A tough loss to the Pacers yet again. This time, Toronto just couldn't get the little things right...players and coaches. The HQ takes a look at the L, and previews tonight's match against Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
Even coaches make rookie mistakes.
In a season full of learning, last night's 95 to 90 loss to the Indiana Pacers was hopefully equal to taking a big bite out of the "we'll know better for next time" apple.
Or some kind of food filled with brain synapse activating nutrients.
Because while the Toronto Raptors hung tough with a much more talented Pacers squad, it was various errors in key moments that made what should have been an upset win, instead, a tough-to-swallow loss.
And yes, as noted, this includes Toronto coach Dwane Casey.
For those who missed it, with the Raps down by three and about 20 seconds left in the contest, Casey subbed big man Jamaal Magloire in for Amir Johnson, as Amir had just picked up his sixth foul. The idea was to use Magloire to prevent easy Indiana rebounds on the defensive end, an issue the Raps were having since about half.
However with the Raptors looking for a quick two, or open three to extend the match, the Pacers fouled Magloire, sending him to the free-throw line instead.
How did this scenario end up?
A bit like this:
Now obviously even if Magloire had hit both thanks to some magic basketball fairy dust, Toronto still would have had to foul the Pacers, hope whoever they fouled missed at least one shot, gone back down the court...
...you get the idea.
But Magloire, a career 64 per cent shooter from the charity stripe, quickly removed any further strategy from fans' minds with the two misses.
Should Magloire have been in the game in that situation?
It's a tough call.
The team needed help on the glass, but perhaps a small-ball line-up of Davis, Kleiza and James Johnson would have worked better, with Johnson compensating at the 3 for the smallish 4 and 5 options. All are better free-throw shooters than Magloire, and then maybe the Raps have some continued life.
That being said, none are exactly Ray Allen's from the stripe either, so there' s no guarantee this plan would have worked.
And Toronto's horrendous overall foul shooting with the game on the line, didn't exactly help matters.
But even without going small, post-game Casey acknowledged that he at least should have ensured Magloire didn't have the ball in his hands at that time:
"I take full blame for that," Casey said. "I should not have had him handling the ball. I should have had Ed Davis at the top."
Unfortunately even if Casey takes the blame for this portion of the match, he can't for numerous other errors.
The reason Jamaal Magloire was in the game at all in that situation, is because Amir Johnson fouled out, yet Amir's sixth foul only occurred because the Raps allowed the Pacers to grab an offensive rebound off a missed David West free-throw. One proper box-out would have potentially changed everything.
Suddenly then it's only a one-point Raptors' deficit, and Amir, not Magloire is in during crunch time.
Or let's go back before that?
With the game tied, the Dinos did an excellent job on a defensive set, denying numerous first options the Pacers were looking for. However late in the clock, they got David West the ball one-on-one against Amir Johnson, and instead of forcing West into Ed Davis and the help D, Amir got a bit too close, playing D with his hands as opposed to feet, and said foul sent West to the line, starting this whole end-of-game fiasco.
Really the point is that this game was riddled with these little errors and miscues from the Raptors, and as a team usually heading into match with a major talent deficit compared to their opponents, this is huge. There's just very, very, very, very little margin for error for the 2011-12 Toronto Raptors. and arguable less minus Andrea Bargnani.
Some may point to the fact that without Bargs, the Raps played a much better "team" game and hey, nearly beat a very good Pacers club.
But I wouldn't be able to agree.
Sure, DeMar DeRozan had his best game offensively in ages, finishing with 23 points, but the bulk of his baskets weren't because the team was now playing a completely different pro-DeMar style, minus Andrea. Looking at the advanced box score from last night's game, his shot selection was pretty similar to his season average. He simply made a lot more of the shots that he did take, and was much more aggressive in terms of getting to the free-throw line.
DeRozan actually took more long range shots last night than he usually does (although he missed all four of this 3-point attempts) but I could find no correlation between his rise in play and a lack of Andrea Bargnani.
Instead, I saw many situations where Bargnani was missed, especially, defending the screen-and-rolls run by Indiana PG Darren Collison. Ed Davis was late to get out on various occasions, resulting in open looks for the Pacers, or easy forays to the hoop. On one such play, Davis had his back completely turned to the ball, and the Indiana ball-handler headed right to the hoop for an easy uncontested two.
These are the types of things that are bound to happen with young teams trying to learn a new system, and adjusting to the loss of their top player.
And we may see more tonight against the Bulls.
Chicago is coming off an impressive 88 to 79 win over the Boston Celtics, and now sit at 11 and 2 on the season, good for top spot in the league.
Derrick Rose returned to score 25 points and dish out seven assists after a one game "turf toe" related break, and if the Dinos want to have a hope in hell of getting this W, that's where they need to start their preparations.
1) Contain Derrick Rose: Easier said than done right? Rose is having another All-Star season for the Bulls and is leading them to what looks like a certain Eastern Conference Finals. However he's not immune to a good team defense. In losses, Rose is shooting only 34 per cent from the field and as the Atlanta Hawks showed in their win over the Bulls on Jan 7, if you force the ball out of his hands and make other Bulls beat you, you've got a shot at a W. Rose attempted only 10 shots that match, and the Hawks used a combination of defenders and double-teams to get the rock away from him. Jose Calderon is not likely the guy to do that so perhaps Casey plays Calderon at the 2 defensively, guarding the much more offensively inept Ronnie Brewer, while giving the assignment on D to a Rasual Butler or DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan though for all his offense last night, struggled on D against folks like Paul George, and will need a much better effort this evening if he's taking on Rose.
2) Put Points on the Board: The Raptors are still doing a pretty good job on D. It's not the top D in the league, but the 20th best defensive rating, their current mark, is still miles ahead of 30th last year. Unfortunately they're playing THE best defensive team in the league tonight in Chicago, so something's gotta give, and for me, it's the either side of the ball that deserves more attention. Toronto is the the third worst scoring team in the league averaging 88 points per game. Considering the Bulls are holding opponents to 85...well...you do the math.
Minus Bargs, the Raps got a boost from DeMar and Leandro Barbosa last night, but they need more production from guys like James Johnson, Rasual Butler and Linas Kleiza...yep, the same old swing position woes. However I liked what I saw from Gary Forbes last night, even in limited minutes, so I'm hoping for a larger dose tonight.
More important though to me than just having guys knock down shots, is ensuring guys get to the free-throw line. We discussed last night's issues, and one big advantage Toronto could have this evening is if they can find a way to parade to the charity stripe, something they've been extremely bad at all season.
3) Rebound the Ball: The Bulls don't just defend, they also make sure when you do miss, you don't get a second kick at the can. They lead the league in rebounds per game and are voracious on the glass. Toronto is a solid rebounding group on its own, but if they can find a way to get easy second looks, it would do wonders for the club, especially on a night when a back-to-back may wreak havoc on their jump shots.