After a frustrating loss to the Celtics B and C team last night, Franchise talks effort and some changes he'd like to see Jay Triano make to his line-ups...
"....I didn't think we had the grit, and the desire, and the fight that we're gonna need, if we're going to win basketball games, or compete against teams like the Boston Celtics..."
As frustrating as last night's loss was from a Raptors' fan's vantage point, hearing Jay Triano say those words, along with a number of other choice ones in his post-game tirade, made the match more than worthwhile.
For me, it was about time.
Last year I felt that too many players got away with too many nights of less than 100% effort and while that's fine when you can rely on the likes of Chris Bosh in those moments, without him, you need a complete team effort each and every night.
It's only pre-season but there already have been concerning lapses in said effort and last night's 117 to 112 loss was Exhibit A for me.
For those who missed it, the Raptors got down by nearly 30 points before a late fourth quarter flurry pulled them within a shot at the win. It was a case of too little too late, but in those fleeting fourth quarter minutes, it showed something that many of us at the HQ, readers and writers, have been saying for years - this team can be successful when it plays with passion and intensity on each and every play.
Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen nearly enough, and frankly, there are certain players on the team who just don't play in that manner.
Compounding this issue is a lack of talent, something that was glaringly obvious in this one. Boston just seemed to be toying with Toronto and why not? When Rajon Rondo is able to beat his man off the bounce in a half-court set, and is quick enough to speed past him and a closing Amir Johnson resulting in an open lay-up, why wouldn't you make plays like this all day if you're the C's?
In fact at one point in last night's live-blog, we discussed whether any of the current Raptors were talented enough to make Boston's bench. While we came up with a few names like Barbosa and Kleiza etc, the fact is that the Raptors are playing role players as starters at present, and this echoes back to another of Jay Triano's comments post-game:
"are they (Boston) better than us? Absolutely. So we have to make it up somehow. And we have to make it up by outworking teams, and we didn't do that, we didn't win that category tonight either."
It wasn't until Triano threw out a line-up of Marcus Banks, Sonny Weems, Julian Wright, Amir Johnson and Joey Dorsey in the late fourth that this changed.
Suddenly, the defense picked up, the intensity was there, and Toronto outworked a group of Celtics "scrubs," who had given the Raptors' starters fits all night.
How did this group do it? Honestly, they played solid fundamental ball. They got up on D (see Banks locking down Nate Rob and forcing turnovers), they were aggressive inside (see Julian Wright's wreckless forays at the rim), they rebounded the ball (Mr. Dorsey), and they set hard screens enabling good cuts to the hoop (Dorsey again.)
Nothing too fancy, just basic basketball.
It also helps that this quintet features some of the most athletic and physically skilled players the Raptors have, and frankly, Triano needs to play these types more often. Maybe they're not as naturally skilled as players like Bargnani or have the basketball acumen of a Jose Calderon, but they compete and these physical traits put them on par with their competition. I can't count the number of times last night prior to this line-up that the Celtics' players simply out-muscled, out-jumped, or out-ran the Raps. Some of this as mentioned, yes, was effort, but a good chunk was in natural ability. Even guys like Von Wafer are a handful for the Calderon's and DeRozan's of this team and last night made that painfully obvious.
I mean Boston shot 54 free-throws! Think about that for a second.
Toronto shot 42 themselves, but a good chunk of those came late in the game when the Banks-led quintet stepped it up. The Raptors awful rotations and lackluster help simply kept the C's at the line and when the opponent is shooting that many more free-throws, it makes it tough to win games.
So here's my hope for Sunday afternoon; Triano lays down the law and makes some radical changes.
He talked a good game as per his post-game tirade, but now let's see what transpires for tomorrow's game against the Suns, because the message needs to be sent and sent now before the season gets under way.
If I'm Triano, I start Jack, Weems, Wright, Kleiza and Amir Johnson.
I bring in Leandro Barbosa, Joey Dorsey, Marcus Banks and DeMar DeRozan as needed.
I'm sorry but until Jose brings something to the table, anything, and Andrea decides he's not going to get beat down the court by a 54 year old Kevin Garnett, and allow guard after guard to head to the rim uncontested, they don't play.
Reggie Evans and David Andersen? I'm sorry too but you're just not effective enough to play major minutes.
And why the hell is Ronald Dupree playing at all Jay?
In all seriousness this team has to start playing the players who deserve to play, not those who have bigger contracts, more experience or higher pedigrees etc. If that means starting essentially a rookie like Dorsey, or even Ed Davis later in the year, so be it. If there's a season to try some new things and really instill some proper fundamentals, it's this one frankly.
Otherwise fans are going to be stuck watching the same cycle year after year and that's not something I care to do.
Last night's match made me think back to Mike James' and his 27 win 2005-06 Raptors' squad.
That team wasn't very talented, as you can see from this roster, but they competed hard nearly each and every night and because of that, were often exciting to watch. James himself was viewed as a bit of a "chucker," but he also refused to say die, a trait I always respected, and it's one of the reasons he's stuck in the league so long, despite his many basketball shortcomings.
The group who finished the game last night had that same "never quit" spirit, and it's up to Triano to either get more of that mentality from his "starters," or find new starters altogether, something he conceded as well post-game when addressing this lack of grit:
"maybe it's the combination of players I have, they haven't been able to figure it out..."
I think this is the case, but the good news is the team still has three more pre-season matches to figure it out for sure.