Now things might get interesting.
The Raptors played one of their best COMPLETE games of the season grinding out a 92-90 win over the Orlando Magic. While the Raptors got down early by as many as 13, the team kept plugging away and got some great offense from some unlikely sources to keep things close. Jalen Rose had 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes of play and Aaron Williams played 16 minutes recording 8 points and played some great defence on Orlando's Dwight Howard. Chris Bosh played his heart out as usual with 19 points and 12 rebounds but it was Morris Peterson who ultimately won this game. Peterson played well throughout recording 19 points and did a great job getting in passing lanes and doing the little things to help Toronto. Oh...and I guess he did a few of the big things including hitting a "falling down 3 pointer" with 2 ticks on the shot clock (and less then 9 in the game) to solidify the win for Toronto.
Peterson went 3 for 4 from beyond the arc and the Raptors were 9 for 16 overall while Orlando only made 1 of their attempts. This statistic was the difference as Toronto got outrebounded 39-32 and still allowed the Magic to shoot almost 50% from the field.
Team play by Toronto: So far this season the Raptors have played in many close games. Many of these, they've lost down the stretch. However when Sam Mitchell gets a total team effort from his club, the Raptors usually fight to the finish even if they just don't have the individual talent to win it in the end. Tonight the Raptors did just that bonding together after getting down early and played much better defensively from the second quarter on. In fact the Magic shot 65% in the first quarter but afterwards got much fewer open looks as Sam Mitchell got the right players in to get some stops. As was the case Sunday afternoon, Joey Graham had a nice looking game ON PAPER (11 points, 3 rebounds in 19 minutes) but simply did not make stops defensively allowing Grant Hill easy access to the basket. Graham still looks a bit unprepared defensively but has been much more aggresive and confident at the offensive end of the court. Mitchell did a great job of using substituting offence for defence all game long and took Graham out when it was evident that Grant Hill was having his way.
Morris Peterson: Our current survey has most fans preferring to package Mo Pete in an attempt to land Ron Artest. Now that it looks like Artest wants to remain with the Pacers maybe this issue is a moot one. And maybe dealing Peterson wouldn't have been the best idea anyways. Peterson is probably having his best season in years and has been one of the few leaders this young team has had. In any event the Raptors need this type of production to continue from Peterson, especially with some of the Raptors' sparkplugs in Calderon and CV Smooth out with injuries.
The Vets: Now when I said "this could get interesting" to start this edition of Tip-In, this is why. Jalen Rose, Aaron Williams and even Darrick Martin had big games for Toronto and played well down the stretch. Jalen was productive offensively and even did a decent job on the defensive end. Martin only scored 2 points but had 7 assists and no turnovers. Martin plays it safe but did just what Babcock and co. brought him in for; giving the team non-turnover minutes at the point while directing the squad in their offensive sets. Mitchell even lit into Martin at one point for not coming back on D but he acknowledged the error and kept his head up. And finally Aaron Williams was huge even if his boxscore didn't indicate it with only 1 rebound. But his tough positioning on Dwight Howard left the sophomore sensation unable to score too many easy baskets in close and his clutch offense helped the Raptors immeasurably.
So what occurs when Calderon and CV Smooth return? Eric Williams didn't even play tonight and will at some point need minutes at least for trade value...and Jalen and co. definitely made the case for an increase in minutes with their play tonight. Babcock's agenda is to play the rookies but if the Raptors' vets can bring this team more wins...we'll see what happends in Houston...
The Orlando Magic: Although I usually only comment on the Raptors' performance, I had to touch on Orlando's tonight as well. Orlando and Toronto must have been caught up in some time warp and switched places as the Magic did a great Raptors impression fading down the stretch and making some strange subsitution patterns. No one on the Raptors can effectively contain Dwight Howard's combination of size, strength and agility and yet he, Grant Hill and Steve Francis sat for a huge chunk of the fourth quarter returning with only 6 minutes left. Stevie Franchise played the role of Jalen Rose too often tonight as well settling for off kilter jumpers and missing open teammates. This Magic team on paper has a better talent base then Toronto but as was the case in our analysis of the Atlanta Hawks, I'm not sure what direction this team is going. In fact you can draw a lot of similarities between this Orlando team and the Raptors from a few seasons ago. Steve Francis like Vince Carter is a good player...but he simply isn't much of a leader and probably not the person you want to build your franchise around. At some point the Magic will have to make the same tough choices that Toronto has been faced with and decide whether they want to hang around playing for that eighth playoff spot every year, or rebuild completely.
Oh...and if you think Toronto has attendance issues, hopefully you got a look at Orlando's crowd tonight...or should I say lack thereof.
Howland's Quick Hits:
- Mo P: Dear God. He is taking pride in his game these days and he deserved that game winning bucket.
- Fouls: If Mike James had not gotten into foul trouble I doubt this game would have been this close.
- Dwight Howard is a man child.
- Bench unity in full effect...nice to see the team still united and Eric Williams cheering and clapping even though he didn't play.
- Jalen. Not pretty at times (missed free throws, contested jumpers - yikes) but we will take it.
- Houston with no Yao for the Raptors next matchup? Hmmmm.....possible?
- Joey Graham: Go to the rim Joey. Go to the rim.
- Did I see defense out there? Really did I?
- Pat Garrity v. Bonner: This was the match-up the makers of NBA Street dream of...
- Hoffa: Better away. Rebounds, boards, whatever....just get em...although that first shot he took...yikes...
- What did I say in the week ahead? Perimeter D. Had that been better to start, this game would have been over earlier.
- We were down 21-9. Nice to see some pride. Yes folks, it's the season of pride...let's see it continue in Mike James return to Houston.