In a game that could only be described as an ugly early season display of poor play and bad defense by the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies, everything came down to the last five minutes of the game and Toronto’s substitutions were found lacking.
In no way can this 107-115 loss be blamed on the play of any one individual and the lack of cohesion on both ends of the floor was expected to be an early season problem. But this game was available to be won at the end and Jay Triano went with his preseason “go to” line-up that has yet to show any real signs of being effective.
The Raptors started the fourth quarter up 79-76 in a closely played game. A game that ended with 13 lead changes and 16 ties.
Within two minutes, a line-up of Jack, Belinelli, Wright, Bargnani, and Nesterovic had increased the lead to 88-80. Nesterovic scoring four points, Belinelli hitting a three-pointer, and Jack making a jump shot.
To this point Jack had played a good game at back-up point guard and Nesterovic had provided the most resistance to Memphis’ big men of any Raptor. To emphasize the point, Jack played a good game at back-up point guard!
Memphis called a time out and began the expected push back, tying the score at 88, just after Bosh replaced Nesterovic on the floor, on a Carroll jump shot and a Conley lay-up at 8:11 of the fourth quarter.
The game was played between even and four points up for Memphis until just after the 5:01 mark when Jay Triano completed his substitutions to go with Calderon, Jack, Turkoglu, Bosh, and Bargnani. Only nine seconds earlier, Turkoglu had brought the Raptors back to with one point (94-95) on three made free throws.
To this point in the game, O.J. Mayo was having a quiet night going 4-12 for 10 points. The Raptors bigger shooting guards effectively challenging his jump shot and otherwise keeping him in check.
Zach Randolph scored his last points with 4:11 to go but Calderon’s layup brought the score back within two at 98-100 at 3:07 just before the O.J. Mayo show was about to begin.
In the final 2:43, Mayo scored eight points on a three-pointer, a dunk, a jump shot, and a free throw. In the same time Jack made a couple of free throws and had his three-point attempt blocked by Gasol. Jack was basically looking out-of-place. The Raptors were out scored 15-9 over this period.
The arguments being made for finishing games with Jack at the off guard spot have been to place another ball handler on the floor and that Jack is the most senior and talented guard on the Raptors after Calderon.
However, the best use of a two point guard line-up is usually when the opposition is putting pressure on your primary ball-handler and the other team’s shooting guard isn’t expected to be able to dominate your second point guard offensively.
In Memphis, there was limited defense being played by either team. Calderon never had any issues bring the ball up the floor or initiating plays. O.J Mayo is a good offensive guard but the Raptors shooting guards had a size advantage that was limiting his effectiveness all game. All game that is until the smaller Jack was sent out to guard him.
It would be easy to pick a part Jay Triano’s substitutions at the end of a high scoring game. Why was Bargnani replaced by the low scoring Wright with two minutes to go? Was wasn’t Nesterovic re-inserted into the line-up after getting eight points and six boards in only eight minutes as he was easily the best big man defender on this night? Why wasn’t DeRozan given minutes at the end of this game after playing well? Or Belinelli?
But those types of decisions are difficult to make and, as often as not, coaches go with the best players available. As in 2006, finding the right mix of players to have on the floor is as important (or perhaps just is) the process of gelling as a team.
On this night, the use of Jack as the team’s off-guard without a compelling reason is likely the primary cause of this game slipping away in the last three minutes.
Hopefully the Raptors are gaining the insight into their personnel to know what the winning combination of players will be. Including the preseason games, the more Jack plays at the off-guard spot, the less it looks like this should be the usual substitution.