Immediately after the game, I was of two minds regarding the loss.
On one hand, I saw a lot of things from this team that I’d been waiting to see for about…oh…three years.
On another, this should have been a W, and the manner in which the team lost was again unacceptable.
So let’s talk a bit about both here, starting with the postives.
First off, I missed the massacre in Utah thanks to Q-Tip and the Cool Kids tearing down the Phoenix on Friday night, so this was my first Jay Triano experience. And so far, I’m really pleased with what I’m seeing; tighter rotations, more ball movement, better defensive intensity, faster pace, and some offensive creativity that’s been a long-time coming.
Toronto used the above to race to a 16 point lead this afternoon and while they couldn’t hold Portland off, there were some real positives from this game and already, the team looks a lot different in terms of execution than they did under Sam Mitchell.
What I was most impressed with was the way Triano’s used players and got guys in and out of the action. I thought his substitutions were perfect, and I can’t even explain what a welcome sight it was to see Joey Graham playing the 4 (and even 5 spot sometimes on switches!), finally taking advantage of his strength and athleticism on mismatches. I thought Joey looked more comfortable than he ever has and besides bringing the intensity on offence, I thought his defence was splendid as well. Graham finally starts to look like he’s understanding how to be most effective this year and Triano’s offence should facilitate this transition even more.
Beyond Joey, the rest of the bench did a solid job as well, right down to Will Solomon who had the line I hope to see from him for the rest of the year:
10 minutes, 2 points, 2 assists, a steal, and only one turnover.
He only hit one of three shots but if the Raptors can get that type of production in limited minutes, that’s really all we can ask for. In addition, I expect Jay to use Roko in a similar manner depending on match-ups.
In fact, didn’t the entire team besides Bosh (who we’ll get to in a second) look more comfortable? I wanted to string Jamario Moon up early in the game for some turnovers and terrible defense but even he started to move without the ball and understand where to get his offense from.
I think for the biggest single indicator of the team’s improvement offensively, you just need to look at Jose Calderon’s numbers. Jose dished out an incredible 13 assists, had 15 points of his own, and was a very efficient six of nine from the floor. This was by far his best game statistically since the Raptors loss to the Nets and post-game even with the tough loss, Jose was all smiles with the way the team had competed to the very end.
But let’s not get too sun-shiny here.
As mentioned, this was still a loss that should easily have been a win.
The key culprits in the loss? How about the Raptors getting crushed 18 to 4 on the offensive glass and Chris Bosh having his fourth straight sub-par game?
These two were in fact linked as Bosh himself grabbed only five in the contest and second chance points for Portland ended up being the Raptors’ undoing.
Yes, Steve Blake looked to get a way with a bit of a push-off on his game-winning 3-pointer, but had Toronto secured the rebound on any of the previous possessions, this one probably would have been Toronto’s ninth win of the season instead of 11th loss. Andrea Bargnani hardly compensated for CB4’s rebounding absence, grabbing one-less rebound than even Bosh.
The bottom line here is that three seven-footers can’t combine for only 17 rebounds. That’s not going to get it done, especially if the Raptors want to get out and run. If the Raptors start rebounding the ball, then this facilitates the push and helps get the club up the floor and in attack mode. Aside from Jermaine O’Neal and perhaps Jose Calderon, Toronto’s starters are much more effective creating outside of the half-court set. Just think about how deadly someone like Andrea can be if Toronto gets out on the run? Suddenly a smaller player may be forced to guard Andrea resulting in a post-up opportunity, and if it’s a big trapped trying to stop the ball, Bargs can simply put the rock on the deck and go to the rim. Even Bosh has shown the ability to hit the 3 so if he’s the trailer on break-out plays, whoever is guarding him is going to have to come out to cover him, something most "bigs" don’t want to do.
However Bosh also needs to mix things up offensively.
I’m not really sure what to make of CB4 this past while. Post-game both Jack and Leo noted that Chris looked tired however I’d use another word.
It’s tough to be too critical of someone who carried this club for the first 12 games but something just doesn’t seem right to me. Bosh took far too many jump shots and got to the line only four times. He really was the difference maker today in my books and had he been more aggressive, I really think that this would have been a Toronto win. Granted Bosh did have a tough match-up with Portland’s bigs, but LaMarcus Aldridge flat out out-played him today. And what was extremely frustrating to see was that Jermaine O’Neal, who had a monster game, really had to do all of the work himself while at the other end, Greg Oden got most of his baskets off of open looks thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge. When O’Neal came over to help on Aldridge, Oden was there to clean up the mess time and vice versa. There was no reason why Toronto couldn’t have done the same thing on their end but this meant that Bosh had to initiate contact and get to the rim.
And don’t even get me started on the last play of the game as I have no idea what Bosh was trying to do.
Next up for Toronto is Cleveland, a team that will be another tough test for the Raptors.
However the Raptors showed today that they can compete with some of the best in the league and need to feed off of this in tomorrow’s practice.
Jay Triano’s new systems will take some time to adjust to but the direction is quite promising. The biggest smile on my face in fact came post-game, as a result of this comment by Jay Triano to the media when asked about Andrea’s play:
"I’m gonna put that on me, I’ve got to find ways to get him a couple of open looks cuz he’s an excellent shooter and he can help us a lot, especially with his length…"
That’s the first time in probably six years that I heard a Raptors’ coach admit that they needed to do a better job with something and not only was it a refreshing change, it also I think speaks volumes as to Triano’s commitment to get the most out of each player on his roster.
Therefore if Triano can get Bargs going consistently, and if Bosh starts playing at the level he was playing earlier this season, paired with JO this should make for a tough match-up night in and night out. Add in some solid contributions from the likes of Graham, Moon and Kapono and perhaps Bryan Colangelo gets the last laugh on all of us, myself included, who maintain that this team needs another injection of talent before they can start talking 50 wins and up.