Chisholm: Raptors coach Casey leans too much on Calderon

Tim Chisholm
11/21/2012 12:18:59 AM
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Dwane Casey likes Jose Calderon. A lot. There are plenty of reasons for that, not the least of which has been his play in Kyle Lowry's absence, especially over the last five days.

However, affection has to have its limits for a coach. It's one thing to really dig a player, but it's another thing to unduly trust a player when he's costing you a game, and that is what happened when Casey let Calderon play down the stretch of the team's loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday. Calderon was absolutely torched by Jrue Holiday all game and Philly was all to happy to exploit it en route to a win.

What happened all game against the Sixers is they forced Calderon to guard at the top of the key, he was broken-down off of the dribble or nailed on a screen and the ensuing defensive rotations would inevitably leave a shooter open in the corner, ready to punish the Raptors for their initial breakdown.

In the final minutes of the game, Casey opted to go with his two point guard lineup of Calderon and Kyle Lowry, a pet lineup of his, to close out the contest. The Sixers took advantage of Calderon "guarding" Holiday by making three backbreaking threes down the stretch using the aforementioned strategy to eradicate Toronto's game-long lead. Casey likes Calderon's veteran savvy in the closing lineup, but he has obstinately refused to face his defensive shortcomings in certain matchups and it continues to cost the Raptors winnable games.

Now, you may want to blame Calderon for his multitude of blow-bys, but you'd be wrong to do so. Calderon's lack of lateral mobility is a (very) well-known issue and a key factor in Toronto's years-long search for a more capable defensive option at the point of attack. Knowing his limitation is a coach's responsibility, and making accommodations for it is his job. Sticking Calderon on Holiday, after being abused by him all game long, in the final minutes of a winnable game, played a huge part in Toronto's loss.

This is not the first time this has happened this season, either. Casey opted to go with two point guards down the stretch against Indiana and Brooklyn early in the season and in both cases the opposition exploited that decision by attacking an overmatched Calderon and forcing a subpar defensive unit to try and catchup. In both cases, like in the Philly game, Toronto lost.

Now, the thinking behind these lineup choices is not hard to discern: Casey wants the guys he trusts most on the floor at the end of the game. As a relatively untested and unproven head coach, that's a safe and defensible strategy to employ. However, at what point does philosophy make way for reality? Calderon spent a whole game being torched by Jrue Holiday - what was supposed to change in the last minutes to make that matchup more palatable? If you don't want Lowry covering him because he's playing his first game after a six-game absence, that's fine, but then go with Domenic McGuire and leave Linas Kleiza in the game and put Calderon on the bench. Or, if you must have Calderon out there, put Calderon on Evan Turner and try to hide him on a secondary option. Either way, make an effort to avoid the single most destructive matchup that Philly has exploited all game as your team fritters away a lead and faces yet another loss in a season already replete with them.

Because he was so heralded last year, it's easy to forget how little experience Casey has as a head coach in the NBA. He's coached a grand total of 199 games (compared to 834 for Philadelphia's Doug Collins) and he's still figuring it all out, especially how to get wins at this level. In fairness, he's also trying to figure out how to maximize Toronto's flawed roster that has been beset by injuries and inconsistencies from key players.

All that said, though, you can only trust a player to do what you know he can do. Calderon cannot stay in front of Jrue Holiday. The Raptors just lost a winnable game as Casey didn't accept that fact. 

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