There is no other way to describe the feeling after the Raps lost a heartbreaker in Game 2 with a missed shot at the buzzer by CB4.
In a game where the Raps managed to grab their first lead of the series and had a great opportunity to grab a W the team fell just short. A bitter loss as the Raps, despite some early woes had a chance to steal one in Orlando and just came up short. On the flip-side it looks like the Raps have something to build on going into Game 3 – small ball. It was a line-up of Bosh, Calderon, Delfino, Kapono and Parker that did the most damage against this Orlando squad and it sounds like we will be seeing much more of this to come (more on this later).
Early on it didn’t look like the Raps had figured anything out. Early on the action was strikingly familiar to the opening Q in Game 1 as the Raps came out flat while the Magic grabbed the bull by the horns. Turnovers and lack of execution, both of which are very uncharacteristic of this team were killing the Raps early on. When accompanied by weak defense the table was set for another blow out. I mean there was one stretch where the Magic had 5 straight dunks. Mitchell once again went with Bargs at the three and contrary to reports it didn’t look like the rumoured small ball was going to make an appearance.
Of course it wasn’t really small-ball that got the Raps back into the game initially. The credit for the turn-around has to be given to TJ Ford. Yes, that same TJ Ford that had an atrocious shooting night once again. As many of you know I am far from a TJ Ford fan, but I am willing to give credit when due. After getting yanked early in the first quarter Ford replaced Calderon when Jose picked up three quick fouls. Still down by a wide margin I couldn’t help but believe the Raps were dead in the water. Much to my surprise that wasn’t the case.
TJ re-entered the game and did exactly the kind of things that I have always expected from him, but have rarely seen. In a game played at a frantic pace Ford began to create for others and the results were spectacular. Ford finally managed to break-down his defender and create open looks for Jason Kapono (who was white-hot) and CB4. Ford was making the game easy for his teammates.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this given the break-neck speed of play. This game was exactly the type of game Ford thrives in. Of course it was Calderon who led the troops in the final stanzas of the game but I liked what I saw out of Ford for the first time in a while.
The pace of the game was exciting no doubt. What was also exciting was the chip on everyone’s shoulder. The game was physical and hard fought and for Raps fans it was nice to see the Raps not shy away from a little physicality. Prime example number one was Delfino’s willingness to try and block Howard. The chances of him actually blocking the shot are somewhere between me winning Lotto 649 and becoming an NBA star but the message he sent was more important than the result. The Raps, right now, are not ready to back down.
This couldn’t be more evident with the play of CB4. Hedo’s hard foul on the break spurred Bosh’s emotions and it now looks like he understands what it is to play playoff basketball. Bosh was simply magnificent on this night. He was strong offensively, took changes, went to the deck and really, finally, started to lead this team in the post-season. Of course the Magic also have a big man playing in this series….
The Magic are showing that they are also not shy of a little rough-housing. Hell if I had Dwight Howard backing me up I’d be throwing some weight around as well. Of course the Magic were also a little too aggressive as it was Dooling’s uppercut punch to Calderon that gave the Raps the ball in the dying seconds. What’s clear is that the intensity for both teams has gone up a notch. The only problem is that the Raps are yet to find that intensity until after the first quarter.
Speaking of Howard, there’s no doubt that he has been outstanding in this series. I mean the dude has 25 and 20 in back-to-back playoff games. That my friends is quite the feat. That being said, my feeling is that despite those crazy numbers the Raps still have a chance. The key to me is now obvious. The key is the aforementioned "small" line-up.
It was very clear early in Game 1 that playing Bargs at the three was simply just not a good idea. The Magic wing men simply had a field day getting into the lane and hence creating easy opportunities. In Game 2 things were much different. By playing a smaller line-up, in particular one featuring Delfino at the three or even the four the Raps are better equipped defensively to prevent penetration. On the flip-side (offensively) the smaller line-up has a much easier time penetrating. The results of actually forcing the Magic wings to defend were very positive in that shots opened up and key players for the Magic found themselves in foul trouble.
When it comes to opening shots up the prime recipient of this was Jason Kapono. The guy was lights out for a second game in a row and the "small" approach helps keep him and his lethal shooting on the floor for longer periods of time and I am all about seeing Kapono on the floor as much as possible right now. Coach Mitchell was asked post game whether would be changing his line-up to allow for more of this success. His response was simply "What do you think?"
Of course the positives of this game are overshadowed by the huge negative. The Raps head home down 0-2. Let’s be honest, losing a game at home simply is not an option should they wish to get back into the series. Of course even getting into the series looked to be in doubt in the first quarter of last night’s game.
It is finally clear after two games what the plan of attack should be going forward. Mitchell and company agree. Hopefully the Magic have no answer because a loss on Thursday night and the Raps will be on the brink of extinction.