It’s the first winning streak of the season for Toronto Raptors as they have won two straight. So how did they do it? What’s the magic formula? Well it’s not about what’s new, it’s about what’s old, as in last season.
For the first time this season the identity that was established last season has once again emerged. In the last two victories the Raptors looked like they did last season when they held opponents under 45 per cent from the floor in more than half their games — with Houston shooting 41.0 per cent from the field and Dallas hitting at a 39.1 per cent clip. Last season Toronto posted a 19-18 record when the opposition posted a shooting percentage below that magic 45 per cent mark.
The fact that they have done it might be head scratching to some fans, but when you look at the familiarity of the players executing the game plan it becomes easier to understand. The overused word “chemistry” might be the biggest difference at the moment. Jose Calderon, who has been a constant in Toronto over the last seven seasons, is once again in charge and it’s one of the reasons why the team has rediscovered its identity.
I can see some of you shaking your head but Calderon’s steadiness is a key factor. Many NBA coaches state they appreciate the fact that he is a high-assist, low-turnover player who will run your offence. When your offence is being run well, there is a trickle-down effect. “Amigo” as he is affectionately known by his teammates is a throw back “pass first” point man that gets others involved. Consequently players know they will get to touch the ball and are not afraid to give it up and make a pass, an extra pass at times, because at some point they will be the beneficiary of a pass leading to a good look. As Raptor players have said, the ball “doesn’t stick” and there is a better flow to the offence.
Add to that Calderon can hurt you offensively when he is left open and the entire offence becomes more efficient. True, two starters (Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani) are out of the lineup and that means that there are more shots to be had. But all those attempts are not going to be taken by one or two players, they will be evenly distributed and some will just disappear. Shots may not be taken as quickly as ball movement will be improved. Offensively, the team has played better as a unit over the last three games.
But there are defensive advantages to a smooth running offence as well. It’s tough for the opponent to run when they have to take the ball out of bounds after a score. Toronto players also have a better expectation of when shots are going to be taken by a teammate which leads to defensive balance and better rebounding. The Raptors have held their opponents to an average of 11 fast break points per game in the last three contests while in the previous five games on that miserable western swing, the opposition averaged close to 19 points per game on the fast break. Consider the Houston Rockets who entered Sunday’s contest third in the NBA in fast break points with 17 per game could only muster seven points on the break.
Calderon’s conservative style works in his favour at the defensive end as well as he is less prone to gamble for steals. He’s not the greatest individual defender, a dying art in the NBA since the rule changes, but at least his teammates know how and where they might have to help him. There are fewer instances of the 9-1-1 scramble when they defensive system is compromised due to an unexpected breakdown. He is easier to hide defensively when he stays within the defensive system.
So as the old adage goes, “what’s old is new and what’s new is old” holds true over the last two games with Toronto. As long as Lowry and Bargnani are out of the lineup, look for the Raptors to take the air out of the ball and look similar to the way they did last season. If they are successful, there may be decisions to be made when everyone is healthy.