Defense and Scheming - What Went Wrong Against Minnesota

There's a legit blizzard going down in Rhode Island right now (where I live) so I didn't go to the office today. With an expected 10"-18" inches throughout the course of the day, I have had plenty of time to try and analyze what went wrong during last night's game against the Timberwolves. Let's get into it.

I really hate it when fans of a given team feel the need to put 100% of the blame on the coach or manager when they lose. This is simply because the vast majority of the time, the head coach or manager isn't the one responsible for the A) misplays during the game that shift momentum, B) lack of energy by the players, or C) fuck ups. Almost every time, the players hold the destiny of the team in their hands and will either make or break a game. Again, this is most of the time.

The main reason I hate this type of scapegoat reasoning is, besides the fact that it's not true most of the time, and besides it being a complete lack of investigation into where the players may have done one of the following three things I listed above, it's because it's so easy to blame the person that fans assume is ultimately and, moreover, completely in charge of the outcome. Something bad happened on the court? Fire the coach! A team gets blown out by a team like the Warriors or the Cavaliers? Fire the coach! There's absolutely no thought, no strategy, no investigation as to why a fan's favorite sports team got rocked, no. Just, fire the coach! To me, it's a hasty conclusion to a problem that is fairly complex. Again, this is most of the time.

Last night, on the other hand, the Raptors suffered an inexcusable loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in what should have otherwise been an easy victory. For the first half of the game, the Raptors looked to have found their rhythm and sort of re-gelled together as a team with DeRozan sliding back into the rotation for the second game since his injury. During that half, it was reasonable to conclude that the reason for the Raptors previous struggles was twofold - 1) DeRozan was injured, and 2) they simply weren't playing defense. Although there was a lot to be encouraged with during the first half of last night's game, the Raptors still looked like they were dragging ass on defense and got a bit too comfortable with their offensive production. But, yet again, the Raptors got shut down in the fourth quarter after looking like they had this game in the bag. But it wasn't only because the team didn't wake up on defense.

Again, I hate to do this, I really do, but the loss of last night's game is on Dwane Casey in large part. The Raptors were up after every quarter of the game until the very end. Jonas Valanciunas, who may have had his best game in recent memory, was able to get 16 points, 5 boards, shooting 7/7 in the field, and going 2/2 at the line. Yet, only played 26 minutes on the court. This is because of the way Casey schemed the matchups during the game. When the Timberwolves went small - Casey reciprocated. When the Timberwolves went big - Casey reciprocated. Why? For the life of me, I can't understand why Casey felt the need to equivocate the matchups. I don't want to imply that JV was dominating, but he was playing well enough to earn a much bigger chunk in the 4th than he did. With JV off the court, it was left up to Lucas Nogueira, who committed 4 personal fouls and surrendered much of the Timberwolves' offense down the stretch to Karl-Anthony Towns who pretty much took him to school. For the life of me, I can't understand why Casey felt compelled to put in Norman Powell for Terrence Ross in the 4th - who didn't play a single minute prior - to play the PF position and was clearly flustered and unprepared. If it's because Ross was also struggling on defense, then I can understand why; Powell, normally, plays more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball than Ross. But at least Ross was giving the Raptors some offensive production. 

It's not all on Casey, though. As I alluded to earlier, the Raptors relied too much on their offense last night, which may have caused them to get lazy on defense. The defense needs to step up and needs to start shutting teams down. Casey can't keep throwing shit to the walls to see what sticks. 

The Raptors should have walked away from this one with a victory, especially against a team that has both struggled to close games and has one of the worst benches in the league in terms of production. It's inexcusable. I absolutely hate using clichés, but Casey seemed to coach this game to avoid a loss, rather than to win it. When something isn't broke and is working, simply do not fuck with it

Having said that, I'm not comfortable enough to say that the Raptors have an upcoming game that they should win against Detroit. When it comes to this team and their lack of defense, it's hard to tell which teams they should be beating at this point. Fingers crossed, I guess.