In a game that neither team probably deserved to win, the Seattle Sonics recovered from blowing an 18 point lead in the fourth quarter to beat Toronto 126-121. Rashard Lewis led the way for the Sonics torching the Raptors for 41 points. Ray Allen had 19 before fouling out and Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour had 20 and 16 respectively. Mike James had his best offensive game for the Raptors yet this season pouring in a team high 36 points. Charlie Villanueva had a monster game as well for Toronto with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Chris Bosh pitched in a solid all around effort as well with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
Toronto trailed through most of the game before making a remarkable fourth quarter run to close the gap. Down by 3 points with less then 5 seconds remaining Mike James hit the first of his two free throws to narrow the margin to 2 and then intentionally missed the second. Charlie Villanueva outfought Seattle's frontcourt for the rebound and while his shot missed in close, Chris Bosh caught the rebound on the other side banking the ball off the backboard and in to send the game to overtime. However the Raptors could not carry the momentum over and missed some easy looks allowing Seattle to steal back the victory. Rashard Lewis was simply dominant and even when he wasn't scoring he was finding the open man for Seattle. Even with the loss it's imperative that Sam Mitchell and the Raptors remain positive in order to build on the experience of each game.
In terms of statistical comparisons the Raptors' fared better in this game then the others so far. They shot almost 47%, hit almost 41% of their three pointers (making 13), had 5 more assists then Seattle and only 1 more turnover. However one category really stood out in Seattle's advantage. Seattle took 49 trips to the foul line compared to 26 for Toronto. Seattle hit 83.7% of these thereby giving them a huge edge and what turned out to be the difference between a Raptors' win and their 6th straight loss.
FRANCHISE'S CRITICAL BEATDOWN:
While many fans may have walked away from the game feeling as if the Raptors' "got robbed", or didn't have the refs on their side (more on this later), the reality is that Toronto didn't really deserve to win this game. Sure, the way Seattle folded like a cheap suit didn't mean they deserved the W either...but don't get it twisted, the Raptors really only played well for 1 quarter in total. The Raptors attempted 32 three point shots and while they hit 13 of them, this was one of the ways they played themselves back into the game. If even a FEW of these shots hadn't gone down, this game wouldn't have even been close. The worry I have stemming from this game is that the Raptors will start living and dieing by the 3 and for a team with no real consistent 3 point threats besides maybe Mo Pete and Matt Bonner, that's not a good thing. The Raptors have to continue to get the ball inside to Chris Bosh and now Charlie Villanueva and let them work the ball inside out. And finally, the Raptors have to stop fouling other teams! Anytime you let the opposing team shoot FIFTY foul shots, you're in big trouble.
-Charlie Villanueva - This was Villanueva's best game of the regular season so far. Not only did he put up huge number on the offensive end, but he also grabbed 12 rebounds and played solid defence. He, along with Mike James and Jose Calderon made the difference towards the end of the game and seeing CV Smooth crash the boards with such ferocity on BOTH ends of the court was a joy to behold. We can only hope that this style of play continues and yesterday's game carries over to future contests.
-Mike James - James scored 36 points, hit 6 three pointers, had 5 rebounds and only 2 turnovers in the 40 minutes he played. Sure, he still hoisted up a few questionable shots and only had 2 assists, but he was the Raptors' best offensive option all night. He drove the ball well and created off the dribble and took the majority of his shots within the flow of the game. The Raptors can't expect James to carry the offensive load throughout the season but this game proved that James can fill it up if need be. This game also showed a backcourt that we may become accustomed to seeing quite a bit...Mike James playing along with Jose Calderon. James has more of a scorer's mentality anyways and together with the pass first Calderon, the two wreaked Havoc on Seattle's backcourt all afternoon. James also played great defense, especially on Ray Allen in the fourth quarter preventing the perenial All-Star from becoming a factor in the game.
-Chris Bosh - Bosh was a steady force all night for Toronto. With 21 points and 12 rebounds in 44 minutes of action he logged the most on-court time for the Raptors and was quite vocal throughout the game, especially during Toronto's fourth quarter rally. Bosh still needs to work on his passes out of the double team but he'll get enough practice as the season progresses. Bosh fouled out on a suspect "illegal screen" call early in overtime and his loss was a key reason for Nick Collison's 5 points in the extra session. Had CB4 played the entire overtime period the final score may indeed have been different.
-Jose Calderon - Calderon was great in the 33 minutes he played. He made one bad turnover near the end of regulation but otherwise kept the ball moving, found the open man (as his 12 assists demonstrated) and played terrific hounding defence. The charge he took from Ray Allen led to Allen fouling out and overall Calderon just continues to amaze.
-Jalen Rose - Hmmm...haven't I seen you in this section before? Jalen was basically awful against Seattle. While Mo Pete was doing a reasonable job containing Ray Allen for most of the game, Rashard Lewis was having his way with Jalen. Jalen is just not a good defender (yes, I realize this has been a foregone conclusion for quite some time) but as opposed to last year when he was at least a force on the offensive end, this year, he's anything but on ANY end. Currently Jalen is averaging the third most fouls per minute in the league behind Tyson Chandler and Jamal Magloire. This blows my mind. Chandler and Magloire are shot blocking CENTERS who perhaps get a bit over aggressive in the post at times costing them cheap fouls. However they ARE centers and thus man the position in which the most contact probably occurs. Jalen Rose is a SHOOTING GUARD...SOMETIMES a small forward. What this stat really tells me is that Jalen is simply not playing defense with his feet, and is picking up cheap fouls by being out of position and using his hands too much. Sure Jalen is no and never has been Scottie Pippen. But how is Jalen picking up more fouls then other lead footed guards like Kyle Korver and Gordan Giricek? I tend to think the answer starts with an E and ends in FFORT. Perhaps some of this effort could be attributed to Jalen attending the funeral of one of his best friends back in Detroit the previous day but regardless his focus was just not there. However there is another individual who must share in the blame of Rose's misfortunes...and that person is...
-Sam Mitchell - Mitchell's substitution patterns seemed a bit more rationale and he seemed to be settling into a good rotation when all of a sudden in overtime...he puts in Jalen Rose. How Mitchell can explain putting a player who hadn't played the fourth quarter in for overtime, never mind have him guard the other team's most explosive player, is beyond me. While Morris Peterson (who had regained his starting role yesterday) had fouled out, Joey Graham may have been a better option at this point. Even if Graham hadn't contributed on the offensive end he would seem to have been a lock to do a better job defensively on Rashard Lewis in overtime. However Mitchell inexplicably put in Rose who promptly ground the Raptors ball movement to a halt and missed two wide open chances to put the game in the W column for the Raptors. In fact Rose made so many miscues yesterday (fouling Rashard Lewis behind the 3 point line with 2 on the shot clock during a Raptors run being just one of them), that I was starting to think that maybe we DID need Penny Hardaway!
-Team fouls - Not to beat a dead horse but letting the other team shoot 50 FOUL SHOTS? Just think about this stat for a second. Even if Seattle only hit HALF of them that's 25 freaking points off foul shots! The Raptors' HAVE to start doing a better job on defence to prevent picking up cheap fouls. Until they do, getting that first win is going to extremely hard as they'll find themselves constantly playing from behind.
-Refereeing - Yes, this was an issue. Refs blow calls all the time but yesterday there were far too many calls that should never have been made. Perhaps the game's turning point came when with 5 fouls in the fourth quarter, Rashard Lewis ploughed over Mo Pete for what seemed like the final play of his night. However referee Dick Bavetta called a blocking foul on Peterson and well...the rest is history. Lewis stayed away from his sixth foul and led his team to victory. The Raptors simplly did not get much respect from the officiating crew all night and other such examples such as the phantom illegal screen call on Chris Bosh in overtime and various other "let's blow the whistle after we see if the ball went in" calls were equally egregious.
As a final note, the center position's numbers looked like this yesterday: - Aaron Williams - 12 minutes, 2 points, 6 rebounds, 2 fouls. Rafael Araujo - 3 minutes, 1 for 1 shooting, 2 points. Pape Sow - 2 points (2 for 4 from the free throw line), 1 rebound in 1 minute of play. No, nothing spectacular by any means...but for the first game this season I felt that this position didn't let the team down. Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva manned the center position for the majority of the game but when they weren't, the other guys did a decent job. It was especially encouraging to see Spider-man Sow enter the game and have an immediate impact going to the free throw line 4 times due to simply being aggressive. Seattle doesn't have much at the center position either so maybe these results are to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, it was the first time in 6 games where we weren't forced to see Loren Woods bobbling passes, picking up 2 fouls at once or stuffing himself on dunk attempts...he was firmly planted to the pine where he should have been.