Let’s start off by giving another big thumbs down to Rogers. This recap/preview would have been up at 6 am had it not been for "internet issues" that now have me doing an afternoon post.
This is the second time in a matter of weeks that this has occurred and as I stated before, I’d be switching to Bell (as much as I despise it) were it not for the fact that the house I’m living in is under contract with Rogers and I’m moving in a few months anyways.
However, complaining about my cable/internet service provider isn’t going to due much justice to last night’s incredible victory so let’s switch gears here.
I’m not usually someone who watches games up close.
If I’m at the ACC, usually I’m chilling in the upper bowl or perhaps I luck into a section in the upper lowers. If that makes any sense.
And while Howland and I have enjoyed Platinum treatment in the past, it was mostly during the Hoffa years where he and I could get scalped tickets to the Hawks for a quarter of the regular price.
But last night was different.
Howland and I both ended up close and personal due to a bunch of random events and I’m not sure we could have picked a better match to observe from that proximity.
From heckling Nellie about the halftime burgers and post-game brunch to enquiring about Marucs Williams laptop isssues, this was an incredible experience. Every Raptor fan should at some point get the opportunity to be up so close as frankly, the majority of people sitting that close, don’t cheer.
Case in point.
With two minutes remaining in a neck-and-neck affair, and myself and entourage standing and cheering wildly, some suit behind me actually had the gall to ask if I would sit down!
I turned and exclaimed "are you kidding? Look at the scoreboard! You should be standing up!"
I didn’t let it ruin my night but frankly the lack of crowd participation in those sections is a bit of a disgrace.
Or as our Halifax HQ Associate would say, D-I-S-GRACE.
Maybe if it had been Bobcats-Raptors in lopsided affair. Maybe then I could understand the lack of zeal. But in such a back-and-forth affair? And the home-opener to boot? Most fans would kill to sit in these areas so to see people seated there univolved in the contest just makes my blood boil.
Also frustrating - the team's opening montage.
Yes, I liked the whole "Kris Humphries driving the team around in a pimped-out limo" idea but if that's what the team is going to go with for an intro, they missed the point again.
Just like the Beyonce fiasco, the video is entertaining the first few times, but it's going to get old fast. It's also hardly the adrenaline rush you're seeking to start a game.
And the actual music played during the player intros...weak.
I guessed A Milli a few months ago and "In the Ayer" by Flo Rida and Will I Am is in that same vein...only worse.
At some point the team needs to pick something and epic and stick with it. This bubble-gum pop music approach just isn't cutting it.
In any event, the ACC was rockin’ enough last night not to need an opening intro or theme music at all. A packed house lost their mind several times during the game, including on some huge blocks at key moments. None drew a bigger response however than JO’s block on Brandan Wright’s dunk attempt in the first half.
It’s been a while since Raptor fans have seen blocked dunks from the middle (I’m thinking maybe not since the Keon Clark days) and O’Neal did his best Mutumbo finger-wag to emphasize the point.
In fact it’s defense again that I want to focus on as last night in crunch time, this Raptor team got almost every stop they needed as they crawled back from the dead to tie things up and head to OT.
The one exception was an open 3 by Al Harrington in the final seconds of regulation however it came after another incredible block by JO which unfortunately resulted in the ball bouncing out to an open Harrington on the perimeter.
Overall though, I can’t say enough about the difference between this team defensively so far this season from the ones in previous years. Perhaps Jermaine only had five points and six boards last night but it’s his presence that just alters the entire mind-set of this club. Along with Chris Bosh’s learnings from his Olympic experience, this is no soft bunch any more. Every Raptor just looks to be working so hard now at that end of the court, even those like Jason Kapano who aren’t naturally the best defenders.
Anthony Parker was just dynamite last night on Corey Maggette, and Joey Graham in limited minutes held his ground as well.
I actually plucked the following quote from this morning’s Toronto Star as a great illustration of this new individual defensive focus:
"We were trying to change some defences and when we started talking about trapping (Bosh) just said, `No, coach, everybody's going to guard their man,'" said Mitchell. "He challenged his teammates to guard their man, regardless of the athleticism that we were giving up, and the size. He just challenged everyone and our guys responded."
I think that speaks volumes and if the Raptors can get that sort of focus each night, this team is going to be tough to beat on most nights.
For a while in the first half, it looked like Toronto was going to run away with this one too.
The team offensively was firing on all cylinders offensively and a swarming defense had Golden State forcing shots and turning the ball over. At one point the Raptors were up by double digits however the well went dry at times in the third quarter. Golden State did a great job working mismatches (Jackson backing down Calderon, Maggette taking Kapono to the hoop) resulting in a Warriors lead and it was an unlikely hero who helped Chris Bosh carry the team to victory.
Yes, Andrea Bargnani.
In what I think was Andrea’s best game of his career, Bargs was a smooth eight of 10 from the field, taking only two 3-pointers, and he finished with 19 points, five boards and three blocks in 30 minutes of play.
However those stats don’t really do his performance justice as last night we finally saw "the new Andrea" that had been discussed so much over the off-season. Here was Andrea looking to drive the ball at every occasion, completing a few beautiful post-plays, throwing down some wicked dunks, blocking shots, and generally making his presence felt at every occasion. Bosh may have been the star with 31 and nine, but in my eyes it was Andrea that really stood out. I talked at length this off-season about him being the team’s X Factor and last night was the perfect example of why. With JO struggling offensively and Jason Kapono generally shut out, the Raptors needed a serious boost off the bench and Bargs did that and some.
Only five boards, but better than Moon’s one in two games I say.
I actually thought Jamario played pretty well in spotty minutes aside from a shot or two that he perhaps shouldn’t have pulled the trigger on. But he does need to get on the boards and help out Bosh and JO. Last night was yet another rebounding disaster at times and Toronto lost the glass-cleaning contest 46 to 36. Let’s hope we see some improvement tonight against Milwaukee, which segways nicely into the first of our "3 Keys" for this evening.
1) Rebound the Ball. I’m not going to say that Philadelphia or Golden State are terrible rebounding teams but there are better ones out there in the league. So the point is that if you’re getting beaten on the glass by an average of over 10 boards a night through the first two games, you’re going to be in real trouble against teams that excel in this area.
Tonight’s foe, the Milwaukee Bucks, probably fall in the same category as a Golden State in terms of rebounding aptitude. Guys like Villanueva, Jefferson and Bogut can all get you close to 10 on an eve and therefore it will be interesting to see how Toronto adjusts after last night’s performance. Milwaukee has some lethal outside shooters and therefore Toronto can’t afford to give up second looks.
2) Motion on Offense. Last night Roko Ukic once again did a decent job running the show behind Jose but played only 10 minutes. Tonight he might be pressed into heavier duty and if that’s the case, he’ll need to do a better job initiating the offense then he did last night.
Not that it was terrible, but at times, the ball simply stopped moving from side to side, and the Raptors offence sputtered to a halt. Part of the problem with this is similar to Jose in his first season; lack of a confident outside shot. Without that shot, defenders are already sagging off and getting into passing lanes to prevent the offence from starting. Last night I saw this on a number of occasions as Ukic would be forced to dribble through the paint, under the basket, and back out to the perimeter with few options for passes. Golden State was allowing him to do this as they guarded against the pass, knowing that Roko’s offensive game probably wouldn’t burn them.
They were right, and twice I recall Roko getting back to the top of the key and dishing to a teammate with about four ticks left on the clock.
Tonight I’ll be looking to see if the Raptors try to address this, perhaps playing Will Solomon beside him at times.
3) The Fatigue Factor. Last season the Raptors started off pretty well but then went into Milwaukee and got creamed. On the second night of a back-to-back for the Dinos, I’m hoping they don’t repeat the same mistake this year. Once you factor in the travel for Toronto, and the fact that Milwaukee has been off since Wednesday night, this one has all the ingredients for a serious egg-laying.
To that extent I expect Sam Mitchell to use a few more bench players this evening in order to give his starters some rest. Bosh, Parker and Calderon all played over 40 minutes in last night’s OT win so I expect to see a bit of Hump and maybe Adams this evening to help fight the fatigue potential.
I watched Milwaukee in their season opener against the Bulls and this is not a good team folks. They haven’t adopted Scott Skiles trademark D as of yet and are seriously thin on talent in a few places. (Think Toronto’s bench is suspect? Imagine having Dan Gadzuric, Malik Allen, Luc Mbah a Moute and Tyronn Lue backing up your starters?)
The Bucks also have a bizarre situation at point and therefore Toronto needs to take care of business this evening regardless of how tired they are.
A sign of great team is one that not only wins the big games, but makes sure they win these "you should beat these guys" type games as well.
The Raptors had a tough time with games like these last year so tonight’s match could go a long way in showing just what sort club fans can expect this season.