Now that was the team I expected to see this season.
Still not a lot of exterior forays to the hoop, but a dominant inside presence at both ends courtesy of Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal, some solid point guard play from Jose Calderon, and some timely outside shooting by the likes of Anthony Parker and co.
That’s the recipe in my books for at least a .500 season and playoff birth in the East.
And even against an extremely lean Clippers squad, one that made a game of it despite being down by almost 20 at the half, the Raptors finally came out and showed just what they could be capable of.
It all started though with the interior play of Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal, and I was overjoyed to see Toronto finally adhere to yesterday’s first key in my preview:
GET THE BALL INSIDE AND WORK FROM THERE.
I think by this point in time all of us HQers have a pretty good idea of what this team is, and what’s it’s not. As much as Jay Triano may want to run, the reality here is that this club has way too many half-court style players to be an East version of Golden State, and if the club wants to win games, it needs to play to its strengths.
This means getting the ball inside to O’Neal and Bosh at every opportunity, let them go to work, and play off of their attack by filling lanes and finding openings for long-range shots. Bosh as much as echoed this post-game and it’s frustrating that perhaps we only see the start of this, nearly a third of the way through the season.
Nevertheless, it’s got to start at some point and a solid, confidence boosting win like last night’s is as good a place to start as any.
Bosh’s last two 3-pointers were indeed unnecessary but he and O’Neal played their best tag-team game in over a month. They were aggressive on offense, intimidating defensively, and constantly looked for opportunities either for themselves or for cutting teammates. Sam Mitchell was never able to incorporate these two into his offense effectively enough and now the challenge falls on Triano. If these two are going for 20 and 30 a night respectively, as was the case last night, then suddenly, a dozen points from Jose, some energy from Moon and Graham, and some efficient shooting by the likes of Kapono and Parker, should make this team a tough match-up night in and night out.
No, I still think Colangelo overestimated his roster’s talent but as a collective group, there’s no question that this team should be at least able to best some of the East’s current playoff seeds like Miami, New Jersey and Chicago.
The key to me though for this season going forward is still Andrea Bargnani.
I’ve defended BC’s top pick and have waffled over what the best way to develop him the past few seasons. After all, I fully admit that I was the one who wanted to draft Tyrus Thomas, and THEN Brandon Roy over Andrea.
However over the past few weeks I’ve been arguing that even if he does develop at some point, I didn’t feel that Toronto would be the benefactor of his growth. He just doesn’t fit with this team.
Tonight’s game was a perfect example.
Had Bargs come in and started scoring from outside, then moved his way down low to overpower his opponents, this thing would have been over at the half. But with him in the game, the offense stalled, the standing around started fresh, and suddenly the Clippers were making a game of things.
His individual defence has improved. But that’s just not nearly enough. His help defence and rotations are still off, and his offence has just been brutal. He’s shooting under 40 per cent on the season from the field and you don’t even want to know what his percentage is so far in December.
Furthermore, it’s not like he’s not getting chances. With about three minutes left in the first quarter, he routinely enters the game for Jermaine O’Neal, then stays on when O’Neal subs back in for Bosh in the early second quarter. But with his outside shot not falling, he’s simply an offensive liability, forcing the issue on one hand and being way too tentative on the other.
The fit just isn’t there.
Would I move him straight up for John Salmon and a stack of Bibles?
You bet I would.
I can understand that bigs take longer to develop, and someone like Bargs needs some assistance down low against various NBA "Bigs," but give me a break. Last night he was being guarded most of the time by Paul Davis and Steve Novak. Sure Andrea isn’t as quick as Chris Bosh, who tormented these two at every possible opportunity, but you don’t get much of an easier match-up in the league. That’s like being guarded by a pylon and a suitcase on wheels (Novak is slightly quicker side-to-side.) I expected to see Andrea not only take his man outside, but play the low-post at times and get to the rim.
It never happened.
And for all the issues we’ve had with Jose looking Andrea off when he IS posting up, that wasn’t an issue last night.
But again, as we’ve discussed countless times, what do you do here if you’re Bryan Colangelo?
Trying to move Andrea is admitting a mistake of epic proportions and it probably undercuts what little value Bargnani currently has. Perhaps if you could unload him for a slightly un-healthy contract and a draft pick or two then it would give the Raps and BC another kick at the draft can. (I’d love this scenario provided the contract Toronto was taking back wasn’t too long.) But right now I’m just not sure how feasible that is.
Furthermore, what is Jay Triano to do?
He’s trying to win games here and frankly playing Jake Voskhul, who you know is going to at least bang bodies and provide toughness (I’m sure Zach Randolph can attest to this), just makes a lot more sense. In fact, as much as I loathe Jake Voskhul for his performance in the 1999 NCAA Championship Game with Rip Hamilton, as UConn beat my Blue Devils, it’s easy to see why Bryan Colangelo brought him in. Voskhul is simply a smart, physical player and is an upgrade right now to both what Bargs and Hump were bringing to the table every night. Yes, we’ve only seen him in two games, but immediately tonight as soon as he entered the game he did something that caught my attention.
On the play drawn up by Jay Triano, Chris Bosh caught the ball in the high post, spun and immediately attacked the rim, resulting in an easy trip to the foul line. Yes, Bosh’s move stood out as the central point of focus but if you watched closely on the replays, you saw Jake Voskuhl down low pinning DeAndre Jordan so he couldn’t rotate to help on Bosh.
It’s things like this that really make a difference for a team like Toronto, whose margin of error is just so small considering the number of jump shots they take and second chance points they give up. The Dinos won the battle of the boards finally last night (48 to 38) but only had one more offensive rebound, something that is slightly concerning considering the Clips were without key bigs like Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.
Yes, their absence, along with that of sometimes Raptor-killer Ricky Davis, made this game a gift, and even when Los Angeles made their run in the third quarter, I for once didn’t feel that the end result would be an L for Toronto.
And from Jack and Matt’s antics and interactions with the Clippers celebrity crew (how funny and random were the interactions with former Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy star Penny Marshall???), they didn’t feel that way either.
It was a great way to break before Christmas, and before another winnable game boxing-day eve against the Sacramento Kings.
More importantly for us Raptors’ fans, it was a sign of hope and that’s been lacking for the past few weeks, and hopefully a pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving after December 25th.