And I don't know about you, but it's at that point that I knew this one was over.
Indeed, the Rockets waltzed to a relatively easy 117 to 101 victory over the Raptors last night, and you could pretty much tell from the game's first possessions that things were headed that way. The Dinos played some defence that was akin to the Jay Triano teams of old, getting absolutely killed on pick-and-rolls, and this probably looked like a YMCA match to the casual observer. Both teams went up and down, scoring at will, only the Rockets were much more efficient doing so, spacing out Toronto on pretty much every possession, posting a blistering effective field goal percentage of 60.8 per cent.
I'm not going to get into all the box score highlights here as I'm not sure it tells much of a story.
More importantly I think, this game was in essence the perfect follow-up to my Monday post regarding "the definition of insanity," and expecting different results when rolling out the same core of inefficient players.
Because this was on full display last night.
Exhibit A: Mr. Primo Pasta. Up until eight minutes into the third quarter, there was the player Bryan Colangelo thought he was drafting first overall. 19 points on some extremely efficient shooting, taking the ball inside, stretching out the D, even grabbing an O board and playing solid individual defence. By all accounts, proving pretty unstoppable early on.
But hey, this is Andrea Bargnani we're talking about so you got the feeling one of two things was going to happen.
Either the shots would start to clank (that old, regression to the mean thing), or he'd simply stop having an impact.
Last night it was the latter of the two as at about the ten minute mark that you could see that focus start to wane. Suddenly the aggressive drives stopped, the post-ups disappeared, and it was time to go through the motions.
Best example was with with about four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Raptors are on offense, running a set play. Bargs gets the ball, does a bit of a fake, and then throws an extremely lazy pass to one of his cutting teammates which is promptly picked off, and Houston goes the other way. On that end, the Rockets get off a shot that's hanging around the rim, and Andrea just kinda watches everything happen, as Chandler Parsons, the man he should have been switched off on, floats in for an easy put-back.
The second part of that play was so egregious that even Leo Rautins had to point it out as the possession was replayed on video.
And yet again, this shouldn't come as a surprise. This is, and always has been, the same Andrea Bargnani, and if you're going to "ride with him come hell or high water," these are the results you should expect.
Exhibit B: DeMar DeRozan: At least Bargs had a positive impact for points of this game. DeRozan might as well have been a ghost. He was back in "jump-shot" mode and rarely showed the ferocity and attack style that had made many of us hopeful regarding his recent contract extension. The stats bear it out as while his box score number is ok, five makes on 10 attempts, the advanced stats tell the real story. DeRozan was 3 of 4 in terms of shots at the rim, and 1 for 1 from 10 to 15 feet. But he didn't take a shot in that 3 to 9 feet range, and fell back into that first and second-year trap of firing up inefficient 16 to 23 foot shots, of which he made one of five attempts.
And that was his night.
One assist, four turnovers and and only three attempts at the free throw line.
For this team to have a chance to beat a Houston team, not only do they need a full game of effort from Andrea Bargnani, but they need a lot more from a guy like DeMar.
Exhibit C:Jose Calderon: And a lot more from Jose.
Again, Jose's box score stats look fine, decent shooting resulting in 12 points to pair with seven assists. You'll take those numbers from your back-up point guard any night.
But looking at his shot distribution hey, of the nine shots he took, EIGHT were from three-point range. The other was a long two. Nothing going to the rim, nothing from mid-range, Calderon was much more of a hired gun on this night, not a creator. He got his assists but rarely created opportunities for teammates by forcing the Houston defence to adjust.
Contrast that with Jeremy Lin and James Harden.
The duo combined for 22 assists and five of Lin's nine shot attempts were at the rim, four of which he made, as he continuously probed the Raps D, breaking it down resulting in faulty rotations for easy Houston baskets.
James Harden was pretty much the same in this way, and the Raps had nary an answer.
Exhibit D: Kyle Lowry: It's easy to pick on that core that I've been discussing of late. They're the ones who we've been watching for years so the cracks in their games show through a lot more.
But Kyle Lowry to me was the biggest disappointment last night on an individual basis.
This was the player who was supposed to set the tone for the team, being a bull-dog on D and consistently attacking the hoop at the other end.
That didn't happen. Far too often he got caught out of position by Lin and co., and you just didn't see that ferocity that has been present through most of the time he's been with the club so far, a ferocity that was much-needed on this night.
Because outside of the exhibits noted above, this was indeed a full team letdown.
The club didn't get the defensive effort needed early, turned the ball over and didn't fight enough on the glass, and this in turn meant that the game turned into the exact type of match the Rockets wanted to play; an up-and-down affair that presented plenty of open looks from long-range, which a great shooting club like Houston converted, making 13 of 26 attempts.
I talked about margin of error last post and this indeed match was further proof along that same line of thought. Without a complete team effort and no stand-out performances, the Raptors just don't have the individual talent to compete with a team like the Rockets.
And make no mistake, this is a dangerous Rockets team. Darryl Morey has done a great job putting together some very nice under-the-radar types like Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons (the duo combined for 40 points last night) to pair with their more high-profile acquisitions like Lin, Harden and even Omer Asik. This wasn't an easy game for Toronto coming in, especially considering the club's recent tough losses.
But there needed to be a much more concerted effort all around and that just didn't happen.
On a positive note, Terrence Ross lit up the scoreboard posting 19 points and five rebounds. The bulk of this came when the game was already out-of-hand, but you saw a number of the skills last night that made him such a highly touted prospect coming out of college. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dwane Casey giving him and Ed Davis (who was solid again), a lot more of a look over this next stretch. Casey post-game praised Ross and Valanciunas specifically noting their growth and development before adding that he now needed others to join in.
"And now I need other guys to join in. I need 7 to 9 guys and we'll find those 7 to 9 guys."
"We've gotta get some other people to join the party."
Casey needs to find them fast as without a full team effort in upcoming games against the likes of Memphis, Denver, Utah and the LA Clippers, all on the road, this season could be over before it even gets going.
Also, not going to bother with three keys to tonight's game as I think by now everyone knows what this team needs to do on a consistent basis to win games. In no particular order these include playing solid defense, getting solid contributions from the oft-maligned core as well as Kyle Lowry, and getting an additional boost off the bench from the Ed Davis-Amir Johnson types.
Even then, against maybe the best team in the league right now, Memphis, this one looks like another L tonight.