Lacing Them Up –
An interesting win last night by the Raptors in many ways.
It was a game featuring the usual Vince Carter booing, some lax perimeter defence early on, and then Toronto showing nearly each and every aspect of what makes this team so dangerous as they eventually took control, pounding the Nets offensively in a 113 to 85 win.
Stir in some more discussion regarding Chris Bosh’s recent "fan noise" comments and a chance to regain the sixth seed in the playoff race and you’ve got an out of the ordinary contest to be sure.
A Numbers Game – 53
There were lots of numbers to choose from last night. After a terrible start defensively, Toronto eventually held New Jersey to 42 per cent shooting, they destroyed the Nets on the glass 47 to 39, and got to the free throw line 37 times, hitting 30 of these. The last number was extremely impressive as I felt it showed just how aggressive Toronto was last night, even when their shots weren’t falling.
But 53 represents a number I’ve been waiting to see for about a month now; an almost equal scoring contribution from Toronto’s bench as from its starters. We’ve talked about this a lot but for a team that had "depth" as advantage 1A over most clubs, such a scoring output was long overdue and has to give the team a huge boost with three games left before the playoffs. I’d even argue it’s a much bigger boost than Toronto simply winning its last five games but having the starters do almost all the heavy lifting. Now the team actually FEELS like a team, as even in garbage time players like Joey Graham and Kris Humphries looked locked in and aggressive. Oh, and seeing Beeker Brezec trying to d-up the Nets point guards off of rebound situations forgetting he was over 7 feet tall brought a huge grin to my face.
The Turning Point –
Turning point in this one for me was the third quarter. In the first half, and the first quarter in particular, Toronto was missing open shots, and doing a terrible job defensively on the perimeter. In particular, Devin Harris was getting anywhere he wanted on the court whether it was Jose or TJ who was at the 1. It got me thinking about the playoffs as really, this is one of the major weaknesses with Toronto all year. Broadcaster Jack Armstrong last night stated that: "The weakest word in basketball vernacular is help." And he’s right. Time and time again last night in the early goings Harris would jet into the paint, and if Toronto failed to rotate and "help" in time, he’d get to the rim. If the help was there, he’d find team-mates for open looks. This resulted in a 30 point first quarter from New Jersey.
The team did a better job in the second quarter but it wasn’t until the start of the third that the team really started to hone in defensively. With the penetration cut off at the source, and Carlos Delfino bombing away, the game was soon out of reach for VC and crew.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Carlos Delfino. I was talking to Howland post-game and we were both talking about Delfino’s play last night being a microcosm of the Raptors’ season. When he’s on, he’s an extremely tough guard as he can bomb away from nearly half-court. This in turn opens things up for his at the rim game, something we don’t see enough. In a similar way, when Toronto shoots almost 40 per cent from beyond the arc as they did last night, it opens things up at the rim and partly as a result, the Raptors shot an incredible 37 free throws against New Jersey. I say incredible as they’re only averaging about 20 attempts per game this year.
And let’s take this one step further. Say Delfino plays much like this the rest of the year, and so do the Raptors. Let’s say they also end up playing Orlando, or even Cleveland, and get out of the first round. Then how do you judge this season? Do you still make some of the sweeping changes you were originally contemplating when mired in the near end of season slump? Are sources of this inconsistency like Delfino re-signed? We’ll see how things play out but from BC’s interview yesterday on The Fan590 (big thanks to one of our readers for the link) but Colangelo in any event has some tough questions to address.
Hot – Point Guard Play. TJ Ford, as one of our other readers correctly pointed out, was driving me batty towards the end of first half but then redeemed himself with an excellent, SMART third quarter. Calderon’s defence as previously mentioned, was not nearly intense enough early on but he too turned things around and together, Forderon was a driving force behind this win. At times last night I caught myself noticing some of the intricate details behind their performances; from Ford’s ability to rebound the ball off of a miss, surprising much taller players, to Calderon’s uncanny ability to drive the lane, draw help, and then in the air throw two-handed soccer-throw passes to open team-mates parked in the corners. Both make these sort of plays look so easy and for Raptors’ fans, it’s what frustrates most about the whole point guard situation. If these two could simply co-exist in either role, it would be such a tough match-up for other teams.
Hot – Andrea Bargnani. Andrea gets the hot nod from me because of his unusual game last night. At times I didn’t know if I was watching Bargs, or Tom Chambers circa 1988! I mean, Andrea missed all three of his 3-point shots, yet kept driving the lane, looking to dunk or post-up on almost every occasion. It was a sight to behold, and hopefully this is a sign of what his game will start to morph a little more into as time goes on, and as his off-season training regimen incorporates more "big man" elements.
Luke-warm – Chris Bosh. CB4 had a great game statistically again with 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. His energy and passion was on display, and normally he’d be a candidate for the "hot" section without a doubt.
However I really hate the taste left in my mouth by this whole "fans are too quiet" situation. Last night, it was almost a "pins and needles" situation with Jack and Chuck constantly reaffirming the fans’ level of noise, and the RaptorsTV camera crew were out in full-force looking for signs that fans in Toronto REALLY DO CARE!
Give me a break. In some ways, I’m finding it hard not to agree with The Star’s Dave Feschuk this morning in his article "Memo to Bosh: Shut up and Win."
The whole situation just sucks. I mean, who’s to say the ACC last night wouldn’t have been JUST as loud had Bosh not said anything? Instead, the whole thing felt forced to me, and at times I just found watching the game a bit awkward. Maybe it was just me but can anyone who attended last night’s game give us some idea of the atmosphere? Real? Same as usual? Over the top for no reason but Bosh’s comments? Whatever.
Lukewarm – Vince Carter. Oh Vince. Carter did have a solid game statistically, and he was especially dominant in the first quarter. However seeing him hamming it up on the bench while his team was getting blitzed by the likes of Joey Graham and co., just reaffirmed why Carter is sitting out of this year’s playoffs. And does anyone think that Carter will actually get back to the playoffs again in his career? Think about that one for a second…
Cold – Richard Jefferson. RJ played last night like he was backing up some of his recent "read between the lines" type comments to the media; GET ME OUT OF HERE. Hey Richard…remember how you enjoyed wearing Raptors’ red to thwart fans in the playoffs last year? How about wearing it for real next season in our starting line-up?
Moving On –
Forget the fan stuff, forget next year and off-season changes, last night’s win showcased that this team still can get it done if they are playing in synch. No, the Nets aren’t the Pistons or even the Magic, but we saw a Toronto team last night that should put some fear into their future playoff opponents, something there’s no way I could say even a week ago. Now perhaps the Raptors stumble in their final three games, but from last night’s match I think it’s important to note that the ability is still there. And more importantly, I’m starting to think Orlando is not only a good match-up for Toronto, but a great one for a single reason – point guard play.
Toronto has struggled this year defending teams with quick, penetrating point guards and Orlando features none. You could perhaps argue that Carlos Arroyo fits the bill but his shooting and decision-making at times is so erratic, that it's not like going against Rajon Rondo, or even Harris like last night.
So can Toronto run the table in their final three games?
The first big test is tomorrow afternoon (on ESPN no less!) in a game against the Pistons.
I guess it sort of depends on which Pistons’ team coach Flip Saunders deploys. The full roster played against Washington last night and obliterated the Wizards 102 to 74. Saunders didn’t press his starters into major minutes, but each played at least 23 with Antonio McDyess racking up 19. I’m expecting a similar strategy tomorrow in Detroit against the Raps so it may very well give fans a look at what to expect if Toronto fails to keep the sixth seed.
As for three keys? Toronto needs to do the same thing they did last night against the Nets; rebound the ball, lock up the perimeter, and get some big help from their bench.
Last time on ESPN Toronto didn’t exactly put on a great show so hopefully tomorrow afternoon will be different.
Win or lose, I just hope Chris Bosh doesn’t come back complaining about the decibel levels.
PS - With the end of the season almost upon us, the Hardwood Paroxysm is surveying online basketball fans as to their favourite sources for b-ball information. Click here to give your thoughts and help support the NBA's online community.