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Tip-In, Toronto Raptors Post-Game: Thunder and Lightning

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These 3 gave the Raps problems like Lionel Richie...

These 3 gave the Raps problems like Lionel Richie..."All Night Long..."

Lacing Them Up –

CAN SOMEONE PASS ANTHONY PARKER THE FREAKIN BALL IN THE FOURTH QUARTER??

Unreal.

The guy is playing the best basketball of his career in an NBA uniform, keeping his team in games, and yet for the second straight match, has gotten almost no touches with the game on the line.

I was actually hoping someone would throw the ball at TJ’s head.

That’s what happens at the local Y when someone’s hogging the ball…especially if that someone isn’t completely dominating offensively.

And considering it looked like TJ Ford was playing one on one with Baron Davis down at the local rec centre through a good chunk of the fourth quarter, a hard pass to the midsection or head probably wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

Look, I’ve discussed Ford ad nausea lately and looked at both sides of the coin. But last night’s fourth quarter play from about the last six minutes on was completely inexcusable.

And Sam Mitchell is just as much at fault here as Ford.

Let’s get into it shall we?


A Numbers Game – 16

Look, you knew the Warriors were going to come out gunning. You knew Toronto would have a tough time guarding the perimeter (one of our keys yesterday) and maybe even keeping G State’s athletic swingmen off the glass.

But 16 turnovers, nine in the first half alone?

The combination of this sloppy execution, and some extremely porous defence (I think Golden State was shooting about 70 per cent from the field in the first quarter) put Toronto in a 20 point hole early, something which I’m not sure mentally, the ever recovered from. Sure, the Raps fought back and actually got a slight lead at one point…but did anyone actually feel like they were in control of this game? Baron Davis sort of slept-walked through the game when the Warriors had their big lead, but you knew that if things got close, he would take over.

These two teams made me think of thunder and lighting actually. The Warriors struck quick decisive blows and got Toronto down early, while the Raptors started with a low rumble, broke the sound barriers around the middle of the fourth quarter to take the lead, and then petered out.

The Turning Point –

Fourth quarter, Raptors with a one point lead after a Ford jumper, 6:39 to play. Baron Davis and Monta Ellis start taking over, and Toronto’s answer? – more TJ.

The frustrating thing for Raptors’ fans I’m sure, was that there was no need for TJ to try and take over this game. He did a good job in the first half getting team-mates involved (he finished with eight assists but I believe six of these came in the first half) but from that 6:39 mark on, Ford took 10 shots compared to eight for the rest of his team on the next 18 Raptors’ offensive sequences.

And really, the numbers are even worse because the Raps turned the ball over twice on those eight possessions, and two of the other plays were offensive put-back opportunities in close to the basket.

So in reality, Ford took 10 shots as opposed to four for his team-mates; a missed jumper by AP, two free throws by Andrea Bargnani after being fouled, a missed jumper by Bargs, and to end the game, a jumper at the buzzer by Parker.

Ugh.

In the meantime, Don Nelson had his team running their offence (if you can call it that) to perfection with Baron Davis wreaking havoc from inside (using some nice pick and roll deliveries) and out and that was all she wrote for Raps’ fans.

Temperature Check –

Hot - Monta Ellis.

Wow…has this kid ever improved. I liked Monta coming out of high school and thought he had a chance to be a solid player in the league. I even picked him up on a whim for my fantasy team in his first season and then watched him take off. But at present, this kid is playing at another level. Guys like him and Kevin Martin are really benefiting from the rule changes that would have reduced their effectiveness in the 90’s as they now can use their quickness to get past defenders (who can no longer body them up and take advantage of their slight frames) or elevate for jump shots. Monta hit 14 of his 19 shots and even when Toronto did start honing in on him late in the game, he was in too much of a groove to slow down. And speaking of slowing down, does Ellis not have the best hesitation move in the game – that slight pause and then burst of speed to the rim?

Hot – Anthony Parker.

AP had a tough night guarding the likes of Ellis and Davis but was the key offensive weapon again for Toronto. He was the only player who I thought came out with the necessary intensity in the first quarter, was 10 of 16 from the field, and was a rebound away from a double-double. It’s criminal that he’s not getting key touches in crunch time.

Hot – Baron Davis.

Like Ellis, Davis was a show-stopper last night. He excels when the game is on the line and his terrific fourth quarter got the Warriors over the top.

Hot – Don Nelson.

Oh the mad Scientist. About a week ago I was mentioning Jeff Bzedelik’s interesting reverse offensive sets whereby he had his guards playing big and his bigs playing small ball and Nelson did much of the same last night. It created havoc in the first quarter as players like Ellis and Davis were getting steals off of the Raptors’ bigs and their bigger players were overpowering Toronto near the hoop. He also made good use of his team’s bench and I’ll tell you, this is one team I would not want to face in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They play tough, are intense, are well-coached, and have the best collection of one-on-one athletes in the league.

Lukewarm – Kris Humphries.

Hump finished the game with a respectable 10 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes. During the second quarter, his offensive production got the team back in the game however I’d still like to see him pick and choose his shots a bit better. There are times Kris when a turn-around fall-away jumper from 16 feet from your big man isn’t perhaps the best use of your offence.

Lukewarm – Andrea Bargnani.

After watching last night’s game, I’ve decided that I’m really excited to see how Andrea plays next year. Not that I’m writing him off this year, but he’s really starting to show some special NBA skills in the past while. He’s still a terrible rebounder, an inconsistent offensive threat, and slow to adjust to different defensive looks from his opponents, but this should come with time. He started off the game looking timid and unsure of how to deal with being guarded by guys like Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson but in the second half, really started to put things together offensively. Now if someone had only passed him the ball more often…

Cold – TJ Ford and Sam Mitchell.

…someone like TJ Ford.

The funny thing is, I thought Ford was having his best game in ages up until the end of the fourth. He came in looking to dish, made some beautiful plays to find open looks for team-mates, and even fed the hot hand as he dished to Hump on three consecutive possessions, the first two resulting in scores.

Once again Jose Calderon came out flat and wasn’t aggressive enough offensively in the first quarter and I thought that TJ helped Toronto get back into the game mixing up drives and dishes. This was true as well in the third quarter but suddenly, in the fourth, Ford morphed into Allen Iverson.

Only the kid is not Iverson and the sooner he realizes it, the better.

It’s one thing to keep going to your one-on-one moves if the team is having trouble scoring, something I’ve defended him for doing in the past. But when the club is cruising along and starting to play better at both ends of the court in a close game, nothing is more maddening to watch than a player hoisting up contested, fall-away jumpers.

And for me, this gets back to my "TJ, you’re simply not as good as you think you are" point a few posts ago.

I don’t mind Ford darting into the paint for easy lay-ups. Jose does that all the time. But seeing him get caught up in a "mine is bigger than yours" battle with Baron Davis, a superior player, totally negates what this team is about.

Without Bosh, the club especially needs to rely on its depth. As a certain basketball savant pointed out to me this morning, if this team’s depth is supposed to be its strength, how can you have a point guard in there who won’t pass the ball??

And this then comes back to Sam Mitchell.

Why on earth did he leave TJ Ford in the game when it was quite obvious that Ford was playing one-one-one with Davis? Only the difference, besides the fact that Davis is a superior offensive player, was that the Baron used the threat of his offensive arsenal to force double teams thus leaving his team-mates open for easy looks. On a number of occasions, Davis’ scoring touch scared Toronto enough to leave Andris Biedrins wide open, and the Baron found him for easy curls to the basket.

At some point either Mitchell has to start using Ford in certain situations, or Ford needs to start realizing that he’s no longer running the show for the Longhorns, it’s as simple as that.

Frankly I really enjoy watching Ford when he’s showing his complete game…there aren’t many guards in the league this side of Tony Parker who can get defenders rocking back on their heels the way he can or bait defenders to create open looks for team-mates. He plays with a certain yo-yo style that’s mesmerizing to watch when he’s darting and zipping through traffic.

But all of that is for nought if he’s going to keep playing like this at crucial moments.

And Sam Mitchell needs to start realizing this.

Yesterday a number of readers posted that Jose would be foolish to re-sign here if Ford was suddenly given the starting job back, even if it was just during CB4’s absence. Admittedly at the time, I thought these comments were a bit excessive however after watching last night’s display, I’m not sure how it’s humanly possible for Jose not to hold some degree of apprehension about his future with the club.

It’s one thing to play TJ in the starting role for brief periods for strategic purposes.

It’s entirely another to seemingly reward Ford for selfish play that comes to the detriment of the team by giving him extended minutes...and in crunch time to boot.

That my friends, is simply maddening.

And even more maddening – the lack of media attention on the subject. I’m not talking about the same old "can TJ and Jose co-exist" stuff. I want someone to ask immediately after the game:

"Sam, did you feel that TJ was forcing the issue too much?"

Instead, we get veiled references such as "Sam, what happened at the end of the fourth quarter?"

Why doesn’t someone cut right to the chase? I guess that’s more of a rhetorical question as half of the media seems downright scared of Mitchell and unwilling to get on his bad side.

Sorry, that’s not investigative journalism to me…that’s "trying to keep everyone happy."

The REAL Allen Iverson...Toronto's next challenge on this road trip...

The REAL Allen Iverson...Toronto's next challenge on this road trip...

Moving On –

The scary thing is that we could be in for a repeat performance Friday night in Denver. The Nuggets play a break-neck pace and combined with the altitude and lack of Chris Bosh, it could be loss number three on this trip.

We’ll break things down in-depth tomorrow but off the top I think the key thing is for the Toronto Raptors to get off to a better start.

You can’t hope to keep pace with these Western behemoths by being down 20 early in the game. Toronto right now just doesn’t have their full offensive or defensive compliment minus Mr. Bosh and their 3 point shooting in his absence, the team’s great equalizer, has been fairly flaccid (they hit only five 3’s last night and on the season before this recent stretch were hitting about eight a game.)

Perhaps some practice time today will help them "figure things out" as TJ Ford suggested post-game.

But from my perspective, there are really only two people who need to do the figuring, Ford and Mitchell.

If they don’t, it may be left for Bryan Colangelo to do this off-season.

FRANCHISE