In a season like the one Raptors fans may be facing, you gotta take solace in the small victories.
While the Raptors dropped a 108 to 103 decision to the LA Lakers last night, those that stayed up late saw the team's most complete effort of the season to date, and against the best team in the league to boot.
Yes, a small victory.
In fact, this could easily have been a big victory had it not been for a few key issues last night, starting with the turnover situation.
On the night, the Dinos coughed it up an ungodly 21 times.
Half of these came in the first quarter too, which led to a huge LA advantage early on, and before Q2 was underway, it looked like this was going to be an easy Lakers win.
The toughest thing to swallow about the turnovers too was that Toronto crushed LA on the glass, 49 to 31, but that advantage was negated by the number of times the Raps gave the ball away.
As Dave Berri likes to point out in Wages of Wins, when you retain or create extra possessions, this leads to victories.
Toronto did one, but not the other, and that's one of the reasons this game pretty much came down to the wire.
How about Toronto's second unit.
This group put the Raps on their collective backs, and got the ship straightened, even managing to snatch the lead from the Lake Show as the game hit half.
Jose Calderon was the leader of this group and while his four TO's weren't his usual MO, it was a joy to see a 14 point, 8 assist and 2 rebound performance that harkened back to his days backing up TJ Ford. Hopefully this wasn't simply a product of facing Derek Fisher and Steve Blake as opposed to Deron Williams or Beno Udrih, but if Toronto can get this type of performance going forward, I can't overstate what a difference it will make. Jose traditionally has been one of the most efficient players on the team and for the club to be successful, they need him back at his 2008 level of play.
But this wasn't all about Jose.
Amir Johnson, as one of our readers put it last night in the chat, realized the season started, and turned in his best effort of the season by far. He finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds in under 25 minutes and...only had two fouls. His effort and energy was the catalyst that kept both got TO back in the match, and kept things close through the second half. Much like Jose, performances like this are essential if this team wants to start putting some W's up on the board.
Factor in some good minutes from Leandro Barbosa, who also turned in a team-high 17 points, Reggie Evans' usual dominant self (14 rebounds and 3 assists in 21 minutes), some great minutes from Julian Wright thanks to a Sonny Weems' tendinitis flare-up, and another aggressive performance by DeMar DeRozan, and there was a lot to like.
I even enjoyed Andrea Bargnani's game.
Without having to be the go-to scorer, he had only 14 on the night, I thought the offense flowed a lot more freely. I'd actually prefer games where he put in 13 to 16 points with less shots, thus allowing guys like DeRozan and Barbosa to do their thing.
Now, his 5 of 13 numbers weren't exactly efficient, and 3 rebounds is back to the usual Bargnani trend on the glass, but I liked a lot of what I saw, even a forced shot that missed, but that he took right at Kobe as if trying to make a statement.
However Kobe is Kobe, and his squad is stocked with something Toronto desperately lacks; finishers, the second big issue which for me contributed to the Raptors' loss.
We saw this against Sacto when Tyreke Evans took the game over, and last night if it wasn't Kobe making a big play, it was Gasol or Fisher. LA knows how to win, and have the players who can say "alright, we've toyed with the opposition for long enough, let's end this."
Gasol in particular killed Toronto all night finishing with 30 points on 12 of 22 shooting and the Dinos had no answer no matter who they threw at him.
You could see it coming as the game progressed but again, the superior talent simply won out.
However as noted, if you're a Raptors' fan or even Jay Triano, you can live with that if you see this type of all-over team effort for 48 minutes every night going forward. That was one of Howland's "3 keys" today and you can see just how much more effective this club is when it gets that type of play. (Granted, both Jarrett Jack and Linas Kleiza could easily be singled out last night for less than "complete" performances.)
As Jay Triano noted post-game though in his chat with the media, he shouldn't have to be happy about that type of effort, it should be there each and every night regardless of the opponent.
Words to take into tonight's match-up against another tough Western Conference foe, the Portland Trailblazers...