A Kick in the Nuts

 

That game against the Nets just plain hurt. It would be hard to come up with a more painful scenario for a Raptor fan. If they had just simply lost the game it would be one thing; but to have victory against Vince in the bag, only to see it turn into a coin toss in OT after losing the big lead, as well as losing Jermaine to injury, and then just blowing the 7-point lead with so little time left, only to then see them show some ability to recover all the same, but giving up a highlight reel dunk at the very end, to go along with the VC histrionics already burnt into our retinas at the end of regulation - that just hurt so perfectly bad. Still - that’s what great games are made of. And somebody has to lose great games and shit games alike. In a way, getting caught up in the moment hurt so good, as a young John Mellencamp might put it. It got the blood flowing. It offered a reminder of what makes the NBA so much fun. The real unbearable pain comes when you see that the game was not lost with the boobs who could not inbound the ball to an open 7-footer, or call a timeout in an obvious timeout situation, or hit a clutch freethrow. The game was lost, like so many, with porous perimeter defense. The next game against Boston just continued the trend.

Jermaine O’Neal has helped close the door on opposing players that fly into the paint on constant blowbys. He has helped enough that some teams have become hesitant to drive and they shoot instead. There is no doubt in my mind that the team is headed in the right direction as long as O’Neal is able to stand in there and provide leadership on defense. But when he is not in there the team is headed in the wrong direction. The overall balance just isn’t there, and I have to blame Colangelo for not making it possible to truly capitalize on what Jermaine brings to the team.

The problems are nothing new. Go back to last season and you will see the same problems when only one of our main point guards was available. The combination of Ford and Calderon allowed for both guys to extend themselves on defense, at least for some good stretches, and still have something left for the fourth quarter. But with one of them out of the equation, the defense became a problem that had to be fixed by slowing down the pace of the game, doubling too much, and helping too much, all game long. It effected the offense, in the sense that any shot that was slightly questionable could lead to another transition opportunity that too many tired legs were not going to stop. It effected the rebounding, as so many attempts to recover defensive position or provide help, left mismatches and guys just out of good rebounding preparedness. Again JO has offered a much greater margin for error, and has shown how much better Bosh and Bargnani can be used on both ends of the floor. Now just imagine what this team would be like with real perimeter defense.

Colangelo made up his mind to trade TJ and keep Jose without hesitation. But he should have thought about trading them both. The point could have been manned by at least one solid, durable, and tough guy, if not two. And we could have added another good, durable defender on the wings as well. He even could have likely added from there. Notice the word durable. If TJ was thought to be injury prone, then Jose certainly has to be in a similar class. And his injuries tend to come from no contact. He had a bad spleen or something while in Europe. Then there was the bad heel that plagued him as a rookie, Then he was taken off on a stretcher when he got himself twisted up the wrong way all on his own. Then he killed his ankle in the playoffs by just coming down the court and stopping. Then he hurt his groin in the summer olympics, followed by a hamstring pull not long after, and neither time did there seem to be any physical strain applied by another body. He avoids all contact as much as anybody on the team. And any opposing team’s gameplan appears to be all about working him physically by running him ragged, setting screens which he is invariably poor at running through, running by him whenever possible, and running over him when the opportunity arises. How did Colangelo think he was going to survive an entire season like that?

I thought from the start that this team needed to find a gritty defender in one of Adams, Solomon, Moon, or Graham. That’s a pretty tall order, but out of four guys desperate to stick in the league it seemed possible. I thought it was most important, and possible, that Will Solomon could and would be a strong defender that Sam could throw out there when Jose started looking all too slow and frail. But now we hear Gherardini explain, as reported by the Star, that since Will was a star in Europe, he was excused for poor defense and even encouraged in that vein, so as to not pick up fouls. So they knew going in that defense was going to be a challenge for this guy. And not having that additional defensive support on the perimeter in place just wasted everything that was gained in the TJ Ford trade.

You want a new coach in here to make things better? That is starting to be understandable to some degree, and might become more understandable if losses mount up. And I can’t really stand by Sam so much, because he helped put this team together along with Colangelo, and no it doesn’t work to just make excuses for him based on the personnel he’s been handed. But I have to wonder what kind of coach is going to look at such an unacceptable situation and eagerly dive in? What kind of a coach is going to put themselves at such a disadvantage every night and ask his players to make up for it? I think that Sam will end up being that coach, having helped paint himself into a corner, and maybe he can pull off a way to minimize those perimeter deficits. Or the injuries will just put the team in the tank anyways. The season is still young so who knows? But I think about the difference one tough, durable defender or two could have made to this team, and I drool.

Did Lawrence Frank simply out-coached our guy Mitchell? Look back at last season when he faced us without Jason Kidd or Devin Harris. Was he out-coached by Sam then? Did his players just give up on his gameplan and hand over an embarrassing loss where they didn’t even compete, in the same way that some think might have been done here in the game against Boston? Would Frank get out-coached if he was unable to take Yi out of the game? Or would it only be a sign of not having the necessary options available?

Toronto fans wanted their Golden Ocho, and Colangelo made him his guy moving forward, all the while surely knowing the risks of falling backwards without filling out the roster properly around Calderon. And instead of providing the necessary support, he gave us a Eurostar with bad habits, and a caste of characters on the verge of leaving the stage entirely. Now that is a kick in the nuts that surpasses anything Vince Carter can dish out.

2 Comments

lang  on November 25th, 2008

For the first time this season, I felt like it was last year. As is nothing ever changed. It was quite disheartening, and it’s going to take more than a win next game to really get fans optimistic again.

Doc  on November 25th, 2008

With the possibility of no J-Rich for Wednesday night’s game I don’t know what I’ll do or how I’ll truly react if we lose to the Bobkittens. :(

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