The way the Raptors came out to start their first playoff game of 2008, you would almost think they were playing a preseason game. This looked like an All-Star game (minus the All-Stars) with no defense being played and nobody wanting to lay a hand on anybody. Sam Mitchell acted like he was in an All-Star game, just standing and looking on, randomly subbing guys in and out and tinkering with the lineup for no apparent reason. Too bad the Raptors weren’t able to put any sort of All-Star performance together.
So let’s start with the tinkering of the lineup. There was a lot of talk about the international on international matchup of Bargs on Hedo, but really, sometimes you just have to manufacture a story when the boss is looking for ink. The real story would be why in the first game of the playoffs, a coach would start a player who has been inconsistent at best throughout the season, has had many defensive miscues over that same season and has never really been known for his defensive ability. One has to wonder why you start a guy who has struggled in his sophomore season when you know he will be facing one of the most improved if not THE most improved player in the league. This isn’t to say that Andrea was the reason the Raptors lost, because he wasn’t. Sure, Hedo had far too many untouched lanes to the basket, taking Andrea off the dribble, but he also made some nice fadeaways too. Overall, Hedo didn’t tear the Raptors apart and I have to give credit to Bargs that he was also one of the few people who was willing to actually slap Dwight Howard on his way up to the rim. The guy looked like he had just run a marathon, but switching between Hedo and D12 is no easy task for any player.
So essentially, what was the point of starting Andrea? I’m not really sure. If you believe the post game interview of TJ Ford, the players didn’t even know until game time that Andrea was starting, which seems somewhat strange. I guess some guys need to know in advance so they can get themselves prepared, while other guys might just get even more tense if they know they are going to start. Either way, it was strange. There was some suggestion that it was done in order to match up more on size, but we all know that while that looks good on paper, it doesn’t always translate well onto the court. Mitchell said that he was looking to avoid post-ups by having Bosh and Andrea on the floor at the same time, but really, at any point this season, have we seen teams not be able to post up against the Raptors because they have had Bosh and Bargs on the floor? At any point, has “Bosh and Bargs” brought any fear into Raptor opponents? No.
Also strange were some of the defensive strategies the Raptors employed this afternoon, if you can call them strategies at all. Why on Earth the Raptors were double-teaming Dwight Howard 16 feet from the basket is beyond me. You could be trying to capitalize on the fact that he is not comfortable being out there and will look to get rid of the ball as soon as he can, possibly creating a turnover, but I’m more of the thinking that I’m happy with him that far from the basket. Also, if I am going to double-team, I don’t think I am going to use TJ Ford as my second man in there. True, TJ does have some quick hands and is pretty good at stripping the ball, but Howard is most likely going to keep that thing up high, which would just lead to a reach-in foul. Interesting how the Raptors were quick on getting two guys out on D12 when he was away from the basket, but when all of their shooters were setting up, there were no Raptors to be found, providing more open looks than a night at the Brass Rail.
A while earlier, I was saying that the Raptors should watch what they wish for. They were celebrating when they got the news that they were going to be facing the Magic in the first round and now that has come around to slap them in the face. The Magic put a stamp on things, dropping 43 points in the first quarter, which is almost too big of a number to even believe. At some point, you have to start seeing that the other team is getting far too many good looks from the perimeter and you have to adjust. The post season is all about making quick adjustments and the Raptors and their coaching staff just weren’t about it today.
You have to give it up to Jason Kapono. Not too long ago, I criticized him for his lack of effort in creating open looks for himself. Tonight we saw Kapono working off screens, hustling into open spaces and generally finding spots on the floor where he was going to be able to use his patented quick release. He made it easier for himself to get minutes and kept the Raptors in the game, when they easily could have been light years out of it.
You also have to appreciate how stead Rasho is. Can it mean anything that the two guys who had the most solid games are both guys who have some playoff victories under their belts, some championship success? Those guys looked like a couple of guys who had done this before.
Can anybody explain to me why Bosh was on the bench for so long, especially when the Raptors had closed the gap to 5? There is always an interesting debate over whether to keep going with the squad on the floor that has closed the gap or insert the star player, but when you are the Raptors and you have seen on repeated occasions what happens to the team when the star is not in the lineup, you would think that you should get the star back on the floor before things fall apart. Well, you would think that, but Sam Mitchell wouldn’t. When you have 8 minutes left in the game and you have managed to get the score down to 5 from being 24 at one point, you have to make a move to get your star back in the lineup and slow the game down so you can maximize what he has to offer. By the time Bosh was back in the game, it was much too late. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Put Bosh back in with 8 minutes to go and 2 fouls available. If he fouls out with a couple of minutes to go, you’re probably going to be relying on your outside shooting anyway by that point. Just another strange decision by Sam.
Well, let’s not read too much into how game one turned out. Let’s not start jumping ship like I have read a lot of guys here are doing. These series are long. There is more than enough time to get the ship back on course. Here’s hoping the Raptors have figured something out before Tuesday rolls around.