Let me say this first.
Detroit toyed with Toronto all night.
Even when the Raptors closed the gap on the scoreboard to end the half, it looked like Detroit hardly cared. And to start the second half, the Pistons wouldn’t be stopped.
This was a strange game in many ways.
Bargnani was awful again, more on this later, the starters looked hesitant, the immediate bench played well until Flip Saunders took advantage of their size, and the long-lost bench (Dixon, Graham and co.) were actually decent and almost got Toronto back in the game.
Let’s break things down:
A Numbers Game – 59
Yes, 59, as in the number of points Detroit’s back-court had last night. Guess we can nix one of our "3 Keys" right off the bat.
Toronto allowed Billups and Hamilton to get basically wherever they wanted last night from the outset and after seeing this in the first quarter, I knew the Raps were done for. Unable to prevent penetration, this allowed Detroit’s offence to get going and opened things up for others, especially Detroit’s wide-bodies like Jason Maxiell.
The Turning Point –
You could say the turning point was the start of this game where Toronto just didn’t look ready to compete at the level they needed to. However thanks to some astute coaching by Sam Mitchell, the Raptors climbed back into the contest by the end of the half. The turning point therefore was the start of the third quarter, as in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Toronto’s 1 point deficit became 11 and by the time Mitchell was forced to call his second time-out less than three minutes in, you knew it was over. The Raptors came out of the locker room the same way they came out to start the game; the offence was flat, the team settled for bad shots, they got out-muscled in the paint, and most egregious of all, they turned the ball over incessantly.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Billups and Hamilton. As previously mentioned, these two terrorized the Raptors all night. 3’s, drives to the basket, no-look dishes to team-mates; you name it they did it. I appreciate the fact that Hamilton, like Reggie Miller in his prime, is an extremely tough guard, however the Raptors didn’t just do a bad job of stopping him, they did a horrible job. Hamilton took maybe two tough shots all night as the rest were floaters, fast-break points and open jump-shots, many about two or three feet from the rim. Even on my worst days at the YMCA I could have made those!
As for Billups, well, he just does what he does game in and game out. He finds seams in the opposition’s defense and gets inside, he posts-up and forces double-teams, and of course he can hit the long-range bomb. Toronto simply had no answer for either.
Lukewarm – Sam Mitchell. Oh Sam. At the end of the first half I was prepared to sing his praises as his coaching adjustments were working like a charm. By removing Bargnani and Moon and putting in Kapono and Delfino, the Raptors went small and spread the floor with shooters. They also were quicker on defense and let’s face it, with the early lead, the Pistons just got lazy.
That all changed in the second half. Post-game, Flip Saunders explained that he told his crew to get aggressive. They certainly did and when the Raptors went small again, Saunders explained that he made a point of getting his group to go inside to their "bigs" who had a noticeable size advantage. After Chris Bosh, Jason Kapono was probably the largest player on the court and seeing Carlos Delfino try to guard Jason Maxiell in the post was rough.
The question though for me, was why Sam went back to his original starting five after they struggled so much in the first half? The effort wasn’t there and I figured the group who cut the lead to a single point would be the ones who started the second half. This is the reason for the lukewarm rating.
Mitchell did try and get even more creative using a line-up of Moon, Rasho, Dixon, Graham and Humphries at one point in the third quarter. This stopped the bleeding for a while, but in the end this was not a group that could overcome the talent of the Pistons.
I’d just like someone to explain to me why he’s the starting center!
Seeing him flounder around last night made me bang my head against my computer and at some point BC and Mitchell have to make a decision with the kid. We’re beating a dead horse with this but seriously folks – decide if you’re going to try and develop the guy or win games; because right now one is coming at the expense of the other. It’s not that I think with Rasho as a starter, Toronto would have won last night, but I do think they would have had a much better chance to keep things close. Why not play Bargs sporadically off the bench at another position until he learns to rebound and defend better? Right now he’s just not a center and frankly I’m not sure he’ll ever be.
Taking it one step further, if Bargs isn't the team's 5 of the future, the obvious next question then is: "ok, so what position does he play?" In fairness to those on the same bus as Bargsisabust, a top pick overall should be a starter on your club or key contributor to your club. So if he's not your five, can he play the 3? Because the four spot is taken!
The problem is, I don't think Bargs is ever going to be quick enough to match-up with the 3's of this league (we saw that fiasco against Jersey in the playoffs when he was killed by Carter and Jefferson) so you do have to wonder if that puts him in this same boat as CV Smooth. Is this a player who is most effective at the same position currently manned by Chris Bosh? I reflected on this last night as I was trying to recall the differences between Il Mago last year (a magician with the rock) and Il Mago this year (Houdini on the court.) Oh right, he usually came in as a substitution for Bosh.
In fact I remember after the Bargnani draft selection Howland saying "hmmm...I hope we didn’t just get ourselves right back into another Villanueva/Bosh situation."
As one of our readers pointed out yesterday, Michael Grange gets into this topic in his blog and while I don’t entirely agree, he makes a solid point about Bargnani needing to take that next step to avoid being another Okur, Radmanovic etc. This is not what Bryan Colangelo envisioned when he drafted the Italian and it’s not what this club needs. However that’s not to say he won’t round out his game – I just don’t think plunking him in the starting line-up as a center is the best way of going about helping him. You didn’t see the Lakers do this with Andrew Bynum, a pick who up until early this season was being viewed as a bust. NBA fans have short memories but Bynum was heralded as being the second coming of Moses Malone by many after being drafted. Until very recently, he more than failed to live up to this level of expectations prompting the now famous Kobe tirade in the off-season concerning the Lakers hesitancy to deal him to New Jersey for a shot at Jason Kidd. Now the press is talking about how the Lakers will fall out of the playoff race with the young center injured!
Bynum put in the time and effort and eventually worked his way into Phil Jackson’s rotation, a coach who is notorious for keeping his young players on a short string. It just took the kid a while to figure things out and I think Bargnani is going to be in a similar boat. That’s why yesterday I spoke of the team simply forgetting about him and going out and playing, something they better do if they hope to beat the Kings tonight.
Not much time to think about last night’s loss as Toronto faces Sacramento at the ACC tonight. The Kings’ record hardly looks threatening but this is one of the best offensive teams in the league who can score from every position on the court. Now with Kevin Martin back…well…let’s just get to the 3 keys:
1) Perimeter Defence. After seeing the Raps get torched by Billups and Hamilton last night I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly concerned about Martin, Salmons, Garcia and co. tonight. Toronto MUST do a better job keeping these guys out of the paint. Chris Bosh will probably have his hands full with last year’s playoff nemesis Mikki Moore so at the other end of the court, players like Jamario Moon and Carlos Delfino need to attack the Sacto wings.
2) Play Small. When asked if Mitchell would go small again tonight to switch things up, he gave a rather cryptic response concerning "lack of time to make a decision." Not sure what that means but the Raptors have obviously been more potent of late going with their smaller, quicker players. Sam Mitchell may be forced to do this anyways to match-up as the Kings are quite similar to Toronto in a lot of ways (a solid, multi-skilled post-player, Brad Miller surrounded by a gaggle of shooting guards.) I see Toronto having a distinct advantage at the point guard position however as Udrih shouldn’t be able to do the same things Billups did to Jose last night. If Jose brings his A game, an A game that apparently Denver is interested in, and the wings play solid two-way games, this bodes well for a Raptors’ W.
3) Fast start. Toronto hasn’t been the force at home that they were last year so any chance they’ve got to jump on a team early at home is important. The Kings possess a ton of firepower so it’s absolutely crucial that the Raptors get going early. It’s probably more important to do this tonight than it was last night as the Pistons, as we saw, tend to get bored and lazy knowing they can turn it on and off at will. Sacto however can bury teams early and considering Toronto’s offensive struggles this year, the Raps can’t afford to get behind.