Follow the fourth quarter exploits of Antawn Jamison in the Raptors’ loss to Cleveland on Friday and you have the perfect snapshot of what has to change if the Raptors are to finally turn the defensive corner.
Make no mistake, there have been huge strides made this year defensively where the Raptors are concerned.
With just 10 games remaining in this lockout-shortened season the Raps are ranked No. 13 overall defensively. At year’s end last season, the team was ranked 26th.
They are allowing an average of 94.9 points a game compared to 105.1 a year ago. Teams are shooting the ball at a 43.7% clip against them. A season ago that number was 48.2%.
All definite improvements.
But Dwane Casey would like some consistency.
For this season he can live with the up and down performances. One night the Raptors are locked in defensively. A night later they are as loose and unfocused as a drunk at closing time.
Casey can live with that this year because he has a young roster that relies for the most part on its young players. A year from now youth will no longer dominate the roster as it does now.
As long as Bryan Colangelo is able to spend the money — somewhere between 10 and $15-million dollars depending on whether he takes advantage of the amnesty option — on solid veterans this coming off season, Casey will no longer have to let his youngsters learn on the job.
“Next year it’s going to be about working towards the playoffs,” Casey said. “The mistakes that we are making this year, a lot of them are going to be non-negotiable next season when it comes to earning playing time. We have let some guys play through mistakes this year whether its defensive coverages, defensive transition. Next year those possessions are going to be huge from a defensive standpoint. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes two or three times.
Jamison was a one-man highlight crew when it came to exposing defensive lapses in the fourth quarter on Friday.
From 10:42 of the quarter to the 7:03 mark, Jamison almost single-handedly brought the Cavs back from 13 down to even. In that 3:39, Jamison hit three three-pointers, a 22-foot jumper and sank two from the free throw line.
Twice the Raptors botched their pick and roll coverage, once with Bargnani flashing out to force the guard high and then failing to get back with his hands up which left Jamison alone for the 22-footer.
On another pick and roll Jamison blew past Amir Johnson and hit the open three. On his other two three’s the Raptors just lost the veteran Cavalier in transition leaving Jamison to pull up at the arc and launch two more successful three balls.
Casey makes no excuse for these lapses.
“Those are focus things where we have done a good job over the season and (Friday) night for whatever reason we didn’t do our job in transition defence and those pick and roll situations. And they were all in a two or three minute span which magnified them even more,” Casey said.
The expectation is that next year with a deeper and more veteran roster, these lapses, when they do occur will not be tolerated because Casey will have more options at his disposal.
The frustrating part for Casey, particularly with the pick and roll defence, is he has seen his charges perform it with plenty of success.
“Philly was running the same thing and we covered it well,” Casey said. “Denver was running the same thing and we handled it well with (Al) Harrington popping back.”
For now though it’s show the players their errors on film, walk them through it in practice and head on to the next opponent hoping the focus they have shown at times becomes consistent.
Sunday will provide another challenge as the playoff-bound, some would say championship final-bound Oklahoma City Thunder await to take out some of their recent frustrations on the Raptors. A rare three-game losing skid for the Thunder ensures the hosts will be motivated.
“They’re going to be like a wet hen,” Casey said anticipating a very tough opponent. “They’re going to be ready to play, fired up so we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
But all Casey is looking for is that focus and execution at both ends of the floor. He’ll settle for that ... for now.