Every once in a while the Toronto Raptors will play one of those games that jump out at you.
Yesterday afternoon/night's 137 to 136, triple overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets was one such game for me.
It was a completely winnable match, only Toronto seemed to find new ways to lose when it counted, and the sum of all parts made me realize again that this team has a very long ways to go before becoming even a mediocre basketball club.
Let's start with the coaching decisions.
With 43 seconds left in the third quarter, Jay Triano subs Alexis Ajinca in for Andrea Bargnani. Bargs wasn't having a great shooting night overall, but he had hit 5 of his 8 shots in this Q, and was actually making some nice plays on offense and grabbing some rebounds.
However for some reason, Triano decided to sit Bargs for an extended period of time in the fourth and in fact, Andrea didn't return until there were about five minutes left in regulation. By then he looked out of rhythm, and was only 3 for 7 the rest of the way.
As well, Ed Davis, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds while only taking six shots from the field, played a grand total of 15 seconds of overtime, while Amir Johnson, who logged the bulk of the minutes in OT, was 3 of 10 from the field with only six rebounds.
Add on the fact that post-game, Triano gave "fatigue" as a possible reason for Bargnani's poor decisions near the end of the game, and you've gotta scratch your head a bit as to why the Raptors' head coach made many of the personnel decisions he did with the game on the line.
This loss extends beyond coaching though of course, and once more we've got to look at Andrea Bargnani.
Sure, Bargs' 35 points and 12 rebounds look great at face value.
But then you dig a bit deeper and realize he played 51 minutes, giving him a pretty weak rebounding rate, and he hit only 11 of his 28 shots from the field.
More egregious for me though was his play in clutch situations in this one as twice he had a chance to win the game and got off what amounted to a shot I could have attempted. Matched up with arguably slower players, Andrea on two consecutive "end of game" possessions decided that instead of driving to the hoop, or acting as a decoy for other teammates, he would jab step about 25 times, then settle for long-range 2 point shots, the least efficient shot on a basketball court.
On a micro level it was incredibly frustrating to see considering how close this game was, but on a macro level, it again reminded me of how it's incredibly hard to win when your "best player" is taking shots like this with the game on the line.
And this isn't all on Bargs either.
While DeMar DeRozan had a nice line too (30 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door in the game's final sessions and finished with a Bargnani-esque 11 of 26 shooting night.
Add in James Johnson's 2 of 7 evening, Jose Calderon going 3 of 10, as well as Amir's numbers that we touched on above, and you can see the same old story for TO; this team can't shoot. In fact this probably would have been a regulation loss had the Raps not gotten to the free-throw line so often, hitting on essentially 90% of their attempts. Toronto shot the ball well early but as the game went on, the team regressed to their mean so to speak, shooting 42 per cent for the game.
If Bryan Colangelo wants this club to take a major step forward next season again, he needs to get some players who can shoot into the starting line-up, and the Bargnani situation needs to be addressed.
Oh, and a bit of grit wouldn't hurt.
Besides the Raps' poor shooting and execution, the lack of "fight" in Toronto as this one wore on was extremely evident. The Nets got to the line far more often than Toronto and out-rebounded the Dinos in the game's final sessions and oh yeah, this was with NJ using a 3-guard line-up of Deron Williams, Sundiata Gaines/Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic.
One play late really summed it up for me.
The Nets got into a passing lane stealing the ball from the Raptors and headed the other way. However Jordan Farmar blew the open lay-up and one of his teammates blew the put-back giving Toronto oodles of time to come back, box out, and secure the errant shot.
However Andrea Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless somehow allowed a third Net to join the play late, get his hands on the rebound, and put in the easy two.
All I could do from my vantage point on my couch was shake my head.
Brook Lopez (he of 34 points, 14 rebounds and 8 blocks) fouled out with four minutes to go in the second overtime period and yet you never would have known it. The Raps failed to take advantage of their size and his absence and yes, we all know how it finished.
Loss number 46 on the season.
The bright side of course is that by losing twice to the Nets, it gives the Raps a nice cushion over New Jersey in the race for the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, one that now thanks to the Dinos' futility, has them only percentage points out of a top 3 pick in terms of record.
And continuing with the "Bright Side" theme, in that sense then, these two losses were potentially big wins for Toronto considering their next slate of matches see them playing some of the league's dregs like Detroit, Charlotte and Washington.
I don't know about you, but I'd certainly be fine with more ping pong balls come May then less.