It took double overtime and a lot of headache to determine the outcome of this game. The Jazz and Raptors left everything on the floor and in the end, the Raptors took it. Kinnon Yee recaps an emotional one
This one's for Bargs.
When Andrea Bargnani came out of the game in OT, dejected, limping, and angry you knew it wasn't good.
But the frustration on his face told a whole other story. It told me that the young man who had endured all the criticism for his entire NBA career, the man who has taken the reigns of a club that seems destined for another year of rebuilding, has just grown up.
For those that worry if Bargnani "gets it", the way he took to the bench, the way he pulled at his hair, and the way he wanted to get back in the game even though he was injured just answered the questions.
It all started out as an innocuous game in a back-to-back. After the competitive win the other night against the Suns, the Raptors came into Utah and laid down a pretty ugly one and a half quarters of basketball. But they were in it because they kept the Utah playing messy and ugly basketball. With turnovers mounting at the half, the Raptors managed to tie it at 50 going into the second half of the game.
The Raptors hung around thanks to Bargnani's shot making ability, some good (yet sporatic) offense from his teammates Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, and DeMar DeRozan, but just couldn't seem to make stops to create separation. The Raptors threw zone defense at the Jazz which seemed to confuse them at times, but the Jazz continued to pound the ball inside.
Devin Harris and Paul Millsap just ate through the Raptors defense, and with Al Jefferson sidelined, Derrick Favors got the call and put in some respectable, if unspectacular minutes. The Jazz were on pace for 100 points going into the fourth.
That all changed.
The Raptors defense suddenly decided to turn on and the hometown boys managed to hold the Jazz down to 15 points. A lot of the defensive stops came once again thanks to the quick feet of the Raptors players like Andrea Bargnani and James Johnson. Down the stretch, Johnson would help out the Raptors and record a career best 6 blocks. Unfortunately, their offense and legs seemed to disappear as well, and it was a slow slog through the fourth. It took a Jose Calderon shot to force overtime and the Raptors seemed to have the momentum.
The first OT seemed to be within the Raptors' grasp as they just seemed to be able to make more shots and play with the lead a lot more than the Jazz could. The Raptors defense continued to make life difficult for the Jazz and with players like Linas Kleiza continuing to step it up, the Raptors managed to find some offense too. The momentum seemed to be all in the Raptors favour.
Until Bargnani went down with re-straining his calf. You could feel it from the bench just how much Bargnani wanted to win this game. His teammates seemed to rally around this fact and continued to play hard down the end. With the team up by three and seconds left, it seemed like that was accomplished.
Then Paul Millsap made a 3 pointer to send the game into a second overtime. The Jazz just would not let it go.
In the second overtime, the Raptors continued to slog it out with Linas Kleiza being the offensive catalyst. On the defensive side, James Johnson continued to be very effective in his collapse help and once Amir Johnson was inserted for Aaron Gray, the Raptors completely shut down the Jazz bigs. Jose Calderon hit the final dagger with the clock winding down on a broken play and the Raptors ended another long losing streak.
In what has been undoubtedly the Raptors' hardest earned victory of the year, you have to applaud the effort all around. From Kleiza continuing to drive the offense without Bargnani around, to Jose Calderon stepping up and hitting clutch shots, the offense didn't completely collapse without Bargnani. On defense, James Johnson was a constant threat to block your shot and Kleiza is now providing the Raptors valuable minutes as an additional power forward.
Nevertheless, this team without Andrea Bargnani will continue to struggle. We've seen it this year already how much they miss his offense, his help and pick and roll defense, and now surprisingly, his heart. More and more Bargnani is stepping up into the limelight and more and more he's showing the passion and leadership that the organization has been waiting for. It's this maturity of emotion that's been almost six years in the making and it'll be this emotion that continues to drive this team forward in the future.
It's his heart that we've been missing all this time and it'll be his heart that continues to drive this team in the future.