In an exciting affair last night at the ACC the Raptors, once again without their franchise player, went nose to nose with the leagues best only to lose in overtime.
Despite the loss there is nothing negative to take from this game. It might actually be the team's best loss of the season.
Is there such a thing as a good loss?
If so last night was it for the Toronto Raptors.
Without Chris Bosh for the fourth time in as many games and facing the team with the NBA's best record, the Raptors defied expectations and gave the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle.
Sure the Raps lost in the extra session but the fight and grit this team showed was unexpected and worthy of high praise.
I'll admit, even when the game was tied at half I expected the Raps to fold early in the third. I mean even had Chris Bosh been in the line-up the Cavs are simply more talented than the Raptors. I don't think anyone would have faulted this team had they faded down the stretch against Lebron James & Co. A loss was expected.
Well the Raps didn't fade and in fact had an opportunity in the dying seconds. They hung tough troughout the whole game and I am left impressed.
Now after the debacle against the Trailblazers the Raptors HAD to respond and show more and I expected some fight early on but as the game wore on the Raps just wouldn't back down.
Almost every player for the Raps stepped-up. After a slow start Jose Calderon was clutch in the fourth, Sonny Weems gave the team a scoring lift off the bench, Antoine Wright played some solid D, and Rasho Nesterovic hit some big long-distance jumpers with the shot clock winding down. The three guys I want to focus on however are Jarrett Jack, Reggie Evans and Hedo Turkoglu.
The Raps were led by their fearless starting point guard tonight. In my eyes Jack had a close to flawless game on the offensive end. Although he was only 8-14 from the floor (far from perfect) it was how he scored that was impressive. Early on he attacked the rim relentlessly which in turn forced the defenders to back-up a step. Jack then immediately countered by hitting some big three's. Once the three's fell the defense was at his mercy and left guessing. He played a stellar game, kept the energy of the crowd high and did a very good job leading the team.
Save for Jack's performance the player of the game for me was none other than Reggie Evans. For the most part Evans is an offensive liability and the team is looking for him to affect the game in different ways but last night he was doing it all, including scoring the basketball. Evans had 13 points to go along with countless effort plays. Evans was a menace in the paint just causing havoc. He was throwing guys to the ground, grabbing big rebounds and his hard-nosed player was clearly frustrating the Cavs. His willingness to mix-it up is something that this team has been missing for a number of years.
It's amazing how much the crowd loves this guy. The chants of "Reggie! Reggie! Reggies!" were clearly heard on my TV and if he continues to play this way he may go down in Raptors lore. His energy is contagious for both the players and the fans alike.
Hedo must also get some credit. Although his play throughout the season has been a highly debated topic you can't argue with the fact that during Bosh's absence he has been playing much better. Last night Hedo hit some big shots down the stretch and has simply looked more comfortable on the floor. Although he missed the long distance shot to win the game and he still led the team with a -13 in the +/- category it's clear that he is getting into more of a groove. It will be interesting to see just how he and Coach Triano respond when Bosh returns.
Despite all the great efforts however the Raps did lose the game. Why the loss? The team simply ran out of gas and in the overtime session the Cavs executed their offense almost to perfection. The overtime session was only two and a half minutes in and they had sealed the W. It's clear that they are still working Jamison into the rotation and there is not much chemistry between he and LeBron but when the games really start to count this is going to be a tough team to beat.
Although a good game for the Raps it was still a loss and the second in a row at that. Up next for the Raps is a very tough OKC team on the road. Should CB4 be unable to go again hopefully the guys in uniforms will be able to put forth another strong effort like they did tonight.