Raps 'D' much improved in loss to Celtics
By Mike Ganter, QMI Agency
|Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen drives past Toronto Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan (R) during the first half of their pre-season NBA basketball game in Toronto December 18, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
TORONTO - The scoreboard indicated another Raptors loss.
But the Raptors weren’t interested in the scoreboard on Sunday. For one thing, it’s pre-season and they have more pressing concerns.
They wanted to see what an intense week of a complete defensive overhaul could do for the team that was statistically the worst in the league in that department a year go.
And in that regard, Sunday’s 76-75 loss to the Boston Celtics was a win.
“Defensively we were pretty good,” point guard Jerryd Bayless said. “We held Boston to 76 points. Obviously they didn’t play their starters the whole game, but from the way the game was going, we were playing pretty good defence. We’re not great defensively but I think we’re getting better.”
New head coach Dwane Casey came into the game knowing his offence wasn’t quite ready for prime time or even exhibition time, but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to show improvement on the defensive end and on that count he was happy.
“I liked our effort, and I liked our toughness when we needed it,” Casey said. “We needed a couple of more at the end to crack in and get some offensive boards at the end but overall I was pleased with that. Now we just have to get some work in on our offence and not turn the ball over so much. We will work more offensively this week.”
Always the competitor, Casey was referring to what turned out to be winning basket when someone named Greg Stiemsma was allowed not one but two putback attempts after an initial miss from under the Raptors basket. If everything had gone according to plan Stiemsma misses the first and then is rudely pushed away from the basket with an effective box out. The plan though hasn’t been perfected just yet.
For the game the Celtics shot just 39% and even without Paul Pierce in the lineup — he stayed back in Boston nursing a heel ailment — that is a number the Raptors can at least hang their hats on as they prepare for the back end of the home and home pre-season series with the Celts which wraps up Wednesday in Beantown.
“Coming into this game we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Casey said. “We stepped up our play defensively and had that competitive spirit on the defensive end. Now we have to turn around and have an offensive spirit too which I know will be easier for us than the other way around.”
The most apparent change defensively for the Raptors was that help would arrive once the first line of defence had been beaten. On numerous occasions throughout the game, a member of the Celtics would beat his man but then face a blanket of bodies between himself and the basket as the Raptors switched off to close down any opportunity for an easy basket. A year ago the Raptors’ first collective instinct was to stay with their man. You can see that has already been altered.
Those looking for more improvement didn’t have to look further than the seven-footer at power forward. Andrea Bargnani, by his account, didn’t have a great day shooting the ball, even though he did wind up with a team-high 16 points.
Where he did improve and improve dramatically was in pulling down rebounds for his team at both ends of the court.
Bargnani finished the game with nine (three on the offensive end) and that did not go unnoticed by his new head coach.
“I was impressed with the way he hit the boards,” Casey said. “Overall I was pleased with his effort. He competed. He got out and impacted the ball on the pick-and-roll coverages. He came back and got some in-the-traffic rebounds which we have been on him about.”
Bargnani himself said while he would have preferred to be celebrating a win, he liked the progress he saw defensively and could live with the offensive shortcomings given what the team had focussed on almost exclusively all week.
“It was a pretty tough week,” Bargnani said. “We came in pretty tired and our main focus all week was the defence. Offensively we didn’t do a good job at all. The rhythm wasn’t there. I’m sure the offensive rhythm will come. We just need a little time, but we had tired legs. Nobody really got hot. No one made a lot of shots, but the effort was definitely there. That was the important thing.”
Casey said the team will begin to focus a little more on the offensive end, but cautioned the work will continue unabated on defence.
“We had some wide open looks early and it was just butterflies,” Casey said of the offensive shortcomings. “Shots guys normally hit, didn’t fall. We will get to that point and spend more time on offence, but not at the expense of defence. Our whole goal is to build this process. Defensively we have to keep this same mind-set for 66 games.”