Amir Johnson made some game-changing plays on both ends of the floor last night against the Suns - US PRESSWIRE
DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson carried the Raptors to a much-needed victory last night at the ACC. Despite the win, the Andrea problem continues to persist and was on full-display Friday night.
Yes, this is a big win for the team, yet even in a victory for the Raptors it's hard not to notice how badly Andrea Bargnani continues to struggle.
Bargnani's numbers tell the story - He had 2 rebounds and 4 points in 27 minutes of action and looked like a player returning from an absence much longer than a single game. He gave the team virtually nothing until the final minutes.
In those final minutes though, I have to give credit where credit is due - his defence on Scola in the post on a couple of the Sun's final possessions were huge, as were his game sealing rebound and subsequent free-throws. But that certainly doesn't excuse his overall body of work.
Bargnani aside, the team put together a fairly sustained effort for the majority of the game and finally gutted out a close one after losing a number of heart-breakers early on this season.
DeMar DeRozan kept the Raptors in the game in the opening quarter, scoring 10 of the team's 19 points in the frame. Despite his best efforts, the team still trailed by six.
But, in the second quarter, the bench stepped up and gave the team a big lift.
The second half was more of the same, with DeRozan, Calderon and Amir Johnson leading the way offensively.
DeRozan finished with 23 points on 8 of 18 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Calderon also had a fairly balanced game off of the pine, scoring 13 points and adding 9 assists.
But, it was Amir Johnson who really stole the show with his gusty performance which included some game-changing energy plays on both ends of the floor late in that fourth quarter. Johnson scored half of his total points for the evening in that crucial final 12 minutes.
Johnson scored 16 points and grabbed 6 rebounds off of the bench, despite playing with a severely injured ankle.
"It was very sore at shootaround," Johnson said about his injured ankle. "I couldn't really go at shootaround because it was just too sore, but i got some treatment on it, I took a pre game nap and I came back and warmed up on it and it felt pretty good."
But, as the game wore on, Johnson continued to make play after play, despite that injury. Simply put, Johnson refused to let the injury bother him
"Nah, its pretty much, all the time that's how I play," Johnson said when asked about the injury. "I guess I kinda blocked it out and kept playing. There were some plays (where) I couldn't really jump because it was taped a little tight."
On this night, Amir Johnson proved to be the antithesis of the Dinos starting power forward.
One can argue about the severity of each of their respective injuries, but the fact remains that both of these players suffered foot/ankle injuries recently, yet one came out with energy and effort and the other didn't and it was painfully obvious to the people watching the game who was giving the effort and who wasn't.
Bargnani's lack of effort on a nightly basis is nothing new, but it's beginning to become a problem when he continually gets shown up by a player slated behind him in the rotation. Even though the Raptors did win this game, they aren't going to win many if this trend continues.
To his credit, Casey did choose to sit Bargnani for stretches of the game, opting for the more effective Davis/Johnson frontcourt. But again, this is something that isn't going to work long term.
The Raptors can enjoy the win for now - and given the mood in the lockeroom postgame, they certainly will - but things aren't getting much easier anytime soon.
With that win in the books, the club will now embark on a tough roadtrip that will see the Raptors play the Nuggets, Kings, Jazz, Clippers and Trail Blazers before returning home on December 12th for a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
At 4-12 and with that stretch coming up, it is tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel for this team. Given Bargnani's continued struggle and the injuries at the wing - not to mention a clearly hobbled Lowry - the Raptors are going to indeed be in tough over the course of the next few weeks.
Prior to the game, the Raptors announced that they had signed free-agent swingman Mickael Pietrus to a 1-year deal. In order to make room on the roster for Pietrus, the team also announced they had waived forward Dominic McGuire.
Newly signed Mickael Pietrus made his Raptors debut last night, scoring 6 points in a surprising 32 minutes of action. Prior to the game, Dwayne Casey said that the one player who may be affected most by the addition of Pietrus - in terms of minutes - is Terrence Ross. This certainly rang true last night as Ross saw only 14 minutes of action after playing 36 minutes against Houston, and 30 minutes against Memphis earlier this week.