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Tip-In: All Smiles

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And there you have it folks.

A complete game by your 2006-2007 Toronto Raptors.

Shooting percentage: 54.8%

Three point percentage: 43.8%

Rebound differential: +8

Assist differential: +11

Final Score: 105-95

Friday night’s game against the Hawks was an absolute joy to watch. In what was being heralded by some as a must win for the Raps, CB4 and company brought their A games and controlled the match from tip-off to the buzzer. All in all it was one of those games that left the fan with a high degree of optimism for the future. Sure it’s the Hawks....but still.

So what exactly went right? Well in my books three things jumped out at me and the first is obviously Joey Graham. With twin brother Stephen in the stands, Joey came off the pine and played arguably his best game as a professional. A lot will be written in the papers about his offence and how he matched a career high with 19 points and rightfully so. But Joey’s points were the result of good shot selection (he absolutely loved the one dribble jump shot) and just a will to beat his opponent. A perfect example of this was the great box-out on Marvin Williams (who was the sole bright spot for the Hawks) and ensuing cram.

Of course there were two other elements to Graham’s game last night that really stood out to me. The first was when he went to the hoop he didn’t go recklessly. We all love to see guys who draw contact (calling Fred Jones) but Joey has time and time again been the culprit of forcing the issue resulting in a charge. Tonight was different. Graham looked a lot more controlled when he decided to enter the lane and on more than one occasion he went with a tear drop shot. All be it those were the shots that generally didn’t go down, but this is evidence of something I have been waiting for. Graham it appears is trying to adapt his game to make him more effective. It is only one game, but could it be a sign of things to come?

The second part of Joey’s game which will get little fanfare in the media today will be his excellent defense. His great performance last night was not a one-sided affair. Graham was extremely active on the defensive end, fought through screens and challenged shots without leaving his feet. He and his teammates were doing a solid job of communicating out there, be it in man-to-man or 2-3 zone. If he can maintain that intensity, he will get burn when Garbo and Ford return, even if his shots are not falling. With #14 it is simple. It is all about intensity.

Speaking of defense, am I the only one that sees a drastic difference between this year's squad and last? Last year the team gave up 104 PPG and allowed opponents to shoot .491% from the floor. So far this year, 100 PPG and .470%. That begs the question - "What is the difference?" The answer to that question could be many things. Better players? Higher basketball IQ’s? Better coaching? A combination of the three? Whatever the reason this only bodes well. The reason I am tossing this out there is because last night, early-season MVP candidate Joe Johnson, who so far this season has lit up the Raps like cigar at a bachelor party, was almost invisible. JJ didn’t get his first hoop until the 8:03 of the second quarter. Actually when he did score I remember saying to myself "Holy crap Joe Johnson is playing tonight?"

So why the title of the article? Outside of the obvious, perhaps the most exciting part of last night was the chemistry between CB4 and Bed-Head Bargnani. For one of the first times this season these guys looked very comfortable out there together and it was evident by the laughing and banter going on between the two. Most of the credit for this has to go to the rook who is a ridiculous passer. Even outside what would have been play of the year had Bosh put down the two-handed dunk following a sick no-look behind the back pass, Andrea managed to hit Bosh with a nice pass on more than one occasion leading to a good, or even great play. If anyone ever questions Andrea’s basketball IQ, just point out his passing. Many times it is lighting quick and rarely off the mark. I know I sound like Jack Armstrong, who outside the continued rant about Salami and Cheese was also in top form last night, the sky is the limit with these two. Although Bargnani has never seen a shot he didn’t like, you can’t call the guy selfish. He can make great plays passing ball as well.

All in all a solid game by the Raps and for the first time in a while, not a bad thing to say.

Quick Hits:

- Full props to Calderon as well who didn’t have to deal with Amare Stoudemire, and who doled out 12 assists.

- PJ Tucker was sent to the D-League yesterday. Not a bad move by the club. I fully expect to read about how he is dominating down there and let’s be honest and recognize that this guy needs some burn.

- Matt Carroll was the leading scorer for the Bobcats last night. Ugh. Think by season's end the Sportsguy will be re-thinking his article where he bashed the Raps for not taking Morrison over Bargnani?

- Signs of the apocalypse? Lebron with 8 points last night.

- Will the Heat make the playoffs? If they don’t, how scary would that team be with a guy named Greg Oden?

HOWLAND