raptors would not have lost this game to the Sonics and we can only hope that the necessary adjustments are made to get Toronto back on the right track...
I have been working virtually around the clock the past two weeks and as a result been have missed more games then I would have liked the past little while. Other than last nights match-up I have only managed to catch some of the Portland game. It is definitely safe to say that I have had to follow along via the refresh button on my lap-top.
Yesterday walking home from work I had a few things on my mind. First off, I was pumped to go back out East and celebrate the holidays. Second, I was (and continue to be) dreading the lines at Pearson International. Third, I was really excited to open a Boddington’s and watch the Raps play Kevin Durant et al.
Franchise, as always, did a great job breaking down the game. It was a tough loss and the Raps looked out of sorts. They risk heading into the new year on a big losing skid and it is unquestionable that they have not played their best as of late. I was disappointed in the team’s performance, but not shocked.
Heading into the season everyone talked about depth. "The Raps are the deepest team in the league" people said. "Our second unit will win some games for us" said others. There was consensus in that the Raps, 1 through 12 matched up pretty well against anyone. Suddenly that talk has dissipated. The thought early on was that Mitchell could sub a Joey Graham in for Moon, or Kapono with Delfino, or a Delfino for Parker. Sure the skill sets are different but they are interchangeable to some degree. Further, the Raps talent 6-12 is generally better than the other teams meaning when the end of the first quarter and start of the second roles around the Raps have a better chance of making a solid run, be it to open up the lead or play catch-up. It is a distinct advantage.
The other advantage is that when one player is cold you can undoubtedly find a guy who is hot. Kapono not shooting well? Insert Delfino. Moon in foul trouble, try Joey. It’s a luxury Sam has. Problem is that it’s not these guys who have suffered an injury, needed less PT or have gone cold. Unfortunately for the Raps it’s the irreplaceable guys that are hurting...and as a result the Raps will continue to slide.
When you think of the cornerstones of this franchise and the key players on whom the team relies on night after night to perform you think Bosh, Ford and Bargnani. That’s the core. Right now the team is missing two of its three key players. The TJ Ford injury has been and will continue to be devastating. Whether you think him or Calderon are the better player you can’t dispute that this team is WAY better with both. It keeps guys like Darrick Martin and Juan Dixon on the bench and forces the defense to react to two different styles of play. Calderon has done a five star job as the starting PG, but the Raps definitely miss Ford as without him Calderon plays starter minutes and the "second unit" loses a lot of its punch.
Second, Bargs just isn’t right. I just get the feeling that the knee is hurting him more than he is letting on. His confidence is shot and he can’t stay on the floor. This is proving to be devastating to the Raps right now. His poor play is forcing Sam to look to other guys to play his role and if he isn’t getting minutes you can’t expect him to get out of the funk. He has completely disappeared as of late. Call it a sophomore slump, call it whatever you want (except being a Bust because it is WAY TOO EARLY to say that), just call it like it is, a huge loss to the team.
When two of your three key guys are essentially MIA you can’t expect your team to win a lot of games. The thing is with these two guys out the strong second unit is no longer that strong. There has been a number of times this year when the Raps starters have come out of the gates slow and the second unit has either gotten them back in the game or helped get a lead. With some of the key second unit guys now having to fill in and play starter minutes the team is missing that "push" when the starters are getting a blow.
It's really a trickle-down effect and until these two guys can start contributing again this Raps team is going to have a tough time staying above .500 and will be in dog fights against some of the leagues lesser teams and will likely get blown-out by the better one’s which will likely be the case tonight.
Which brings us to Phoenix and the three keys.
1. Play Better Defense: If the Raps play D like they did last night expect to turn the game off at half because it will get ugly in a hurry. At the very least the Raps need to protect the paint and force the Suns to make outside shots. The Suns are a good shooting team and I fully expect them to fill it up tonight, but if you allow Nash to get into the paint and do not make things tough on Amare you have no chance.
2. All hands on Deck: Everyone needs to play a hell of a game. No bones about it. If some guys don’t show up it’s over. Guys have to play within the offence and do exactly what they are supposed to do.
3. Stay in the Game Early: The team cannot start slow or show the effects of the back-to-back. The Suns will let other teams back into the game but if you let them start off hot the odds of success are much smaller.
But who knows...this is the league where amazing happens...right??