I thought tonight would be the night that the Raptors would get a much needed win. Prior to the game Vicious D did a fantastic Rival Report on NBA.com and having put forth such a great effort against the Lakeshow I was pretty optimistic. Unfortunately, like many times this season I was left disappointed.
The schedule as of late has been extremely tough, but with the recent injury to CP3 and with Chandler still on the shelf if there was a game I thought the Raps could steal it was this one. The loss of CP3 has been devastating to the Hornets and the team has looked completely lost without its leader. Despite the Raps being without their big name player I still thought there was a chance, and after 24 minutes it looked like a W was possible. Unfortunately a game is 48, and when all was said and done this was just another loss for the boys in black.
The first 24 minutes of the game were very interesting. After a slow start in the first quarter, Triano made some key adjustments in the second quarter to help give the Raps a spark. From the opening tip it was pretty clear that the Hornets, despite being shorthanded were going to have their way with the Raps and their man to man defense. Their shots were falling, in particular from beyond the arc and even though Coach Scott was using a Princeton type of offense rather than the teams usual dosage of pick and roll the Hornets players looked sharp. On the flip side the Raps were having a tough time finding a rhythm and getting into their sets.
In response Triano moved away from the man to man defense and went to a zone and it was a great call. The second quarter was completely dominated by the Raps and rather than being down by double digits the Raps managed to secure the lead going into the half. After such a strong first quarter the Hornets looked completely lost against the zone and committed multiple turnovers and had a tough time getting decent looks. Jose Calderon in particular took full advantage of the sloppy New Orleans play and looked fantastic running the break time and time again and scoring with ease.
Heading into the second half I was expected a lot more zone defense, but inexplicably it was not to be and the results were devastating. The third quarter was played evenly as between the teams but in the final stanza the tides changed in a big way. Deciding to continue with the man to man defense the Hornets, in particular Peja and James Posey found their stroke and it was bombs away. In the fourth quarter the Hornets hit EIGHT three pointers and were absolutely lights out. They were hitting three’s from everywhere and the Raptors simply couldn’t withstand the barrage.
Meanwhile the Raps went back to looking like they did in the first quarter having a tough time getting shots and getting into a rhythm. It’s no coincidence that when the Raps abandoned the zone they didn’t score another fast break point. This begs the question as to why Triano didn’t go back to the zone in the second half. I am left totally baffled and left wondering if the Raps really didn’t let what could have been a solid win get away. I don’t really blame the players because no team would be able to withstand the barrage of three pointers witnessed last night and the Raps did challenge some of those deep three’s. I more question the defensive tactics used late in the game.
Despite another loss, there were positives to take from last night’s game in particular Jermaine O’Neal. JO is clearly back to his pre-Christmas form and was clutch down the stretch. He has been doing a fantastic job in the paint the past week and has found his touch. He and Andrea are also doing a much better job playing together and looking to set each other up. JO’s solid play as of late can only help BC in his search to find a trading partner should he feel it necessary to deal the big man.
It was also great to see Calderon look healthy. The whole 100 shots in a game theory is long gone but it was exciting to see this team get out and run a little more in the second quarter and it was more exciting to see Calderon lead the way. Hopefully Triano can find a way to incorporate some more up tempo play.
On the flip side last night’s game only dirtied the waters even more when it comes to the Raptors swingmen. Joey Graham was only "ok" coming off his career best scoring performance while Jamario Moon put together a solid effort. As Jack Armstrong said during the game the bench is a great motivator and it sure seemed to do the trick for Moon on this night. That being said I think Coach Triano would be best served to keep Graham in the starting line-up. Although he didn’t have a great game he still was willing to attack the rim, mix it up and get physical. When he and JO are on the floor the Raps have a certain toughness to them that I like.
Nevertheless it is another L, but the schedule makers have finally given this Raptors team some much needed reprieve in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies in today’s rare Saturday match-up.
This Memphis franchise is an absolute disgrace. After showing life earlier this season the wheels have totally fallen off, the latest evidence coming in the form of a blow-out loss last night against the LA Clippers. The last time the Raptors and the Grizzlies faced off it was at the ACC and the game was an absolute snoozefest with the Raps taking care of business. What do the Dino’s have to do to finally get a win? Here are the three keys:
1. Establish the Bigs - Despite Andrea Bargnani and JO being a combined -23 in last nights affair the Raps must establish both big men early and consistently feed the post against the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol has been a pleasant surprise for the Grizz this season but the Raptors bigmen should really have no problem asserting their will against this lesser opponent. Look for lots of high-low feeds as between O’Neal and Bargs and the Raps should control the paint.
2. High Energy - Even though the Raps have been more losing than winning the effort has been there the past few games. This must continue, in particular against an inferior opponent. Although the Grizz have great young players they are easily discouraged. If the Raps can come out early with a high intensity level this game could be over in the early stages. If the Raps give the Grizz something to play for anything is possible as Mayo and Gay can fill it up.
3. Take Care of the Rock - As much as it felt like the Raps had a chance to win last nights match-up had the Hornets managed to score off the all too frequent Raptors turnovers in the first half this game could have been a blow-out. The Raps have to take better care of the ball, in particular the bigs. As well as O’Neal played last night he did get stripped a few times and both he and Il Mago were responsible for 10 of the 16 turn-overs. The Raps simply are not good enough to give opposing teams extra possessions even if the opposing team is the Memphis Grizzlies.