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Tip-In, Toronto Raptors’ Post-Game: The Snooze Button

Allen may have hit the dagger 3's, but it was Rondo who stood the tallest for Boston this afternoon...

Allen may have hit the dagger 3's, but it was Rondo who stood the tallest for Boston this afternoon...

You know those mornings were you can’t get out of bed?

Those ones where you lay there half asleep, and know that while you should get out of bed, another few minutes of sleep would really be beneficial?

Of course this is all ridiculous, even an extra 10 minutes after you’re already awake isn’t going to undo any damage from the night before.

However at 6 or 7 am, logic is probably not your forte, nor your concern and so you reach over and hit that magic button.

SNOOZE.

Maybe you only hit it once, or maybe you hit it another five times but whatever the case, it just takes you that long to decide to finally get going.

Listening to the post-game interviews with the Toronto Raptors after their 94 to 88 loss to the Celtics yesterday, it would be safe to assume that many would admit to falling guilty to the previous analogy.

It took the Raptors three quarters to wake up from their slumber this afternoon and when they finally did late in the game, they found themselves down by 20 points to the defending champion Boston Celtcis.

Granted these are not the Celtics of old as Boston came into this afternoon’s game, losers of seven of their last nine. The team that at one point had won 19 straight, was suddenly hearing whispers of age worries, and Stephon Marbury trade proposals. If there was ever a time for Toronto (which had lost six of their last seven to the Celtics) to play Boston, it was now.

That’s why as fans, it was extremely disappointing to see the lack of energy and effort brought forth by the club through the majority of the game.

Jump shots were settled for, defense was non-existent, and second efforts were unheard of. None of Howland’s "3 Keys" from Saturday were adhered to and I’m guessing most fans shut this one down early.

Only surprise, Toronto did not fold.

Down 71 to 51 with about four minutes to go in the third quarter, suddenly the Raptors reserves started to pick up the pace, spearheaded by Roko Ukic.

I had commented yesterday that I felt strongly about giving Ukic a good chunk of playing time simply because he was the only player on the Raptors who could match up with Rajon Rondo. No, defensively he’d still probably have some issues, but I felt that Roko could at least keep Rondo busy at the other end, something that Jose Calderon has historically struggled with. (And that’s when he’s been healthy.)

Roko did just that AND put in work defensively, keeping the lighting-quick Rondo under control. In addition, Jay Triano replaced a complacent Chris Bosh and struggling Anthony Parker with a smaller and more athletic and aggressive lineup featuring the likes of Joey Graham and Jamario Moon, with a little Jason Kapono mixed in.

Again, this was something I had been yearning for all game but for an extended period. Having seen a few of Boston’s last bunch of losses, the club really struggled when the opposing team pushed the tempo, and attacked the basket with more athletic players. Suddenly Toronto was doing this in droves, opening up shots for Kapono and Bargs, the one big on the floor, and these started to fall.

A 20 point deficit was reduced to 15, then 10, and then 8, and suddenly the Boston Celtics looked much more like the team that had recently dropped games to the Knicks and Bobcats, instead of the club that finished off Kobe and the Lakers last spring.

However even when Toronto got as close as five points, there just wasn’t enough time to complete the comeback and in the end, the C’s prevailed. It was inspiring attempt, and one that hopefully will motivate the Dinos tomorrow night when they travel to Boston for the rematch, but one that came up short.

The frustrating thing for Raptors fans, was seeing a club that had played so well recently, come out so flat.

There really was no excuse and while yes, shots didn’t fall that were dropping in previous games, the Raps didn’t exactly do themselves any favours by repeatedly settling for perimeter shots. Even when Toronto got within striking distance near the game’s end, it was Jason Kapono uncharacteristically looking to drive the ball in effort to pin a sixth foul on Ray Allen, while Jamario Moon kept jacking up 3’s. This club still needs to be much more aggressive offensively and it needs to be a complete team mentality. This game was there for the taking had the club started attacking from the get-go.

Interestingly, this loss was a carbon copy of another defeat earlier this season for Toronto. It was the Raptors’ fourth game, and at the time, the team was riding a three game winning streak. However at home against Detroit, the club came out flat, and even though they fought back to nearly snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat, they just didn’t have enough to pull it out.

After that loss to Detroit, Toronto dropped 3 of their next 4 games and suddenly the season began to unravel. The Raptors have made some great strides lately to get back on track so it’s crucial for them to follow up this afternoon’s loss with a solid game tomorrow night.

Here are our 3 keys.

1) Perimeter Defense.

Yes, Ray Allen absolutely killed Toronto today. 8 of 10 from beyond the arc will do that. So one might say that his dead-eye shooting was simply bad luck, especially considering that Allen had been shooting below 40 per cent from the field and below 30 per cent from long-range in January up until this game. However even if Allen comes back down to earth tomorrow, it’s unlikely that KG and P squared will shoot a combined 8 of 27 again.

The real problem today wasn’t so much Allen’s shooting, although it certainly would have helped if he had missed a few, but Rajon Rondo. Rondo finished with near triple-double numbers (14-11-6) and simply got anywhere he wanted on the court through the first three quarters. As a result, Ray Allen had more wide-open looks than he’s had in weeks and Toronto, under Jay Triano’s pack-the-paint defence, paid the price time and time again.

Tomorrow night, the Raptors need to do a much better job on Rondo and while this is easier said than done, I really believe this the key to everything. If Toronto can turn Rajon into a jump-shooter, this grinds the Celtics’ offense to a halt and takes away many of the open looks the team had this afternoon. The onus again will be on Jose to do this but if he can’t early, I’ll be looking for Triano to give a quick hook and try his luck with either Roko or Will.

2) Attack, Attack, Attack.

There can be no snooze button tomorrow night. Toronto now has seen how they can beat this Celtics club and they need to do it right from the tip-off. That means driving to the hole, pushing the rock in transition, and playing to their strengths. That means unless the Raps are up by 20, I under no circumstances want to see Chris Bosh shooting 3-pointers. It also means I want to see the rest of the team looking to for mismatches, in particular, Bargs if he’s being guarded by Scalabrine. Andrea had a rough afternoon percentage-wise (he was 5 of 14) but still looked for his shot and did a good job on the glass. He really can be the difference-maker in this contest tomorrow evening and I’ll be looking for him to help set the tone early.

In addition, Boston’s bench is decimated at present due to injuries and this could be a big advantage for Toronto. One thing Toronto did do well this afternoon was get to the line and the bench, Joey Graham in particular, played a big role in this. If this bench production can help off-set any lapses by the starting unit, it could go a long way towards a W.

3) Break the Mental Hold.

From the time Ray Allen hit a game-winner last season against Toronto up until now, this Celtics team has had some sort of mental trance on the Raptors. Chris Bosh seems to disappear behind KG’s shadow, Toronto’s perimeter defence makes Rajon Rondo look like the second-coming of Oscar Robertson, and generally the team either waves the white flag by the time the third quarter rolls around, or chokes down the stretch after leading for most of the game.

My hope is that this afternoon’s loss broke this chain. Finally towards the end Bosh looked to attack Garnett, Roko Ukic played as if to say "Rajon who?", and Joey Graham threw his weight around and knocked heads with Brian Scalabrine. I even thought Jamario Moon did a good job at times, especially on the defensive side of the ball guarding Paul Pierce. After watching KG’s antics up close for most of the season, he and his team are starting to remind me of that neighbor’s dog…the one that was all bark and no bite. The team talks of mental toughness but Boston’s fold job down the stretch was on par with any Toronto’s done this year…and they don’t have a player like KG running beaches at dawn for Zen-like inspiration.

Tomorrow night, I’d like to see the Dinos finally shatter this whole Celtics mystique. Other teams have done it recently and Toronto took steps in that direction in the fourth quarter today, but tomorrow night is really when it’s time to show and prove.

A win would give this team a huge mental boost, not to mention another notch in their belt in terms of securing a playoff spot, and would also suddenly make something that’s an increasing possibility very interesting.

A first-round playoff date with the men in green.

FRANCHISE