Why does it feel like these Raptors are desperately thin and soft?
With Kris Humphries out for about a week with knee tendinitis and no word on Nathan Jawai, the Raptors depth looks shallower and shallower. Take out Hassan Adams and one of Will Solomon or Roko Ukic, and the Raptors are down to ten.
On a night of records for Ilgauskus, James, Bosh, and Calderon, the Raptors simply didn't play with the same principles that they displayed in the Trailblazers game...and the result was a 114 to 94 domination.
Coming into tonight's game, I was worried of a relapse to the previous Sam Mitchell schemes, and the Raptors, playing on the road, unfortunately repeated the performances that they had on the west coast.
Two deflections to start sure made all of fans tighten up just a little, but a Bargnani three pointer showed that the Raptors could combat some mistakes due to superb 3-point shooting. Unfortunately, the Raptors continually showed stagnant offense for the entire game. While Cleveland sought to be aggressive on the run, hustle was a problem in the first quarter for the Raptors who could not get deflections of their own or recover blocks and long rebounds. Turnovers continued to kill any momentum, and there just didn't seem to be any get up and go in the Raptors. To be frank, it was ugly and I was disgusted with the lack of push coming from the team, in particular, Calderon.
And man, watching Moon, Solomon, and Kapono on the floor at the same time just made me cringe.
Besides having problems defensively, Moon and Solomon continue to show that they are ball hogs who do not reinforce principals that the Raptors are trying to implement now. In my mind, Triano's arguement that Solomon brings offense is a completely bogus assessment. By the end of the game, we saw Ukic come off the bench to relieve Calderon, but it was too little too late. Ukic is a guy that can change the pace if the Raptors do not push the ball. Solomon, on the other hand, walked the ball up, made a few passes before looking for his own shot. Yes, he had eight points, but he didn't get his teammates involved at all and just continued the status quo established by the sloppy play of the starters.
However, after a timeout, the Raptors started to push the ball up the court and get the ball inside with a purpose. Soon after, Jermaine O'Neal made a monster block on Varejao and the momentum finally started to change. It took almost two quarters, but once again, the Raptors showed that by running and moving, they can do things to get themselves out of big holes and get their rhythm. It's just unfortunate that it took one and half quarters to figure it out, and couldn't be found for the rest of the game until garbage time.
With the Raptors getting under LeBron's skin thanks to some help from the refs, our boys started to find Parker in the corner. Calderon then made a beautiful play to find Bosh cutting to the inside for a reverse alley-oop layup. Heck, we even saw Jose Calderon block out Ilgauskas! As a result, the Raptors cut their deficit down from 19 down to 8 in the second and if not for LeBron's half time 3-pointer, the Raptors would only be stuck five at the half.
Coming out of the half, the Raptors fans found all the ammunition they needed to have Bargnani pulled out of the starting lineup. Teams are starting to realize how to attack Bargnani, and with his shot not falling, Bargnani has found it difficult to figure out when he needs to post up, and when he needs to get to the perimeter to free up room in the paint. It's not a complete slight against Bargnani, but the Raptors just don't cut properly or move through the seams when he was on the floor. By having him, O'Neal, and Bosh in the paint, it meant Ilgauskas, James, and Wallace were crowding the interior as well and this made for some tough slogging.
In addition, the Raptors started to play with lead feet, hoisting up outside shots and making weak passes without moving to meet the ball. 19 turnovers for the game with 14 coming from our starters is just completely unacceptable. This time, down by 26, Triano inserted Graham and Ukic, and instantly, the Raptors seemed to get more aggressive.
Ukic and Graham headed to the basket consistently with Roko, in particular, attempting to keep up with Delonte West through screens and able to play with the purpose of cutting off his man.
Moon once again looked to simply jack up the shot off the bounce.
So yes, this loss is frustrating, but not unpredictable.
As a Raptor fan, there are some players that I simply cannot take being on the floor anymore, and it has nothing to do with stats. Moon and Solomon are players that earn the most of my ire, but I'd also much rather have Joey Graham starting at the 3, with Bargnani backing up O'Neal and Bosh, especially since the Raptors don't have Hump available until at least early of next week.
I can understand why Raptors fans are frustrated with Bosh, but honestly, Bosh is going to have the toughest time with this change. For four years, Bosh has basically lived off the pick and roll, and "horns up" offensive scheme. He knew when he had to take a shot, and when to drive. Now, with a new scheme, Bosh is going to have to take more time to figure out where to go in the offense. I'm not so concerned about him.
Calderon, on the other hand, didn't establish a pace that was needed for this road game. Yes, he did it for six minutes, but you don't win a game against the elite of the league by just doing the right things for six minutes. When the game isn't being played properly, it's incumbent on Jose to dictate what needs to change as our point guard. Too often coming out of the half, we saw Calderon dribble the ball up slowly. That's not to mention the questionable passes he attempted to make with guys like LeBron James hanging around the passing lanes.
Yup, it's disfunctional and you can chalk it up to the Raptors playing a different style, but if the Raptors don't have practice time, it means they have to use these games that they are bound to lose to continue working on principals that Triano is trying to enforce.
And you know what?
When those principals are in effect, we see glimpses of a Raptors team that I haven't seen in two years.
The good thing is that Triano managed to rest most of his starters so against the Pacers, the Raptors might be able to find that energy that was lacking. Which brings us to tonight's 3 keys:
1) Not sure what to do? Run -
While T.J. Ford is far faster than Calderon, making Ford play at a high pace is what gets him into trouble. Often, Ford will rush his offense and rush offensive sets, dribbling into the paint without a plan. Oh yeah, the Raptors just happen to be at their best lately when they do make a move to go faster. Aggressive offense means aggressive defense, and while everyone says it's the opposite, it's just what's happening now.
So, if you're not sure, run. If the other team makes a basket? Run. If you miss a shot, run. If the team doesn't do it, substitute the starters for people who will run. That's the name of the game right now.
2) Establish That Inside Game -
One thing the Raptors did do well last night? They got to the line, and got to it a lot. So the Raptors have to keep that up. Draw fouls, draw a lot of them. The best way to do it is to get O'Neal and Bosh the ball in the post. If there isn't an easy bucket available after pushing the ball up the court, the ball has to go into the post decisively. No slow and lazy lob passes, and no jacking up shots without moving the ball past two sets of hands.
Oh yeah, if the Raptors get a chance, I’d like to see them drive to the hole to get foul calls as well. Joey Graham, for all his faults of almost getting a charge called against him on every possession, has managed to get more points in the paint, and has gotten to the line consistently. Roko Ukic is another guy that got to the line by getting into the paint.
3) Contain Granger -
Yup, he's a young kid, so knock him around a bit. It's times like this I wished Charles Oakley and Kevin Willis were around to knock a young kid on his behind if he goes to the bucket. The Raptors had plenty of chances to put the hurt on LeBron and didn't do it, but against Granger, the Raptors have to be much more aggressive. In the Portland game, we saw lots of hard picks being set by Jermaine O'Neal, and the trend has to continue against the best that the other team has to offer. By doing so, it takes the wind out of the opposition and loosens up the defense just a little bit more.
The Raptors need to do this simply because they don't have the smarts or athleticism to do anything else. So play tough, and play hard.
Tonight we've got two teams who are so far, bottom feeders of their respective divisions fighting to snap losing streaks. The advantage for the Raptors? They're at home. The advantage for the Pacers? Ford and Nesterovic might have something to prove. But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to heart, and the Raptors need to show a lot more of what I saw glimpses of in the last two games.
Yup, it might be a hell of a ride, but tonight’s game might be the best chance for the Raptors to win for a while.