Lacing Them Up –
A few days ago, I made the comparison of TJ Ford to Rafer Alston…
Little did I know that Ford was going to go out of his way to help me prove my point yesterday evening against the Utah Jazz.
Ford had a complete meltdown in the fourth quarter, chasing after refs and yelling at anyone within earshot.
Jason Kapono and assistant coach Mike Evans eventually escorted him away as he had received two technical fouls and was thus ejected but folks, this was downright embarrassing.
Yes, the refereeing was a bit sketchy last night.
And yes TJ has been battling through numerous issues of late.
But I don’t care what anyone says, this type of absolute freak-out was completely inexcusable.
Utah plays tough and Toronto should have been trying to equal the intensity instead of whining about calls. And honestly, Ford was too out of control for his own good on many of the plays he thought he got fouled on.
But perhaps more importantly, this was the worst timing ever!
Toronto was actually executing quite well for the first time in what now seems like ages and had played the Jazz to a 65 to 65 draw entering the fourth quarter. However once Sam Mitchell gave Jose Calderon a well-deserved rest and TJ Ford came in, things went downhill quickly.
Let’s take a look at the fine print…
A Numbers Game – 40 per cent.
I think this is the number I want to focus on more than anything from last night’s game. Does anyone know how many blown lay-ups and put-backs Toronto had? I had Rasho for about four, Bargs with two, Hump with one, Ford with two…it was just ugly. Luckily Utah was having its own struggles but in all seriousness, if Toronto had even put a few of these down, things might have been a lot different.
But then again, you could say that about Mitchell’s decision to leave TJ in during the fourth quarter as well…
The Turning Point –
There’s no real secret here, Toronto had this game within its reach until Ford entered early in the fourth and things began to unravel. This was truly the turning point, one so obvious in fact that the normally "Raptors can do no wrong" team of Paul Johnson and Sherman Hamilton both agreed that Ford’s eventual blow-up changed the tone of the game and the Raptors never recovered.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Jose Calderon and Deron Williams. What was shaping up to be a great battle between the owners of jersey number 8 for both clubs was ruined by TJ Ford’s antics but by no means does this diminish either’s contributions to their respective clubs. Williams has become one of the toughest match-ups in the league off a screen and roll due to his strength and improved shooting touch, and Jose Calderon played his best game in ages. For a while, the two were going toe-to-toe while looking to get their teammates going as well. It was great to see Jose aggressive at last and I’m hoping this continues regardless of Chris Bosh’s injury situation.
Hot – Utah’s Second Unit. This is the crew that did in the Raptors last night as players like Korver, Harpring, Millsap and Ronnie Price gave Toronto fits.
Get in the Meat Locker – TJ Ford and Sam Mitchell.
Interesting how these two find themselves paired up once again. But there’s no two ways about it we’re talking about the two gentlemen most directly related to last night’s loss.
Sure, Toronto might not have had enough to stop Utah even without TJ’s hysterics. But once again, we didn’t get the chance to find out.
Let’s rewind to the fourth quarter actually.
Toronto was playing the type of basketball they are best suited for at present; that slow-it-down, grind it out style that made them so effective in beating San Antonio and New Orleans earlier this season.
Jose Calderon was doing a great job running the show, but it was obvious he needed a break.
In comes Ford.
Up to this point, I had given Ford a 5 out of 10 for his play. He seemed more focused defensively, but was still trying to play one-on-one too much and looked to be getting frustrated by Ronnie Price of all people.
As for Mitchell, I actually thought he was doing his best coaching job in weeks, keeping TJ’s minutes short, using his bigs well, leaving Andrea in even with foul trouble so his confidence could get a boost…
…but in one fell swoop that all came crashing down.
As mentioned, Sam signaled for Ford to re-enter the game to start the fourth and immediately, TJ re-started his one-on-one challenges with Price! I couldn’t believe it and as each passing wasted offensive possession went by, and as the scoreboard disparity between the Raps and Jazz grew, I kept waiting for Mitchell to give Ford the hook.
But alas, it did not come.
I couldn’t believe it.
I’m no NBA coach but you could see TJ start to get frustrated with the way the game was going and it just seemed obvious that he should be replaced before things go out of hand. Ford began turning the ball over (Toronto had seven of its 17 turnovers in the final quarter) and making poor decisions in transition all the while complaining about the lack of calls.
One play in particular indicated to me that it was time to go back to Jose and that was after seeing Ford attempt a vicious shot-block which amounted to nothing more than an attempt to flail out at Ronnie Price regardless of the ball.
But Mitchell let the pot continue to boil.
And before you knew it, the pot had completely boiled over and the game was out of reach for Toronto.
So now what for Ford?
After the game he was quoted as saying that he’s going to "continue to be a team player, and continue to help my team" but how is that possible when he’s doing things like this? It’s one thing for Ford to hog the ball and make decisions that cause fans to wonder if he’s really playing with his team in mind.
It’s completely another however to blatantly hurt your club by acting out like this!
And post-game, it was if the incident never happened for Mitchell who discussed things like missing shots and missing Bargnani’s offence (right, you mean the guy that had five points before banging his nose and leaving the game Sam???) instead of the fact that TJ’s outburst couldn’t have come at a worst time for his club.
You have to wonder what this TJ situation will amount to and while none of the media asked Mitchell directly about it, surprise, surprise, if I’m Bryan Colangelo I’m starting to go grey very quickly.
Moving On –
Thankfully, this road trip is over.
The big question however is which Toronto team is going to show up Wednesday night against Miami?
Will it be the one on the road trip which continually let opponents shoot over 50 per cent from the field?
Or will it be the one featuring a rested and healed Chris Bosh, who has trounced the Heat even without him the past two meetings?
Right now it’s hard to tell.
Who knows what shape Bosh will be when he returns, and who knows what team morale will be like in any event?
Ford has become a huge distraction for this team in the same manner that Rafer Alston was for past Dino clubs and with only 15 games remaining on the NBA schedule, Toronto needs to figure things out…and fast.
We’re not talking about playing for fourth or even third spot anymore here; we’re talking about potentially falling as low as seventh all of a sudden with both Washington and Philadelphia less than two games behind the Raps!
And I’ll say it right now.
If this team falls down to seventh spot or lower, heads should roll.
Even without Bosh, this team is too talented to simply make the playoffs to face an early exit at the hands of Boston or Detroit. The Raptors blew it by losing way too many winnable games in February and even earlier this month and now are going to have to fight tooth and nail through another tough stretch of schedule to secure a desirable playoff spot.
But hey, maybe that’s a good thing?
Maybe at last the team will realize that they can no longer afford to simply coast into the playoffs and give fans the passion and execution we’ve been expecting since the season tipped off.