In what might have been the easiest Raptors win of the year, the New Jersey Nets showed why they set the NBA record for worst start to a season. Vicious D, however, takes a pessimistic look at an easy win
You know, a recap like this should be easy.
It would go something like "Raptors beat a lousy team 118-95. It wasn't even close. Notch one for the good guys."
It's easy to look at this game and say "Ok, this team is now going to play five teams that they should clobber because this Raptors team can at least beat bad teams."
It's easy to go look at the Raptors record after this next stretch and say "Oh, they're only a couple games below .500"
It's easy to say that this team can play defense to win games because they can hold teams under 90 points and that they're doing better because they're doing it more often.
All of that is easy because the Raptors beat the Nets so badly in the first half that they didn't even need to try in the second half.
But all of that is the problem with this Raptors team. This team often takes the easy way out and looks at itself with rose-coloured glasses when things go well. This team is the one that features players who forget to go into the paint when they did it so well in the first quarter. This team will take the easy way out because being behind by 10 points means that it's really hard for the team to come back. It requires determination, and when this team requires determination, they seem to just implode and say "Ok, let's let our opponents keep scoring so we can get out of here ASAP."
I'm refusing to take the easy way out in this recap.
Fact of the matter is, the Raptors came out of this with a win because New Jersey is a pretty bad team that played a pretty bad game. Should the Raptors hang their laurels on this game? I'm sure that they aren't, but there are some disturbing signs from even this game.
For instance, discounting the first half for a moment, in the second half, the Nets outscored the Raptors 63-48. In those quarters, the Raptors did play a lot of bench players. Nevertheless, the effort in these quarters was largely lacking. In the third quarter, it was particularly disturbing to see the Raptors starters jack up shots from the field. When they went cold, the starters seemed to forget about what got them the lead in the first place. They stopped going to the paint and stopped deferring to DeMar DeRozan; the one player on the starters who was absolutely committed to continue going to the basket.
Then, the Nets started to take the Raptors to task in the paint. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez kept scoring on the inside and the same lackadaisical Raptors defense was there for everyone to see. Most of the Nets baskets came from blow-bys, interior passing, and just an unwillingness to protect the paint. How many times did we see the Nets finish off in a run? How many other times did we see the Nets cut through Jack, Turkoglu, and Bosh all in one play to the rim? Heck, how did Brook Lopez not pick up any more fouls for the entire second half after getting three limiting fouls in the first?
Meanwhile, Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong were busy talking about how the Raptors had played good defense by holding the Nets to just 33 points at the half.
But let's not just stay negative.
There are positives coming from today's game, and those largely have to do with that "hustle group" that we've seen on the floor. I'm talking of course about the close knit group of Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, Sonny Weems, and DeMar DeRozan. All of these players gave some kind of hustle on the floor that kept extending the lead throughout the game. It's these players that seem to have developed a chemistry that even the starters haven't been able to find. It's not surprising either that they're the hardest working bunch, night in, night out. And even Belinelli, who had a pretty horrendous shooting night still kept his hands active and managed to grab two steals and multiple deflections.
Oh, and the Toronto crowd loves them too because if there's one thing Torontonians love, it's a hard worker.
A long time ago, I was told a simple truth about life. The truth was that the right decision and the right thing to do is often the hard path, while the easy path is often the one most treaded and the one that never produces growth. For 29 games now, this Raptors team has shown a propensity to take the easy path far too often. When faced with the need to dig deep, to attack and keep a game close, or to get that one stop, this team just doesn't seem to have it. The only wins this team seems to be interested in are blowouts and that's not the mark of any championship competitor. Problem is, we may very well have four blowouts in the next four games.
In the next few games, the Raptors should display some ability to put away some teams and pad the stats of some of their players. These games will allow the Raptors to showcase some pieces and hopefully entice other general managers. The fact is, the Raptors will have a window of opportunity to showcase players and make changes before things get desperate.
I just wonder if anyone in this organization has the fortitude to take the hard path.