Boards game won't cut it
Jilted lovers understand the concept of being vulnerable on the rebound. Well, leaving the romantic habits of the Raptors aside --trust us, you don't want to know -- they too find themselves vulnerable on the rebound. How well they mask that vulnerability will go a long way toward determining the success or failure of the three-for-three trade with the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors gained scoring, athleticism, potential and a fresh outlook when they acquired Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter for Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Jefferies. But everyone from Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald to Mengke Bateer's translator knew there was an Achilles heel to the transaction: Rebounding.
The Raptors are an impressive 2-0 since the trade, following their 105-95 victory over the Boston Celtics last night before a re-energized crowd at the Air Canada Centre. The previous night, the Raptors beat the 76ers 95-88 in Philadelphia.
So everything is all smiles and sunshine, as it should be. But keep in mind the Raptors were out-rebounded in each of the past two games by clubs that aren't exactly world-beaters on the glass.
The Celtics out-rebounded the Raptors 44-39, but the home side trailed by double-digits in that category for most of the night, catching up only near the end when the visitors' shots became increasingly wild. The Sixers amassed 18 offensive rebounds and had a 49-43 edge overall.
Those don't sound like huge gaps, but this could be significant if it becomes a habit.
Heading into play last night, the Raptors were 26th in the league in rebounding, and they arguably got way worse in that regard when they jettisoned Davis and Williams. The Celtics were tied for 19th in the league while the Sixers were 28th. What will happen when the new-look Raptors play teams that actually excel at rebounding?
The Raptors are more of a perimeter-based team than ever. That's okay if they do it well, although they won't be able to set a franchise-record for three-pointers every night, as they did with 17 against the Celtics.
"We have to gang-rebound," Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We have to get more rebounds out of our guards.
"We don't have great bulk or size up front, but we do have pretty good size on our perimeter people. Morris Peterson, Alvin Williams, Jalen Rose, Mike Curry, Lamond Murray, they're all pretty good-sized guys, so they need to rebound.
"Let's face it, we're starting a 19-year-old, 220-pound guy (Chris Bosh at centre) who is going to need help down there. He's going to be overmatched size-wise every night."
There are four elements that impact a team's proficiency at rebounding: Size; skill; attitude; and luck. You'll get a fierce debate among hoops people when trying to break down the order of importance of those factors, but for now, O'Neill is hopeful his club will be able to make up for its shortcomings in the first category (size) with a healthy dose of the other three.
"I think you can (survive that way) as long as guys buy into that type of effort," O'Neill said. "It's a hard thing to do. You're doing a lot on offence, you're playing defence and now you have to go rebound.
"Often times, guys think 'leak out' instead of 'rebound.' "
Until Grunwald can address this with another trade, the Raptors can't afford to be a leaky team.
O'Neill said he doesn't mind if his re-configured club plays more of an up-tempo game, but to score easy baskets and create things off the break, you have to rebound.
The big question: Can the Raptors continue to win if they continue to lose the battle of the boards?
Maybe they can, if they faithfully adopt O'Neill's notion of gang-rebounding. But the gang has to be there every night.