There's really little that I can see to get mad at after the Raptors loss to the Suns last night.
On road swings against the best teams the NBA has to offer, the goal should often be to merely have a chance to win in the game's final seconds and boy was that ever the case last night.
In what would be their first close contest of the season, the Raptors just could not seem to shake the Suns. Taking it to the Phoenix on the heels of the Suns' second game of a back-to-back, the Raptors ended up fighting tooth and nail right to the game's final shot before losing 101-100.
After a first quarter that felt as though the game would turn into a shoot-em-up slug fest, things seemed to settle down as the Raptors continued to keep a lead for most of the game but could never quite extend the lead for any significant periods of time. Without the services of Antoine Wright, the Raptors were forced to use players such as Sonny Weems and Marco Belinelli to great effect. Both were effective in the minutes given and Weems gave the Raptors a spectacular play with an alley-oop put back dunk off of a Belinelli pass.
However, it's Amir Johnson who really stood out for the Dinos.
Coming in to take over where Andrea Bargnani faltered due to foul trouble, Johnson was admirable in putting his nose in the Suns' business. He went to the basket multiple times and was rewarded for his hard work. Johnson always seems to be under the Suns basket for an offensive put back and was the right combination of athleticism and power that the Raptors had missed. Unfortunately, it was the Suns' own bundle of power and athleticism who simply abused the Raptors and had no equal.
Playing the pick and roll to perfection, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire simply beat the living daylights out of the Raptors all night long by making Toronto switch their big man on Nash and throwing Stoudemire under the basket while he was being covered by a smaller player, usually Jose Calderon. The Raptors just simply had no real answer for the Suns' tandem as they kept the Suns in the game whenever the Raptors managed to build a meager lead. Toss in more than few well timed three-pointers by Channing Frye and the Raptors' defense seemed to get sucked into the middle only to get bombed outside by Frye's timely 3's.
However, the Raptors kept making a game of it as Turkoglu and the rest of the starters also never let the Suns get too far ahead. It was here that the Raptors really showed the first signs of the year of being determined to stay with strong team in the final frame of the game. In fact, if it wasn't for some poor decisions by Jarrett Jack, the Raptors may still have pulled off their first win against the Suns in over 5 years. Nevertheless, you have to applaud the effort especially when on the road and the Raptors certainly kept themselves in a game that tested their resolve at times. When the Suns went on their run in the 4th to try and put the game away, the Raptors managed to come back and take the lead for a short while, indicating a mental resolve that hasn't been around for the past couple of years.
The fact that the Raptors were able to run an offensive set in the final seconds of the game with five legitimate scoring threats who each can handle the ball fairly well was a welcome sight. With Belinelli, Bosh, Bargnani, Turkoglu and Calderon on the floor, the Raptors had many options for the entry pass and score. Unfortunately Turkoglu fumbled the ball before getting a shot off in the final seconds that just wouldn't go down. Yet, as a Raptor fan, I couldn't feel disappointed by the effort shown by our boys tonight.
It's games like these that will continue to grow the Raps.
These games will toughen the team so that they can hang with the best in the NBA and continue to have a shot at winning. This team is able to score with the best teams in the NBA so with a little concentrated effort on defense, they should be able to ensure games don't get too far out of hand. As we continue on with the season, it will be the offense that keeps the team in games, but it'll be the defense that wins them.
Here's hoping that the Raptors will continue to build on this effort for the rest of the year.