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Tip In: The Rough Rookie Road

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After a weekend that was packed with basketball there was no better way to finish it off then with a Raptors W as they beat the Indiana Pacers 93-89. No that is not a typo, the Raps managed to hold a team to under ninety points and by doing so grabbed their 22nd win of the season. That is the first time since February 10th that the Raps managed to hold a team below 90 and that match-up was against a Charlotte Bobcats teams who at the time would probably be looking in at the NCAA tourney. That being said if George Mason can make it.....

Although the stats from last nights game paint a nice little picture it was ugly in the first half. How ugly you ask? Well any time Jeff Foster falls just short of a double-double at the end of the first quarter you know things are not going well. Luckily for the Raps an NBA game is 48 minutes long and by about minute 35 they managed to figure things out. But before we discuss those minutes when the Raps seemed to close down the lane, block shots, steal the ball and box out, some time must be spent on the carnage that was quarter 1, 2 and part of 3.

Now regardless of what a great job Rick Carlisle has done with this squad, prior to tip-off I was thinking that we simply have more talent right now that the current injury plagued version of the Pacers. Without Pollard and O'Neal there was no reason in my mind that the Raps front-court could not have a very solid game. On top of that finally Mitchell realized that Eric Williams was bringing nothing to the table and he decided to give Pape some burn. All signs seemed to be looking up. Like much of this season however, the Raptors managed to surprise me. This time by allowing the Pacers front court to dominate the first 24 minutes of action. On top of Foster having a career half, the Raps just stunk the joint up with unbelievably bad defense and a hang-over from Friday where they showed little energy.

The only guy who brought the A game early was Mo P. Cannot say enough about this guy and you cannot blame him for getting upset at his teammates early in this game. The NBA's iron man has one of the most difficult jobs in the L. He guards the opposing teams best player and is also responsible for carrying a heavy offensive load. He has done this unbelievably well this year. Mo has truly elevated his game to the next level. Last night was no different. Although Peja is not a huge threat to drive to the hoop, his sharp shooting can drive a defender mad. Mo played both him and Steven Jackson tight. The problem early though was that Mo was getting no help. No-one had Mo's back and he was getting frustrated with that.

Mo is suddenly becoming one of the leaders of this team and a leader on defensive end is exactly what this team needs. In a lot of ways Mo has been this teams MVP. Don't however, look to him to take any spot light. After the game he credited the win to CB4's desire to step it up defensively. Now if only everyone else could bring that sort of desire while protecting their hoop.

When it comes to Mo he has seen it all with this team. He was a rook when the Raps were at the beginnings of becoming a playoff team. He has seen what Toronto fans can bring to the ACC and you can tell he wants to bring that back. He has been through the dark ages of the past few years but can now see some light. He really is the only current Raptor, save for AD, that can explain to the young guys that if they work hard, are persistent, and continue to improve that the city they play for will embrace them like no other.

Now back to the game and the focus of this recap....the young guys.

Whether it was a half-time talk, or maybe, just maybe a little bit of defensive pride kicking in, the Raps managed to settle things down in the second half. The most obvious example of this was the play of CV Smooth. In the first part of the game Villanueva was not seeing the rock and not getting many looks. He was also rotating slower than a square tire when it came to defense. Mitchell noticed and Charlie got the hook. One thing that all rookies have a tough time learning is that there are very few players in the league who can solely rely on their offensive talents to stay in the league....or at least be successful. The quick benching clearly had its desired effect and Charlie played with much more hustle on the defensive end and his faster rotation led to one WICKED block and the game winning swat as well. Proof is in the pudding. Play D and good things happen. Hell this was one of the few times the Raps have won a game because of a last second DEFENSIVE play. Sure the block won't get as much pub then say a game winning shot, but the result is the same.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of Charlie's early bench time was the insertion of Joey G. Watching Joey tonight was fun. It was fun because he managed to show some glimpses of what he can do on the floor when given time. Graham was efficient with his shooting going 4-8 from the hardwood and easily could have had more than 8 points had the ball just stayed down. Although his dunk down the lane was the highlight, it was his willingness to come into the game, throw the body around, grab 6 boards and do what he could to contribute defensively. He had two steals. In fact, Graham out played fellow rookie Danny Granger on this night. Sure Graham still has to get a little quicker on his feet, and in my opinion has to be more aggresive on the offensive end, but FINALLY he got some minutes.

Perhaps maybe, just maybe a light has gone off in Mitchell's head. Play the rooks and the young guys. Let them develop some chemistry. No Calderon did not play but that was due to injury. Let these guys bond ON the court. When Charlie and Bosh hooked up on the fast break you could tell that they are excited to play together. Keep Graham in that mix. Frankly I don't care if they win 28 games, 30 games or 25 games. Just let them play. Now that does not mean that they shouldn't be benched when they make the same mistakes over and over, as there has to be some credibility and accountability. I can't however, see any value in not playing them. Let them make mistakes. Rookies will make mistakes. They are called rookies mistakes for a reason! Charlie made them tonight defensively. He bounced back. Joey will have bad nights, but give him the minutes to bounce back. It's not like we are playing for the post-season.

If the Raps do decide to let the young guys play we are in for a rough final stretch of the season. There will be times when I will want to launch into a tirade and throw something at the TV. There will be other times when I will leap off the couch and scream in excitement. It will be a bumpy road with many ups and downs. I'm cool with that. I'd rather see the young guys gain experience now so that they really know what they have to work on in the off-season to get better and don't have the lack of PT as a crutch or excuse next year. I want these guys to play with each other so they can start being more accountable on the defensive end. They need to play so they can know what to expect from each other and build trust in each other. Let Eric Williams and the rest rot. If they were bringing something I would feel differently but they're not. When this team finally turns the corner how much PT guys like Williams, Woods and others get now will be irrelevant.

Let the young guys play Sam! They will reward you in the end.

Quick Hits

- Peja does not look like a player who should earn the max. He will probably ask for it, but I wouldn't give it to him.

- Thank God Chuck was back.

- We are going to talk about this more later but I am very disturbed by the report in the Globe and Mail saying that Peddie was the guy who negotiated Mourning's buy-out. Babcock took a lot of heat for that. Seems unfair.

- This week is going to be crazy for ball. My PVR is going to be on full time.

- Redick was ridiculous today. Now adding him to our squad would give us a little more depth bench wise.

- Bonner had four offensive boards. Way to get after it Matt.

- Colangelo in attendance. What I wouldn't give to get his toughts on some of the Raps players now that he has seen them play a few times. I have a feeling that this team is going to look pretty different next year.

- Pape with 6 boards. No he is not a threat to score, in fact he did not take a shot, but we can use anyone who can get on the glass.