The Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets concluded their underwhelming seasons last night at the ACC. The HQ's Scott Campsall checks in with his thoughts and first hand observations from "Tankapalooza" er.. i mean "Fanaplaooza night at the Air Canada Center.
To be honest, this one was a laugher from the second I arrived at the ACC.
Almost immediately upon my arrival I was made privy to the news that the Nets would be holding out the majority of their starters from this contest in favor of a number of, well let’s say less talented individuals. Right from the outset, the tone was set for the remainder of the evening.
Here are a few highlights from the experience that was attending last night’s “Fanapalooza” at the ACC:
- During his pregame address to the media Avery Johnson went so far as to acknowledge that the overarching phrase around the team at the moment is “Hello Brooklyn,” although he would go on to say that the phrase should be “no excuses because we haven’t made any all year.” Last night though, the excuse was that they only dressed eight guys which included maybe one of their regular starters. Needless to say, it wasn't the most encouraging start to the evening for his team.
- When Dwayne Casey spoke before the game, the meaningless nature of this game could be felt hanging in the air. Even Casey himself couldn’t repress a smile as he announced that DeMar DeRozan was out of the game with a left ankle injury that was said to be suffered at shootaround. Casey went on to explain that Aaron Gray would also be held out of the contest. Both of these injuries were news to all of the members of the media, and in reality were to be expected considering the formality that is the last game of the season for two lottery bound teams.
- Also of note during that pregame address was Casey responding to a question regarding whether or not we would see any surprises from some of the bench guys that would be playing big minutes in the game. Casey responded by saying "I hope so, we'll see" and that “guys want playing time, here it is. You want it, you can have all you stand." Casey continued "guys like Ben Uzoh, he's in hog heaven." And indeed he was in "hog heaven" and indeed we did see quite the surprise out of both Uzoh, who finished with the first triple-double by a Raptor since Alvin Williams in 2001, and Soloman Alabi who put up a career high 19 rebounds.
- I had a chance to speak to James Johnson a little bit before the game. We talked about his development, and how important a season like this was for his career going forward. Look for an extended piece on the Johnson sometime over the weekend or early next week.
- Also spotted in the Raptor's locker room: Amir Johnson attempting to transport the world's biggest bag of basketball shoes. There had to be at least 25 pairs of shoes in the bag, and there were still a number of pairs left in his locker. I don't think he was looking forward to locker cleanout.
- A personal highlight of the night for me was taking part in the post game scrums for both Ben Uzoh and Solo Alabi. As Alabi told the media about his performance "I was excited about it". Alabi continued “It was great man, to get the opportunity to play (in the NBA). I went out there and played hard.” His excitement is something that was tangible, that you could feel just being in the room with him.
- While the fact remains that both of their futures in the NBA are still very much up in the air, for one night at least, they were able to enjoy historic performances in a win, albeit against the Nets second stringers. Sometimes you forget the human element involved in the game, and also how young these players are. To be able to see how much both of these guys were enjoying the moment was actually quite special, and most certainly a moment that as fans of the game, you have to appreciate and enjoy in a season where there hasn't been a whole lot to be excited about.
All in all, the tone around the team was rather optimistic. Despite their struggles as a team this season, a number of players have made strides in their individual games and the implementation of Dwayne Casey's defensive principles has been a huge step in the right direction for this team. Although we cannot tell the future, for one night at least, spirits were high around the Toronto Raptors and there was an overwhelming feel that this team is headed in the right direction.