One of my favourite movies of all time is the black and white classic, 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. For Christmas, my girlfriend got us tickets to see the theatrical version here in Toronto and it did not disappoint.
For those not familiar with the plot, it revolves around 12 jurors deciding the fate of a 16-year-old on trial for murder. If found guilty, the teen will be put to death. Of the 12 jurors, Fonda is the only one who has reasonable doubt as to the kid’s guilt and the movie, shot almost entirely from the room the jury is locked-in, unfolds with Fonda looking to convince the others to change their respective tunes. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it but let’s just say at the movie’s beginning, none of the 12 are even close to being on the same page. Infighting dominates the jury room and it’s incredibly hard for the group to agree and go in any one direction.
Ladies and Gentlemen of New York, Isiah Thomas and your Knicks! Can you believe this team? Even without the Zach Randolph benching incident this team reminded me of that crowded jury room as all 12 Knicks seemed to be jarring at each other at one point or another.
I tried to convey just how awful this club is in the past few days but last night’s game hopefully drove the point home.
This is barely an NBDL team!
Toronto won by only nine, something we’ll get to in a bit, but in some ways, I’m impressed they even got the W! The Garden was so dead that I could literally feel the energy being sucked out of the teams and I had to drink a can of Red Bull just to stay awake on my makeshift couch/futon! Isiah Thomas could have sent out a group of Zombies from the Simpson's Hallowe'en special to start the game and his team would have had more energy.
In the end however it’s the Raptors’ second win in a row and a good boost before preparing for Portland tomorrow afternoon.
A Numbers Game –
Now that’s how you rebound the basketball. Sam Mitchell and his staff pounded the need to rebound against Curry and Randolph all week and his troops took it to heart. This was our big first key to last night’s match and Toronto came through. Andrea Bargnani picked up some cheap fouls but even when in the game, looked to be physical with Curry and co and Toronto got some great help on the glass from its wings. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker had 17 rebounds between the two of them.
21 of 25.
Also, the Raptors made amends in another department that they’ve recently had issues with – not just by getting to the free-throw line, but also by making the majority of the ones they took.
Both of these numbers were huge factors in the end result – Toronto’s 19th win.
The Turning Point –
In our game-day keys we had discussed how important it was for the Raptors to get out early and put this game away. Toronto did just that and this in the end was the turning point. Even when New York pulled to within seven, they simply didn’t have enough juice in the tank after playing from behind all game.
Temperature Check –
White-Hot – Chris Bosh. Bosh deserves his own category in this game as he was simply spectacular. He rebounded the ball, found team-mates, was a presence on D, and was extremely aggressive on offence. Oh, and did I mention he dropped in 40 points? New York had absolutely no answer for him as Isiah Thomas tried to guard him with "bigs," (Curry) "mediums," (Malik Rose) and "smalls" (Renaldo Balkman.) None worked.
Hot – Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker. AP didn’t have a great shooting night (neither did Jose Calderon incidentally) but was a solid presence on the glass and hit some timely shots. Jamario Moon just continues to improve, mixing up some ridiculous Dr. J-esque scoop shots with long-range shooting. Oh, and with nine rebounds and four steals, he was stat-stuffer once more for fantasy owners everywhere.
Cold – New York’s Offence. Let’s talk about this for a second. At one point as I was sliding in and out of consciousness, Howland called. The conversation went something like this:
Howland: "Franchise, I was explaining to Tara the logic and execution of the "pick and roll" when she asked me what the Knicks were running."
Me (laughing out loud.)
Howland: "No, I’m serious man, watch their offense, they don’t run a single play!"
And he was right.
Every time New York came down the court on offense, whoever had the ball would essentially dribble around until he found a seam to penetrate or hoist up a shot.
Take Stephon Marbury; Starbury would dribble until the clock reached about 10, pass the ball and immediately call for it back, then with about two on the clock, shoot a jumper or attempt some triple spin move to get to the rim. Whether it was Nate Robinson or Jamal Crawford, the results were the same.
Of course many will be quick to point out that Toronto blew a 19-point lead and only won by nine even with the Knicks’ offensive futility. To that I say I’m not that concerned. For one, the Knicks have an assortment of extremely talented offensive players who can heat up in a hurry. We saw that from Crawford and Robinson who hit some extremely tough shots and their individual abilities brought New York back into the match.
That’s part of the problem with this team though. New York’s individual talent gives them a chance to be in any game with any team. But in the end, with a complete lack of effort on the defensive end and no team chemistry, this is akin to a prospector finding fool’s gold.
Cold – The Raptors second unit. Our third key for this game was the battle of the benches, one which New York easily won. Besides some nice effort from Hump, Toronto got a measly eight points from its backups and little else. On top of New York’s individual offensive exploits, I felt that once again, this was the main reason Toronto's opponent got back in this game. Darrick Martin was harassed by Nate Robinson all night and never could get his troops in rhythm. And as a result, Sam Mitchell was forced to play his starters heavy minutes once more to ensure the victory.
Hot – Sam Mitchell. Speaking of Mitchell, I thought he did a great job last night. He was forced to play his starters as much as he did but I thought he did a great job with match-ups, especially on offense. When Eddy Curry got in foul trouble and came out, Mitchell looked to get Andrea back in the game to keep his confidence up, even with four fouls. When Isiah went small to match-up with the Raptors’ quickness, Mitchell had Bosh going to the basket at every opportunity and the rest of the players crashing the boards. He even mixed in some zone looks on the night and walked away from this contest looking like the much more prepared coach.
Moving On –
The problem with this win was that it reinforced a number of current issues for Toronto starting with the bench.
It’s fine to only get eight points from your second unit and play your main starters an average of 40.25 minutes when you’re playing the Knicks…it’s another when you’ve got to take on the Blazers and Pistons, the Raptors next two foes. Bryan Colangelo could be seen working the phones at MSG last night and let’s hope he’s about to pull another rabbit out of his hat.
Speaking of the Blazers, to get things tipped-off for tomorrow’s matinee, we spoke to Dave from BlazersEdge.com to get his thoughts on the team. Here’s what he had to say:
1. RaptorsHQ: Portland is making a strong case for surprise team of the year. What do you think the Trailblazers amazing play is the result of? Coaching? Youth from previous drafts coming of age? New-found chemistry under the anti-jailblazer regime? Or is it a combination of a few of these?
Blazersedge.com: The answer starts with two words: Brandon Roy. Forget the 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game. This guy is a locker room leader with poise beyond his years who simply refuses to let this team falter. Opposing teams have tried repeatedly to exploit the Blazers’ youth and lack of physicality by getting tough, getting in Portland’s heads, and trying to rattle them. I can’t count the number of times Roy has stopped a bad swing with a timely play: a couple of drives, a masterful shot, or a nice pass or two. You can see the character of this team shift when he’s on the floor. He’s one of those rare players that truly has the ability to make everyone around him better.
Finally it must be said that the Blazers have won 17 of their last 18 because they’re too young to know they shouldn’t. They’re on an amazing roll that is completely unprecedented for a team this inexperienced. And they don’t care. They’re just playing basketball.
2. RaptorsHQ: In your opinion, is this team good enough stay in the playoff hunt? They are currently sitting in first in their division and fourth over all in the conference - does this team have the tools to make a serious playoff run?
Blazersedge.com: The biggest obstacle to them actually making the playoffs will be the talent and experience of their opponents. San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix are locks for high seeds. That leaves Denver, Utah, Golden State, New Orleans, Houston, and the Lakers battling with Portland for the five remaining slots. All of those teams except New Orleans have way more bona fides than Portland does, including runs to make the playoffs and runs in the playoffs. The flip side of Portland’s story is that they’ve needed to win 17 of 18 in order to barely squeak into the 6th spot in the West. If they have to sustain anything close to that kind of pace to keep afloat they’ll have a tough time. If low 40’s gets you into a low seed in the West Portland has a chance. If 45 won’t do it then they’ll have trouble.
If Portland does make the playoffs their only chance of advancing is winning the division and getting a middle seed. Even then it’s probably a coin flip. If they’re in the 7th or 8th slot a victory over an elite team in seven games would be unimaginable this year. Give Greg Oden a complete, healthy season under his belt and we’ll talk.
3. RaptorsHQ: Last time Toronto and Portland met, the Raps caved down the stretch thanks to some horrid offensive execution. How do you see this match shaping up and what keys do you see for the Blazers in terms of getting the W?
Blazersedge.com: "Horrid offensive execution down the stretch" has been claimed by many a Blazer opponent in the last month. In fact it’s become a mantra of post-game analysis. If all the teams the Blazers have beat got together and talked they might come to the conclusion that the Blazers’ defense had a little something to do with it. This is a darn good fourth quarter team. You’d better have a strong lead going into the final period because if Portland smells the victory and gets the bit in their teeth you are going to have a hard time keeping control.
The Raptors are a tough match-up for the Blazers because of their excellent perimeter shooting. As we said the Blazers want to keep you shooting over the top. Stroking those shots opens up the floor and exposes the interior. Joel Przybilla is a good shut-down guy in the paint but if you get him tired or in foul trouble the middle opens up big time. Having T.J. Ford’s quickness would make it that much worse and Portland is fortunate he’s still out. On the other hand starting guards Brandon Roy and Steve Blake are both hobbled also, so you may expect the Raptors’ guards to be very aggressive.
One problem the Blazers won’t have is matching Chris Bosh. LaMarcus Aldridge is no joke. He won’t be able to stop Bosh per se but he should come close to matching him point-for-point, thus nullifying a large part of Toronto’s strongest advantage. The Portland game plan will almost certainly be to make life hell for Bosh, let LaMarcus score a bundle, and bank on the rest of our team to outscore the rest of yours.
Portland and Toronto mirror each other in that they’re both good shooting teams with perimeter ability, both struggle to rebound, and neither one turns the ball over. The Raptors have more ability to run than do the Blazers. That will probably be the key. Whichever team can control the in-between aspects of the game--rebounding the ball and taking care of it so as to enforce the desired tempo--will likely walk with the victory. If you see Toronto grabbing and dashing their way to easy dunks and layups Portland is in serious trouble. If the Blazers control the boards and the ball and force the Raptors to grind it out Portland has a good chance of walking out with another win.
A big thanks to Dave on the excellent breakdown. He’s touched on a number of good points so let’s get right to our three keys:
1) Be Aggressive. Last time these teams met Toronto faltered down the stretch settling for jumpers and turning the ball over in key possessions. Hopefully Toronto carries over their intensity from last night’s win over the Knicks and jumps on Portland from the tip. As Dave mentioned above, the Blazers may be playing with a few banged-up players so this is even more crucial. I’ll especially be looking for Chris Bosh to come out hungry from the tip, something he didn’t do enough of last time against Portland. CB4 is still the teacher and Aldridge the student so let’s hope Bosh puts forth a reminder.
3) Control the tempo. Dave mentioned this and I completely agree – the team who does the best job managing the game’s pace should come away with the W. That means if Portland out-rebounds Toronto, preventing the Raps from getting out on the break and finding the open man, it could result in a long night for the Dinos. Therefore, Toronto needs to execute at both ends of the court and be mindful of Portland’s ability to score in bunches. I’ve seen the Blazers put many a team away in this fashion (see Martell Webster’s third quarter against Utah last week) so Toronto can’t simply be content to go bucket-for-bucket with their opponents.
This Blazer team reminds me a lot of the Raptors last year. A team that didn't know about losing so played without fear and just enjoyed the game of basketball. Toronto had success like this last season catching teams by surprise until their inexperience caught up to them in the playoffs.
My hope for Sunday is that the more experienced team shows up under pressure and grabs a much-needed victory at the ACC.