The Toronto Raptors finally grabbed a win with a 109 to 107 overtime win over the Washington Wizards last night. It wasn't perfect, but as Franchise details, it was an important first step on the road back to respectability...
On the final play of last night's game, Washington Wizards' guard Gilbert Arenas missed an open lay-up that would in all likelyhood have sent the game to a second overtime period.
Post-game, asked why he had bungled the open look, Arenas explained that he had expected contact from a Raptors' defender and compensated on his drive, but when it didn't come, he was caught out of position, and the ball bounced around the rim and off the other side.
I vividly remember this play of course.
Hedo Turkoglu, the much-maligned key free-agent acquisition this past off-season, had just hit a huge jumper to give Toronto a 2 point lead. All eyes were therefore on Arenas, who earlier in the evening had hit a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. Arenas made his move and got past his defender, Jarrett Jack, and looked to have a clear path to the basket. Amir Johnson appeared underneath the rim, but was late on the rotation and it still appeared to be clear sailing for Agent Zero.
However a funny thing happened. Amir sort of started to try and cut off Arenas, but then stopped, almost akin to the body version of a ball-fake. This fake-out appeared to be enough to throw Gilbert, and that was all she wrote.
So did Johnson mean to use this hesitation move?
I'm not sure any of the media asked him but Gilbert sure seemed to think so.
"I was just trying to outthink him, but he outthought me," Arenas said.
On my end, I'm not so convinced it simply wasn't indecisiveness on Amir's part but it was an interesting play that for me, captured a lot of what happened in last night's win; Toronto didn't always play the most intelligent basketball on the evening, but the effort was enough to carry through to a victory.
It's been something we've all been harping on for a while and last night was the first in weeks where that effort really shone through.
Yes, the offence was sporatic at times, and the defense is still not (and will probably never be) at a Celtics' level, but through 48 minutes, Toronto took Washington's best punches and kept fighting. This was especially impressive considering not only their last game where they were lambasted by the Hawks, but also because the Dinos had jumped out to a big first quarter lead, only to allow Washington to gradually chip away until the Raps found themselves down by upwards of eight.
It was during this period when Chris Bosh took over.
Finishing with 31 points and 16 rebounds, CB4 was relentless and ensured that the Raps had a fighting chance when the game came down to the wire.
And while I've been awfully tough on both of them, Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani also found their offense late in the game, allowing Toronto to eventually tie things up late. Hedo in particular needs some acknowledgement as while he struggled early on O, and was the victim of Flip Saunders' offensive attacks at the other end, he made two huge shots in overtime which eventually gave the Raps their eighth win of the season.
The win was certainly a step in the right direction, albeit a baby step, but an important building block for this team's fragile psyche.
Now...the question of course is, can Toronto continue this effort and transfer it to tonight's game against the Bulls?
Chicago is coming off of a bad loss to the Cavs last night and like Toronto, have only won three of their last 10 games. They're struggling to score the ball, and just haven't found that extra gear that they had in last year's playoffs.
A perfect time for Toronto to take them on?
Let's hope so, and here are our 3 keys.
1) Get off to a good start.
Jay Triano mentioned pre-game that he might change up to 3 of the starting positions for the match. He didn't end up making any moves, and I thought this was actually the right decision. He had read the riot act in the hour long talk the team had before shoot-around, and therefore there were no more excuses. Colangelo was on board, and I'm confident that another loss would have brought about changes for tonight's game against the Bulls.
However overall, the players seemed to get the message, and were extremely aggressive at both ends right from the get-go. In fact, it was almost comical to watch Jose Calderon hurtling himself around screens in order to regain the man he was assigned to guard. DeMar DeRozan was particularly impressive in this regard and was a huge key to Toronto's early surge. Tonight, the Raps need to replicate that intensity early on against a Bulls team that has had a habit of folding early lately.
2) Keep the defensive intensity on track.
Toronto held Washington to 37 per cent shooting from the field last night. Besides being no small feat considering Washington's scoring ability, that percentage also reflected the intensity that went into guarding opponents. I've already mentioned Jose Calderon's efforts but various other players came up with big defensive plays at key moments; from Jarrett Jack's steal and time-out, to Hedo Turkoglu grabbing a rebound away from Earl Boykins. (Although we'll refrain for discussing how Boykins ever managed to corral this rebound in the first place.)
The point here is that considering the Bulls' offensive woes, they are the fourth least efficient offensive club in the league currently, tightening the screws early and often can only lead to good things.
3) Bench play.
Interestingly last night, it was the Raptors' starters that won this game. Earlier in the season when the team was having success, it was guys like Belinelli who were giving this club a big boost but recently, that hasn't been the case. While the Bulls are having issues scoring the ball as mentioned, they do still boast a some quality starters. Last time these clubs met, it was Toronto's bench that helped give the Dinos the push they needed in the second half to eventually secure the win.
I'll be looking for a lot more of that tonight. Amir Johnson continues to impress with his hustle and board-work but it would be nice to get something more from both Belinelli and Wright. And while Jack was decent in stretches, 4 turnovers for every 3 assists can't keep happening.
That being said, Triano did a nice job keeping guys on a short leash so I expect that if players 6 through 10 don't step up, they probably won't be on the court for long.
One of our readers remarked on Twitter that he hoped last night's win could be akin to the Raps' wins over the Blazers and Clippers around this time a few years ago when Chris Bosh was hurt. The wins minus Bosh served to bond the team together and prove that they could still be a very good club when they played together with passion.
Last night's game in my mind could well have been that sort of match, but it's up to Toronto to go out tonight and prove it.