"I tell you, I think from my opinion, it's way tougher. The intensity level has started at 110 percent from the get go. We're running down the floor every play, every possession. it doesn't matter what we're doing, what drill we're doing, we're giving it 110 percent."
Aaaah, the old "this has been the best training camp ever" quote.
In this case, the quote was from Amir Johnson, as he spoke to The Score's Holly MacKenzie yesterday after a Raptors' practice.
Was this camp indeed that much more taxing than last year?
But I think though the mere fact that some members of the team think that (there were others who echoed Amir's sentiments) speaks volumes.
Because last year, whether camp was tough or not, the team simply did not play up to expectations, nor did they look like they were trying to at times. Whether you want to point the finger at Bosh, Bargnani, Turk, Triano, Marcus Banks...whomever, the bottom line is that this team just didn't get it done, especially at the defensive end of the court.
This year, that has to change, especially considering many of the "stars" from the previous season are no longer part of the team. It's going to take a full-out, team effort, each and every night, similar to what fans saw in the Raps' first pre-season match against the Suns.
So to hear comments like that from Amir, and quotes from Jay Triano that echo the need to dig in each and every day, is refreshing.
Talk is cheap though as they say, so tonight's game against the Boston Celtics, one of the favourites to compete for this year's NBA title, will be a good test of the team's "one-for-all and all-for-one" approach...
...even if yes, it is only pre-season...
Let's hit the three keys:
1) Big Man Play: Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal, KG, Glen Davis, even Semih Erden...the C's have some big bodies. The Raptors didn't have to deal with many big boys against Phoenix, especially since Robin Lopez got tossed, so tonight will present an interesting challenge.
At the center of this, pardon the pun, is Mr. Bargnani. Offensively he struggled in his last match, but I did think he made a concerted effort to be aggressive inside. He'll have to do a lot of this tonight, and I expect to see heavy doses of Reggie Evans and Amir Johnson as well. Hopefully, this means time for Joey Dorsey too, so that he can continue to cement himself in Jay Triano's rotation.
While I wouldn't say that the battle of the big-men will completely decide this match, I'd say it will go a long way towards determining tonight's victor.
2) Run...and Then Run ome More: We saw in Toronto's first game, just how this team wants to play this season; it wants to get out and go.
However while it looked like that strategy was quite effective against Phoenix earlier in the week, admittedly the Suns were coming off a game the previous night, and weren't exactly running with a full roster. Triano alluded to this yesterday at practice:
"We're looking to play another game. We played a team that was tired on a back-to-back. Let's find out if our stuff is still going to be effective against a team that's a little bit fresher."
The Celtics might be a bit old in the tooth, but as a veteran group, they'll definitely be fresh and ready to go regardless of who plays the major minutes tonight. If Toronto can play their style and prevent the Celts from dragging things into a half-court affair, this bodes well for a Raptors' W.
3) Andrea Bargnani: I'm contemplating leaving Bargs as the third "key" for the rest of the pre-season. Am I looking to pick on the former number one pick? Not exactly but let's face it.
This is Andrea's year.
Or rather, it has to be.
As much as this team looks to be able to count on the likes of Kleiza and Jack night in and night out, the team needs Andrea, their most naturally gifted offensive player, to exert his will on games. Does this mean dominating the O and grabbing 15 boards a night?
That would be nice of course, but game-in-game-out right now, I just want to see an aggressive, focussed Andrea, one who looks to lead by example on the court.
A match against the Celtics is a good test of this, even in pre-season. Kevin Garnett was always a major thorn in Chris Bosh's side so I'm anxious to see how Bargs reacts to KG, and the swarming C's D. He struggled with double teams against the Suns, but tonight against Boston I expect he'll see mostly single coverage and therefore I hope an aggressive Andrea goes to work.
On a final note, tonight's game isn't being televised so we'll have to make due with radio coverage and hopefully a decent feed here.