Somewhere in Europe this morning Rob Babcock must have a huge grin on his face. Last night Raptor fans got a glipse of the future, an all too familiar sight from the past, and for the first time since April 2000, saw the Raps earn back-to-back road wins. With a 95-82 victory last night in the swamp the Raps increased their season win total to three and must feel good knowing they stuck it to Carter for the first time since the deal. They have to feel ever better knowing they did it without one of thier primary offensive and defensive weapons in Mike James who sat with a back injury.
Perhaps the most gratifying thing for the Raptors brass last night was that during the crunch time a line-up of Calderon, Graham, Villaneuva, Bosh and MoP held off the Nets run and managed to play tough D, crash the boards and make smart decisions at the offensive end while VC was throwing up ill-advised threes, and the Nets front court couldn't grab the key rebounds. The first thing to notice however is that this line-up has GM Rob Babcock's stamp all over it and each of the three rooks played key roles in last night's victory. There is no question that these rookies with Bosh are the future and they seem to love playing with each other. Whether it was Calderon making the pass or hitting the key three, CV Smooth getting after it on the glass, hitting the hook and feeding Bosh for the open two handed cram, or Graham putting Carter on his ass while he picked up his third foul, grabbing a key rebound or calmly hitting a key free-throw last night, this lineup HAS to give Raptor's fans hope.
It was a full team effort last night, from MoP to Hoffa, and it was a pleasure to watch. A couple of things, outside of the performance of the rookies and particular individuals, stood out. Here's some quick hits....
- Unlike what was witnessed in the Memphis game the Raps have started to show their ability to run the floor. Is there a faster guy than Jose "Wheels" Calderon? The guy looks like the Energizer bunny. It is great to see these guys take-off down the floor after getting a board....and speaking of broards.....
- When I look at this team I don't think there is any question that in the near future we could have one of the best rebounding teams in the L. With Bosh and CV Smooth at PF, a rebounding SF in Joey G., and an improving Hoffa (who had 5 boards last night and always seems to look so much more confident on the road) this front court could really be something.
- Is it just me or does Leo Rautins look at Vince and think "What a waste of talent". Don't you just get that feeling when he watches and talks about Vince's play? And speaking of Vince when he layed on the floor like a wounded Gazelle last night was I the only Raps fan that laughed? Not because I want anyone to get hurt but because we have all seen this show before and when he came back in after potraying near death you knew it was all just a bad show. NJ is slowly starting to get the VC that existed here in TO; a jump-shooting, soft player who doesn't play any defense (his missed box-out on Joey Graham and missed assignments at the end of the game were costly) who would rather be the 12th man on the bench than the leader. The only thing that Vince will ever lead is most time spent curled up in the fetal position on the hardwood.
- If Mike James is hurt why didn't we dress Alvin? Darrick Martin took some bad shots last night and at some point Babcock may want to look at a different option to fill the final roster spot...oh if we could rid ourselves of Loren Woods.
- MoP was on fire last night and yes it was on the road. Is there a guy harder to predict than Mo? One night he looks like an NDBL player the next a player on the verge of stardom. However he's also one of this team's most valuable players on most nights, even when he doesn't score the ball he's doing the little things to help us win.
- Less Matt Bonner last night. Good. Bonner will never be more than he is right now, an outside shooter, so why force other parts of the game on him?
- Sam Mitchell was awesome last night. A good chunk of last night's victory should be credited to him. He did an excellent job subbing players in and out and it looks like we're finally seeing his rotation get solidified. I think part of this is because Sam is starting to get a good feel for what his new players can do in various situations and now they're being used more appropriately from Hoffa down to Bonner. Mitchell also helped the Raps fight off the Nets run and kept the right players in the game to ensure that the team did not fold. Nothing pleased us more here at RaptorsHQ then seeing Sam give Jalen the hook and insert Joey Graham for the game's final minutes. The boys played loose last night and I credit that to Sam I Am.
Last night we saw the beginning of a New Era in Raptors' Ball. Sure there will still be some long nights and losing streaks...but playing with this core last night HAD to make a certain key franchise piece feel good about this team's future. I'm a huge fan. Are you?