Leading the charge? The Raptors front court who brought their A game.
Now that is what basketball is all about.
Last night the Raptors beat the Bobcats 107-103 in what was easily the most exciting game since the opener against the Cavs. The atmosphere was almost playoff like. It was the most intense game of the season.
In hindsight the level of intensity on the floor in last night's game shouldn't have come as that big of a surprise. Both teams are trying to get back to .500, both teams feature some tough and gritty players and the Raps needed to pay the Cats back after getting blown out three weeks ago.
It was a great game to watch. I mean how many close hard fought games have the Raps been in this season? Very few.
It was a back and forth affair all night featuring a number of big shots, but none bigger than the Andrea Bargnani three to seal it when CB4 kicked the ball out of the post. It was a fitting way to close out the game as both Bosh and Andrea were magnificant on this evening.
Chris Bosh continues to play the best basketball of his career. Last night Bosh had another double-double and continued to be an offensive juggernaut. Right now I don't think there is a better offensive big man in the league. We as Raptors fan need to recognize how much he has grown as a player and how dominant he is becoming.
Not to be outdone however, Andrea Bargnani had what for me was easily his best game of the year. It's no secret that I have been fairly critical of Andrea this season. There are many times during a game when he just simply seems to float out there, seems overly comfortable settling for a deep jumper and seems unwilling to create contact. The reason I find this frustrating is because he has the talent and skill to do more than he is on the court. If he intends on being a key piece to the success of this team he has to be more than a 7 foot jump shooter. Well, tonight was a perfect example of what he is capable of.
For me tonight was a bit of a coming out party for Bargs as he did some excellent work on the blocks. Early on the Raps fed Bargs the ball in the post and he delivered. He also showed a solid mid-range game to go along with his deep threes. Take a look at his shot chart here. There is really very little that he can't do offensively. I saw some things from Bargs that I have not seen all year, including inviting contact. If the Raps can establish both Bosh and Bargs down low the possibilities on the offensive end are endless.
It is now, in part on the coaching staff to use all facets on Andrea's game, but make no mistake about it - it's also on Andrea. He can't float. He needs to stay aggressive on the offensive end and work on doing the little things even when the offense is running through other players. It's still a little mind boggling to think that Gerald Wallace got four times as many rebounds as the big man. Of course one could easily argue this is a testament to Wallace more than a statement about Andrea.
All in all great performances by both Bargnani and Bosh, but they also got some solid help from the bench, in particular when Hedo Turkoglu went down at half with a knee injury.
In the second half the Raps got solid performances from everyone from Antoine Wright to Marcus Banks and everyone in between. Perhaps the biggest lift came from Marco Belinelli.
After being a non-factor in the first half Marco was an absolute spark plug late in the game. Belinelli was active both defensively (3 steals) and on the offensive end despite not finding his shot. Although a mere 3-11 from the floor Marco continued to attack and managed to get to the line 7 times in 22 minutes.
All in all the bench guys did a fantastic job keeping the intensity level high and having a positive impact on the game despite having a poor shooting night.
It's been a good run for the Raps as of late but there are still some obvious holes in this team's armour. Once again the defense was soft and in some ways the Raps were fortunate that they did not get blown out. In the first half the Bobcats were shooting the lights out and if it were not for their propensity to turn the ball over the Raps could have found themselves in an all too familiar deficit position.
The Cats turned the ball over 22 times and the Raps managed to do enough to keep themselves in the game and then of course pull it out in the final minutes.
It should be interesting to see what the new year brings for the Raps. Are these last five games a sign of things to come or just a blip on the radar?
Happy New Year to all the members of the HQ community!
Looking forward to a good 2010 at the HQ.