1,000 pardons needed for flaws

Raptors lose to the Los Angeles Clippers 98-102 . Sun Photo: Stan Behal Friday, February 8, 2008...

Raptors lose to the Los Angeles Clippers 98-102 . Sun Photo: Stan Behal Friday, February 8, 2008 10:05:22 PM

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

On this night, no numbers needed to be crunched, no strategy needed to be scrutinized or re-assessed.

As sure as a basketball is round, the Raptors were exposed like so many previous times this season.

Of the many flaws that exist, the most glaring is the Raptors' inability to defend athletic players on the wing, offensively minded athletes who can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim on virtually every possession.

It unfolded last night against the road-weary and road-challenged Los Angeles Clippers, who began the evening already in a deficit when the NBA suspended mercurial point guard Sam Cassell one game following his flagrant foul against Rajon Rondo of the Celtics during a game on Wednesday in Boston.

Even without the cagey Cassell and his mid-range game, the Clippers got plenty of game from Corey Maggette and Al Thornton, who combined to torch the Raptors for 54 points in an unlikely 102-98 win, L.A.'s second road conquest in the past 11 forays into opposing arenas.

To their credit, the Raptors offered no excuses, only words of praise for the banged-up Clippers.

"We didn't deserve to win the game,'' head coach Sam Mitchell said. "We just didn't play well.

"We're not good enough to look at a team's record. We just didn't show up to play."

Even when the Raptors appeared poised to seize the game -- at one point during the third quarter the home side led by as many as 12 points -- they couldn't make a key stop.

Maggette's three-pointer just before the third quarter expired gave the visitors a 78-77 lead, an advantage the Clippers never would relinquish.

Maggette finished with a game-high 35 points, mainly by driving the basket and applying plenty of pressure on a Raptors defence that failed to step up.

"I told (my players) don't worry about the offensive rebound because you don't get it anyways,'' Mitchell said, not-so thinly veiling his team's lack of protecting the basket.

"Just find Corey Maggette...When a guy takes the ball from the three-point line and goes all the way to the basket against your set defence, your defence was just bad."

The veteran Maggette gave way to the rookie Thornton, who was matched up against Chris Bosh for most of the fourth quarter.

Thornton went primarily to his right when he took Bosh off the dribble and right to the basket, scoring nine of his 19 points in the final 12 minutes.

"He's quick and I give him credit for what he did,'' Bosh said. "I wish I could do a few things over again."

Maybe, in retrospect, Bosh should have turned Thornton into a jump shooter, but the Raptors franchise player, who fouled out when he was forced to foul Maggette in the game's waning seconds, thought his spacing on Thornton was adequate.

"I thought I was playing off him, but he was playing very aggressively and I didn't want to give him an open shot so late in the game,'' Bosh added in explaining the inherent risk of playing defence with five fouls.

"He is a driver and he is a pretty skilled basketball player."

Bosh, who ultimately fouled out when no one bothered to stop the clock following a Jose Calderon miss, felt his team shouldn't be downtrodden.

"We can't get down on ourselves," Bosh, who left the game by pouring in a team-high 29 points, said.

"We didn't play well defensively, plain and simple. We have to take this as a learning experience."

The Raptors allowed the Clippers to shoot the lights out from three-point range, but more importantly looked helpless when Maggette, Thornton and Cuttino Mobley used the dribble to attack the rim.

The night coincided with the Raptors' 1,000th game in club history and the Toronto return of point guard T.J. Ford, who came back this past Monday following a two-month injury absence (stinger).

To illustrate how ineffective the Raptors' defence was, consider the fact that they scored 29 points off of 21 L.A. turnovers and limited their own miscues to nine -- and they still took the loss.

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REPLAY

DRIVE STALLS

For reasons that aren't easily explainable, Andrea Bargnani wasn't consistently taking his man off the dribble, a dimension that has helped elevate his game recently. Rather than drive to the hole, Bargnani stood around the three-point arc.

CAPTAIN HOOK

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell had no choice but to replace Bargnani in the first quarter after Chris Kaman established a low-post presence. Mitchell turned to Rasho Nesterovic, who matched up better against the more physical Kaman.

DOUBTING THOMAS

Tim Thomas, who has been nursing lower back pains, started for the Clippers and played the entire opening quarter. His troublesome back woes then resurfaced, forcing Thomas to the sidelines for the balance of the evening.


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