Toronto Raptors Must Dig Deep or Continue Obscurity


Toronto Raptors Must Dig Deep or Continue Obscurity

We have all been saying this for a few months now — the Toronto Raptors can’t play defence.

A lot of analysts, pundits, and even casual fans will tell you, you can’t win in the playoffs without at least some kind of defensive effort.

Now for me it hurts to see a Dwane Casey coached team, one that had a top half defensive rating back when the team was routinely missing the playoffs, to be this bad on defence.

I can live with bad defence if the offence at this stage is top five in the league. I can even live with the “pretenders” label that has been put on this team, since it’s miraculous upswing back in December of 2013 that started us on this crazy ride.

Mar 16, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey talks with an official against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

But as Gilbert Arenas said so articulately, soft? I wasn’t expecting the Raptors to still have that tag attached to them.

This year, we had hoped to turn a corner with the return of Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough [a nickname he earned from his days at North Carolina, and a moniker he has successfully carried to his career in the pros], and James Johnson, a guy who was on every highlight show in North America for absolutely destroying one of the best and toughest post players in the game in Andre Drummond back in November.

All seemed well, and I was convinced we had turned a corner.

Then the last two games happened, and I find myself both cursing, and praising the name Paul Peirce.

I hate Paul Pierce right now, I hate John Wall, and most of all I hate Bradley Beal. I don’t hate these guys for who they are as people, I hate them at this moment because they are being 90’s era NBA players that talk trash, back it up, get in their opponents heads come playoff time, and win 90 percent of the game before ever stepping on the court.

They are being the type of players I have screamed for since the Raptors last offseason.

The sad truth is that this team has had the “soft” tag on them since the days Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani were scouring our frontcourt.

Rewind to Tuesday night, and I see our two most physical players in Hansbrough and Johnson sitting on the bench, hanging their heads, while Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce laughed all the way back up the court after a bucket to make it a 20 point deficit for Toronto.

Both guys were having rough nights in the stat sheet, I get that, but some things on the court don’t translate to a stat sheet. Like say, an elbow or shoulder to Beal’s chest if he keeps jawing off to Lowry, because none of that was happening either.

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To make matters worse, Patrick Patterson, who was the only guy, and I mean ONLY guy, to show any kind of emotion after making two consecutive three’s to make it 102-89 with six and a half to go, would fail to even take another shot the rest of the way.

Apr 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson (3) dribbles past Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) in the second quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Why isn’t coach Casey at least drawing up a play for him for a couple more looks at the basket? Clearly no one else was willing to make a shot, why not him?

It’s a small example to a bigger problem this team has faced since the all-star break, which is a complete lack of movement offensively. This team has shown less and less trust within each other as the months have gone by, and what was originally a beautiful display of movement around the arc between both ball and players, has resoundingly shuttered to settlements of jump shots, panicked passes under pressure, and an inability to open up the floor for one another.

Tuesday night was a lot of isolation basketball with nothing to show for it. Dribble in, dish out, turnover, and bucket for Washington. Rinse and repeat.

I’ll state something this team should already know: when you keep moving, your defender has to as well, when they move, they eventually lurk out of position, when that happens and a shot goes up, you don’t get waxed on the boards 106-76 over two playoff games!

Between Kyle Lowry limping off the court, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams taking their patented ill-advised jumpers and three’s with no one under the rim, and a lacking intensity in physicality, the Raps are hard pressed to come back from this.

This series is in danger of becoming a very rude wake-up call, not just to the team, but to us as fans as well.

We swoon over this team like being in a brand new relationship, we ignore our partner’s shortcomings for the way they make us feel and what they do right, even if what they do right is not a long-term solution to the possible long-term problems presented by what they do wrong.

That is exactly how this season has played out for Raptors’ fans.

Apr 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; A general view of fans in Jurassic Park outside of the Air Canada Centre prior to game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs between the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

We wondered why this team lacks consistency night-to-night, but they pulled the right wins at the right times over Memphis, San Antonio, and Atlanta to restore our faith, without really doing anything to fix it long-term.

We swoon over this team [The Raptors] not unlike being in a brand new relationship, we ignore our partner’s shortcomings for the way they make us feel and what they do right, even if what they do right is not a long term solution to the possible long term problems presented by what they do wrong.

We wondered why Jonas Valanciunas was getting shown the bench in the fourth quarter for the entire season. Coach Casey claimed that other guys were getting the job done better, and that they required better rim protection in the final minutes of close games. We all agreed because the Raptors were winning, but then Casey leaves Valanciunas in for the remainder of the fourth in game 2, while about three better defenders and rebounders sat and watched.

We didn’t need Valancuinas all season in the fourth, so why leave him out their now when the message you have sent to him all season has been, “I don’t trust you down the stretch”?

Apr 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks to pass as Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) defends in the fourth quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Wizards beat raptors 117 – 106. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

By the way, Valanciunas had the highest win share generator on the team this year with an 8.2.

All of a sudden, our calm, collected, and patient coach no longer looks as in control as we had originally assumed, despite all of the signs, the lack of defence and accountability this team has been struggling with all season.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight in Washington. I still believe the Raptors can salvage something from these two embarrassing performances.

All I’ll say is this to the entire team – forget the Sportchek commercials, country pride, Drake, the “We the North” slogan campaign, Jurassic Park, your GM swearing at crowds to huge applause, and hollow divisional titles in historically bad divisions.

You guys haven’t earned a damn thing — this franchise hasn’t earned a damn thing in its 20 year history other than managing to still exist, despite the lack of on-court success when it matters most.

So please, don’t even play for us tonight, we’ll still be here tomorrow cheering you on, play for your own personal pride and for the guy next to you.

And above all else, will someone please, PLEASE, put a shoulder into Bradley Beal’s chest?!

Next: Toronto Raptors: Three Questions for Game 3