Raps better, in some ways

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:35 AM ET

The early returns were about as expected for these Raptors — in the game all evening, but eventually narrow 98-93 losers to the New York Knicks at the ACC.

The Raps took the ball to the hoop harder and more often than past editions tended to. The reliance on the three-point shot was less evident, the screens were firmer and nobody wearing white and red took too many plays off — which certainly was not the case a season ago.

The problem, once again, was that the defence was not up to snuff. Though it was nowhere near as bad as what was on display on a daily basis a year ago, there were still many warts that will have to be removed.

After having considerable success defending the three-point shot in the pre-season, the Raptors broke down, allowing far too many open looks to the Knicks.

Luckily for the Raptors, New York’s gunners weren’t in top form, misfiring at an ugly 7-for-24 (29%) clip. If in form, the Knicks would have had a sizable lead heading into the fourth quarter instead of just a two-point advantage.

Equally troubling was Toronto’s inability to protect the interior. The Knicks outscored the Raptors 52-40 in the paint and should have gone inside more often given their struggles from distance.

Forward Reggie Evans, excellent again with 16 rebounds, said the Raptors need to be more aggressive defensively and that will translate to easy buckets at the other end.

He also said there is a lot of work to be done to shore up the defence.

“We have to go back to the drawing board, see what we can improve,” he said. “Something’s going to give (defensively), you just don’t want to be consistent in where you’re getting hurt every time.”

A positive for the home side was the fact that, from his pre-game speech to the crowd, to his fine play in the opening minutes, it was clear Andrea Bargnani was keen to show the face of the franchise tag that came to him by default when Chris Bosh skipped town was one he planned to earn.

Bargnani was far more aggressive from the opening tip, making a beeline for the basket on multiple occasions as well as absorbing a charge from Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire.

He tallied 18 points in the first half, but was held to 1-8 shooting in the second half, ending up with 22 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

Bargnani was not too impressed with his overall effort or the result.

“We had our chances to make a run, but we never did. We didn’t play a good game,” he said.

“We’re going to get better, gotta make (the) good moments longer.”

THE BLUR

Leandro Barbosa gave the Raptors a boost, scoring 13 in the second half as the team almost pulled off the rally. Barbosa was held pointless in the first half.

NOT IN SERVICE

For years, the Raptors have been a team that features long-distance shooting as a key part of its offensive arsenal.

But the NBA record 932 game streak with a made three looked to be in peril when the team could not hit a single trey until the final 30 seconds of the third quarter.

Newcomer David Andersen kept the run away by firing one in from dead centre. In the end, the Raptors hit three of 10 attempts and shot just 38% overall.

Where’s the finish?

Most of Jose Calderon’s explosiveness seems to have returned after a lengthy absence, but his proficiency near the basket appears to have abandoned him.

Calderon had several open layup attempts throughout the evening, but many rolled out. When Calderon was shooting 50% from the field, those were easy makes for him.

FOUL TROUBLE

Amir Johnson picked up his third foul less than half-way into the second quarter. Fouls continue to be the big man’s Achilles heel. His per-minute numbers are excellent, but his value is limited if he can’t stay on the court for more than 15-20 minutes a game. When Johnson checked in late in the third after an extended rest, head coach Jay Triano said to hip purposefully: “Amir, no fouls!” Johnson managed just two points and a rebound in 13 minutes.

ZING!

Besides being good at what they do, the Raptors’ crack media relations staff also has a sense of humour.

A line in the team media guide played off of Bosh and LeBron James heading to Miami: “Any media member wishing to ‘take my talents to South Beach’ will have their credentials confiscated and be escorted from the building.”

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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