Losing game four was tough.
Even last night, over 24 hours removed from the loss, I was still contemplating what went wrong.
Obviously the Magic hit two huge shots down the stretch; both basically fade-away 3’s, the second by Rashard Lewis being the back-breaker.
And Jameer Nelson ran wild in the fourth quarter finding open team-mates and hitting huge clutch shots.
But by now it should be pretty clear that all of Toronto’s aspirations of being a elite team in the East were something of a mirage; a funhouse of mirrors and reflections not unlike something you might find in Disneyland.
And in fact Disneyland is the setting for perhaps Toronto’s final game of the season and win or lose, this series has further cemented many issues that Bryan Colangelo needs to address in the off-season.
Rebounding, perimeter defence, a secondary scoring option, consistency, point guard issues…the list goes on and on.
And it probably starts and ends with Sam Mitchell, who is already the talk of many on online rumour source concerning his status as Toronto Raptors’ head coach next season. Even with a Phoenix win last night, the word is that coach Mike D’Antoni is on the hot seat and you don’t have to be an NBA Insider to speculate that if D’Antoni takes the fall for another disappointing playoff stint with the Suns, that Bryan Colangelo wouldn’t be very interested in re-hiring his former bench boss.
However for now that’s all hearsay and speculation and kudos to the Star’s Doug Smith for calling out our old friend Peter Vescey concerning his recent piece in the New York Post.
Vescey has always been more on the Sam Smith side of rumour reporting, but his quote concerning Mitchell not knowing that Andrew Bynum wasn’t going to be playing reminds me of Kramer’s response to the mention of the name Todd Gack:
"It sounds made up!"
Why Vescey is still employed is beyond me but then again Stephen A. Smith and Billy King both have jobs as "experts" on national television so go figure.
The interesting thing to me is that Vescey goes on at length in his piece for the Post to talk about Mitchell being less diligent in his pre-game preparation and then another of the Post’s reporters turns around and writes that the Knicks may want to hire him!
Perhaps these guys should sit down and plan their editorial content out a bit better…either that or the Knicks just haven’t changed that much even minus Isiah…
I actually didn’t think that Sam Mitchell’s decisions had anything to do with the game four loss. I questioned some of his rationale earlier in the series, but this playoff match-up to me has been decided by on-court play, not sideline decisions.
As proof of this, you could really feel the frustration late in game four when Mitchell had to sub someone in for Carlos Delfino, who had just picked up his sixth foul. Mitchell knew he couldn’t use Jamario Moon who was injured, and so he just sort of stood there looking up and down his roster. It seemed like an eternity before he chose to go small with Jose Calderon replacing Delfino but the whole gesture really stood out in my mind. Between injuries and inconsistent play, this is a team that four games into the playoffs still didn’t have a good understanding of its personnel. I kept thinking that if one of the Magic players had suddenly fouled out, Stan Van Gundy would have known exactly whose number to call. But for Toronto, this season has been one of "throw a dart at the dartboard and hope you get close to the bulls-eye." At times I feel for Sam as he just doesn’t have the horses to go alongside Bosh.
Further proof of this is that Jamario Moon has suddenly emerged as an MVP for this club. With Moon in the starting line-up Toronto has kept things quite close in the first quarters of games three and four, and it was after Moon’s groin injury late in game four that Orlando really took control of things.
Moon is apparently good to go for tonight after suffering no lingering pain from yesterday’s practice and that’s good news for Toronto. They’re going to need his rebounding and athleticism tonight if they want to see a possible game six.
And with that, we turn to our three keys:
1) Point Guard Play. From today’s online edition of Florida Today, Stan Van Gundy discussed his concerns with Toronto’s point guard play but in particular, Jose Calderon:
"The most impressive thing with Calderon is that he and Nash are the best in the league at delivering the ball. His guys never have to reach because the ball is right on their hands. You don't get time to get there to contest the shot because Calderon puts it right there..."
While it’s nice to hear such praise about Jose, Calderon needs to play much better in game five tonight than he did in game four. Who knows if his neck/back is ok but in any event, the Raps need both TJ and Jose going at full tilt to have a chance to win this game. Jameer Nelson has outplayed both guards throughout the series and while TJ had a solid outing on Saturday, the Dinos need both he and Calderon to get the job done. Jose’s long-range shooting is especially valuable to help spread the floor and open looks on the inside for Toronto. As he struggled in game four, so did the Raptors.
2) Chris Bosh. Bosh hasn’t dominated Dwight Howard this series but he’s played him pretty evenly. Howard has been more of a defensive force with CB4 doing more damage scoring-wise. It’s a shame that Toronto couldn’t take advantage of such a huge game from the Raps’ franchise player on Saturday but that doesn’t mean they’ll need any less tonight. Bosh brought the necessary fire and intensity and with a bit more help from his jump-shooting team-mates, might have carried this team to a win. That wasn’t the case but I’m looking for another big game from Bosh tonight.
3) Wing Play. While the Raptors take a lot of abuse for having a pretty simplistic series of offensive sets, the Magic aren’t exactly studying Einstein when looking to score either. Coach Sam Mitchell yesterday had this quote concerning the Magic’s attack and he’s bang on here:
"What are they running? High screen and roll, angle screen and roll and a zipper to an iso and a post-up; they're running four plays," said Mitchell. "It's not that we don't know what's coming. We know what's coming, we just have to do a better job of stopping it and staying true to our principles, locking in and making sure we do what we're supposed to do."
Therein lies the main problem with this series for me. The majority of the time, if Toronto isn’t locking in and "doing what they are supposed to do" defensively, the Magic are making them pay. And yet even when Toronto has done a decent job trying to get stops, Orlando’s superior talent at the 2-3-4 has shone through. The reality is that Anthony Parker, Moon, Delfino and Kapono simply are not at the same skill level as Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Turkoglu in particular has been a thorn in my side and I absolutely hate the match-up of Parker trying to guard him. Parker just doesn’t have the size or strength and "helping" AP out has resulted in way too many easy lay-ups for the Magic. And although Moon has solid length, he just doesn’t have the strength either to keep Turkoglu from getting where he wants to go on the court. This is the main area that needs help this off-season in my books and a long-ball hawking wing via the draft (ahem CDR) or via trade (perhaps the "greenery laws" in Canada would be more accommodating to Josh Howard?) is a must. Watching the 76ers-Pistons series you can see just how impacting players of this nature can be. Even though the Pistons evened their series with a win last night, Philly lead or kept things very close for the majority of the game thanks to being able to get into passing lanes, disrupt shots and stay in front of their opponents. The one game in which I felt Toronto’s wings outshone Orlando’s was game three, which by no coincidence, ended up being a Raptors’ win. The Raptors need a big effort at both ends of the floor from Parker, Delfino, Kapono and Moon if they want to head back to the ACC for game six.
Above all, I think we’ll really see tonight what this Raptor-team is made of; a final judgement opportunity for Bryan Colangelo and co. if you will.
If they meander through a not-so close loss then it will be quite clear that the team’s mentality just isn’t one of a contender. However if they come out with some fight and push Orlando to the max, then perhaps BC will see more to build upon than he originally thought.
So let’s put the coaching rumours and impending draft decisions aside for at least one more day.
As Richard Pryor once said: "I ain’t dead yet!"