Congratulations first to Rasho Nesterovic for the birth of a healthy child and his return to the lineup. We missed you big guy. On to the game…
A funny thing happened at the game tonight. The Raptors suddenly found their pace when Bosh left the game with a strain. It was in the 2nd quarter that the Grizzlies began to relax and the Raptors kept up their intensity and pace. Perhaps it was partially because the Grizzlies were playing a back to back without a strong team with a strong bench. Maybe it was because Mitchell stumbled upon a good lineup that included Rasho and Bargs on the floor. Whatever the case, it was the first large win of the season that I really felt the Raptors exert their will on their opponents rather than watch their opponents fall to the wayside.
The Raptors came into this game without really being able to show their pacing in a game. Some say it’s due to their increased attention to defense. There is some logic to this as a slower Raptors’ team tempo was being played, and as a result, the offensive pacing was slowed as well. Passes weren’t as crisp and neither were the decisions being made. In contrast, the Raptors managed to play to their strengths once they managed to get to the half with a nice lead. Bargnani continued to be aggressive to the hoop, trying to post up smaller players consistently. He’s still not getting quite enough touches in the post and he’s definitely not trying enough to draw fouls. Nevertheless, he remained active on both sides of the ball which is some kind of progression. It’s too bad he left the game early in the 4th quarter due to a knee-on-knee hit with Stromile Swift. Delfino and Kapono both were steadying presences on the offensive and defensive end respectively. Smooth and accurate, Kapono showed his worth in being able to jump start an offense and being more than just a spot shooter by driving and shooting. Delfino, on the other hand, managed to find his offensive game while playing solid defense. Both however, have now showing their worth to this Raptors team as they have now grown comfortable with the team.
Rasho and Calderon though, have proven to be invaluable. It’s been my long standing belief that the Raptors lost several games in the past week due to the lack of Rasho’s steadying presence. In a game like this, we saw Rasho perform accurate pick and rolls, trying to work the glass and anchoring the defense. Perhaps he was trying to show his new addition to his family just what daddy does. It was just ridiculous towards the end of last year when the Raptors nation began to question the usefulness of Rasho, as they collectively forgot about his production in December, January, and February as a consistent presence on the floor. Calderon, on the other hand, just continued to impress with his incredible accuracy and offensive capabilities. As TJ has been knocked out for a bit, Calderon has shown his ability to take over games in a different way from Ford, and he has finally found the correct pace and spacing to run the team. Shooters are getting the ball in their “zone” and he’s finding ways to get the ball into the post with a fairly accurate lob pass.
Glancing over at the Grizzlies though, it reminds me of a Raptors team a few years ago. They have a fairly good outside threat, an impressive “inside” presence, a couple valuable pieces, and they mixed it with a new coach who was projected to be “brilliant”. However, like the Raptors of old, the team just didn’t seem to gel yet because the communication and attention to defense was not there. In addition, there are a few players on the Grizzlies that act as negative presences on the team. A guy like Rudy Gay, or Kyle Lowry have to become better recognizers of the offensive scheme. There were also many sets that saw the Grizzlies make one pass before shooting. Of course, if you’re Juan Carlos Navarro (who I drafted in my pool and everyone laughed) it’s not so bad. Juan, quite possibly one of their most dangerous offensive presences shows the ability of one of the Spanish national team players. He’s able to shoot accurately while play within the offense and is not afraid to drive to the basket.
But look, at the end of the day I took some perverse pleasure in seeing Joey Graham take the floor. Watching Joey on the floor just reminds me just how much of a blessing it is to have Jamario Moon emerge out of the lineup. Jamario, while only making 6 points, took most of his shots within the offensive scheme, and was a very good defensive presence who tried to consistently keep his man in front of him. Not seeing the inconsistency and the lack of ability on the defensive end of Joey for a while, I shuddered to think if Joey was playing the same minutes he was last year as the Raptors have been trying to find their feet for the past few week. We could have been looking at a Raptors team well under .500. Thank our lucky stars.
Next Game: Cleveland @ Toronto