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Tag:Roko Ukic
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:26 am
 

Raptors Post Mortum - 2008 - 2009 Season Review

 

Raptors Post-Mortum

 

The 2008 – 2009 season started with high hopes for this Raptors team. Trading T.J. Ford for Jermaine O’Neal sending a shoot first PG to the Pacers and allowing Jose Calderon the reigns to this team gave us a sense of hope as the team would become the central issue and the focus of the offense, not one guy deeming his team mates worthy of touches.

 

The year started with a quick 3 win streak as the Raptors came out fast with wins against the Warriors, the 76ers and the Bucks. Tough losses against the Pistons and the Hawks followed by two wins against the Heat brought us eventually to an 8 – 8 record and the firing of Sam Mitchell. Jay Triano inherited a team that featured Chris Bosh scoring at a 26+ ppg clip and a struggling Jose Calderon working with Jermaine O’Neal and an emerging Andrea Bargnani. It became obvious very early that Jose would struggle physically this entire season as his hamstring just never seemed to recover and he never seemed comfortable on the floor and the team suffered through a long period where the PG position was handle by a platoon of Roko Ukic, Will Solomon and Anthony Parker who was perhaps the most under rated Raptors player this season and is often the focus of derision from fans because he isn’t a 20+ ppg SG like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade.

 

To me, the toughest loss of the year and perhaps the franchise, was the December 19<sup>th</sup> loss to the Kevin Durant led Thunder, who had 3 wins at the time. From that point, it was clear this was a season in trouble. Jermaine went down with a knee injury and we signed Jake Voskuhl to provide some depth at center. During this time our back court struggled as Jose reinjured his thigh in a game against the Heat in November and he missed 14 games to that injury, the Raptors would win only 5 games in which he didn’t play.

 

As the new year turned to playoff run, this team was pretty much finished in late February, yet they made a deal that sent O’Neal and Jamario Moon to the Heat to bring Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the team February 13<sup>th</sup>. We acquired Patrick O’Bryant, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and Quincy Douby to fill the roster for the year. Since that trade, we finished 12 – 14 with 2 wins over the Bulls who would love either of those back as they now face the Celtics in the first round. The new guys came in and offered us energy and some depth on the bench that had been lacking all season. With 3 wins to end the season, 2 against playoff teams in the 76ers and 1 against a Wizards team that easily could have won 35 games this season, hope has not left the Raptors dressing room.

 

Here are my assessments of the roster at this point. I will speculate on off-season moves after the playoffs.

 

Chris Bosh – lead the team with 22.7 ppg, ending up 8<sup>th</sup> behind Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets by .1. As the franchise player, Chris provided a level of play that was steady and consistent most of the season. When the team struggled in December and January, Bosh bore the brunt of the criticism – unfairly in my opinion as the team was not able to find a way to overcome injuries and compete with a poorly constructed bench. He ended up as one of 3 players in the league to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game – the other two being Dwight Howard of the Magic and Dwyane Wade. Pretty elite company if you ask me. He has been consistently ranked in the top 10 at his position all season and ended up one of the top 10 players over all for the season. He is ranked only behind Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks as a PF, ahead of Antawn Jamison, David West of the Hornets and Al Harrington of the Knicks and Pau Gasol of the Lakers. He IS the leader of this team and as such, offers a great many skills to the team. He was put on the FT line 607 times – 4<sup>th</sup> behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard and ahead of Devin Harris of the Nets,  shooting at an 81% clip making him a very difficult forward to guard by most opposing players and better than the four ahead of him in that stat. His 771 rebounds, good for 7<sup>th</sup> overall, and 2.5 assists per game make him a well rounded player and hopefully, will remain here a long time.

 

Andrea Bargnani – A slow start under Smitch brought calls for him to be moved out of Toronto, that he was a waste of a 1<sup>st</sup> overall pick in a class that gave the Trail Blazers LeMarcus Aldridge with the 2<sup>nd</sup> pick and Brandon Roy with the 6<sup>th</sup> pick and Rajon Rondo to the Celtics late in the first round, fans were beginning to wonder what this kid had to offer. Well, we began to see him play in the 4 spot with success as he is a deadly shooter from outside finishing the season at 40.9% from outside the arc. He finished the season ranked 50<sup>th</sup> in the league at 15.4 ppg but was closer to 20 ppg for the last third of the season. Under Jay, he was given the minutes he needed to develop both and low post game and a mid post game stepping out when needed and was not out of place on the break either as the team began to open up the offense, he was there with the finish. He led the team not only in 3 point attempts, but blocks as well finishing with 97 on the season. He seems to have found his place in both the offense and the defense and has been given the confidence of the coach. A very deadly combination for a young man looking for a place to belong!

 

Jose Calderon – The speculation of what might have been this past season had Jose been 100% for the entire year will be fuel for many forums. Aside from setting the FT% record hitting 151 of 154 FT’s for a 98.1%, he finished 6<sup>th</sup> overall with 607 assists behind only Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo. When listed by assists per game, he ends up 5<sup>th</sup> as Gilbert Arenas moves up and Jose passes Rondo and Kidd. Among the starting PG’s, Jose ended up first overall with 4.2 a/to ratio on the season. Jose shot 40.6% from outside and 49.7% over all while averaging 12.8 ppg. As Jose returned healthy, this team instantly began playing at a much higher level offensively and defensively he was much more able to keep his man in front of him and make opposing guards take bad shots and make bad passes. He has a long way to go to be a lock down defender, but a healthy Jose can become a very tough matchup for a lot of guards in the league.

 

Shawn Marion – Averaging 14.3 ppg, and more than 8 rebounds per game, Shawn has been a favorite of mine since his days in the high octane Suns teams he played on. Wallowing in irrelevance with the Heat he has found a team here that he can bring his skill set to that can allow him the freedom to run the break, defend 3 or 4 or 5 spots, attack the weakside glass and create havoc in the paint on defense as the help defender. These are all skills that this team has sorely missed all season. I hope the Raptors can find a way to make this man a part of the future of this team as he is one of the best complementary players in the league. He has no need of plays designed for him as he is always lurking and always in position when the ball seems to find his hands. A great trade for us and the promise of next season, should he stay, is growing.

 

Anthony Parker – to me, he is one of the most under appreciated Raptors player on the team. He can play SG, and PG when needed. He nightly takes on the toughest players in the league and usually holds his own. When he is discussed as not being the SG this team needs because he isn’t one of the best in the league, I shake my head! AP is 22 in scoring amongst SG’s, but when you look at the list of those ahead of him, you can understand why. Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson of the Hawks, Vince Carter of the Nets, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, O.J. Mayo, Ray Allen and Jason Richardson top the list at this position. AP’s job with us isn’t to score at a 20+ ppg pace, but to offer solid defense against guys like those on the list, score when he can and provide an option on the floor that distracts teams enough to have to keep an eye on him, and he does all of those night after night after night. He is 10<sup>th</sup> amongst SG’s in rebounds with 317, and 12<sup>th</sup> in apg with 3.4. while shooting at 39% and is 18<sup>th</sup> on the list. As a free agent, he might leave and if he does, this team will have to look very hard as to how to fill the void he will leave. Be careful what you hope for, if it comes true, and he walks, he will be picked up by a team that can see the value of his steady hand and extensive knowledge of the game.

 

As for the rest of the team, Jason Kapono has had a good run as 3 point champ, but I fear he has little marketability at this point as he is very much a one-dimensional player at this point. Joey Graham seems to be finding a place on this team, but he has not developed a consistent game that would warrant further investment. He will be at best a 7<sup>th</sup> man on any team he plays, including this one, and he will want more money than we are willing to pay. I look for him to be traded before he is signed. Roko Ukic looks like a solid prospect, but he is not the backup we need for Jose. He could be traded as well. I like the new group that BC brought in and hope that we can find places for them allowing our bench to become stable again, and offer us the option of either by trading our draft pick this season and acquiring another piece of this puzzle or blow the team up and start over. I am not sure I like that option at this point but will offer more thoughts as the playoffs unfold.

 

Thanks for all of your support this season and I hope these musings have been enjoyed and appreciated.

 

Takman_777

 

Posted on: January 13, 2009 12:45 pm
 

Raptors - Celtics - Back To Back reviewed

I think at this point in the week, I need to pause and do some reflection on the two games we just witnessed with the Celtics. The Celtics came into the game Sunday having lost 4 straight games to the Knicks, the Bobcats, the Rockets and the Cavaliers and were looking to turn around the play of the team to where it was when they were 27 – 2 and winners of 19 straight. The Raptors were coming off a week which saw them beat the Magic, the Wizards and the Grizzlies, but lose to the Bucks. Both teams were looking to show signs of life but are at very different points in their seasons. The Celtics seem to have been deflated by the loss to the Lakers on Christmas but are still a top 3 team in the league but are struggling to maintain consistent energy and focus during the long season. The Raptors were looking to show that the gains made as a team last week despite the injuries to Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon were not just blibs on the radar of this below average season of hope.

Sunday, January 11th, 2009 Celtics @ Raptors

Celtics 94
Raptors 88

Ray Allen was allowed to hit 5 open 3’s in the first after the Raptors had opened up a brief lead and never allowed the Raptors to hold the lead again as this game was not close for the majority of it. The Celtics were without Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins but got huge defensive games from Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine to shut our interior game down. Glen Davis had 11 rebounds off the bench to add to the pressure the Raptors felt inside all afternoon. The Raptors did battle back from 20 points down to a point where they could have tied the game late, but shooting under 30% for most of the game and finishing at 37% from the floor, they were just unable to hit the shot they needed to complete the recovery.

Monday, January 12th, 2009 Raptors @ Celtics

Celtics 115
Raptors 109

Paul Piece scored 39 points as the Raptors found some defense, but were just not able to stop one of the best wing men in the game. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were held 12 and 9 points and were bothered all night as the Raptors Jamario Moon and Roko Ukic played solid defense and gave them a chance to win with Andrea Bargnani leading the team with 23 points including the game tying 3 point shot with about 1 second left. It was a game in which the Raptors had a lead going into the 4th quarter but allowed the Celtics to make a couple of quick 3’s by Scalebrine while committing turnovers and allowing them back into the game. Jason Kapono and Joey Graham played well but could not make a shot late in the game. Will Solomon was replaced by Roko Ukic down the stretch after turning the ball over 3 straight possessions costing the Raptors the game in the Overtime.

Here are a few things that I saw over these past two games that I think will bode well as this team moves on after going 0 – 4 against the Celtics for the season.

Play of the Point Guards

Roko Ukic and Will Solomon combined for 32 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds and only 6 turnovers over these two games. As I see it, Roko has moved closer to becoming the full time back up with his poise and his ball control making better decisions in the overtime than Will while facing a Celtics team who were pressing him at every spot on the floor. His 16 points last night were a large part of the reason we had a lead going into the 4th and why we should have won that game if someone could make a stop on Paul Pierce.

Play of the 3 position

Jamario Moon had 15 points and 7 rebounds on Sunday, but had only 8 points – most coming very early in the game and 1 rebound Monday. I wish I could say he was playing tough and that Paul Pierce was just too much, but he was often lost in the key or caught out of position helping weakside while Pierce was planted at the 3 point line waiting for the ball. Jason Kapono had 12 points and 2 rebounds Sunday but was held to 7 points and 1 rebound last night. He did have the sense to get the ball to Andrea Bargnani for the tie, but he has become a liability on defense night after night. Joey Graham had 12 points and 8 rebounds Sunday, but was held to 7 points and 3 on Monday as he was unable to provide the same intensity defensively as he has shown and Paul Pierce was feeling it. This has been and will continue to be the Achilles heel of this team. Wing play has been spotty at best and when we play teams like the Celtics or the Hornets or the 76ers who have athletic wing players, our guys just can’t compete.

Play of Chris Bosh

Many will say that he disappeared last night or faded down the stretch or cowered in the face of Kevin Garnett. All have merit, but none speak of the heart he has brought these past two games. 33 points and 22 rebounds playing perhaps the toughest PF in the game are pretty good numbers. KG over these two games had 30 points and 23 rebounds, including a couple of offensive boards that kept the ball out of the hands of the scrappy Raptors. To say Chris was outplayed by KG is not accurate and unfair. Of those 45 rebounds combined, Bosh had 6 offensive boards including the one that lead to the game tying shot last night while KG had 5 over the two games. Sure KG brings an intensity that we all wish CB4 had, but there is only ONE KG and he has played the game at a very high level since his days with the Timberwolves. That is not how Chris Bosh plays nor does anyone else in the league. Bosh battled KG for the past two nights and held himself to a standard that no one else on the floor had to battle. I for one was thoroughly impressed by his performance and his leadership and hope this is a sign of what could be over the rest of the season.

Play of Andrea Bargnani

Since the injury to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrea has been the starting Center on this team and has begun to blossom into a much more able scorer, a tough defender and a gritty player. Soon, the refs will stop calling those stupid touch fouls on him and he will begin to draw more contact calls as he has begun to show what Bryan Colangello must have seen before he drafted him. In the games against the Celtics, he scored 40 points, grabbed 17 rebounds including 3 offensive boards, handed out 6 assists on 4 turnovers. All of these are aspects of his game that have been improving this season and we are seeing an Andrea Bargnani who has confidence in himself and has won his teams respect and his coach’s confidence as well.

With games against the Bulls led by Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, the Pacers lead by Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels and T.J. Ford with the Suns coming in on Sunday with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire and a guy named Shaquille O’Neal, let’s hope the Raptors will see a lot of great things they have done over the past 2 games and keep building the momentum.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 2:18 pm
 

Raptors - Week 10 Review

Week 10 in the NBA for the Raptors provided an insight to this team long overdue. With games against the Warriors, the Nuggets, the Rockets and the Magic, we faced 3 teams with 20+ wins and a team that pushes the tempo any chance it gets. Starting week 10 with a 12 – 18 record after losses to the Clippers and the Trail Blazers and a victory over the Kings on the road, this team finished its 6 game road trip in Sacramento before heading home to face the Warriors. Here is how I saw the games last week

Monday December 29th, 2008 Raptors @ Warriors

Raptors 111
Warriors 117

With Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis out with nagging injuries, the Raptors looked to stem the tide of losses with a trip to the bay area. Stephen Jackson and Marco Belinelli had other ideas. With 55 points between them, this game was not settled until late into the 4th when C.J. Watson dropped a floater over Chris Bosh in the last minute. On a night when 6 Raptors had 10 or more points with Chris Bosh with 30 and Jose Calderon with 21, Kris Humprhies with 10, Jason Kapono and Joey Graham with 11, and Jamario Moon with 12, this was a very solid game offensively for the Raptors as Jose dished out 16 assists against the quicker Warriors. The difference in the game was points off of turnovers where the Raptors were -10 for the night. Though they lost a tough game, this team played tough grabbing 20 offensive boards on a night when Andris Biedrins scored 13 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had 5 blocks after losing Jermaine O’Neal early in the game and we could find no answer for him. For being the last game of a brutal road trip, these guys played well enough to win in most aspects of the game, but allowed the Warriors to shot 50% from the floor and from outside the arc, and we won’t win many games when we allow those to both happen.

Wednesday December 31st, 2008 Raptors vs Nuggets

Raptors 107
Nuggets 114

The Nuggets came into the game after beating the Knicks but losing to the Hawks and looked to continue to be a force in the West and showed the balance that tends to happen when your coach has 899 wins heading into the game. Tonight, the Nuggets had 7 players with 10 or more points with Nene scoring 21, Carmelo Anhthony adding 20, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith added 15, 18 and 16 respectively, but he damage was done by Carl Anderson with his double double off the bench and Linas Kleiza with 10 as well off the bench. Known for their love of transition ball, the Nuggets were held to 10 fast break points as the Raptors were able to control the tempo only giving up the ball 12 times on turnovers, but were quick to recover on defense to slow the Nuggets down. With Jermaine O’Neal out however, the Nuggets pushed the ball inside and attacked the rim at will and were +16 in the paint for the game. Anthony Parker had a very solid game as he started again for Jason Kapono with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in one of his best games in a couple of months. Chris Bosh had another solid game with 24 points and 11 boards while Jose Calderon struggled with 11 assists but 5 turnovers and 18 points. Andrea Bargnani started at center and scored 26 points and grabbed 6 rebounds and was huge defensively with 5 blocks. Will Solomon put in 11 off the bench while Jamario Moon contributed another solid game on the boards, with 7 rebounds and 10 points on the night. The Raptors had opportunities to get the game back to level, but struggled with their outside shooting in the second half. All in all, they played well, but again allowed this team to shoot 51% from the floor. After watching Jay Triano burn a time out as they refused to push the ball inside after getting the Nuggets in bonus early in the second and they didn’t get free throws until late in the half, he yelled at the guys and sat down to let them figure out why they keep settling for jump shots in transition. As I watched, I could sense the guys finally were ready to listen to the coach. Though they lost the game, this team played hard and I think attitudes were adjusted that night, finally.

Friday, January 2nd, 2009 Raptors vs. Rockets

Raptors 94
Rockets 73

Too many people will say that this was a game that the Raptors won only because the Rockets are playing bad basketball right now having lost to the Bucks on New Year’s Eve. They came into the night after finishing December with a 9 – 5 record, beating teams like the Jazz and the Nuggets and the Nets, but losing to the Cavaliers and the Hornets and the Wizards. Still, they are a playoff team in the West sitting in 7th spot behind the Mavericks and still ahead of the Trail Blazers. The Raptors were missing starter Jermaine O’Neal, but welcomed Jason Kapono back to the floor after missing a couple games with a leg injury. The new starters included Andrea Bargnani in his second straight start at Center and Anthony Parker returning to play the 2 spot and Jamario Moon looking to solidify his spot at the 3 after a few good games rebounding, he looked to become more consistant at the offensive end as well. Chris Bosh played well scoring 19 points and grabbing 5 rebounds, but Jose Calderon went down in the first and left in the second quarters requiring Will Solomon and Roko Ukic to step up and provide the court leadership we would need on the night. Will Solomon responded with 8 points and 7 assists while Roko Ukic added 3 assists and 2 points. Jake Voskuhl was huge off the bench again with 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 points in 18 minutes on the floor. Kris Humphries and Hassan Adams both added 4 points as the team responded with solid offense and tough defense. The Rockets were held to just 34% shooting on the night while committing 22 turnovers which the Raptors took full advantage of turning those into 27 points. Andrea Bargnani looked very solid in the Center spot and had a very good game with 19 points and has begun to look like he belongs on the floor night after night finally. A much needed win by the Raptors as they not only built up a huge lead, but were able to hold on and beat a team that they should not beat. Happy New Years all around.

Sunday, January 4th, 2009 Raptors vs. Magic

Raptors 108
Magic 102

Any time Dwight Howard comes to town, the Raptors seem hold their breath and Sunday was no different. With the first 9 points of the game for the Magic, he seemed on a mission to show Chris Bosh and the Raptors why this team has gone 26 – 5 since dropping the first two games of the season. 39 points were not enough to secure the victory as he was unable to make the free throws the Raptors were more than happy to surrender to him as he missed 7 from the line. The Raptors were 23 – 24 with Chris Bosh making 13 – 14 while collecting 23 points for the game. The Magic were 17 – 24 and lost by 6. There is not a lot of other reasons why this game was won or lost as the teams were pretty even though the Raptors were +6 in the paint despite 39 from Superman. Rashard Lewis scored 20 and Jameer Nelson added 15 while Hedo Turkoglu had only 9 on the afternoon. The Raptors were +8 rebounding and +2 in turnovers while Roko Ukic scored 12 and offered up 7 assists on the game, Will Solomon starting for the injured Jose Calderon had 11 points and 4 assists and was able to control the flow effectively. Anthony Parker had 26 points as he spent the afternoon scoring at will as he took the ball strong to the rim and shot 13 – 16 on the day and seems to have returned to the offensive form having had a good week at both ends of the floor. His return to form is critical for this team as the new year begins. Andrea Bargnani making his 3rd start at Center scored 18 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and added 3 assists to a balanced offense that again saw 5 guys with 10+ points.

Coming up this week are the Bucks, the Wizards and the Grizzlies, it will be interesting to see how much momentum we can carry from this week.

Posted on: December 13, 2008 4:20 pm
 

Raptors - Hornets - A Game Preview

Sunday afternoon the Hornets visit the ACC to take on the suddenly 2 in a row winning Raptors with a new head coach and a new defensive attitude holding the Pacers and the Nets to a combined 34.1% field goal percentage in the last 2 games. Sunday, Chris Paul and David West lead the Hornets with Peja Stojakovic to give them a different level of test of their defensive mettle. Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal will be tested inside all afternoon as Chris Paul looks to penetrate and kick all game looking for Peja and Morris Peterson off the dribble. With Tyson Chandler questionable for the game, Hilton Armstrong will be looked upon to provide some offensive boards for this team who will be out manned up front. With Kris Humphries and Anthony Parker still in suits, it will be up to Andrea Bargnani to step in and provide solid defense up front while Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon get the start at the 2 and 3 spots.

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. Joey Graham will need to continue his solid work cutting off the top of the lane from the slashing guards the Hornets have.

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.

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. Though they won the game, the Nets were +15 on the offensive glass. I believe that this will correct itself as the team continues to respond to the schemes and attitudes that Jay has begun to implement on this team.

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.

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 it’s success. Right now the Raptors are 4th overall in assists per game with 22.8 per game, but they average 14.4 turnovers per game. Lots of room to improve there as a group. They are 4th in the league in A/TO’s right now, but there is a lot of room to improve ball control and work at protecting the ball. The improved play of Roko Ukic has provided a much noticed improvement in this area the past week.


I can see the Raptors working to improve on the effort they have begun to show and should they be able to contain Chris Paul and David West and make Peja take shots under pressure, I think it will be a good start to a brutal week with the Nets and the Mavericks coming to town before facing the Thunder and the Spurs on the road by Saturday.

Posted on: December 13, 2008 10:48 am
 

Raptors - Nets - A Game Review

Friday night in the Swamp, the Raptors faced the Nets in a game where both teams had something to prove. The Nets were looking to build on a 7 – 3 in the last 10 games and still enjoying the OT win in Toronto after being down 18 points for most of the game. The Raptors were looking to show that their defensive improvements over the past 3 games critical in the win over the Pacers Wednesday night in which they held Danny Granger pretty much out of the game though he finished with 22 points, he was held to 9 – 25. The Raptors were looking to re-establish the interior defense that they had in the 3 – 0 start of the season, but lost before the change of coaches. On a night when the Nets were still without Eduardo Najera and Josh Boone was playing his first game after missing 14 games, the Raptors were looking to exploit that thin front line.

As the game unfolded, it was easy to see that the Raptors commitment to defense had taken hold. At one point early the Nets were held to 4 points in the paint and it stayed that way as Vince Carter made 0 shots in the first half making his first FT with 8:21 left in the 3rd quarter ending with 3 points and 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He was frustrated all night as Jamario Moon would not let him have any open looks and when he drove, the defense was there with the proper rotation forcing him to pass and often, that pass was contested and the ensuing shooter was contested. It was great to watch the Raptors hustle for loose balls and attack the perimeter making the Nets take low percentage shots or creating turnovers. The Nets ended the game with 18 turnovers. When the 4th quarter started, Vince was planted firmly on the bench and the Nets were 27% or so as a team shooting. They ended up at 31.3% as the benches played out the 4th which the Raptors started with a 71 – 53 lead. At a couple places in the 4th, the Raptors were up 30 points and had a 31 point lead at one point as the Nets bench scored 26 points in the 4th to keep the numbers from being more lop-sided than they already were.

For the Nets, Devin Harris and Vince Carter came into the game averaging 47.7 points per game as a tandem, one of the most prolific duos in the league this season. Raptors concern was that this would not be contained. With Jose Calderon and Jamario Moon playing against them most of the night with help from Joey Graham on Vince, they were held to 17 points on 4 – 23 shooting Vince being held to 0 field goals. Both Jose and Jamario have had points in the season where they have been called lousy defenders and liabilities, but Friday night they broke down the Nets back court all night long with Jamario Moon ending the night with 5 steals and 1 block. Last game, Brook Lopez scored 14 points inside and was a huge reason why the Nets were able to come back as he was an active threat on the glass and created a lot of room for Devin Harris and Vince Carter to take over the game. Friday night he was pretty much held in check by Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal as they both were up to the task of keeping the pressure on anyone who ventured into the paint. Lopez scored 6 Friday but was able to grab 8 rebounds which kept the Nets in this game for the first 3 quarters. Yi Jianlian was guarded by Chris Bosh most of the night and was relegated to a perimeter player most of the night as he had no room underneath and was frustrated by Chris Bosh all night ending up with 5 fouls taking him out of his slashing game. Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell had 12 and 10 points. As a group, the Nets starters were held to 15 – 54 for a dismal 27.7% shooting. That speaks of them taking plenty of low percentage shots and having a terrible night shooting overall.

Let me review my 4 keys to the game and highlight some good play by the Raptors as a group.

1) Turnovers – we will not be able to turn the ball over 20+ times against this quick back court or we will pay a huge price for it. Jose and Roko Ukic or Will Solomon will have to work hard at making the right pass and keep the turnovers under 15.

The Raptors ended the night with 11 turnovers to the Nets 18 with 8 steals and 8 blocks 4 by Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors held the Nets to 7 points off of turnovers as they recovered well while scoring 24 off of Nets turnovers. Jose Calderon had 0 turnovers and 3 assists and 3 rebounds and 13 points, but played so well on defense which was the first priority for him last night. Roko Ukic again played a very solid game attacking the rim and pushing the ball up the floor. He ended the night with 10 points and 5 assists and 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He has grown immensely in the past few games under Jay Triano as he finds himself getting more and more minutes and handling himself very well. Chris Bosh had 4 turnovers, usually making bad passes in the post or just losing the handle. He is not usually this awkward with the ball, but he is drawing more attention from weak side help again, but last night that was exploited with great success.

2) Rebound on both ends – the Raptors will not get away with a soft night on the glass at this point. Teams know this Raptors team has no desire to get after balls and will gladly do the work it takes to control the ball and the pace of the game.

Again, the Raptors were out rebounded on the offensive glass 20 – 5! 50 – 37 over all so they were collecting the ball on defense. Most games, I would be saying that this stat alone is one that will beat them most nights, but on a night when the Nets MISSED 57 shots, we got the ball back 56% of the time. The Nets ended with only 19 second chance points on 20 offensive boards! To me, that tells me that the Raptors were very good at recovering and actively pursuing the ball which is something they had not been doing as they were in the nasty habit of watching the rebounder just put the ball back in the net. I think it was Jermaine O’Neal who blocked at least 1 ball that was pretty much in the cylinder, but more on that later. Do the Raptors need to work harder on offensive rebounding? Yes, but when a team settles for long shots, they usually get long rebounds and that was how it went last night which is why they had so few second chance points. For their 5 offensive boards, the Raptors had 9 second chance points. I can live with that effort, but would love to see that balance itself out.

3) Balanced offense – 6 players in double digits is a good sign for this team. When the ball movement is there, Chris Bosh has his room to do what he does and take the ball to the hole and get to the line. Another double double from Jose would look great as well.

Friday night, Chris Bosh scored 18 points, had 5 rebounds and 3 assists and 1 steal. He was 6 – 8 from the field and 6 – 7 from the line. His 4 turnovers were a big reason why his numbers were down and the fact he sat the 4th quarter showed the effort the team gave last night. This is the second win in a row and the second game in a row he has not hit his season average in points. It is also the second game in a row that we have had 6 players in double digits with Chris Bosh, Jason Kapono with 16 on 4 – 9 from 3 point range, Andrea Bargnani with 11 and 7 rebounds, Joey Graham and another very solid game all over the floor with 16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and some hard work defensively let him finish the game with 30 minutes of playing time. It is nice to see him improving every game. Roko Ukic again had 10 points and 5 assists and 4 rebounds and Jose Calderon had 13 points. That type of balance from the Raptors starters and bench will give the team more opportunity to win close games as the season rolls on. Will Solomon and Hassan Adams also played with Will adding 2 points.

4) Protect the paint – we can’t continue to give up 40+ points in the paint and expect to win many games. NOT IN MY HOUSE has to become the mantra on defense of this team.

Coming into the game, the Raptors had been giving up 47 points in the paint as teams attacked them and collected uncontested put back baskets at will. As I watched the game, I was quite impressed by the new attitude this team has begun to develop in such a short time under Jay Triano. The Nets were only able to score 34 points in the paint last night. Loose balls are now attacked and fought for, more than a few times there were 3 Raptors on the floor after the ball, including Chris Bosh. That is a great thing to see as that is an internal thing, an instinct and a desire to win, not just play the game. You see that attitude in guys like Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups and guys that are willing to go all out every play to win. I am pleased to say that this was missing for the first part of the season, and should this continue, this team will soon gain the heart to compete at a very high level, and the past 2 weeks will be a distant memory as the new year begins.

Some random thoughts from Friday night’s game.

Chris Bosh looked very much more at peace and relaxed in the new look Raptors. He tried to force a couple passes and had the ball hacked out of his hands a few times, but I believe that he is much happier in the role of being AN option on offense as opposed to being the ONLY option on offense. I think that he will return to his 20+ games, but they will be in the context of the balance that we have seen the past 3 games. The 2 shots he missed last night were both tough no calls, but he was attacking the net again and that is a very good thing to see. Jason Kapono has scored 41 points in the past 2 games and is 17 – 31 from the field and 7 – 16 from outside the arc. Not only that, he is working harder on defense and contributing rebounds and assists that fit very well in the flow of this offense. He is a very valuable asset when he plays the game he can and doesn’t force his game. With 13 boards in the past two games, he has found other ways to contribute as well and his defensive play has improved immensely. Jermaine O’Neal scored only 7 points to go with his 2 rebounds, but added 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks providing a solid support inside that contributed to the Nets having no desire to attack the rim at all. He needs to contribute more rebounding nightly, but his defense alone was enough to set the tone for this game. Andrea Bargnani scored 11 points and collected 7 rebounds including 2 offensive rebounds. He also had 4 blocks and 1 assist on a night when his shooting was off he played a solid game on the glass and keeping the Nets out of the paint.

Sunday will be another tough game as the Hornets visit, then Monday the Nets return to the ACC, then Wednesday, the Mavericks visit as the Raptors have a 3 game home stand, but they have 5 games in the next 7 days with the Thunder and the Spurs next weekend. I hope we are up to the challenge.

Posted on: December 1, 2008 11:16 am
Edited on: December 1, 2008 11:32 am
 

Raptors Week in Review - Week 5

The last 7 days for the Raptors have been difficult to say the least. Physically and mentally they have been taken to both extremes. In a week where they played both of the top 2 teams in the league, the Raptors were looking to find out if they were ready to acquit themselves at the highest level of play in the league. Here is how I saw those games.

Sunday, November 23rd – Boston Celtics in Toronto.

The game started fast for the Celtics as they opened up with a 10 – 0 run from which they never recovered. Jermaine O’Neal tried to play but hobbled off the floor in obvious pain. Chris Bosh scored 24, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker Kris Humphries and Andrea Bargnani were all in double digits. The Celtic scored 59 points in the first half and were never really threatened as Rajon Rondo ran the floor in transition as well as a solid half court game lead by Ray Allen with 21, Kevin Garnett with 15, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce, Eddy House, Tony Allen and Rondo himself all scoring 10 or more. Overall, the Raptors looked slow and out of sync on offense and could do nothing to stop the Celtics ball movement at all.

Wednesday, November 26th – Charlotte Bobcats in Toronto.

The Raptors needed a win to stop a slump both mentally and as a group. With Jermaine on the bench, Chris Bosh put up 39 points on a night that he had little help. With Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani struggling on offense, Joey Graham came off the bench and scored 17 points as well as provided some much needed energy at both ends of the floor. With Jason Richardson still out of the lineup, Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor combined for 39 points and forced the Raptors to adjust several times on defense to contain them both in the lane and on the glass. A good win for the struggling Raptors, but should not have been as close as it was.

Friday, November 28th – Atlanta Hawks in Toronto.

After getting stuck in his condo’s elevator and arriving less than an hour before game time, Chris Bosh seemed on his game early and ended the night with 30 points as the Hawks and the Raptors played an exciting game with Jason Kapono nailing 2 free throws late to seal the win to finish with 16 points on the night. Jamario Moon added 10 as well as the bench provided the kind of support both offensively and defensively all night. Anthony Parker made Joe Johnson work very hard as he scored most of his 18 points in the second half, while Mike Bibby scored most of his 25 points in the first. He was very much a non-factor in the second half. A much needed 2nd win in a row by the Raptors as they prepared to hit the road west to visit the Lakers, the Nuggets and the Jazz.

Overall, a decent week for the Raptors as they nudged above .500% at 8 – 7 by weeks end, but then they played the Lakers

Sunday, November 30th – Los Angeles Lakers in L.A.

14 – 1. The Lakers are for real. Not that I was a doubter, but that team is so much more than Kobe Bryant and some other guys this season. From Phil Jackson on down, this Lakers team looks focused on winning and has depth at every position on the floor. I knew that Andrew Bynum would have made last year’s final against the Celtics very different, but watching him shut down Chris Bosh at almost every facet of his game shows me how good he is, and how much work the Raptors have left to do to make the playoffs this season. Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Vladimir Radmanovic added to the starting 5 make this team strong up front and very active at both ends of the floor. But then, you bring in a very talented bench of Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton who is a very good passer in the low post, and this Lakers team will beat most teams as far as 10 deep most nights. I wonder if the Pistons feel fortunate to have caught them on an off night for their only loss.

The Raptors played hard for 3 quarters until Sam Mitchell surrendered and took his starters out, perhaps wanting the game to be over and looking to the Nuggets on Tuesday, he pulled them early in the 4th as Kobe didn’t play a minute in the 4th again. The Raptors several times pulled this game to within 4 points with solid ball movement and some well taken shots, but then the Lakers would grab a board and turn it into a transition bucket and be up 10 within 3 possessions. Jose Calderon and Derek Fisher went head to head and played hard nosed ball all night. It was good to see him play solid defense against a pretty good guard as he held Derek to 5 points and 4 assists while collecting 12 points and 12 assists himself. Andrea Bargnani, starting in place of still injured Jermaine O’Neal played a very good game on both ends of the floor with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it was his play on defense that caught my attention. I counted 5 blocks for him though he only has 4 on record, but he was altering shots and rotating well all night. A very good game indeed by Andrea has given me some more to watch as he continues to grow at both ends of the floor. Anthony Parker looked much better last night as well scoring 19 points and not letting Kobe run free. Yes, Kobe scored 24 in 3 quarters, but Anthony actually did a good job making him take tough shots, but he is still Kobe and can make those shots. Parker had a nice rhythm on his stroke and hit a few critical 3’s. Chris Bosh was held in check all night as Andrew Bynum shut down any inside game the Raptors tried to establish forcing him outside where he is not as consistent. Bosh ended up with 12 points but was 4 – 13 on a night where near perfection would have been required for a victory. Yes, we miss Jermaine, but Chris at times looked like he was forcing his game too much and with no real consistent offensive rebounding, those misses usually resulted in transition baskets. The Lakers had 58 points in the paint to the Raptors 32. That, coupled with our poor rebounding game where we were -18 on the glass and – 4 on the offensive glass. That is just too much of an advantage to overcome shooting only 38% from the field.

Over all, the Raptors showed a lot of heart and played very good defense for most of the game. The fact is, this Lakers team is very good at all facets of the game and very deep on the bench. Although the Raptors shot 44% from outside on 11/25 shots, they had no ability to sustain any inside game to help the shooters. With 6 players in double digits, it was a well balanced offense as the ball movement looked great at times and good choices were made by the shooters most of the night. When Chris Bosh is taking that many shots from just inside the arc, you know it has been a long night for him. I hope that Jermaine returns 100% as this team needs to have him inside and Andrea starting on the wing. Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono played well, but I think this team is much better with 3 big front men, and I think Andrea has proven that his game is very close to what was anticipated.
 

Posted on: November 27, 2008 10:28 am
 

Raptors - Bobcats - a game review

We can overlook the fact that the Bobcats took us down to the final minute with no Jason Richardson. We can overlook the fact that Gerald Wallace seemed to be unstoppable for the first half of the game. We can even overlook the fact that Emeka Okafor seemed to be able to get any offensive board he wanted and kept the game close pretty much by himself in the fourth quarter.

What we can’t overlook is the fantastic game Chris Bosh played with 39 points and 11 rebounds and 1 steal and 2 blocked shots for his 8th double double of the season. We can’t overlook Andrea Bargnani who played alright on offense though he did have an off night with only 11 points, but with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, he played a defense that Sam would love to see every night getting in guys faces and causing the Bobcats fits with his arms in the passing lane all night long. We can’t overlook the much maligned Joey Graham and his 17 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench and his much needed energy boost on defense as he pretty much shut Gerald Wallace down in the second half holding him to 6 points in the half. We can’t overlook the solid play of Roko Ukic off the bench in relief of a still hurting Jose Calderon. In 7 minutes Roko gave us 2 points, 3 assists including a sweet behind the back to Bosh on a break and 1 rebound. The biggest thing for Roko was 0 turnovers! He was much more comfortable out there and seemed to be in a much better flow which bodes well for the Raptors down the road. Jose had a bit of an off night on offense, but he held his own defensively which is more than we could ask for as he scored 10 points and added 3 rebounds and 9 assists and 2 turnovers. He is currently 2nd in the league behind Chris Paul in assists per game!

A couple of thoughts that I was pondering last night after the game might provide some more things we can’t overlook, I know from my perspective last nights game offered a good window into this team and the chemistry it carries.

Will Solomon sat on the bench and I suspect his chance to prove himself could be on the downside. An NBA team should be able to control the ball and last night we had 8 turnovers in the first half but only 4 in the second. That kind of ball control allowed us to hold the Bobcats off down the stretch as they committed 14 turnovers. It may sound petty, but in a 6 point game, 2 turnovers could be as much as a 12 point swing either way. Until Solomon can get on the same page and control the ball, I see a lot more minutes for Roko.

Anthony Parker last night was unable to find a jump shot, but was able to grab 5 rebounds and 5 assists and 3 steals as he chased and harassed D.J. Augustin and Raymond Felton all night long. Some nights when his shot is off, he has tended to disappear. It was good to see him add some good support defense while his shot was missing.

Jamario Moon and Kris Humphries both had bad games, but the problem is, Kris will recover and does know what is expected from him when he is in the game. His shot was a bit forced last night as he felt the need to provide Bosh some help. He stuck his nose in the paint and just didn’t have the shots fall. 2 rebounds and a block give us some solid results in 16 minutes. Sure we would have loved 10 points and 5 rebounds, but on a night when no one seemed to be able to score, he was able to give some much needed rest to both Andrea and Chris with Jermaine O’Neal on the mend. Jamario is another issue altogether. Last night we have an example of how little he understands what he can provide this team. 3 points, 1 assist and 0 rebounds. He was guarding Wallace as he went off for 17 in the first half. Jamario needs to get back to his defense and his rebounding game as he has very little confidence on the offensive end at this point and putting Joey on the floor saved the game for the Raptors.

I think Jason Kapono’s season was displayed on the first possession of the second half when he got the ball with a clear shot and did his now famous pump-fake-travelling show and turnover. He needs to shoot the ball and again last night he couldn’t or wouldn’t.

On a night when Chris Bosh displays his heart and his will to win, this team took until the second half to respond and support him with Joey Graham leading the way. 22 assists is not bad, but ball movement was a bit of an issue last night as we stagnated a bit in the 3rd quarter again. Over all, a much needed win for the team and with the Hawks and the Lakers up next, we needed a boost and got it.

 
 
 
 
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