The Raptors offense was clicking on all cylinders, as the Raptors reserves, led by the likes of rookie sensation Terrence Ross, Alan Anderson and pseudo-backup point guard Kyle Lowry, helped drive the lead into what they thought was the rafters.
The Raptors played a marvelous first half, highlighted by some silky-smooth shooting by Ross and some solid interior play by the dynamic duo of Amir Johnson and Ed Davis.
In the mind of any fan of the NBA, you'd think, "Hey, let's not touch a good thing. Keep up the good work boys." But that's the exact mantra Dwane Casey has got to obliterate from his thoughts, because his inability to make adjustments in a timely manner caused a 20-point lead to be trimmed down considerably in the early moments of the second half.
Kyle Lowry, Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross, all of whom helped lead the Raptors to a first-half advantage, firmly took a seat on the bench to start out the second half. The Raptors elected to play Jose Calderon, Landry Fields and a very cold DeMar DeRozan to start the second half.
What happened? The Sixers made adjustments and really upped the pressure on defence, forcing the Raptors' perimeter players to make tough shots.
What did that mean? DeRozan, instead of taking smooth, off-screen jumpers, was taking near three-balls with a hand in his face.
Landry Fields didn't do anything but take up space and turn the ball over. Jose Calderon got torched by Jrue Holiday, who exploded on the Raptors in the second half for a game-high 33 points and 14 assists, as well as three key steals.
This blown lead and execution down the stretch was not only a microcosm of the Raptors season, but it's become old hat for the Raptors.
You get a lead, but in your head you're thinking, "The other team is coming back. It's only a matter of time before the Raptors shooting goes cold. It's also only a matter of time before the Raptors begin to complain about not getting calls."
Guess what? Both happened.
In a critical move as a head coach, the Raptors had two timeouts remaining with less than 10 seconds left on the clock. That's two inbound plays to draw up, in the hopes that you can inbound the ball.
Not once, but twice the Raptors couldn't inbound the ball. But worst of all, Casey drew up nearly the same play, and the Raptors took a spread-box formation and ran a pick for the ball-carrier. The result: a questionable no-call push on Alan Anderson by Nick Young, and 5.5 seconds for All-Star-to-be Jrue Holiday to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Holiday did in fact tie the game, as he had a "holiday" against Landry Fields. He easily got past him and into the lane with little-to-no resistance. He finished a layup and was probably fouled, but no call was made.
Overtime was no contest, as the Sixers scored at ease and the Raptors managed to crack 100 points, scoring 45 points in 29 minutes in the second half and overtime. Execution wasn't the Raptors' strong point in the second half, to say the least.
Five Problems I Have with Casey's Coaching
1. Dwane Casey's Hockey-Like Substitution Patterns
He likes to run his guys out there and give their relief a certain time in which to come in.
In my opinion, that is a terrible thing to do with such a young team. You earn your minutes. It doesn't matter if you're DeMar DeRozan or Aaron Gray—if you don't produce, you don't play. If you turn the ball over twice, play passenger defense and shoot an air ball, take a seat, young man.
2. If You Don't Produce, You Don't Play
Again, DeMar DeRozan was shut down tonight, yet Terrence Ross was on fire. What happened down the stretch in the fourth? Ross was subbed out with about four minutes left, Raptors up by 10, and they managed to make only two points after DeRozan came back in. Alan Anderson saved the ball to Amir Johnson, who in turn saved it to Ed Davis for a push shot from about eight feet.
Ross seems to get the quick hooks for his inability to produce offensively, but defensively he's always been solid. Much the same as Alan Anderson, which leads me to my next point...
3. Why Is Alan Anderson Being Treated Like He's Paul Pierce?
Alan Anderson is what he is: a streaky shooter, and a valuable bench guy. He's a great glue guy for any organization.
Is he a guy you play iso with and allow him to create offense? Are you crazy, Casey? Not only was Anderson nearly nonexistent from anywhere on the floor except the three-point line, but he finished the game with two assists and shot 6-of-17. That's 35 percent, and he's not the guy who should be taking the most shots on your team on a nightly basis.
I like Anderson, but I understand what he is. He's a basketball lifer, a journeyman, a D-Leaguer, an undrafted NBA player with something to prove to everyone who passed on him. He's not someone you build an offense around.
4. The Pick-and-Roll Offense
When they run it properly, they get some easy buckets, but when teams play aggressive defense and switch on screens, the Raptors magically turn into a pick-and-pop offense with little to no passing in their attack.
Not only does running a pick-and-roll offense with a team that lacks a true superstar a recipe for disaster, but it's an easy offense to defend. Only a few guys are actually in motion, and the defense has time to rest a bit and catch their breath as they wait for the big man to set a pick to free the point guard.
The Raptors send two bigs to the top to screen for the point guard, when in actuality, the Raptors should probably be running a more inside-out offense. This allows the likes of Anderson, Lowry, Calderon, Ross and Pietrus to make standstill open threes, rather than shots over guys' outstretched arms. It would allow DeRozan to play a solid inside-out game, playing in the post against smaller guards and rolling to the basket for dunks and free throws.
Running a motion, flex or triangle offenses would allow for far more movement, and much easier shots for the Raptors. When will they run it? Probably not until there's a purging of the Raptors' entire team.
5. Pound the Rock/Mixing It Up on Defence
I've always had a problem with this motto, and will continue to have a problem with it until the rock is moved.
The Raptors as a whole are a young group of very athletic players. From DeRozan, Ross, Fields, Davis, Johnson, Valanciunas, Lowry and to some extent Bargnani, the Raptors are a fast-break team.
They are a team that should get out and run, run some back screens and make a night out at the ACC a night of athletic alley-oops and magnificent athleticism.
What do the fans get? An offense of pounding the rock. Jose Calderon is a good facilitator, but he just isn't a great fit for the Raptors. He likes to pound the rock until there's minimal time left on the shot clock. What results is a rushed shot that is sometimes made, but more often than not it's missed.
It's one of the main reasons why the Raptors lead the league in offensive rebounds, because of so many rushed last-second calls.
Pounding the rock also brings me to my next point: the Raptors defense. It doesn't really ever change. Holiday torched the Raptors in the second half, but he was stagnant from about 18 feet-plus. He made the majority of his baskets on drives to the hoop.
No player on the Sixers shot incredibly well from three, and they only shot 21 percent from the three-point line. The Raptors should have fallen back into a zone in an attempt to stifle Holiday's ability to drive to the hole.
What did Casey do? He put an overly aggressive Kyle Lowry on Holiday, who eventually fouled out, and he started the halves with Jose Calderon giving him a red carpet to the rim.
The Raptors need some fresh blood; they need a coach to coach to their strengths. Right now, Casey is driving this plane into the ground.
They have no first-round draft pick this year (unless they make the playoffs or get a top-three pick), but a ton of cap space and next to no buzz in the city for Raptors basketball. It looks to be another long winter in Toronto, as the Raptors continue to free-fall in the Eastern Conference standings.