This was a big one.
Not Indiana Pacers big in terms of the level of competition, but important for different reasons.
Because we've seen versions of this movie before right? The Toronto Raptors seem to turn a corner and fans get excited about the team's play. It happened after Rudy Gay rode into town on his steed of inefficiency (granted, many of us were skeptical right from the get-go), it happened with Kyle Lowry's first few appearances, and it happened countless other times during the Bryan Colangelo era.
(My personal favourite was Sonny Weems' late-season play back in 2010. Yes, I still miss Sonny.)
So despite the Dinos' recent string of success, many of us here at the HQ, both writers and readers, were bracing ourselves for the inevitable let down.
Well, that might be a bit strong, but based on the club's history, last night's match against the Washington Wizards sure felt like a potential trap game. The Wiz were coming in winners of five of their last seven and inches behind Toronto in terms of record. This wasn't Philadelphia or Utah, but wasn't Indiana or Oklahoma City either. It was quite possible that Toronto, feeling quite good about themselves based on their recent play, rolled into Washington and laid an egg.
However if you tuned into last night's contest, you know that there were no chickens to be found. The Dinos started strong and didn't let up, winning the match by a count of 101 to 88. Raptors' coach Dwane Casey, that's COACH OF THE MONTH DWANE CASEY, had his troops extremely focused at both ends of the court right from the jump and the Raps not only ensured a fifth straight win by beating Washington, but made it look relatively easy too.
Toronto started strong finding Jonas Valanciunas down low, and hitting Washington from inside and out and had it not been for 20 fast break Wizard points in the first half, this one would have gotten ugly in a hurry. John Wall's speed and Nene's play down low however kept Washington in the game so that they were only down 48 to 45 at the half.
However the Dinos blew things open in the third quarter posting 36 points on the Wiz. Washington responded with only 16 of their own and at that point you knew it was over.
That decisive third-quarter was a good one to watch if you had missed this recent stretch of Toronto wins as in it, you saw just about everything that's made the club's play of late so promising. There was Kyle Lowry hunting for three-point opportunities and finding cutters down the lane. There was Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas rolling hard to the hoop, establishing position, and cleaning up the glass at the other end. There was DeMar DeRozan, picking his spots on offense, attacking the D, and making sure the ball kept moving. (DD had a team-high 20 points last night but also had five assists.) And there was Terrence Ross, the player many were beginning to whisper "bust" about, looking extremely confident with his shot, making teams pay for leaving him open on the perimeter, and harassing the opposing team's best back-court player at the other. (Perhaps my favourite play of the game last night was Ross' late second-quarter defence on a John Wall drive. Ross had the task of keeping possibly the league's fastest player in check, and Ross forced Wall not only into a tough shot, but timed his defence so as to perfectly block said shot as well.)
And let's not forget the Raptors' bench.
A true sore spot early in the season the Rudy Gay trade has alleviated a lot of this malaise with players like John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez providing big contributions for Dwane Casey, effectively displacing former go-to options like Landry Fields and Steve Novak.
And then there's this Patrick Patterson guy.
An HQ fave during the 2010 draft process, Patterson has been arguably the biggest addition from said Rudy Gay exchange helping Toronto stretch the floor on offence, and providing a more mobile, athletic defensive option than say Tyler Hansbrough. Patterson was the key cog in last night's third quarter explosion as he dropped in Toronto's last 11 points of the quarter himself, and finished with 18 points on the night.
With the win, the team not only passes a litmus test of sorts, but also climbs a game over .500 for the first time since March 28, 2008.
Ok I made that date up, but truly, this is one of the better stretches in the club's recent history and it could take another big step forward with solid showings versus the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers (again), tomorrow and Tuesday night's opponents respectively.
Again, last night's win over Washington wasn't of the same ilk as wins over the two clubs just mentioned would be, but it was another important step forward for this ball club in what's been a very promising start to 2014.