I know it's been a difficult season.
Fans want hope. Management wants wins. Raptors HQ writers want change.
No one gets what they want and yet all of us die hards are continuing to watch.
However, as this season continues to wind down, I've found reasons to enjoy watching this team. For one, nights like last night's win are rare to come by as the Raptors put a pretty well-rounded effort against the Pacers. Sure, you could nitpick about the Raptors' inability to shut down and put away a Pacers' team that has severe chemistry issues. Heck, if the Raptors could have corrected their atrocious free throw shooting, this game wouldn't have even been a contest. Instead, the Raptors needed a pretty complete effort with some strong defensive plays, great ball movement for most of the game, and some much needed energy.
The Raptors at the end of it all, just seemed to have fun.
Yeah. I just talked about "the Raptors" and "fun" together.
And part of that has to go to the two players who make this incarnation of the Raptors interesting for me to watch.
James Johnson has become one of the players who I tune into to watch. While he's had a couple lack-luster games, his overall performance has been one filled with energy. The man just doesn't seem to want to back down and is a big body at the small forward position which the Raptors have needed for a while. Playing inside and driving the ball in controlled situations, Johnson has been a play-maker, a rebounder, a shot blocker, and a much needed energy booster in the starting lineup.
He makes Raptors games exciting again.
Then, we have the return of the Regginator.
The Raptors veteran big man has come back and in two games, he's changed the energy of this team. There's a scrappy feeling coming back to the Raptors that has been missing since November, and a lot of it has to do with Reggie Evans. In one sequence, Reggie managed to set a hard pick to free his man, grabbed the missed shot in a sea of Pacers and then draws a foul on Jeff Foster.
That's not even counting the criminal and devious ways he got under Tyler Hansbrough's skin in the second half.
And you can't tell me that it wasn't infectious. Raptors who haven't done much defensively lately were suddenly pulling out stops. Andrea Bargnani drew a charge in the first few minutes while Jerryd Bayless kept after his man and drew a charge in the second quarter. Those who would say that Reggie doesn't have a real impact on this team need to take a good hard look at these final games of the season.
The Raptors' offense also seemed to kick it up a notch and it was largely thanks to guys like Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan who were efficient and consistent threats. Throughout the game, they found their open looks within the flow of the offense and didn't force their shots. And while Andrea Bargnani himself shot a horrid 1-13, his work at the free throw line should be commended as he was still fighting the flu.
However, picking up all the primary scoring slack was Leandro Barbosa who was just a blurry wrecking ball. Attacking inside, scoring from beyond the arc, and playing with control, Barbosa looked crisp and wasn't a liability on the defensive end. It was an efficient 29 points scored and well needed to secure the victory.
There's a lot to be proud of with this victory if you're a Raptors fan. It's arguably the most complete win the Raptors have had in a long time. It was a win which didn't just come down to luck and depended on the Raptors being able to execute better than the Pacers on both sides of the ball. It was mentioned in last night's thread that the Pacers look nowhere near good enough to challenge for that final playoff spot and I would definitely agree. There's plenty of reasons from last night's loss for Larry Bird to continue his tirade from several days go.
And as a Raptors fan in a season full of small victories, you have to be glad that it's not your team being yelled at by their GM.