TORONTO - Watch the Raptors closely through the first six minutes of any game and very quickly you know what kind of night it’s going to be.
If the offence is on, the ball is moving and the shots are falling, it’s quite likely the defence is following suit and you know the Raptors are going to compete whether it’s the Lakers or the Clippers providing the opposition.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, the offence isn’t always clicking and when it’s not, defence becomes a rumour.
“We are a fair-weather defensive team right now,” head coach Jay Triano said Monday, unable to hide the disgust such an admittance had on him. “We get after it when we are scoring, when things aren’t going well we don’t (get after it defensively). That has got to change.”
Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks was Exhibit A in this type of pattern.
Neither Andrea Bargnani nor Jose Calderon seemed able to buy a bucket and the Raptors found themselves down early, but by no means out of it.
What followed, though, was various individuals taking it upon themselves to get the Raps back in the game all by themselves. That strategy not only wasn’t effective, it served to alienate the rest of the team.
“The same thing happened before the four-game winning streak when guys tried to take it upon themselves to get us back in the game and it became very noticeable,” Triano said. “One guy tries to come down and do it all himself and score and when the other four don’t touch (the ball) they are not as inclined to rebound or play defence or get back in transition. Things compile and it’s not good.”
Sonny Weems, who has taken all of 27 shots in the past three games and made seven of them, pointed to that one-man-versus-five approach as one of the reasons for his lack of impact offensively lately after he was such a key component in the offence in that four-game winning streak.
Weems points out he’s not one of the Raptors’ first handful of offensive options.
“I’m not out there to score. I’m there for my defence and energy.”
But the past three games marked the first time in eight that he did not make it into double digits in scoring.
“When everyone was in a rhythm and we were winning, the ball was being moved,” Weems said. “Now it’s (sticking).”
Ask one man to beat five and the chances of winning are next to nil. But that is what the Raptors are trying to do when they attempt to take matters into their own hands. It’s a losing strategy and the sooner the team as a whole understands this, the sooner games like Sunday’s will become a thing of the past.
That is not to say the next time in the Atlanta Hawks will become Raptor fodder. Just that sticking with the basic Raptors principals of moving the ball to the open man and shooting when the shot presents itself will make them not just a better offensive team, but a better defensive one as well.
What Triano saw on Sunday was a team that just stopped playing defence once the offence stalled offensively.
Good teams do not let one influence the other. Like a baseball player who takes a bad at-bat out to the field with him, it’s a recipe for only more struggles.
If the Raptors can learn to sustain the kind of defensive energy they have when the ball is going in for them to those times when their shots are not dropping, they’ll have overcome a huge hurdle.
Part of this is a function of the Raptors youth, but even young players can learn not to let what’s happening at one end affect the other.
The sooner they do, the fewer one-sided games we’ll see like Sunday’s with the Raptors on the short end of the stick.