Franchise and I had a conversation earlier about who was covering this game.
You see, we at the HQ divide up the games and schedule who is going to do what for the following week pretty early. It allows us to plan our lives around games and such, and I just happened to volunteer for this Magic game.
Franchise, wanting to double-check things, asked me if I wanted him to handle it. I said, "It'll be fine. I'm going to the game anyways. But if you have something pressing on your mind, you can go ahead and take this game." Franchise replied to me by saying, "No, that's ok. I don't want to cover a demolition of mass proportions."
Well, I don't know if being out-worked and routed by 23 points counts, but I can tell you one thing: I'm now merely waiting to see what roster change is in store before the trade deadline.
When it comes down to it, I don't see why we should have expectations about this team anymore. In fact, I wonder if the team itself has any expectations of making the playoffs anymore.
The Raptors continue to choose to make life difficult for themselves by being a team of players that don't play according to the normally defined roles of the NBA. Two years ago, such a structure was to our advantage as our players were confident in their abilities yet managed to play with the humility of knowing that effort is 90% of the battle. However, now when we have holes on defense, brain cramps on offense, and no more speeches or words to comfort ourselves or the players, we're left with a team that couldn't score 100 points in a game and instead allowed the opposing team to impose their will. In this league, no other club relies solely on their point guard to spark drives to the rim. No other team in the NBA looks for their power forward to make jump shots from 10-15 ft out on a consistent basis. No other team has a starting small forward who just camps around the arc and takes 3's and perimeter shots all night long.
Chris Bosh admitted his own fault in the situation. When it's midway through the second quarter and your star power forward has exactly zero points, you have to wonder whether it's going to be anyone's night. And when Bosh finally did score, he did absolutely nothing to help his cause by making stupid decisions with his shot selection. The Raptors, keeping things close in the second quarter, had plenty of opportunities to make the game interesting. With Howard sitting out a lot of the 1st and 2nd quarters thanks to a brilliant play by Bargnani to give the Magic big man two fouls, the Raptors in the 2nd quarter were able to get to the penalty with four minutes to go. How long did it take for them to take advantage of the penalty situation? TWO MINUTES. How many fouls did Dwight have at the end of the game? THREE. In fact, it was by some minor miracle that the Raptors were only down by five after the first half after shooting 40% from the floor.
Or at least they should have been, had Bosh not slammed the ball into the court and let it fly high up into the air, resulting in a technical foul shot at the beginning of the third.
Bosh is obviously frustrated, and according to ESPN's resident loud-mouth Stephen A. Smith, won't be a Raptor after 2010, but so are fans. The Magic gave him the open jumper all night long and he kept missing, a rarity for someone who was shooting almost 50 per cent from the field this season. However when Bosh couldn't get it going from outside, he should have tried to go to the interior. Even if he wasn't scoring, at least that could have moved around Orlando's defence to open things up for this team of jump shooters.
Unfortunately, Bosh wasn't alone. While both Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon kept the Raptors in the game until the end of the half, the Raptors completely shot themselves in the foot in the third. Up in the Sprite Zone, we pleaded with the team to go inside on a consistent basis. Jermaine O'Neal received his touches for most of the night, but O'Neal regressed into a jump shooter who simply wasn't getting his calls. He was also stripped of the ball in the post three times for three turnovers. Moon, of course, was his usual outside presence. Sure, he scored, but once again, everything was from the perimeter. Anthony Parker was quiet for most of the night as Will Solomon made his return back into the rotation. However, the offense stayed stilted with little ball movement and a lot of jump shooting.
So you can imagine my frustration when the Raptors coupled their offensive deficiencies with their lackluster defense.
But you have to credit Orlando for doing things the way you're supposed to. Dwight Howard got his touches on every play and more often than not, got deep post position. When the Raptors helped out on the Man-Child, the ball either swung around the arc to the open man or was passed to a cutter who went to the basket for an easy lay-up. Heck, sometimes Howard simply just powered his way into the hoop despite having the Raptors draped all over him. And when Howard came out of the game, the Raptors still had their hands full. Having Mickael Pietrus come off the bench just made the team that much more relentless. When I think back on the game, it's no wonder the Raptors were simply overpowered.
Nevertheless, defense has to be about effort, and the Raptors continually gave up defensively. Sure, Triano has often preached about leaving the arc open and risking to see if a team can make 3 pointers consistently. "Protect the interior" seems to be his mantra. I don't believe though, that Triano wanted the Raptors to simply abandon their post and allow the Magic to shoot open 3s for most of the game. I know that the fans in my section certainly didn't accept it either.
There is a drill that I see every year from Byron Scott and the New Orleans Hornets. It happens every year that they've been a part of NBA TV's Real Training Camp show. The Hornets will run a drill where everyone is standing on the arc. A help defender drops down. The pass heads to the outside arc and begins to be passed around the arc. It's up to the defensive player that's dropped down to help against the big man to properly rotate over to the open shooter so that the team at least contests the three point shot.
It's something that we've hardly seen the Raptors ever do in a defensive rotation.
How many open looks did the Magic get? I honestly don't know. But what's obvious to me is that we simply don't have players that are smart enough or have the proper effort to run out against open shooters on a consistent basis. Not even an EFFORT was made, which was just simply the most frustrating part about watching a game like this as a fan and as a blogger.
Now in my mind, there were two bright spots for the afternoon. They were both Bargnani and Calderon. While Bargnani's shooting night descended into trouble in the third and fourth, I still felt the effort there defensively. There were plenty of times that he managed to work Howard. While Howard did best Bargnani on more than a couple plays, at least our Italian gunner managed to draw a charge on one play and keep Howard outside of his comfort range at times, which is more than could be said about the other Howard defenders.
Calderon, on the other hand, kept the Raptors in the game early with an assortment of jumpers. He also seemed to be one of the few players unafraid of trying to get to the hoop, despite having a hamstring that again was less than 100 per cent, and despite going up against the big and dominating presence of the Magic's front-court. But that's far from enough to take on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
When I went into this game, I went knowing that the Raptors were likely going to drop it against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Magic have been 8-2 in their last 10 games, have gotten a key player back from injury and are one of the few teams that just might challenge Cleveland and Boston in the playoffs. But seeing everything live just gave me a new perspective on the situation. The ACC is far from being a dead arena and the fans are not without hope. They are willing to cheer effort. Chants of "Joey-Joey" arose from the crowd in the second quarter. Even in the fourth, down twenty, the crowd tried to bring the Raptors back into it when they cut the lead to 15 points.
But you know what? The fans can't be the only ones bringing it. We will yell, scream, shout our way into trying to give the Raptors some reason to play better. Fans care. That's why, in the end, we boo'd.
We boo'd because we care so much about our team that it's unacceptable to us to watching a team fail so badly at being competitive.
We boo'd because we know that taking the ball to the hoop can hurt and taking an open jumper is easier, but when your shot isn't falling, you need to change your tactics.
We boo'd because every day we see this same team stepping out onto the floor and on any given night, they just might give up.
Something's gotta give before the fans stop caring enough to boo too.