Franchise: "I remember a few games ago in the midst of the previous losing streak, you talked about how frustrated you were with the team’s lack of "grit," had you finally seen the emergence of that grit over the six game win streak?"
Shawn Marion: "In spurts. Not on a consistent basis, that’s the thing you gotta get to be successful in this league…get that grit and really stomp on people right from the start of the game. You know, most teams don’t really respond to that, they just fold."
Franchise: "Is that something those Phoenix teams you played for did, they got that momentum going and just took out their opponents?"
Marion: "Yeah, for sure but not just those Phoenix teams, we did that in Miami too. You know, we’re younger though, it’s hard when you’ve got that mixture of old and young guys. There’s more consistency when you’ve got a veteran group of guys you know, they know exactly what that means; you don’t have to work for another 12 or 24 minutes, or however much is left in the game, you end things right there and can coast for the rest."
Since his arrival in Toronto, Shawn Marion has been my favourite player to listen for in terms of post-game commentary. As you can see from the above, he always tells it like it is, and doesn’t sugar coat things regardless of a win or loss.
Last night’s result was indeed a loss, one that ended the team’s six-game winning streak and thankfully put the outlandish talk of sneaking into the final playoff spot in the East to bed for good.
Post-game in the Raptors’ locker room, one I had access to thanks to the Raptors’ Communications and PR staff, there wasn’t much talk of "what could have been," more focus simply on losing a game the team felt it should have won.
And how can you argue with that as a fan?
Toronto played essentially the same game as they did Saturday against the Knicks only last night the Dinos failed to do as good a job of chasing New York off the 3-point line, and the Gotham crew responded in stride by knocking down 13 of their 25 long-range bombs.
This stat was really the difference in the end between a seventh straight Raps win, and loss number 46 on the season. Toronto outscored New York in the paint, won the battle of the glass (even if it was only by one), and did a better job in various other statistical categories as well.
However the Knicks, particularly in the second quarter, just didn’t miss and if it wasn’t 3’s in transition, the Raptors were allowing open looks thanks to dribble penetration from the likes of Duhon, and a much more aggressive Wilson Chandler.
In fact, I really felt that this was in many ways the perfect follow-up to Saturday’s victory.
If Saturday’s win gave fans a glimpse of some of the positives Bryan Colangelo can take into the summer, then this match showed him the other side of the coin; the major issues he’s going to have to address if he wants to return this franchise back to being a playoff-caliber squad in the East.
For starters, even with Shawn Marion’s addition, this club is still far too reliant on jump-shooting. Toronto did a decent job offensively last night, but when their defence wasn’t holding up and they weren’t knocking down their usual array of long-distance looks, that’s when the Knicks pulled ahead. This hesitancy (or I’d argue inability) to attack the rim is something Jay Triano acknowledged to me prior to the match, and something he’s trying to continue to get his guys to work on for the remainder of the season.
For those who felt that Sam Mitchell didn’t do enough to stress this point, Triano’s comments simply reinforces something we’ve been saying here at the HQ for what seems like eons; this team just doesn’t have the personnel to either create off the dribble, or attack the basket consistently from the guard and wing positions. In last night’s game, time and time again Toronto was forced to settle for extremely tough fade-aways or desperation heaves when nothing had presented itself in the shot-clock’s dying moments.
Contrast that to the Knicks who were able to manufacture second possessions or trips to the free-throw line in these scenarios. Toronto doesn’t have a Chandler, or even a Nate Robinson, and the Dinos’ two-best players in terms of getting to the line are also their center and power forward, sort of a "bizzaro-world" version of most NBA teams today. Having a 2-guard who can create when the shot-clock is winding down and be a consistent third scoring option would be a huge lift and besides looking for such a player in the draft, BC should be putting this on the top of his statement of qualifications when looking at free-agents as well.
In addition, said 2-guard or wing needs to be able to guard the perimeter.
I thought Shawn Marion did an admirable job last night as evidenced by his three blocks and three steals, but most of these came in "help" situations and Jose, Joey Graham and Anthony Parker all struggled to stop New York’s dribble penetration. This lead to open looks early on and that’s when the Knicks’ shooters really started to warm up. On Saturday, Chris Duhon was the only member of the ‘Bockers able to get into the lane as both Robinson and Chandler were kept in check. With all three allowed to run wild, it was simply too much for Toronto’s already porous defence, leaving the team exposed from both the arc, and at times inside in terms of offensive rebounds.
And finally, looping back to the Matrix's comments to start this post, this team still needs a major infusion of grit and mental toughness. Marion and Pops are a good start, but this club is still much too soft. I felt that Chris Bosh (31 points and 14 rebounds) did a great job last night of bringing the effort and intensity necessary however you could hardly say the same was true for most of his teammates.
So where to from here?
With six games left on the 2008-09 schedule, is there anything to play for?
Of course in terms of a post-season, not exactly, however I do think that this final stretch still holds merit.
I’d like to see Triano now start giving more minutes to the likes of Roko, Mensah-Bonsu and Graham. If Triano and Colangelo really want to get a better picture of what they’re working with this summer, give Douby some more run, throw O’Bryant in the post, hell, why not bring Jawai back from the D-League as well? Why not do some experimentation and if it results in a loss, so be it? With Golden State having on a mini-run and the Knicks with virtually the same winning percentage as Toronto, a few more L’s would only help the Dino’s cause via the upcoming draft lottery.
That’s not to say I’m suggesting an all-out tank job…
…but if you can get a better look at what you currently have without sacrificing the future, that’s a plan in the short-term that I’m all for.