How many times do you think Sam Mitchell worked on that last-second play the Mavericks ran last night? I mean as a player -- Mitchell, the workman forward with those Pacers, must've paced it off thousands of times, I reckon. It's the same bread-and-butter inbounds play his Indiana team used for years, running Reggie Miller along the baseline and up off a three-tree forest of screens to emerge at the top of the lane and either pull up or, as Jason Terry did, take a couple dribbles into range for the little runner. Just like they drew it up on the Indiana board.
And game over.
(UPDATE: YAYBasketball! has Mitchell up to Level 3's "exaggerated self-criticism" on the SM Madness Meter. Yay!)
Okay, Mitchell doesn't have the horses. But the Raptors have already lost enough games in this fashion -- they're oh-for-5 in games decided by five points or less, and that doesn't include the Boston and Phoenix games in which they hung in until wilting late -- to start laying some of the blame at his feet, instead of on his players.
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Here's last night's postgame alibis, mashed with lines from the play-by-play:
"How many games? Sacramento, Phoenix, Clippers -- we get a stop, (but) we don't get a rebound or possession when we gotta have it. Forget the last play. The game should never have come to that."
Okay. Forget about the last play. But the reluctance to substitute offence for defence and vice-versa down the stretch? Why no subs at all? Mitchell's last move came with 5:38 to go! He went with the same 5 for the final 5 1/2 minutes, including the defensively-challenged Calderon and Bonner and the overmatched Morris Peterson.
"They missed a shot, () were scrambling, everybody under the basket, they get a rebound, (Nowitzki) runs to the 3-point line like he's supposed to. That's the game. If you know the game, that's the basketball game."
Yes, I remember that play. (I don't know the game, but I remember it.) That was where nobody picked up Dirk coming back. It came right after one of the Raptors' "plays" -- Bosh facing up his man, a couple of dribbles into traffic and then a turnover when Dampier arrived with the help defence. And it came right before the Mavs' next possession, where with minimal effort they got a Nowitzki vs Calderon mismatch in the post, Bonner's help defence not enough to stop him from the easy bucket.
"That's where you lose the game, and we've done that repeatedly."
Ah, finally an acknowledgement through that "we" that Mitchell is a part of this. Better late than never, that, and straight out of the Darrell Walker songbook. Actually, I didn't see the Sacramento game, but in Phoenix, I duly noted Bonner and Calderon being out there in the final minutes, waving at Steve Nash. Repeatedly is the word.
"We didn't get a loose ball when we had the opportunity. We get a stop, we're up six with the ball, and it's a chance for a different game. Getting on the floor, getting the ball."
Again, I don't know the game. But dealing with reality, instead of the what-ifs -- You're tied 91-91 with two seconds left. And Matt Bonner is still on the floor? He's done his job, popping out to hit a jumper with two seconds remaining, and well done. But he can't defend, either one-on-one or as help, and all you're doing on this play is defending. There's only two freaking seconds left.
"I don't know no drill for that. You just gotta react and go get the ball."
Perhaps there are some things going on behind the scenes that are preventing the likes of CV and Graham from getting floor time in these late-game situations -- or perhaps the coach has no confidence in those kids.
But here's what a coach has to do: Put his team in the best possible position to succeed. For whatever reason, it's not happening. And like Mitchell, I don't know no drill for that.