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Tip-In, Toronto Raptors’ Post-Game: Old Habits Die Hard

Stuckey was a major problem for the Raptors all night long...

Stuckey was a major problem for the Raptors all night long...

So…which team did we see last night?

The possible 50 game winner and dominant inside-outside threat?

Or the mediocre and timid team that went 4-4 in preseason.

It’s always tempting to put the Raptors on blast after a loss like last night’s but after getting home from the game, watching a little Law and Order, and throwing on some vintage De La Soul, I think the result was a more true to form job of capturing last night’s action without spewing too much venom.

Although don’t get me wrong, there is some deserved venom to be spewn this morning.

Toronto dropped a 100-93 decision last night at the ACC and the Detroit Pistons, minus Allen Iverson, escaped Toronto with the win. The Raptors got close after being down by as many as 15 but just couldn’t get to the other side of the mountain in the end.

As an attendee last night, the game was especially frustrating.

Yes, it was frustrating to see a 3-0 start to the season come to an unnecessary end. However it was more frustrating to see this club revert to some of its old tendencies from last year, ones that cost the team many a game.

So let’s put it this way; this was easily a winnable game had the Raptors:

1) Been aggressive in attacking the basket
2) Limited second chance points
3) Limited Jermaine O’Neal’s offensive sequences

That’s it.

This Pistons team is still tough to beat, and will improve as their talented youth matures, but they ain’t no Celtics right now. Witness the fact that when the Dinos were making their early fourth quarter run, the Pistons were fielding a line-up of Will Bynum, Kwame Brown, Jason Maxiell, Alex Acker and Walter Herrmann.

Yes, you read that right.

Some of these players have talent, especially Herrmann who just seems to do the little things a team needs, but it’s not like Toronto was playing an All-Star team. So it was incredibly disappointing to see the Raptors struggle in small but key areas, like getting timely stops and securing rebounds. Again last night Toronto lost the battle of the boards, albeit by a smaller margin, but the much-heralded rebounding help that O’Neal was supposed to bring hasn’t really materialized yet has it?

O’Neal somehow only had THREE boards in almost 30 minutes of play and we’re not even going to get into his 3 of 10 performance from the field.

Ok, yes we are.

As the HQ Associate mentioned to me at the game, there are far too many times when JO fades away on shots in the post. He’s just not a good enough shooter to make those shots and so it puzzles me as to why he attempts so many. Last night was a perfect example as down the stretch he kept forcing things and going to that curling hook or fading J when Calderon was the one on fire. Obviously we’re four games into the season here but right now O’Neal is just not a big enough offensive factor to get the touches he’s getting.

Sam Mitchell recognized this late in the game, although I thought he was a bit late on the switch, and replaced JO with Andrea Bargnani. Bargs was sizzling from the field but took only six shots so you can see that the team has yet to find that balance of offense and defense that it needs to stay consistent.

Right now, the Raptors offense really revolves around two players, Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon. While Bosh may be getting the early MVP love, Jose is definitely my pick as the team’s most valuable player. I can’t even imagine how much this team would struggle if he was injured for any length of time as he’s no longer being counted on just to make the offense go, but also to be one of the club’s primary scorers. It’s a lot like the current San Antonio Spurs team, as without Manu, the club needs Tony Parker to become a dominant scorer alongside Tim Duncan in order to win games. Parker had an incredible 55 points and 10 assists last night (becoming only the third player in NBA history to accomplish such a feat), yet it still took the Spurs two extra sessions to beat an inexperienced Timberwolves club.

The bottom line here is that Bosh and Jose can’t do it all themselves, they need help. And that help can’t come from Jamario Moon 3-point attempts, Jason Kapono pull-up 3’s off a fast break, or Anthony Parker fade-away 3’s. (Although AP did start the game off with a nice 4 point play.) This team needs to be antagonistic from start to finish in terms of attacking the basket and last night that just wasn’t the case. Detroit had only five turnovers last night, further proof that Toronto simply didn’t try to force the Pistons out of their comfort zone at either end of the court and seeing this team lazily revert to shooting J’s early in the shot clock was enough to drive onlookers mad.

In fact I felt that one play in particular last night summed things up.

During the third quarter, after a Raptors steal, the ball headed out to Jamario Moon who looked to have a clear lane to the basket. A defender started to close, but with Moon’s leaping ability I fully expected him to go right to the rim.

Instead, Jamario passed the ball to his trailing team-mate who was hardly in a scoring position causing the pace to slow, and allowing the Pistons to catch up. What looked like an easy 2, or at least free-throw attempts for Moon, ended up in a blown possession.

I don’t want to single Moon out here too much but he’s simply not being enough of a factor at either end of the court currently. He’s getting abused defensively and is relying more on his long-range shooting than ever before. On top of this, he’s still jumping at the ball for rebounds instead of looking for his man and putting a body on him. (Witness Jason Maxiell’s vicious offensive rebound dunk on Moon’s head early in the game.)

I mean, Tayshaun Prince is a good player, but there’s no way he should be lighting you up for 27 points, 9 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block. (Hope you had him in your fantasy team’s line-up last night!) If Tayshaun is putting up numbers like this, what’s going to happen when the Raptors play Lebron, Pierce, hell even Carter?

Yesterday in his preview, our colleague Vicious D spoke about games like last night’s helping to determine where Toronto’s main weaknesses lay. I thought last night went a long way again to show that without someone with some 1-on-1 abilities from the perimeter, this team is still going to have trouble scoring in the half-court at times. Rodney Stuckey (a dead ringer for a mini version of 50 Cent), bulled his way into the paint time and time again with the Raptors being almost helpless to stop him. I’m sure Sam Mitchell spoke about "missed shaaats" as a reason for the loss but the perimeter D still leaves a lot to be desired and this opened up way too many easy looks for Detroit.

With all that said though, we're still talking game 4 of 82 here.

Had Toronto come out with the energy and aggressiveness they showed in the fourth quarter, then this probably would have been a Raptors’ win.

Additionally, you could see last night just how well-rehearsed this Pistons club is offensively as time and time again Toronto was burned off slipped screens and backdoor cuts. Toronto’s just not there yet in terms of offensive execution nor do they have the talent on the wings that makes plays like those seem so easy. Pistons’ coach Michael Curry really hasn’t deviated much from Detroit’s past playbooks and it’s a scary thought to think about not only Hamilton and Stuckey shredding up teams, but Iverson now as well.

I’m hoping the Raptors use this loss as a valuable early season tutoring session.

The club has a better starting cast this year, and is an improved defensive bunch, but they can’t just expect to rely on their shooting ability to coast through games and then win in the crunch. (Something they’ve now attempted in the past three games.) The team needs to start and finish strong and players like Moon, Graham and O’Neal need to give Jose and Chris some help, be it on the offensive end or in their own specialized roles.

And this goes for Sam Mitchell as well.

I liked Mitchell’s use of Will Solomon last night (who I thought aside from one quick-trigger shot played well in his match-up with former ACC foe Will Bynum) but Andrea needs more than 21 minutes and six shots. He’s one of Toronto’s top 3 offensive options and needs to be more involved in order to shoulder some of the scoring load. Bosh had to put on a ballet performance to get his baskets last night (the Pistons always seem to play him well) and Mitchell needs to help find him some easier looks.

Hopefully there’s lot of game footage being reviewed today because with the uber-athletic Hawks up next, it doesn’t get much easier for Toronto.