Since I recapped this game yesterday, I’m not going to discuss what happened in the first 44 minutes of the game. For this post, I want to focus on the final four minutes when the Raptors were only able to score two points off of free throws, miss all six field goal attempts and committed a couple of crucial turnovers.
There’s a tendency for fans of bad basketball teams to assume that what separates their team from the good teams is the ability to win close games. As an example of how this is not necessarily the case, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 3-3 in games decided by five points or fewer and 5-29 in the rest of their games. Clearly, late-game execution is not the problem here.
The Raptors are another story. In games decided by five points or fewer, they have a 2-8 (.200) record this season. In their other games, they have a .354 winning percentage. They’re clearly not world-beaters either way, but yesterday’s end-of-game sequence brought into sharp relief this team’s ineffectiveness in clutch situations this season.
Immediately after a Hornets possession in which they were allowed to grab three consecutive offensive rebounds but they still didn’t score, the Raptors had the ball with about two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and trailing by a point. Obviously, this was still anyone’s game. Unfortunately, the Raptors – and specficially Andrea Bargnani — squandered this opportunity with three straight awful possessions.
In the first possession in this video, the Raptors appear to have called a clear-out iso play for Bargnani and one would think he would be able to take Emeka Okafor off the dribble quite easily. Perhaps his confidence was shaken from how poorly he’d been playing throughout the game, because he simply held on to the ball for five seconds and then passed it back to Jose Calderon with five seconds left on the shot clock. Jose had little choice but to jack up a contested three-point attempt. In Bargnani’s second possession, he forced up a contested 13-footer with 11 seconds left on the shot clock — probably not the best idea considering how poorly he’d been shooting on the day. Given a third chance to redeem himself, he nearly airballed an open three-pointer that barely grazed the rim. Just an ugly sequence of possessions that summed up Barganani’s worst performance of the season.
To be clear, I’m well aware that Bargnani had been having the best month of his career before he laid yesterday’s stinkbomb. And it’s not like I’m saying he’s solely to blame for this loss — the Raptors got hosed on at least three critical late-game calls and Amir Johnson missed a five-foot shot with six seconds left that would have brought the Raptors within two points.
My point is that it’s easy to blame the coach when a team like the Raptors can’t win the close ones, but the players on the court have to execute. That Bargnani iso may not have been the most sophisticated play Triano could have called, but I bet you Bargnani would have at least gotten to the free throw line if he drove instead of freezing up. Speaking of which, isn’t this the guy who isn’t supposed to be affected by pressure?