Well surprise, surprise, surprise! Before we get to the history of television sit-com catch phrases, let me just say that this team should never look like they might have the worst defense in the history of the NBA, should never lose more than three games in a row, and should never drop below the playoff seedings in the standings again. That being said, they still have not shown their true identity just yet. They looked good in winning back-to-back games on the road by simply working hard for it. If you’re going to figure out your identity as a team, then that might be the best way to do so. But the question remains whether they prefer to win by playing hard for an entire game rather than wear themselves out for a full week by playing at a mad pace on both ends for a couple of quarters. This is a team that likes to put the throttle down, but they have to make their offense the easy part of their game. They have the talent and depth there to be leisurely about scoring. The running game should only come into play as something to mix up the gameplan a little, and as a direct result of converting on strong defensive play. The running has got to happen on transition defense, and on rotations, and after fighting through screens. That’s where they need to extend themselves for full games. When they do, it just works.
But alas, they are all too much like my memories of Jim Nabors. He became known for his hick character Gomer Pyle, originally of Mayberry, and then on to his own spin-off as a goofy Marine that presented escapist guffaws in the very midst of the war in Vietnam. And you kids thought things were crazy today? Gomer was the master of the catch-phrase. He had his long, drawn out golly. He had his surprise-surprise-surprise. He had his shazam. In my mind he invented the catch-phrase. He very well might have. He certainly milked them like never before. That might make him indirectly responsible for the future catch-phrase -”kid din-o-mite” which our Matt Devlin has applied to the rookie this season. And to bring further synchronicity into all of this, the target of most of the catch phrases was one Sgt. Vince Carter. In any case, Gomer was not all that Jim Nabors had to offer the world. He was the original Susan Boyle in a sense. He traded on the hick image, and then showed up on variety shows singing Ave Maria like a regular Caruso, leaving people with their heads spinning over the disparity in what they had come to expect. He even ended up with his own variety hour where he would sing medleys of mexican folk songs, note perfect, among other things.
So which Jim Nabors will the Toronto Raptors be? That’s what I’m waiting to find out. And I’m really hoping that they don’t get caught up in switching back and forth from the flashy goofball to the well-trained professional. Let the opposing teams think they are a bunch of Gomers. Hell - Andrea actually bears a scary resemblance. But the Raptors have got to turn those sorts of expectations on their heads, and leave the opposition without answers. And that means playing hard for entire games on the defensive end, saving the catch-phrases for garbage time after they hit enough good notes. They need to mash-up the whole career of Jim Nabors, appearances on Match Game and Carol Burnett included, and come out with a no-nonsense Marine that can sing well enough to bring the odd tear to the eye of your grandma. They need to drop the goofy bits and show us, and themselves, some team character that can be entirely trusted.
I will hope to have seen the full birth of this new identity be marked at the start of the game in Washington. Jose looks off Bosh in the post, then passes to Bargnani at the top of the arc. Bosh comes up to set a screen for Bargnani. The two bigs are working together. Not long after Bargnani would drive and drop off a pass to Bosh. From there the movement on offense continues all night, and Bargnani actually brings it on both ends. The perimeter defenders, Jose included, fight through screens more than going under them or switching, and Bosh is able to stay home defending the post much more. And it works. It’s a simple game when it comes down to it. They just have to play hard in the areas where it’s necessary to do so, rather than coming up with schemes that allow them to fool themselves into thinking they can take the path of least resistance and make up for it by exhausting themselves on the end of the court where everything comes natural and easy anyways, as if working harder on offense would somehow make four points available each possession.
All of that goofiness was attributed to communication difficulties across cultures. Shazam! Don’t buy it for a second. The problem was with Triano’s sense of reality and how he tried to communicate problems away instead of attacking them head on. It took a passionate speech from Alvin Williams, apparently, to allow reality to have a bearing again. And if they lose more than three again, I wouldn’t argue against him being made the interim head coach. I think Triano might be okay from here on in though, and if he can capitalize on the accelerated learning curve of Derozan, and the balanced approach to his rotations, by demanding that mere reality be constantly imposed upon the team’s sensibilities, then they’ll make some jump in the standings in a hurry. Golly, I still want to believe.