What Was Working on the Weekend?

Quite a weekend. It looked like the Raptors had made no real progress over the course of the season when they failed to take advantage of Boston’s injury problems. Had the five game winning streak just been illusory good fortune? Was there just no improvement to be had from this team?

Here’s the thing – the grounds for building upon improved defense have been there from the start of the season. Nothing has hurt this team quite as badly as transition points going the other way. They account for many a night where the opposing points in the paint advantage was obscenely large, since fast breaks almost always finish at the rim. Giving up too many points off turnovers and bad shots that lead to breaks going the other way has left this team with no chance to show where or how they can improve on defense on too many nights, leaving them unable to chart any real progress at all. And that was supposed to change in Boston. But it was a similar story yet again. Boston doesn’t need talent to lead you into the paint and then knock the ball loose and go the other way, or change the shots on layups while leaking out for easy down court passes. Toronto kept trying to play a running game and accept the challenge of playing physically inside, but the Celtics had about two things in mind all night – run their asses down court on defense, and protect the basket inside – and that’s all they had to do to not only make Toronto’s offense look bad, but their defense as well.

So why not actually take some open jumpers that the Celtics were giving up as a consequence, and giving the defense a chance to force Boston into some uncomfortable situations? Why does this team, and it’s fans to a good degree, see a jumpshot as being such a loathesome option? There are good shots and bad shots that can happen all over the chart shot, and repeatedly going into the lane where the opposing team is not going to allow you to finish is a bad shot that leads to easy points going the other way.

And I think too much of that came by way of wanting to run and play some of that “exciting” brand of basketball that the coach and GM constantly advertise. If Boston is going to make it a point of emphasis to beat you down the court and set up their defense (something they’ve excelled at for over two seasons now), then why just pretend that they are playing the Pistons and force the same kind of early offense anyway?

Please tell me they have finally put aside the whole idea of needing to take advantage offensively early in the clock as their own point of emphasis. It is simply killing their chances to defend properly. The running should be towards the basket they are defending. Please allow Boston’s example to have the proper effect on what the Raptors hope to do.

Fast-forward to the next evening, and we did in fact see a more patient, thought-out, and controlled offense, leading to mostly good shots that gave the defense a chance whether they were makes or not. The play by Jarrett Jack near the end of the game proved to be a nice example of the kinds of things they did differently. The Spurs were taking away Bosh as an option, by fronting him with Bogans, and waiting eagerly to help with Duncan hovering behind him. It was a scheme that had created at least one of the turnovers that were eating away at that nice lead. And there weren’t any other viable options being left alone outside of Jack himself. But he didn’t just fling himself into the lane where Duncan would be just as able to help and create another turnover. He took a few steps back, gained some extra space, and used the threats around him to his advantage until he found his own best scoring opportunity near the freethrow line late in the clock.

That was a make, and a big one. And Bosh’s sweet little hook was clutch as well. There were plenty of misses in there though. But they were misses that came within the rhythm of the game, were under control, and weren’t anything that felt terribly frustrating outside of the fact that such a powerhouse of an offense should be able to stick open shots. Without pondering the mysteries that lie within that puzzle, I was happy to see a potent example of how they simply don’t need to be in a panic to score. They do not need to score to have any chance. They just need to take good shots, and then do the job on defense. It can be done. It has been done before, and now it should be something that defines them. My guess is that a lot of those shots start to go in if that has actually sunk in.

The best part was seeing three very exciting plays amidst all those missed shots. The alley-oop finished off the glass by Demar, the Bargnani reverse off the blow by on Duncan, and Weems imitating Magic and teeing up Amir all proved to be worthy of vocal chord workouts. They did get to run, off of their defense. And just seeing the blocks and general resistance on defense was fun enough. I would have killed to have seen a game like that a year ago. I think I might get to see a few more this season yet.

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