Well, a tough loss to the Hornets Sunday on a day when the Raptors could just as easily pulled out the win. After a solid defensive effort in the 1st quarter, the Raptors began to lose track of shooters like James Posey and Rasual Butler as the team ranked #1 in 3 point shooting in the league put up shot after shot as the Raptors struggled as they have all year with perimeter defense.
Here are the keys to the game as I saw them.
Keys for the game:
1) Protect the Paint – allowing only 34 points in the paint to the Nets was a huge victory for this Raptors team that had been averaging 47+ points in the paint nightly. Against the Hornets Chris Paul and Rasual Butler will look to force the Raptors out of the defensive lanes that held Vince Carter to 0 – 13 shooting with no lanes to penetrate. Sunday, the Hornets outscored the Raptors 28 – 20 as the Raptors seemed to have no desire to attack the teeth of the Hornets defense with NO Tyson Chandler.
2) Perimeter defense – Not letting Mo Pete and Peja Stojakovic will be looked to shoot over top of the 1 – 4 structure that Jay has implemented. With Jose Calderon being pulled out of man coverage on Chris Paul, the defensive movement of Jamario Moon and Joey Graham will be critical to putting pressure on the array of shooters this Hornets team will bring to the game. Morris Peterson did not play, but the Hornets took 32 3 point shots, and made 12 of them. James Posey hit 6 mostly open shots as the Raptors could not keep the shooters under pressure at all.
3) Rebounding – I will say this every game until the Raptors begin to assert themselves on the glass consistently. Against a smaller front court like the Hornets, there is no reason why we can’t dominate this team on the glass, especially if Tyson Chandler does not play. With him out, David West becomes the leading rebounder on this team and he should have a difficult time against Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal all afternoon with Andrea Bargnani in the mix, the Raptors should be able to work toward a more balanced rebounding effort. Sunday, the Raptors started the game strong on the glass but down the stretch, their weak rebounding kept the game out of reach. They ended the game -7 to the Hornets as the Raptors were only able to grab 2 offensive boards in the second half while the Hornets were able to grab 6. David West grabbed 3 offensive boards.
4) Transition defense – This Hornets team will look to take advantage of turnovers as Chris Paul is one of the league leaders in steals with 53. The Raptors will have to contain the transition offense and early baskets that the Hornets will attempt to capitalize on. The Raptors on Sunday were able to hold the Hornets to only 7 points in transition, but were only able to get 2 themselves.
5) Control the Ball – Turnovers will be a huge factor as the Raptors will be hard pressed to keep the ball and keep the number of turnovers closer to 10 than to 20. As this team becomes more comfortable with Jay’s systems, I look to Jose Calderon to have more than 3 assists as well, but more critical, this team needs to keep the assist to turnover ratio closer to 2/1 to continue its success. Sunday, the Raptors had only 10 turnovers while the Hornets had 11, both teams had 13 points off of turnovers.
Over-all, this game was exciting and very well played by both teams, but the Raptors continue to struggle working the ball inside to Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal consistently. Yes, Chris Bosh scored 25 points and 8 rebounds as well as 6 assists, but in the 4th quarter, he began to settle for jump shots again which is out of the context of the offense and too often leads to shots from the top of the circle with no rebounding support late in the shot clock. Jose Calderon played a very good game with 22 points and 7 assists to Chris Paul’s 12 points and 12 assists. Very solid games from 2 of the premier PG’s in the league.
One of the biggest differences in the Raptors the past 3 games had been the play of Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon. Today, they both struggled adding only 7 points each on offense. Balanced scoring will be a key to this team every game, with only 3 players over 10 points, the Hornets were able to focus on Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon down the stretch and no one else was even in the game other than Jermaine O’Neal who had 19 points. Another issue was rebounding again. Not one Raptors player was over 10 rebounds while Posey was able to gather in 10 for a nice double double off the bench. Someone has to decide that they want to become the rebounder this team needs to keep control of the ball and the tempo of the game. I think that we have taken a lot of steps in the right direction and Jay has done a great job getting this team to play closer to their potential. This will be a tough week with the Nets, the Mavericks, the Spurs coming up with the Thunder on Friday night. Let’s hope the climb to respectability continues.