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Tip In, Toronto Raptors' Post Game - Paper Raptors

Billups torched the Raptors from the get-go last night...

Billups torched the Raptors from the get-go last night...

These West Coast trips can kill.

For us bloggers, it means shuffling around our schedules a little so that we can be sure to catch these games before needing to go to sleep and head to work or school the next day.

For our Raptors, it means being tested with the full might of the best of the NBA.

And against one of the rising teams of the Western Conference last night, somehow our Toronto Raptors came out with less of an effort than their play against arguably THE best club in the West, the Lakers, whom they played only two nights prior.

As has been the case several times already this season, the Raptors found themselves unable to compete with the quickness and athleticism of a team that was built to run and slash.

They were once again exposed by a SG/SF who is the elite in the league.

And once again, they could not find an identity anywhere within the flow of the game.

The Raptors attempted to attack the Nuggets from the perimeter early and got Jermaine O'Neal, playing his first game in a while, involved often within the opening minutes. In fact, three of the first four play involved J.O.

However, what was concerning was that the Raptors seemed to get beat on many of the hustle plays and second chance opportunities from the get go. The Nuggets managed to get to the offensive glass, and it indicated that the Raptors were in for another slow start. Perhaps it was trying to readjust to playing with O'Neal again, but the Raptors interior allowed players like Nene to get into the paint way too easily. And once the Raptors' perimeter shooting started to cool off, the Raptors just refused to go to the inside and draw fouls or muscle the ball into the basket. Instead, it was the Nuggets who got lots of shots up from the free throw line, putting both Bosh and Bargnani in difficult positions with two fouls a piece with half of the quarter to go.

What I really don't understand is why the Raptors chose to go away from establishing Jermaine in the post. When he wasn't scoring, O'Neal managed to get to the line and was actually the only Raptor to get to the free throw line for the entire quarter.

With the rhythm destroyed in the first quarter, I was interested to see what the Raptors would chose to try and re-establish their game. Bargnani started to become a focal point with a 3 pointer and some drives to the basket. Roko Ukic began to cut into the paint, but the team as a whole still couldn't buy a bucket.

A rare, but much-needed sight...

A rare, but much-needed sight...

Luckily, the Nuggets outside shooting started to cool off and as the Raptors re-inserted their starters into the game, they slowly clamped down their defense as the deficit hit 19 points. Bargnani started to get more comfortable at both ends looking for his shot, staying with his man defensively and posting up. As a result, the Raptors reignited their inside game and the Nuggets lead was suddenly cut to 10.

At this point though George Karl had seen enough and countered by reinserting Chauncey Billups. Denver' offence took off again and the 10 point deficit was by far as close as the Raptors would get on this evening.

In the second half, Carmelo Anthony started to torch Bargnani with his ball handling skills and outside scoring and the wheels started to come off. Transition defense, something that the Raptors have had the most trouble with, started to become an issue. With Dahntay Jones leaking out on a fast break for an alley-oop pass, the Nuggets opened a massive lead that the Raptors would never be able to battle back from.

There just can't be any excuses for the Raptors continuing to setting for outside shots. With a team that uses size as an advantage, it's incredibly frustrating to see the Raptors play a small-ball style against the identity that they had begun to establish with Jermaine O'Neal in the lineup. Anthony Parker in particular has to be singled out for taking lots of ill-advised shots with multiple defenders draped over him.

And well, if the Raptors aren't going to defend or work past the middle of the 3rd, I don't see why I should either.

Nevertheless, the 4th quarter offered some interesting storylines. For one, Roko put in some good work. Granted, it wasn't against the best that the Nuggets could offer, but he drove the ball as hard as he could and drew some fouls, at least trying to get some movement on offense. What was even more telling was the missing presence of Moon in the 4th. While I'm sure Sam was trying to get Hassan Adams and Will Solomon some minutes and help Graham remain aggressive, Moon is a guy that needs some confidence on his defense and some work chasing J.R. Smith along the perimeter would have benefited him.

But in the end, the Raptors have to ask themselves questions.

The Nuggets are a good team, undoubtedly.

They're a team that has gotten rid of a player who put up points via volume of shots, in exchange for a player that actively tries to get all the players on his team involved. Billups is a great defender who has always posed problems for plenty of teams because he's a big, quick point guard who is extremely intelligent at playing angles. And he was +48 for the night. +48!! Toss in Denver's 60% shooting from the field along with a +7 advantage in rebounds on a night when your opponent is shooting a horrendous 37% from the field, and you end up with this 41 point massacre.

Sam Mitchell did mention in his post game interview that the players did get into each other after the game. One can only guess what was said and by who, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh doing most of the speaking. The look of both players on the bench was one of dejection and they appeared to be bottling up every air ball and blown defensive assignment to unleash on their teammates after the game. Here's hoping that's a catalyst for change.

Lastly, Jack Armstrong really made a great point that I've talked about before. The Raptors might have had a great practice on Monday as Sam Mitchell alluded to, but the Raptors just don't have the personnel to really test themselves in practice. For example, there's no way to simulate an athletic slashing wing right now, because the Raptors just don't have that type of player on their team. Jamario Moon? Sure, he's atheletic, but he goes to the paint about as much as Lindsay Lohan goes to a soup kitchen. The Raptors just don't have the kind of people with the basketball IQ or experience to simply play in a game without first practicing the concepts they have to employ. If you have to play against a Leandro Barbosa every day in practice (for example), you'll be just that much better at defending a guy that can create his own shot. Right now, the Raptors just can't hope to compete that way against the athletic teams in the league, and there's a whole lot of them.

So in the end, what positives do we take out of this game?

For one thing, Jermaine O'Neal looks to be back in fairly good form. He managed to block a shot, provide some inside scoring, and definitely came out on top in the plus-minus category.

Andrea Bargnani, while only scoring 9 points, attempted to get to the interior of the Nuggets when no one else would, and he defended players not named Carmelo Anthony with fairly good foot work; foot work that was frankly better than Bosh's.

And finally, Roko Ukic got to the line six times during the game, making all six of his shots.

And Bosh?

Bosh looked tired and dejected. It's too much to ask him to channel all that back into basketball, (especially with his mostly superb play) but if he lit into his teammates post-game, I have no problem with that. Leaders need to call their teammates out sometimes, and we've seen Bosh do it before.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall...

Vicious D