The ties between the Suns and the Raps are impossible to miss. We all know the Colangelos' story by now. Father Jerry is a multi-millionaire who partially owns and has managed the Suns, is the manager of Team USA, and also dabbles in the Diamondbacks. His son, Bryan, is now the GM of the Raps. Last night Mom, Dad and son were all at the ACC to watch the Suns and Raps run and gun for all 48 minutes. In what was a game of runs, the Suns had the first, and the last ensuring a 140-126 victory.
The Suns only visit Toronto once a year, and as a result those with national pride flock to the ACC to get a glimpse of the current NBA MVP, Mr. Nash. They also come to see two high powered offensive teams put MAD points up on the board. There were many great signs in the stands last night, perhaps the greatest read as follows:
"Trade the Maple Leafs for Steve Nash".
Funny enough it would probably take more than that to get Nash out of the desert. Besides, who would want 3/4 of the players these days wearing the Blue and White. K, enough hockey.....
I have to say I am totally amazed by the Suns. Two back-to-backs on the road, and they come out blazing. Calling the makers of Wheaties boxes....we have your cover. Not only did the Suns manage to get off the blocks quickly, they kept it up all night and did so while only playing 8 guys. Well it was more like 7. I am not sure you can call what Eddie House did last night "playing".
Watching this game only made me wonder why I have not gotten satellite TV. Suns ball is exciting. Their brand of basketball is amazing to watch, unless you are a basketball purist. I am not. I love the entertainment of the game and I knew from the get-go I was going to be entertained.
Sam Mitchell made sure that was the case.
While the Suns came out hot the Raps looked sloppy in the first 5 minutes of the game and it was obvious that if the boys in purple did not raise the level of their play the game would never be closer than it was at the 12:00 minute mark of the first Q. Sam Mitchell had to settle the troops before the game started to look like the Battle of Waterloo. It worked, the boys managed to claw their way back.
Now whatever you think of Sam, his inexperience, his knowledge of X's and O's, or his confusing sub patterns at times, perhaps his biggest strength (and there are other's) is his use of the the time out. Tonight was no exception. Mitchell is always extremely involved in the game, his emotions run high, and in some ways you can tell he would rather be lacing up the kicks and helping out than telling other what to do. It was not many moons ago that Mitchell was on the hardwood wearing Converse, rather than Cole Hann's. This emotional attachment allows him to really feel the flow of the game. As a result he knows when the guys are just not into it and when to call them aside and tell them to step up.
The second Q was not a pretty one for Raps fans as they were treated to lots of turnover's. No not by Nash, who leads the league in that category, but by the Dino's. The Raps were managing to stay in the game but they consistently turned the ball over only making the task at hand even more difficult. Against the Suns, if you are going to keep up with them you can't turn the ball over more than them. On top of the Raps complete inability to hold on to the ball they could not deal with Leandro Barbosa who managed to start the game 8-9. Again, not having watched the Suns much this year I was amazed at this guys first step and basketball IQ. On pick-and-rolls if the Raps switched the bigs had no chance to stop him from getting to the rim. Even if they didn't switch Barbosa was getting to the rim at will. There are few guys in the L with a first step like Barbosa. In fact Gilbert Arenas is really the only guy that comes to mind right away.
Lucky for the Raps Mo P was doing everything he could to keep his guys in the game. Mo had 23 at the half and was bringing some serious hustle. League most improved players? I would say there is a strong case for Mo P who has managed to stay consistent on the road, develop into a team leader and develop his offensive game.
Energy like Mo P's is contagious. This night was no exception, and although the Raps are out of playoff contention they continue to bring it night in and night out. The character of this team is really on display these days as they could pack it in like the Knicks but these guys continue to play hard. The energy may not always be used in the right way (Mike James continues to try and do too much), but it is still there. You have to respect that and it should be recognized. In fact this consistent energy and pride was eluded to by Nash when he was interviewed at the half. As a Raps fan who is managing to watch the rest of another season play out you have to feel really good about this.
The Raps finally made a serious push in the middle of the third quarter. At the 2:25 mark the Raps pulled it within 1. Not unlike many other games this season however, the Raps couldn't get over the hump and the wheels fell off. A lot of the credit for slowing the Raps run can be attributed to Andre Barrett who started to dominate the ball and tried to be a one man show. Yes, the same Andre Barrett who is on his second 10-day contract. Does this guy not know that the Raps already have offense and what they are looking for is a distributor? I was not impressed by Andre Barrett regardless of what Jerry Colangelo mentioned during the first half. Colangelo called Barrett a "player" and that he could be a good ball player in the L. Frankly, Barrett can become a player somewhere else. He will never help this team defensively and he is definitely not pass first. 15 shots. 4 assists.
15 shots? 15?
Sure we were short handed, but this seems a bit much. The only other guys who took 15 shots tonight...Marion, James and Peterson. One of these things is not like the other.
One player that didn't get it together tonight due to flu symptoms was Villanueva. All night you could tell he was lacking energy and in the 3rd Q he left the game for good. The consequence of this departure was felt immediately as the Raps were left playing with one big named Pape Sow. Sure there were other bigs on the bench but Hoffa, Bonner and Woods had no business in this game and Mitchell was well aware of this (in fact at one point the line-up was Barrett, Calderon, James, Mo P and Pape). This was a game of footspeed and Bonner's footspeed does not exactly instill fear in the hearts of guys like Diaw or Marion. It is actually too bad last night's game was against the Suns as Hoffa was not able to build on any new found confidence from the Heat game.
Now back to Pape.
Sure his stats are a little overblown considering the score and the number of shots taken, but we would be doing Pape a serious injustice if we did not mention his career night. The boards were impressive. Pape sprung for 13 points and 15 rebounds, 8 of which were offensive. Pape easily could have had 20 points had he managed to put home a number of dunk attempts. Tonight made you think that if Colangelo does implement a Suns like offence here in TO, (and can get someone to run it) Pape would thrive in it. Pape is extremely athletic and loves to run. Although some have suggested that Pape will not be on this squad next year I would suggest otherwise.
Career nights aside (Mo P also had a career high in points with 38) the Raps simply couldn't keep up. It is never fun to watch these guys lose but it is fun to watch them play hard. Think the Raptors teams of the past would be showing this sort of heart, pride and energy at this point of the season? Doubtful.
Next up, battle of the leagues two best rooks as Chris Paul comes to town.