If I told you before the game that the Raptors would have a lineup of TJ Ford, AP, Kapono, Delfino and Bargnani for the majority of crunch time in the 4th quarter, what would you say? That Chris Bosh was out rebounded by AP and Delfino, the Raptors would be up by 20+ points, and blew the lead just added to an already strange night. Oh yeah, the leading scorer was of Italian heritage.
To begin dissecting this game I think we have to look at the Philly team. The 76ers are made up of a very strong interior, a few slashers, and some outside bombers. Most of the players, with the exception of Iggy, are pretty one-dimensional. The team isn’t exactly very deep past their 6th man. However if last year was any indication, this is a team that has the potential to threaten most teams within the Eastern Conference. Samuel Dalembert is a large reason for this. He’s a fairly quick big man who’s hefty and instinctive around the basket. He causes many teams headaches due to his defensive presence, although he is prone to foul trouble if you attack him directly. In addition, Iggy is the perfect slashing small forward/shooting guard, and Kyle Korver finally had his first good game against the Raptors in over a year. So the Raptors had difficulty attacking the 76er’s interior and also lost on the outside because they had problems defending a slasher and 3 point threat. Drive-and-kick was the name of the game and the Raptors had difficulties finding answers.
So cue the Raptors make-shift “small ball” squad. With Delfino showing hustle on the boards, the Raptors placed that extremely small lineup for most of the 4th quarter. They were going to make it so that it no longer mattered who switched off on the 76ers. Play a screen and roll with Korver and Iggy? Doesn’t matter. Kapono and Parker are roughly the same height and speed. With Bargnani effectively sealing off Dalembert, the only question was how Delfino was going to work against Evans. In the end, Delfino used speed and athleticism to beat Evans on key plays. (Though Evans manhandled him on that missed free throw play.) On offense, the group was more than capable. Delfino became the slasher that many of us predicted, Parker and Kapono stayed on the outside to bomb, Bargnani mixed up his inside and outside game, and Ford became the fearless leader who attacked Dalembert without mercy.
It’s not Philly’s fault. They put in the effort to make the Raptors gasp and the collective Raptors nation flash back to a year ago when the team started 2-8. Having a team like the Raptors can sometimes scar you for life. Yes, the 76ers are a team that can take many by surprise, and they have the potential to eventually take it to the next level. Last year, Philly made that incredible run that almost put them in the playoffs. In this season opener, Philly really made things interesting in the fourth as the Raptors placed what was supposed to be their most steadying lineup on the floor. But when it comes down to it, the Raptors can reconfigure themselves for just about any opponent.
Tonight was definitely a new configuration for this Raptors club, but it’s one that I could see them employing in the future against speedy SGs & SFs. It might have been made out of necessity, but that’s what Sam Mitchell can do. It’s an option for coach to feel out his own team on any given night. Is Good Joey in the house? Is Jorge’s shot in line? Is Delfino going to play with confidence and energy? Then armed with stats and evidence, he can play whomever is hot for the rest of the game. It’s what allows the Raptors to play half court offense, attack against zones, fight big men, and outwit speed demons. It’s how the Raptors can get by defensively, even though they are not the strongest defensive team in the NBA. It’s that luxury of depth that many opinionated writers fail to see. It weathers long road trips, bad games, and injuries.
It is, in every sense of the Colangelo-era, Raptors Ball.
Next Game: Friday @ the Nets. 7:30 tip off.