As much as I loathe Rogers in every possible way right now, I had to thank them last night for not making me endure what was yet another extremely painful Raptors’ loss.
I caught the abridged "Game In an Hour" version late last night on Raptors TV and it wasn’t pretty.
The Raptors jumped out to a 16 to 2 lead and simply outplayed New Jersey for the first portion of the match. However Toronto’s inability to rebound the ball yet again became their ultimate undoing and when the legs got heavy in the fourth and the jump shots reigned supreme, New Jersey took control for good.
We had been talking late last week that this game would be a good indicator of whether or not this Toronto Raptors team had turned the corner in many ways. After a hard-fought loss to New Orleans on Sunday, and coming off two solid performances before that, could the team bounce back?
As mentioned, to start the game indeed it did appear that the Dinos were ready to roll. However even when the team was dominating in terms of effort and intensity, New Jersey still managed to hang around, and eventually pulled even by half-time.
Things went downhill from there, especially in the fourth quarter when Toronto shot a horrific percentage from the field missing on 16 straight field goal attempts.
This is a point I really want to stress here because it leads well into the first part of a little Tuesday morning math equation:
Variable 1 – Lack of athleticism. (We’ll call this one X.)
When the chips were down for New Jersey, players like Carter and Harris were creating off the dribble and getting to the free-throw line. New Jersey took an incredible 21 free throws in the fourth quarter whereas the Raptors settled for jump shot after jump shot.
The problem is, Toronto just doesn’t have the personnel to get to the line from the perimeter. Yes, Joey has been fairly solid the past few weeks but if you’re relying on him in the clutch, that should tell you all you need to know about your team’s wing talent. I thought Jamario Moon was actually Toronto’s best player last night as he took only six shots hitting half of them, and did all the little things the team needs him to do.
However he’s not the answer either in terms of an offensive option late in games and while Jason Kapono has been doing a great job as a starter, neither he nor Anthony Parker, who looks lost right now, can impact games by slashing to the rim.
The athleticism issue provides a good segue way into the next issue with this team, rebounding.
Variable 2 – Lack of rebounding prowess. (We’ll call this one Y.)
The main reason Toronto lost last night was because they were absolutely crushed on the glass and in the paint. Let’s check the stats:
-The Raptors were outrebounded 54 to 38, including 18 to 7 on the offensive glass.
-This lead to 26 second-chance points for New Jersey while Toronto had only 2.
-It also helped give the Nets a 28 to 18 advantage in terms of points in paint.
These three stats were more than enough to do the Raptors in on a night when Toronto went cold for long stretches from the field. It’s the same problem the team has had all season, and it’s one that has to be a bit worrisome if you’re Bryan Colangelo. You have a team with 3 seven-footers playing major minutes and currently you have the league’s worst-rebounding rate. You also have players like Joey Graham and Kris Humphries who look like they should be able to move some bodies around, yet for whatever reason, do only occasionally.
What’s going on here? Is there simply a lack of rebounding talent, or does it extend beyond that?
I really believe it does and at the core is the third point I want to make this morning; this team is still not nearly tough enough.
Variable 3 – Lack of Toughness. (This one we’ll call this factor, T.)
You just can’t give up huge leads like Toronto has been doing all season and you can’t keep getting beat on the boards and expect to win. And in terms of last night, you especially can’t let guys like Ryan Anderson and Trenton Hassell fly through the air muscling you out of the way for rebounds. Toronto's bigs just didn't get the job done (even though seeing Andrea throw Carter to the ground made up for some of the pain of the night's loss.)
I think Raptors’ fans in fact need to take a long, hard look at the Nets’ bigs.
Are they the most talented in the league? Certainly not.
But are they rugged players who bring it on every possession? If you saw last night’s game you know the answer is yes.
In particular, Brook Lopez has now dominated Jermaine O’Neal in three straight games. Lopez is a talented young player but if you had never watched a game of basketball and tuned in last night you would have been left wondering which player was the rookie, and which was the former All-Star.
I’m not quite ready to say that BC’s O’Neal experiment isn’t working but so far the stats aren’t good. O’Neal’s defense has been solid no doubt, but his rebounding has been sub-par, and his offence has been borderline terrible at times. He’s shooting 44 per cent on the season, a horrific percentage for a post player, and his PER is 13.33, placing him behind such All-Star pivots as Kostas Koufos, Joakim Noah and Dan Gadzuric. Toronto’s interior was supposed to be its big advantage this season but on the offensive end, that just hasn’t been the case. Either O’Neal needs to step it up, or perhaps Triano needs to find some better ways to use the two in conjunction.
Last night saw JO and CB4 hit only 10 of 27 shots and both were outplayed by the trio of Boone, Anderson and Lopez on the evening. Yes, we’re talking about two All-Stars being out-hustled by some very inexperienced and raw players and frankly, if I see Chris Bosh attempt another 3-pointer when his team is only down by a bit late in a game, I’m going to throw something at my TV – Rogers or no Rogers. The reality is that Bosh is still the guy that needs to do all the heavy lifting so jump shots from the perimeter when the team needs some high percentage shots just isn’t going to cut it.
So let’s halt here for a moment and finish our equation:
If you don’t have players who can get to the rim and create easy looks for team-mates, and you can’t prevent the other team from getting second chance opportunities off of rebounds, that’s a big problem night-in and night-out. Toss in a lack of toughness and you have the perfect equation for a loss in the NBA, we’ll dub it:
(X+Y)T = L
Perhaps that’s overly simplistic but really that’s all last night’s loss boiled down to.
Toronto’s defence was still very solid rebounding aside as they held New Jersey to 38 per cent shooting. They also turned the ball over only 11 times and kept Vince Carter and Devin Harris relatively in check.
However the lack of X, Y and T meant another desperate comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, one that came up short in the 94 to 87 loss.
With Dallas looming on Wednesday night, and the team off to the West this weekend for a long stretch, it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to realize that at least one part of this equation needs to be addressed if the team has playoff aspirations come spring-time.