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Madness in March

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As all three of us at the HQ are quite partial to college basketball, you'll forgive us for being M.I.A. for the past two days. Yes, very "unHQ-like" we realize, but this happens once a year. In fact after watching a couple days of intense college basketball I usually find it quite difficult to go from the intense trapping and pressing of the tourney, where every game is do or die, back to the much less team oriented basketball of the NBA.

Last night was no exception as watching a lackadaisical Raptor team stumble through the first three quarters hardly made for riveting viewing. With about eight minutes left the Raptors looked like a team that was dead in the water and found themselves down by 16 with less than six minutes remaining. It was at this point that I turned to my roommate and exclaimed "78 points, the Raps usually score over 100 even if they can't stop the other team from scoring 102, what's going on!?"

And maybe they heard me.

Toronto than proceeded to play some good defense, make some shots and before you could say George Mason, Toronto had cut Milwaukee's lead to just one using a 19 to two run!!

Milwaukee simply couldn't buy a bucket and while missing some open looks, were also victims of a rare Raptors' defensive stand which enabled Toronto to put themselves in a position to win the game with seconds remaining.

And while Raptor fans had seen this story before, the one where the Raps get close, but can't get a quality shot off, turn the ball over or seem indecisive in the game's final possessions, Toronto finally flipped the script. Instead of Mike James getting the ball for a long range bomb, or Chris Bosh taking a perimeter shot out of his comfort zone, the Raptors got Bosh the ball which he immediately took strong to the basket drawing the foul.

Bosh, who was seven for seven from the line up to that point, calmly walked to the line and drained both. The Bucks with less than four ticks left in the game, attempted a final shot but it was not to be and Toronto walked away with an astounding 97-96 win.

As happy as I was with Pape Sow getting minutes, Joey Graham and Matt Bonner continuing their excellent play off the bench and with Toronto stealing the win, it was the final possession that really brought a smile to my face. Countless times this season the Raptors in similar situations opted not to go to their franchise player, or when they did, that same franchise center-piece would rely on an outside jump-shot and seemingly lack confidence to make a decisive offensive play.

But not last night.

CB4 received the ball near the three point line but immediately spun to the basket driving to the hoop on the smaller and slower Joe Smith who was than whistled for the foul giving Bosh a chance for two freebies and the win. If Bosh is truly to be this team's franchise player than this is exactly what needs to happen in such games. Even if Bosh had not been fouled and missed the shot the fact that the team was going to live and die through him is what I've been expecting all along.

On another level, this win is a huge one for the club. In its past four games Toronto has played good basketball and even against the Pistons in their 105-98 loss, Toronto kept pace with Detroit. In fact, if the Pistons had not shot an absurd 10 for 14 from beyond the arc, the result may have been quite a bit different. And now this win over the Bucks, a win in which Toronto really only played one solid quarter of basketball, has to be a confidence builder and a perfect example of what this team is capable of doing if they focus defensively. Toronto can score 100 points any night...but when they do the little things like out-rebound the other team, get to the free-throw line more often, and make key stops as they did last night, this team can play with any other team in the league.

FRANCHISE