Archive for the ‘Aaron Gray’ Category

Game No. 23: Celtics 100, Raptors 64

The Raptors continued their recent trend of both being unable to play a good first quarter and being unable to give the Celtics a good, competitive game.

How bad was it tonight in Boston? Well the Raptors nearly had as many turnovers (five) as field goals (six) in the first quarter, Aaron Gray was one of only two Raptors with more than three points midway through the second quarter and the first half came to an end with a Kevin Garnett three-pointer.

By that time, the second half wasn’t even worth watching.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I mentioned another poor first quarter above. The Raps have now gone 11 straight games without winning a first quarter, and in nine of those games, they’ve been down by at least eight points after the opening frame. With a team as low on talent as the Raptors, a lot of times their only hope is going to be if they can use their youth to jump on teams early and try to hang on. Digging themselves double-digit holes before they can even blink is like booking themselves a handicap wrestling match.

2- Another game, another starting lineup. Tonight it was Calderon, DeRozan, James Johnson, Davis and Gray. Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy in mixing up his starting unit according to different matchups, and I don’t blame him. With how inconsistent the young Raptors have been and with the injuries to key players they’ve dealt with, I don’t mind seeing different players getting a look in the starting five and off of the bench. If they were a contending team or a fully healthy team with playoff aspirations, I’d like to see some lineup and rotation consistency from game to game, but that isn’t the case. This season, as I’ve stated numerous times, is about finding out what you have with a lot of these guys.

3- One of the differences in tonight’s lineup was the absence of Linas Kleiza, who was held out of action with a sore right knee. According to the Raptors’ Media Relations twitter account, the Raptors are “monitoring minutes and giving rest on a back-to-back.” This seems fair and legitimate considering that Kleiza only recently returned from microfracture surgery on that same knee, but I can’t help but wonder if Kleiza was held out because of a combination of the knee and playing the Celtics for the first time since taking out their best player on a non-basketball play.

4- I have no problem admitting that the team I root for is incredibly low in the talent department and was flat out out-worked by a much better Celtics team on Wednesday night. Having said that, I don’t think it’s my hometown bias, but wow, was the officiating ever slanted in this ball game? On the surface, you could look at the fact that the Celtics only had 12 free throw attempts and call me crazy. But Boston’s lack of trips to the line had more to do with the Raptors’ careless defensive mentality than pro-Raptors officiating. What I’m talking about is how many times a Raptors player (usually DeMar DeRozan or Jerryd Bayless) was practically mugged on the way to the basket without a whistle. Though perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the Raps shot an embarrassing eight-of-18 from the charity stripe.

5- It’s incredibly hard to find even the faintest silver lining after a game like this, but I did want to mention Ed Davis. After finally putting up a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday night against the Hawks, Davis followed up with another double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds against the Celtics. I realize that Davis’ two best statistical performances of the season have come in blowouts and would obviously like to see him put up these kinds of numbers in tight games, but it’s still a good start. You’ll remember that last season, Davis really got on a roll in the latter half of the year and finished with six double-doubles in his last 10 games. I’m hoping that the last two games serve as a springboard to the same type of streak from here on out.

6- If there is an ugly trend that has sneaked into the last two games, it’s the return of the Raptors’ ugly defence of years past. Perhaps it’s just a two-game blip on the radar, perhaps it’s the result of the Hawks and Celtics being tough matchups for the young Raps, perhaps it was just due after looking like a good defensive team through the first third of the season, but the Raptors have been downright awful on the defensive end this week. The Hawks and Celtics combined to shoot 51.6 per cent (80-of-155) from the field, 45.2 per cent from three (19-of-42) and scored 100 points each after the Raptors allowed just two teams to score 100 points through four quarters in their first 21 games. No one could have expected the Raptors to look as good as they did defensively for the first month of the season and these last two games looked eerily similar to the 2010-2011 Raptors team that was historically bad on the defensive end, so this could be the beginning of the end for a defence that often looked too good to be true.

Needless to say, I’ll be very interested in watching how the team’s defence responds and performs over the next few games.

***

You know it was a tough night at the office when all 12 Raptors players, even Anthony Carter and Solomon Alabi who only played five minutes each, were a minus-six or worse in plus/minus.

Raptors Player of the Game: Aaron Gray – 26 Min, 8 Pts, 4-6 FG,0-3 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO (Davis may have finished with the better numbers, but Gray and Bayless were the only two Raptors who brought a solid effort from the second they touched the floor. When Aaron Gray is your best player against teams like the Celtics, you’re just asking for a beat-down.)

Celtics Player of the Game: Paul Pierce – 26 Min, 17 Pts, 5-11 FG, 4-6 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 6 Reb, 8 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO

After a jam-packed couple of weeks of news and preparation for the season, the last couple of days have really settled down in Raptor land.

If you missed it yesterday, I provided some early season numbers to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Scott will probably post a game thread ahead of tonight’s matchup against the winless defending champion Mavericks. I don’t think I’ll be able to watch the game tonight, so most likely no recap, but if anything interesting comes up between now and Sunday’s game against the Magic, you know where to come to read about it.

Let’s get to a few notes.

- Aaron Gray is still undergoing cardiac testing and monitoring to find out what’s been causing his rapid heart rate. While he can take part in (full contact) practices, Gray will be held out of game action for now after consulting with an NBA cardiologist. Again, I hope for Gray’s sake, this doesn’t turn out to be the kind of thing that requires procedures or an extended absence. While Gray wasn’t going to be much of a deciding factor to the team’s success this season, he is a decent big body off of the bench, and added depth at the big positions is always helpful. Just think, if Amir or Andrea get into early foul trouble like they did on Wednesday night, and Magloire can’t give you anything on that night, without Gray, you’re next option at centre is Solomon Alabi.

- I haven’t posted anything Jonas Valanciunas related since his epic showdown versus Santa Claus, but finally we have some real basketball to mention. In three games this week (all be it against some very weak competition), Valanciunas scored 55 points on 21-of-31 shooting (67.7 per cent) to go along with 31 rebounds and four blocks in about 59 minutes of action. In simpler terms, the big Lithuanian averaged about 18 points, 10 rebounds and a block in just under 20 minutes per game. Thanks to Toronto Raptors Community Manager Jay Satur for recapping Valanciunas’ week.

- I find myself watching Dwane Casey’s broadcasted media scrums more than I usually watch coaches’ scrums, and a big part of the reason is that I actually find Casey to be more honest and direct with the media than most coaches. Two things caught my attention in watching his scrum from Thursday. First, Casey was discussing getting the respect of officials by playing hard, playing physical and diving to the floor for loose balls. He then followed that up by saying it would make the officials think “they’re not the same Toronto team of the past.” Yup, that’s a burn to the Raptors players who were here last year and could even be interpreted as a burn to the former coaching staff as well. Do I think Casey said it thinking he was burning anyone? No, but I do think he was being honest, and what his honesty basically said was that this team didn’t play hard enough or physical enough in recent years. Raptors fans already knew that, I just found it refreshing to here Casey confirm it.

Another cool part of the scrum was hearing Casey talk about how great the ACC crowd was for the home opener and say that “coaches from other teams talked about how exciting our fans were.” Coming out of a lockout, entering a season with minimal expectations, if any, it really was an impressive crowd if you were there to witness it. Casey also talked about the playoff-like atmosphere the fans created on Wednesday night, which I mentioned in my thoughts on the game.

- Outside of the obvious “Dwane Casey returns to Dallas” story, one thing that should be interesting to watch tonight is Andrea Bargnani vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously, this isn’t the fist time the two have matched up in their careers, but remember, Bargnani has been playing as a centre for much of the last five years, so they really haven’t had a full game long one-on-one battle yet. With Bargs now playing the four, this might be our first chance to finally really see that matchup.

While it’s probably far too late for Andrea to ever live up to the Dirk comparisons, he has had good games against his idol in the past. In eight career matchups against Dirk and the Mavs (Bargnani hasn’t faced the Mavs since the 2009-2010 season), Bargnani has averaged about 17 points, four rebounds and a block. But in his last three times going up against Dirk, Andrea has averaged 20.6 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Are we in store for Bargnani’s best game of the young season tonight?

Until they prove me wrong (and I know we all hope they won’t), I’m going to assume that the fight and effort will be there from the Raptors heading into all 66 games this season, or at least most of them. I expect that same fight tonight, but with the Mavs losing a heartbreaker against Kevin Durant and the undefeated Thunder just 24 hours ago, I smell a blowout brewing.

I know the Mavs are an older team playing on the back end of a back-to-back and their fourth game in six nights, so there is the possibility that the much younger, much fresher Raptors simply run past them, but I just can’t see the defending champs dropping to 0-4 with a home loss to the lowly Raptors. Regardless of the Raps’ extra effort, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one get ugly.

Perhaps the key for Toronto will be hanging around and staying in the game early, because you would have to expect Dallas to come out firing.

With a condensed training camp and pre-season in the books, it’s time to take one final look at what the Raptors’ rotation looks like, or at least what I believe it to look like, before the regular season gets started on Monday night in Cleveland.

I’m basing this on both the little I saw from players in the pre-season and on Dwane Casey’s comments about certain players throughout training camp.

Let’s get to it.

Point Guard: Jose Calderon will likely start on opening night, and if he plays the way he’s capable of and shows Dwane Casey he can out-defend a pylon, he may even keep the starting job for the entire season. But Jerryd Bayless is nearly seven full years younger than Calderon, is quicker and a much better defender than Calderon, and obviously has a lot more potential than a 30-year-old. Quite frankly, the only one who can get in the way of Bayless earning the starting job this season is Jerryd Bayless, himself. His penchant for sloppy play and turnovers can hurt his minutes and his team, but if he can find away to take care of the ball, the tenacious Bayless should surpass the injury-prone Calderon on the Raptors’ depth chart in a very physically demanding season. I don’t expect Anthony Carter to make much of an impact in games, but I can definitely see Casey going to Carter if Jose and Jerryd falter. As Casey himself noted, Anthony Carter always starts as a team’s third point guard before slowly but surely climbing the charts.

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan will start. That’s not even a question. The only question is who gets the majority of minutes at two-guard off of the bench. Leandro Barbosa possesses explosive speed and the ability to score in bunches, but you could also argue that his playing style clashes with Dwane Casey’s coaching style more than any other player on this roster. Barbosa should be given the benefit of the doubt to start the season, but if he gets into a habit of carelessly chucking shots and refusing to play D, wing players like Gary Forbes and even Rasual Butler can take his minutes.

Small Forward: James Johnson is by far the best defensive perimeter player on this roster, and his acceptance of his role in the offence is a nice compliment to that above average defence. Johnson will start, and I predict for the time being, Gary Forbes will be the first guy to replace James off of the bench. Rasual Butler will get a look here too, and you would have to imagine that Linas Kleiza will be given every opportunity to prove he belongs once he is ready to return to action. But overall, if I had to put money on it, I’d bet that Johnson and Forbes get the majority of minutes at the three.

Power Forward: We know Andrea Bargnani will start, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk. But we also know that Dwane Casey won’t worry about Bargnani’s feelings getting in the way of the facts. If Andrea doesn’t show a consistent competitive spirit on the defensive end and doesn’t up his rebounding numbers, and if Ed Davis has the kind of break through I think he is capable of this season, then we may very well see Davis starting at the four at some point this season, with Bargnani possibly being used as a scorer off of the bench (a role some believe the seven-footer is better suited to anyway). I assume that between the two of them, Bargnani and Davis will get nearly all of the minutes at power forward, with Amir Johnson splitting time between the four and five.

Centre: My gut tells me that Jamaal Magloire will get the first couple of starts. My head tells me Casey might go with Aaron Gray for a short period after that. But my heart tells me that Amir Johnson should and will be the starting centre at some point this year. If Casey absolutely wants a true centre to start all season long, then we may see Solomon Alabi get a start before Amir does, but the coach did mention in a recent scrum that Amir Johnson can play centre. If Casey continues to believe that, and Amir plays well enough to warrant it, don’t you like this team better with Amir Johnson starting ahead of Magloire, Gray and Alabi? Though I guess in the grand scheme of things, as along as Johnson is getting more minutes than those three, which he will, then it doesn’t matter whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench.

That’s how I see the Raptors rotation shaping up this season, barring any major injuries or transactions. As I’ve said in a number of recent posts, if this team performs as poorly as most of us believe they will from a wins and losses standpoint, then watching how players like Bayless, Davis and Amir fight for a bigger piece of the pie that is the Raptors’ future might be more exciting than the actual outcomes of the games. It will be really nice to see a team whose minutes are properly distributed according to work ethic and defence for a change, something we haven’t seen on a consistent basis in about five years.

If there’s one thing Bryan Colangelo has proven in his run as Raptors President and General Manager, good or bad, it’s that he knows how to execute an off-season roster shake-up.

Well, BC was at it again this off-season (and by off-season I mean December 9-December 10), trading and un-trading for players while signing guys left, right and centre. Only this time, it’s a little different than the splashes he made in the summers of 2006 and 2009. No big-name free agents. No surprising blockbuster trades. Just a few guys that will fill out a probable lottery team’s bench…and that’s okay.

Here’s a basic summary of what’s transpired for the Raps over the last 24 hours or so:

- The Mickael Pietrus trade has fallen through after Toronto’s medical staff realized the Caribbean-born Frenchman will need another two-to-four weeks to recover from a knee injury. Pietrus and his $5.3 million expiring contract aren’t coming to T.O.

- Raptors sign 26-year-old restricted free agent Gary Forbes to offer-sheet (Financial details not yet known. Offer sheet expected to be a two-year deal with team option for third season. Nuggets have three days from Saturday to match Toronto’s offer).

- Raptors sign 32-year-old, nine-year veteran Rasual Butler to one-year deal (Financial details not yet known).

- Raptors reportedly sign 27-year-old, four-year veteran Aaron Gray to one-year deal (Financial details not yet known).

- Raptors reportedly sign 36-year-old, 12-year veteran Anthony Carter to one-year deal. (Terms of deal not yet known). Side note, I kind of wanted the Raps to put in a bid on Chauncey Billups just to spite him. He totally deserves it after his childish out-burst. In short, Billups is “tired of being the good guy.” It’s alright Chauncey, with LeBron trying to turn face again, the world needs more bad guys.

If the Gray and Carter deals are made official, here’s what the Raptors’ roster will look like come opening night:

Point Guards: Jose Calderon, Jerryd Bayless, Anthony Carter

Shooting Guards and Small Forwards: DeMar DeRozan, Leandro Barbosa, James Johnson, Rasual Butler, Linas Kleiza (recovering from micro-fracture surgery), *Gary Forbes (Denver has a ton of cap space, especially if they don’t re-sign Nene, so they may just match a cheap enough deal for Forbes)*

Bigs: Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Solomon Alabi, Jamaal Magloire, Aaron Gray

It looks as if Colangelo achieved what he set out to do – fill out the roster with cheap veterans on short-term deals. Hopefully these vets can give Dwane Casey quality minutes when called upon and be guiding voices for some of the Raptors’ budding young players. That’s really all that should be asked of them.

With the additions of Magloire and Dwane Casey himself, the Raptors should be at least a bit better on the defensive end, which will hopefully prevent the usual 40-point blowout Toronto has averaged about once every couple of weeks in the last few seasons.

As I’ve stressed in my recent posts, if Casey can get this team to consistently compete on the floor and play a gritty style of basketball, the expected plethora of losses and unofficial tanking will go down a lot easier for Raps fans.

I hope those fans realize that while difficult to accept, these “non-moves” are actually the right moves for a team that wants to build a consistent winner in the future, not just a perennial .500 team for the present. No executive wants to be in a position where you’re just filling out a flawed roster with cheap vets while thinking about next season already.

But if you are going to find yourself in that position, you better recognize it early, before you make any moves that are going to set you back any further. With this flurry of minor transactions over the last few days, the Raptors have showed that they do recognize the position they’re in, and will remain patient and committed to a re-build.

It’s about time.