It was a game for the ages. A game to tell the grandkids about. There was Tyler Hansbrough driving through the lane to send the game into overtime, Andrea Bargnani buckling under the pressure to shoot 4-12 from the field, Terrence Ross sending the game into double overtime with a 3; and of course, that dynamic crunch-time, Stone-Buycks-Ross-Wright-Acy line-up that finished off the Knicks once and for all.
Or maybe not. If the grandkids ask, just tell them it was a pre-season win over a Knicks team missing their entire backcourt.
But, you know, pre-season games sort of resemble regular NBA basketball for about 20-25 minutes...and then things fall apart; the center cannot hold. (Yeats didn't like pre-season basketball that much).
But we got 10 minutes of free pre-season basketball!
Except that free basketball in pre-season is kind of like that Christmas gift you get from a relative -- socks or a hand-knitted sweater -- that you really didn't want, or need.
Scratch that, I need a more dramatic analogy. Pre-season overtime is kind of like this:
That Knicks-Raps game was the T-1000, and we were all Sarah Connor. Die pre-season game, please just die!
But despite the extra hour of basketball that few people wanted to see, there were plenty of positives to take out of the Raptors' 5th win of pre-season. We can start with the guy who won the game down the stretch for the Raps: Terrence Ross.
Ross was the game's top scorer, finishing with 27 points, on 7-15 shooting, with 6 of those field-goals coming from beyond the arc. Ross had 3 of his 3-pointers in the 1st overtime period, including the shot that sent the game into double OT. He finished the Knicks off in the second overtime period with a bunch of free-throws and a nice drive to the bucket -- taking advantage of the Knicks' need to chase him off the 3-point line.
Needless to say, Terrence Ross hitting 3s (of course, it doesn't have to be anything close to 6 a game) could be a game-changer for the Raptors, and the second-unit in particular. Pre-season is pre-season, but hopefully Ross can build off a strong shooting performance and take that confidence into the regular season.
One Raptor who's full of confidence right now is DeMar DeRozan. After a 4th quarter and 2 overtime periods in which the starters saw no action, DeRozan's involvement in the game felt like a lifetime ago. DeMar finished with 21 points, on 8-15 shooting, and 7 rebounds. DeRozan's had some really solid games so far in pre-season (he's shooting over 50% from the field) but last night's performance was the pick of the bunch. He drove to the basket, was really impressive down on the block (that up-and-under move is a thing of beauty) and even knocked down two 3-pointers, including one from the corner.
And there was this:
I want an apology from the league today for that no call!
Despite the bench finishing the game, Casey gave his starting 5 a big chunk of playing time last night -- a combined 123 minutes -- much more than they got in the previous game against the Celtics, where they combined to play just 76 minutes. Rudy Gay, like DeRozan, was impressive and racked up 10 points in the opening quarter -- hitting a couple 3s himself -- while Kyle Lowry continues to reap the benefits of his off-season workout regimen.
Jonas Valanciunas, however, struggled throughout the first-half (he looked tired), and although he improved in the 3rd quarter, Tyson Chandler got the better of him at both ends for the majority of the game.
But overall the starters were impressive. They cut down on the turnovers (zero in the 1st quarter. Yes, ZERO), shot the ball well, and played solid defense for the most part.
The Bench Unit
As always the Raptors' bench-unit was a mixed bag. Ross, as mentioned, was good and Landry Fields had a reasonably solid outing. But at times the Raptors looked terrible with an Augustin-Ross-Fields-Daye-Hansbrough line-up, and having those 5 all on the floor together resulted in the Knicks making a big run in the 2nd quarter.
I guess you could make the slightly disingenuous argument that the Raptors' bench ultimately won the game, but that was against a Knicks line-up featuring the likes of Josh Powell, Ike Diogu, and Metta World Peace as the primary scorer. Come the regular season Casey is going to have to give DeRozan and/or Gay some minutes with the 2nd unit, or games are going to get out of hand.
The back-up point-guard position remains an ugly mess -- or a beautiful one, depending on which side of the tanking debate you fall on. A few days ago I said I was leaning towards Dwight Buycks being the back-up point-guard. At this stage if I could choose an answer to the back-up question, it would probably be 'none of the above'. Neither Buycks or D.J. Augustin (despite finishing 6th on this prestigious list) looked good last night, and it's starting to look like Julyan Stone or Landry Fields (in small doses) might be better options to back-up Lowry.
And one final note regarding the bench: I'm hoping that the Austin Daye stretch-4 experiment dies a quick death. I realize that, in theory, if Daye can rediscover some of his early career 3-point shooting form, he could be useful offensively. But as of now, that doesn't look like it's going to happen. Defensively Daye's a liability at the 4 spot, and I'd much rather see those minutes go to Quincy Acy, who was solid last night -- moving screens and all.
And on the subject of Daye: Next up, the Raps face his former team,the Memphis Grizzlies, who are in town on Wednesday night.