By: Adam Pasternak
Three Aprils ago, my beloved Toronto Raptors made their debut in the madness that is the NBA Playoffs. The Raps surprised many by taking the veteran (veteran may be an understatement) Brooklyn Nets squad to seven games, where they eventually lost at the buzzer. By giving that Nets team a run for its money, the Raps had already exceeded their expectations. Naturally, the next year, the expectations became a little higher. With a then record setting season and a first round matchup with the Washington Wizards, the fans expected to win the series. Well, we all know what happened there – the raps were swept. Those four games against the Wizards were some of the hardest games I’ve ever had to watch. The coaching was brutal and our offence was a no show. It was a disaster and it couldn’t have been over quick enough.
Fast forward to right now, and the Raptors are having those same issues once again in the postseason. They sit tied 2-2 with game five coming up in Toronto and quite honestly, I’m not feeling all too confident about this series. This series could easily play out the exact same as that Brooklyn series, but instead of an aging, past-his-prime Paul Pierce, the Raps will have to face off against prime, clutch, Paul George. The same issues that plagued them in the last two postseasons have come up yet again. Coach Dwayne Casey once again is putting out questionable lineup combinations repeatedly, and refuses to change his rotation. DeMar DeRozan is not helping the cause by channeling his inner J.R. Smith, forcing up shots and trying to do too much off the dribble. Louis Scola is getting meaningful playing time, which is something that should not happen on any playoff team. Kyle Lowry has been terrible from deep, shooting 18.5% for the series. While all of these players struggle, the Raptors are ignoring their best assets. Jonas Valanciunas has been great throughout the series, but as time goes on, the Raptors are looking to post up less and less. Norman Powell had an amazing game 2 and 3, but yet Dwayne Casey refuses to play him. Even once the Raptors chose to go small at the end of game 4, it was Patterson, not JV, who manned the middle – and the Raptors got out-worked and out-rebounded.
The funny thing about the Raptors problems though is that they are beating themselves. It’s not like the basketball gods are against them or anything, they just haven’t performed the way they need to perform – coaching included. If I’m Dwayne Casey, I’ve seen enough of Luis Scola bricking threes and playing below average defense – It’s time for Patterson to start, or for the Raptors to go small. 2Pat been one of the Raptors best players on both ends of the floor the last two months, and I’ve had enough of the “He feels more comfortable coming off the bench” excuse. Grow a pair, and do what’s best for the team. And even if you don’t want to start Patterson, would Jason Thompson not be a better fit against these Pacers, who stretch the floor? Thompson is an Amir Johnson type player who hustles no matter what the situation, plays good defence, and gets to the boards. Would that not be better than the slow-footed, struggling, Scola? There is no time to screw around, the Raps need to win and he gives them the best chance to do so. The next thing that needs to happen is Norman Powell seeing consistent minutes. I’m all for replacing him in the starting lineup with Demarre Carroll, but just because he doesn’t start doesn’t mean Casey has to sit him for full games at a time. His great athleticism has proven to be extremely helpful in guarding Paul George, and in transition, both defensively and offensively. He has also improved his three-point shot and I truly see no reason as to why he should sit. In my opinion, Powell playing 15-20 minutes off the bench and guarding Paul George gives the Raptors a better chance to win.
Above all else though, my main issue with Coach Casey right now is his inability to have a consistent rotation. It’s hard for players to be at their best when they aren’t sure how much playing time they will get. During the regular season when they were at their finest, the rotations were tight and consistent (except for when there were injuries, of course). But so far this playoffs, we’ve seen Norman Powell go from a starter to a role player, to a guy who only see’s the court when down 25. Obviously, Demarre Carroll starting over him makes sense, but Norm should be one of the first names called off the bench after Corey Joseph. Casey also has James Johnson glued to his seat on the bench, which to me is a little absurd because this guy started for us for more than half the season. On top of that, he’s a big body who is capable of guarding Paul George. The fact that Casey hasn’t even tried Johnson on George once this series is beyond me.
If the Raps want to win this series, the guys are gonna have to lock in, and come out with a well thought out gameplan (and obviously, execute that gameplan). But that all starts with Dwayne Casey.
What do you think about the series so far? Will the Raptors prevail? Or will it be yet another first round elimination? Comment your thoughts below!
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