The game didn't start out so well but Andrea Bargnani ensured Toronto's 10th win of the season with a Dirk-esque second half performance...
"The Raptors once again showed that amongst the league’s worst teams, they are top of the heap."
Those words were tweeted by Tim Chisholm last night after the Toronto Raptors' 98 to 92 win over the New Jersey Nets, a win that for a while, didn't look like it was going to happen.
Then Andrea Bargnani shifted things into high gear, putting on both a magical, and frustrating performance.
Let's talk magic first, because I can honestly say that the second half of last night's game was the first time I could understand the "Il Mago" moniker in my nearly five years of watching him play. He was simply unstoppable and toyed with Kris Humphries, his defender, who must have been wondering who the hell this guy was. He certainly wasn't the same Andrea who he often replaced under Sam Mitchell's watchful eye. (Yes, good' ol Sam Mitchell was back in town for the first time with another club.) No, this Andrea was bound and determined to get a W for the Raptors and Mr. Kardashian was helpless to stop him.
"Oh, you're not going to let me post up? How about a nice little spinning fade-away?"
"You're going to try and take that away? Well I'm going to pump-fake you and pull-up for the J."
"That was too easy, how about I simply drive down the lane and dunk? Or maybe I'll shoot this 3 since no one wants to see me get position inside now..."
And on and on.
I later flipped over to Sportsnet One to watch the Mavs hammering the Suns and Dirk didn't look as much like Dirk as Andrea did last night.
I commented in the chat that it was a sight for sore eyes.
Which brings me to the frustrating part...
When can Raptors' fans expect to see this on a consistent basis? Because as truly awesome as this offensive display was, I don't think a single fan can be certain we'll see this level of play again against LA on Sunday, against Detroit after that, etc, etc.
And the bigger problem for me isn't the offence, it's that when his offence isn't clicking, well, Andrea just doesn't provide any value to the team, and the first half of last night's game was the perfect example.
He had 2 first quarter points, 6 second quarter points, and was something like 3 of 14 from the field. But the real problem is that he wasn't stopping the Kris Humphries/Brook Lopez show, and he wasn't getting his teammates involved either. It was classic "Black-Hole Bargnani," the one who floats and kind of settles for certain types of shots.
But then in the second half, when the shot started to fall, suddenly he's diving on the floor for loose balls, rebounding in traffic, blocking shots and finding teammates for open looks.
It was almost comical.
If the Raptors want to keep building this season towards eventually being a playoff team again, this consistency needs to start happening with Andrea. To Tim Chisholm's point, it's fine to do this against the Nets, but it's highly unlikely this late-game barrage by Bargs is enough to get Toronto a win against a club like the aforementioned Mavericks. In fact even with Andrea's dominance, it took a huge Leandro Barbosa 3 with about a minute left (off a nice pass by Bargs I might add) to cement this win as New Jersey was never down by more than a basket.
To me then there's two pieces to take from this win.
The biggie of course is that it would be great to see much more of the second half Andrea going forward. He doesn't have to be quite as dominant as he was last night, but he needs to be aggressive from the start of games and has to try and impact matches in other ways, even if his shot isn't falling.
The other point though, and a salient one I believe, is that Bargs can't do it all himself. He needs help, and a lot of the time this season that hasn't happened. Last night the Raps got very good games from Linas Kleiza (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Jose Calderon (15 points and 14 assists), but that too was barely enough. Toronto's bench produced a measly 6 points, and DeMar DeRozan, although he had an emphatic dunk in the match's final minutes, was a ghastly 5 of 16 from the field in 33 minutes. At some point the switch needs to start turning on for him on a regular basis too if Toronto wants to not only beat the New Jersey Nets' of the league, but also clubs like their foe on Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers.