I ran into Jose Calderon heading for the team bus early Tuesday morning and when I asked him how he was doing the answer was simple:
"OK, but it could be better," he smiled.
No kidding huh?
It was not a good night for the Raptors in San Antonio as they let the Spurs shoot just a smidgen under 60 per cent in posting a 131-124 win.
The key word is "let" as San Antonio despite missing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker was able to come away with the victory. It was only the third time since the two stars have been in San Antonio that the Spurs were able to win with both out of the line up.
San Antonio entered Monday’s contest 2-6 all-time when neither Parker nor Duncan were in uniform for a game.
But it was the other member of the Spurs Big 3, Manu Ginobili, who put up 36 points and stepped forward to provide leadership in the win. According to former Raptor Matt Bonner, who counted 18 points off the bench himself, head coach Gregg Popovich did not even address the fact that two all-star players were missing from the lineup.
The bottom line implied by Popovich was that we have a team, we have a system, you know your role and there is a job to do, so don’t give me any excuses.
Ginobili’s performance was just more proof, as if you needed any, that Toronto’s defence still has a long way to go. The 36 points were the most scored by any bench player against the Raptors in franchise history.
Unfortunately, there seem to be too many of those defensive benchmarks being reached by the opposition’s offence over the Raptors first seven games.
In the event you are not keeping score at home, Orlando’s 17 three-point field goals in its win was a new water mark for opponents from behind the arc and Dallas’ 62.4 per cent from the floor was the fourth-highest shooting percentage by an opponent in franchise history. It’s not good when every other game an opponent is rewriting the defensive section of your franchise’s record book.
It will take some time for the defence to come together but what is disturbing is the apparent lack of commitment to the effort needed to kick start the system. It was the third time in this young season that defense was devoid of intensity.
Does the system work?
It’s hard to tell.
It sure looked like it worked in the three victories. The Spurs outscored the Raptors 32-12 in second chance points and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds on the night. If you consider that a good defensive rebounding percentage is somewhere in the vicinity of 75-80 per cent, Toronto’s was only 60 per cent at their own end.
At the end of the fist half, the Spurs and Raptors had the same number of rebounds when San Antonio missed a field goal attempt.
Yes, it was a win for the Spurs who climbed to 3-3 with the victory, but don’t think Popovich, who is always harping on defence, was thrilled that the Spurs surrendered 124 points.
Like the Raptors, San Antonio is trying to integrate new players and Popovich’s system is different than many other systems that players are accustomed to playing. In speaking to former Spurs, some of the elements of Popovich’s system go against everything you have been taught defensively since you started to play the game.
The team that needs to go back to the drawing board defensively is Toronto. I hate to say I told you so, but you had the feeling that it would be a rough start. The disturbing issue right now is the answer to the question, is the team’s defense getting better?
Based on the past two games, the Raptors are going the wrong way. There is a chance to get back to the .500 mark as the Chicago Bulls come to town Wednesday night in the same back-to-back situation as previous opponents Cleveland and Detroit.
In both those instances it resulted in wins for the Raptors.
But this is different as Toronto is not sitting at home waiting and coming off practice sessions where they have had ample time to prepare. With a four-game, week-long west coast trip starting on Thursday, the game in Toronto is akin to another game on the road. Fly in the day before, play the game, and then head out the next day. It just so happens that you can grab some clean clothes and you’re playing in an arena with which you are familiar.
The one player, Reggie Evans, that might be able to dial up the intensity level is still wearing a walking boot on his left foot. In the meantime, players in uniform are going to have to find a way to make a commitment to the defensive end of the floor or all that scoring Toronto does will just make for entertaining losses.
It was great to see former Raptor assistant coach Stan Albeck at the game last night. Albeck, who was an assistant to Lenny Wilkens in Toronto lives in San Antonio with his wife Phyllis and was courtside last night during the pre-game.
Albeck suffered a stroke in December of 2001 in the Raptors locker room but with the help of Toronto’s medical staff they were able to get him to the hospital for immediate treatment.
He met with Jay Triano and some of the media before heading up to his seat with his wife. With Albeck unable to continue coaching at the end of the 2001-02 season, Triano was brought on board as an assistant the following campaign.