Generally when the Raptors come away with a win one of two things has to happen. A player not named Mike James and Chris Bosh has to step up, or it has to be a night when everyone on the team contributes. Most of the time this year it has been the former as the Raps bench has disappeared for long stretches at a time. Whether it has been Mo P or CV Smooth, a Raps victory is much more likely when the Dinos present a big three. Those nights when there is no third offensive weapon?
You get nights like last night.
Full props to Boston. Even though for most of the game I felt like we should have been the ones with the lead, Boston did what it needed to do to preserve the win. Ironically it was the Celtics that managed to get strong performances from their three key players: Paul Pierce, Delonte West and Wally Sczerbiak. Combined, these three players scored over 70 of the Celtics 110 points. For the Raps it was all about not having that extra guy.
Mike James again had a great night at the office. If he was an employee at your workplace he would be referred to as the "Star." He would be the guy everyone could rely on, the guy you knew would work hard everyday and be the first to arrive at work and the last guy to leave. He would also be the guy who was thinking about taking that effort elsewhere and ensuring his value is as high as possible aka "The guy who is doing everything he can to pad his resume." I'll come back to this.
Alongside Mr. James was CB4 who flirted with a triple-double finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. The rest of the squad? 16 for 47 from the field. Ugly. It was this lack of support combined with defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter that killed the Raptors in the end. They just couldn't get someone to rise to the occassion.
It is a lot harder for guys to rise to the occasion on the second game of road trip back-to-back. I don't use this as an excuse. It is simply a reality. I won't harp on how a lot of the guys just looked tired. I won't go to lengths to discuss Mo P's poor shooting or Villanueva having an off night. In fact I don't blame any of the usual suspects. What I am disappointed by is that no one else has really stepped up for this team and this will have to be addressed in the off-season (note to Colangelo....Gerald Wallace, Peja etc.) Bonner has been average, more often than not Joey looks tight, and the rest of the bench...non-existent really. Even when Pape has a great night like he did tonight (nine points, four boards, two steals, two blocks, good energy) the team needs more of this from other players. This team is lacking depth and while this is not new news, tonight just hammered home the point once again.
So now back to Mike. A lot of discussion in the media the past little while about his upcoming free agency and his desire to be adequately compensated for his services. He thinks his production per dollar is way too low. I agree. Mike James is underpaid and again I will state I think re-signing him is key. Mike knows what is coming and he is doing everything right to ensure he does get every dollar he deserves and then some. This was the second game in two consecutive nights where he went for over 30 points and did so by shooting over 50 per cent from the floor. You look at his points per shot right now and it's unreal. Expect Mike to play like this for the rest of the year as he completes his dream season from an individual perspective. Will this be good for the Raptors long-term? Probably not, but what he is doing is showing he still has lots of energy at the end of a long season for this club and that although 30, he still has some serious mileage left.
As a closing point, this game once again addressed the other main issue with this Toronto team this season...lack of defence. If Toronto continues to allow teams to shoot 40 free throws against them while they themselves only shoot 24 (the numbers from last night) wins will be hard to come by. Boston was consistently at the line last night while the Raps got few calls. Bad refs? There were some bad calls here and there, or in Mo's case no calls when he went to the hoop, but much of this can be attributed to the Raps showing such a lack of energy in moving their feet and thus committing some weak fouls. On the other side of the coin, the Raptors simply didn't attack the hoop to get calls for themselves nearly enough. Considering Jefferson was out and the Celts front court is generally weak, this was especially egregious. This was a winnable game for Toronto and as has been the theme all season, another that got away.
PS - If you want to hit one last game at the ACC before the season wraps up try April 4 against Boston. Don't think Bosh and the crew didn't see that Gerald Green cram at the end of the game. They will want pay-back.