TORONTO - TORONTO - When they talk the talk, the Raptors are an improved team defensively.
And by talking the talk, all we really mean is communicating vocally on defence.
All the talk coming out of Cleveland, where the Raptors had snapped a three-game losing streak earlier this week, was how much talk was going on as the Raptors defended their own end of the court.
Julian Wright, coming off the bench that night in Cleveland to help spark the win, suggested that was the key to the comeback.
But two nights later, playing the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, it was like the Raptors had all come down with a collective case of laryngitis.
Granted, Boston is a much more accomplished, not to mention dangerous team than Cleveland, but if talking on defence makes you better one night, it can only increase your odds against a better opponent.
So what gives, Jay Triano? How can a team have so much success one night doing one thing and then two nights later ignore that same winning formula?
“Communication is about confidence,” the head coach of the Raptors said. “The people who talk are the people who are super confident about what they are doing. We have some young players who are still thinking about what they are doing instead of knowing exactly what to do. When you know exactly what to do, you can talk.”
In other words the Raptors’ confidence against a lesser team like the Cavs allowed them to be more vocal. But going into a far more intimidating arena like the TD Garden, that confidence wasn’t there so the chatter on defence wasn’t either.
“It’s super loud, and they’re talking the whole time,” Triano said of the Celtics arena and the Celtics themselves. “I don’t know if it’s intimidation, but you lose your confidence when you’re playing against a team that makes you pay every time you make a mistake.”
Point guard Jerryd Bayless, who sat out the past two games and is unsure when he’ll be back as he nurses a severely sprained ankle back to health, is on his third team in two seasons and was asked if the Raptors talk less than his previous teams.
Ever the diplomat, Bayless’ reply was: “That’s something we have to keep working on.”
Confidence should not be a problem in two of the three games the Raptors play at home this week.
On Sunday, they play host to the Sacramento Kings. When the teams played in Sacramento in November, the Kings trailed by 14 points in the third quarter but came back to win.
The Kings boast defending rookie of the year Tyreke Evans and another imposing rookie in DeMarcus Cousins, but like the Raptors have plenty of youth and very little in the way of veteran leadership.
On Friday, the Detroit Pistons are in and while they have plenty of veteran leadership, they are very much a team whose age works against it as opposed to working for it.
The only game where the Raps might feel even the littlest bit intimidated comes Wednesday when the Atlanta Hawks, a team that has the Raptors’ number, comes in.
But being at home can only help the Raptors, who continue to battle through injuries.
Sonny Weems, who was been out since mid-December with lower back problems, worked out all week in Toronto while the team was on the road, and was hoping to see his first three-on-three practice action Saturday since the injury occurred.
However, Weems’ back locked up again during the three-on-threes and he is not expected back in the lineup Sunday.
Triano was asked if he had ever dealt with such a rash of injuries.
“Honestly it’s like the growth of your own children,” Triano said. “You don’t notice it. It’s been forever since we had Reggie (Evans). Peja (Stojakovic), ever since we made the deal, has not been able to play. Sonny has been out for a long time. Andrea (Bargnani) has missed time. Jose (Calderon) has missed time. It’s almost like it’s patchwork every day to see who is available and how we can best maximize those guys.”
If there is one reason for optimism, it is that for the first time in three weeks, the Raptors know they’ll be home for at least a week.
“The fact that we are here, we can get treatment, we’ve got doctors here and an extra trainer here, I think that helps,” Triano said.
That and a little boost of confidence could do wonders for this team right now.