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Tip-In: When The Game Comes Second

Our thoughts and wishes go out to Jose Calderon and his family.

In what can only be described as a freak accident, Jose was badly hurt towards the end of Sunday’s affair with the uber athletic Golden State Warriors. Being carted off on a spinal board, we here at the HQ are hoping Jose has a full recovery.

There is no more sobering moment at a sporting even then when neck injuries are involved, and the Raptors and their players know these types of injuries all too well. Be it TJ Ford, Pape Sow (who was praying for Jose as he was taken off the floor) or now Jose Calderon, the Raps have had some terrible luck in this department. In what was a sign of hope however, Calderon waved to all of the cheering fans as he was taken to hospital. Get well soon Jose.

With an injury like this it feels odd to write about the game, but there was a lot to be said prior to Jose’s injury. The first is that the Raps have now, without their best player, pulled off three straight wins and you really can’t say enough about this. With a crazy tough stretch ahead this was exactly what this team needed to get it’s confidence up and make the team feel as a whole that they can compete with anyone. That being said, I expect this team to get walloped next game as they still try and recover from the Jose injury and face the hottest team in the league right now, the Phoenix Suns.

Perhaps the most exciting part of yesterday's match was the amazing performance put on by number one pick Andrea Bargnani. It’s official, watching him makes you giddy. He is just scratching the surface, and WOW. Bargnani was simply awesome on Sunday showing things that few 7 footers can do. We all know how sweet his shooting stroke is, but as he gets more comfortable, he is putting the ball on the floor and is displaying some serious athleticism. You can see how athletic he is by watching him (a) go to the hoop, and (b) play defense with his feet. It’s the latter that impressed me the most this Sunday. Not only did Bargnani have an amazing 6 blocks (one of them he pinned the ball against the glass) but he altered numerous others and managed to avoid the costly fourth foul for most of the game after picking up three in the first half. He played arguably his best defensive game of the year and he also managed to do something else that many have been waiting for out of the big man...he rebounded. Bargnani had his first career double-double grabbing 10 boards (5 offensive.) A great day by the kid who always looked like he rolled out of bed (seriously his nickname should be Bedhead Bargnani.)

Speaking of rolling out of bed...what is with these one o’clock games on a Sunday? Does any other team do this? There are more fans drinking Tim Horton’s then any other beverage and generally it takes a huge effort to get the fans into the game. The team needs to rethink this start time. Try 4, or even 4:30. At least that way the game doesn’t seem to take up the whole day. Of course the team heads out West now with a schedule packed with 10:00 PM starts...not my favorite either!

As much as Bargnani’s play was one of the highlights, this win was again a complete team effort. With six guys in double figures you can tell that the team is starting to realize that no one guy can be a hero and that in order to continue to win games without CB4, they have to play....well frankly they have to play a European style of basketball. There were few, if any isolation plays run in the past three games, the ball has moved quickly from side to side, and the guys are taking the available shots. What has also been a pleasant surprise as of late is that the team is having fewer of those moments where you as a fan just want to scream "MOVE" because players are just standing around the perimter.

Now not everything was peaches and cream from a pure basketball standpoint today. Frankly the Raps were lucky they did not blow this. In the fourth quarter Don Nelson really started to take it to coach Mitchell. Getting little out of his big men, Nelson went with a line-up featuring four guards (Baron Davis, Monte Ellis, Keith McLeod, Anthony Roberson) and Matt Barnes. This tremendously small line-up started causing fits for the Raps on the offensive end, and had it not been for a few blown lay-ups and some key missed free-throws, GS could have stolen the game. Golden State managed to get to the rim pretty much at will (Monta Ellis in particular was simply awesome at breaking the Raps down) and had it not been for Toronto's 37 free-throw attempts to GS's 25, this could have been the key factor in a Toronto loss.

It’s not so much that Mitchell didn’t react because he also went small, but he didn’t go that extra step and make Don Nelson re-adjust. It was clear that the small line-up for the Warriors was being effective, but playing four guards and Barnes does not a defensive nightmare make. I would have loved to have seen Mitchell play Bargnani and/or Rasho more in the fourth, put them down low and get easy 3-5 foot looks. Of course it is hard to criticize after another W...

This week will be an interesting one for the Raps - Suns, Clips, Portland and Seattle. The schedule makers have been harsh on Toronto so far this season but if this team can make it through the next seven nights and manage to stay in contention in the Atlantic (which has not been hard to do as of late) then they will be in a solid position heading into the new year.

In addition, Chris Bosh reported that his knee is finally pain-free and he's ready to start getting back into game-shape to return to the club. Hopefully Toronto can get their star player back in the next few weeks and continue their serious push for the playoffs.