Biggest win of the year?
In a game full of ups and downs the Raptors beat Orlando to continue their current hot-streak.
The HQ breaks down last night's win.
I'll be honest, I am starting to believe.
When the Raps won 5 in a row in December I was not all that impressed. The victories were coming against lesser opponents and given the team's record against opponents with records .500 it was difficult to be anything more than cautiously optimistic. The reality was if the Raps couldn't build off those five wins they would be all for not.
It's not all for not.
With the exception of the egg laid in Boston the Raps have suddenly beaten San Antonio and Orlando, both considered top tier teams.
Last night's win may be been even more impressive than that against San Antonio on Sunday. Given Orlando had absolutely destroyed the Raptors in their three prior meeting this season there was little one could point to that would suggest last night would be any different. Well it was different. Everything about the Raps looks different right now.
Right from the opening tip the Raps looked dialled in and full of energy. Perhaps the return of Jose Calderon, who came off the bench as the second string PG, picked up team spirits or maybe guys realized his return would mean fewer minutes to go around. Either way the Raps came out ready to play.
In the first half the Raps were efficient on the offensive end and surprisingly active on the defense end. Outside of a few occasions when Dwight Howard got position in the paint making him unstoppable the defense created turn-overs and closed out on Orlando shooters. In the second quarter the team started to click on all cylinders as they outscored the Magic 35-22. It was arguably the team’s best quarter of the season, at least until the third quarter rolled around.
In the third quarter the Raps withstood an Orlando run and by quarter's end continued to lead by double digits. The team was showing some resolve which was surprising not only to me but to the Magic as well. What was incredibly surprising was how Orlando seemed to come apart at the seams when the Raps showed they were not simply going to fold-up tent and head home despite Rashard Lewis hitting back to back threes to make it a game again. Both Carter and Howard lost their cool after being called for their third and fourth foul, respectively, and both were given technicals. Carter ended up on the bench where he sulked like a child who had its soother taken.
All looked rosy as the game headed into the fourth quarter...and then things got interesting.
After managing to withstand earlier runs it was the Raps who started to fall apart. As quick as you can say "Arenas is a Moron" the Magic were back in the game. The team was suddenly slow on close-outs and had troubles finding an open look on the other end of the floor. The game hung in the balance right down to the final moments of the game where a big rebound and free-throws by CB4 sealed the deal.
Although it is on the players to execute both on the offensive and defensive ends, this game was close down the stretch because of (a) the refs, and (b) Jay Triano.
The officiating in the second half of last night's game was so one-sided in favour of the Magic I couldn't help but wonder if Tim Donaghy had suddenly been re-instated and was holding a whistle. While making questionable call after questionable call against the Raptors (Bargnani in particular) we didn't see a fourth quarter foul called against the Magic until there was ONE MINUTE left in the game. Apparently the Magic didn't commit a foul in 11 straight minutes of game time. Riiiiiiiight.
Despite the officiating it was Jay Triano's substitution patterns that left me shaking my head. I still can't figure out why he felt having Calderon on the court during crunch time was a good idea. Calderon didn't suddenly become a solid defensive player while nursing the hip injury yet Triano was happy to see him match-up against both Jameer Nelson and Raptor killer JJ Redick. Not surprisingly, Calderon did little to prevent Redick from getting open looks and was also responsible for giving up a critical offensive rebound. Having Calderon matched-up against any two guard in the league is simply a BAD idea.
Now I understand that DeRozan was responsible for blowing a couple of assignments earlier in the game but it would have made way more sense to have him on the floor not just for defensive reasons but for offensive reasons as well. In the closing minutes of the game the Raps were struggling to find an open look. Hell, even Weems would have been better. In short, Triano's coaching last night was suspect when it mattered the most.
Now if you didn't see last night's game you are probably thinking I am crazy for wanting DD in the game for offensive reasons. Lately he has been more or less invisible but last night he was in the zone. DeRozan started the game hitting his first six shots and looked uber confident. When you add in the fact that Hedo Turkoglu was providing sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the name "Mr. Fourth Quarter" is a misnomer, the Raps could have used a hot hand.
Given how this game played out one could focus on the fact that the Raps were extremely fortunate to pull this one out. I on the other hand feel like the real story is that the Raptors beat Orlando in Orlando.
This was no small feat. Neither is winning seven of the last eight games.
I am starting to believe.