Well good thing the Raps pulled that one out.
What looked to be a snooze fest matinee match-up between the Toronto Raptors and the Charlotte Bobcats became a difficult win for the visiting Raps, who needed CB4 to wake the team from their Sunday slumber and carry Toronto to a much needed win.
It wasn’t a second too soon.
After getting absolutely manhandled in Atlanta and much accustomed to the early Sunday match-ups, Franchise and I were hoping the Dinos would come out like gangbusters and put the Cats in a big whole early to cruise to a win.
Well apparently Toronto didn’t get that memo.
In fact for a good three quarters it felt like we were reliving the Hawks match-up as the Bobcats guards and swingmen constantly got into the paint, forcing Toronto’s defense to collapse leaving Bobcat shooters open for 3 or the easy dump-off.
Until early in the fourth Franchise and I were wondering just how crazy people would go if the Raps didn’t turn the ship around in a hurry, as Toronto simply could not stop the ‘Cats guards.
Enter Will Solomon.
Apparently Sam Mitchell and co. had decided prior to the game that Solomon would be the guy behind Jose for the next chunk of games but in any event, yesterday’s performance just solidified this decision. Solomon was exactly the spark-plug the Raps needed yesterday afternoon as after getting burned repeatedly on D, Toronto needed some help for Jose. Will must have been watching the Bobcats attack carefully because when he entered the game he started giving them a taste of their own medicine. He got into the paint, created for teammates, and played some nice defense, even making up for some sloppy ballhandling by getting Charlotte to turn it over on the very next possession.
One of the biggest beneficiaries during
Solomon’s stretch was none other than Chris Bosh and CB4’s fourth quarter dominance carried the Raptors’ through to the finish. He was simply unstoppable from inside and out and with Andrea Bargnani dropping shots from deep, this just gave Bosh even more room to operate.
What can you say about Bosh that you don’t already know?
As Devlin suggested in the broadcast he really is elevating his game to the "elite" level and if he can keep this up, he’ll have to garner MVP consideration when all is said and done.
The problem recently of course has been that Bosh hasn’t had a lot of help and for a while last night, that looked to be the case again.
However Sam Mitchell, realizing that Jermaine O’Neal was struggling offensively, went to Bargs again in the fourth and this time, he was the perfect yin to Bosh’s yan.
Was this Andrea’s most complete game of the year?
Bargs played solid ball on both ends of the court finishing with 18 points, five boards, an assist, a steal and most impressive, three blocks. And while the offense was a nice boost, it was on the defensive side of the ball that I thought Bargnani did a fantastic job. Yes, there was one brutal drive where he was called for a charge that you could see coming a mile away but hey, baby steps right?
Bargs’ minutes came at the expense of Jermaine O’Neal who rode the pine for most of the second half. If there is one guy whose effectiveness is stifled when the wings don’t play defense it’s JO. In the past few games when the Raps perimeter defense looked like it had more holes than Swiss Cheese, JO has been left as the last line of defense, and as a result has found himself in early foul trouble.
The other interesting point that Franchise kept yelling about yesterday was the difference in Jamario Moon when O’Neal is out of the game. We saw bits and pieces of this so far in the season but yesterday really was the proverbial "proof in the pudding."
Moon finished with nine rebounds, by far his best performance in this area so far, and almost all of these came with JO on the bench. Moon is simply not a position rebounder and uses his hops to get to the ball first. However he’s not able to do this with both Bosh and O’Neal in the game and therefore we’ve seen one and two rebound games from Jamario on many a night this season.
I’m not sure how Mitchell is going to be able to change this either but the unfortunate thing is that once he started getting on the glass, his whole level of intensity changed as well.
Witness the amazing hustle play late in the game where not only did Moon grab a nice rebound in traffic, but he also dived out of bounds to keep the ball in play.
That was the first "classic Jamario" type play that either Franchise or I had seen all season.
The hope of course is that this game lights a match now under Moon and he starts to gain some confidence in his new role.
Because as we saw yesterday, it’s going to take a lot more than just Bosh to beat teams this year and it’s guys like Moon, Bargs and Solomon who need to help with the heavy lifiting.
Back-to-back into Boston.
At least the schedule makers made the Celtics play in Detroit on Sunday as well.
After three quarters of lackadaisical work in Charlotte, the Raptors finally came alive in the final spurt to take down a team that they should have had absolutely no problems with. So seeing as we're all Raptors fans here, after seeing yesterday's display, just how much money are any of us willing to put down against the Celtics?
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of daylight against the defending champs. For one, the Raptors managed to finally put together about 1/2 a quarter of solid, shutdown defense with Bargnani as the catalyst. And the other? Well, the Raptors just match up very well against the Celtics thanks to the similar structures of both teams. And I'm not just talking about the oft mentioned Chris Bosh-Kevin Garnett connection either. Both teams look to slow down the pace of the game, and rely on their big men to provide room for shooters and slashers to operate.
Of course, the Raptors do have to take it to Boston's big three, but in order to make sure they even have that chance, they'll have to take care of three additional things:
1. Keep Pace with the Supporting Cast -
Leaving our own "big three" for the moment, the Raptors need to have considerable production from their supporting players Parker, Bargnani, Kapono, and Moon if they hope to have a snowball's chance in hell. Andrea has quickly shown that his biggest improvement over the summer has come in the form of fairly consistent defence, and more importantly, he has strung together a few games of offensive production. Only problem is, Bargs has always had trouble in back-to-back situations. As for Parker and Gramoopono, they cannot lay any goose eggs because the Celtic's supporting staff is just that good.
Eddie House, Leon Powe, and Tony Allen can all go off for double figures at a moment's notice, and all three are trusted to not just maintain status quo, but to help extend leads to utterly crush opponents. Leon Powe especially could be the deciding factor. With his athleticism and fearlessness, he's gonna be the guy that will out work our SF tandem unless they play exceptionally well. Toss in Tony Allen, who did his best Ray Allen impersonation last night by lighting up Detroit for 23 points, leading all scorers.
2. Big Dominance -
Bosh, O'Neal, Bargnani.
Garnett, Perkins, Davis.
It's like watching athleticism and speed against power and strength.
It goes without saying that the Raptors need to try and attack Garnett directly and attempt to rack up some foul trouble on the Big Ticket. However, all three Raptors will have their share to handle on the glass against the big bodies of both Kendrick Perkins and "Big Baby" Davis. Perkins in particular seems to be playing at full strength after experiencing some problems with his shoulder. So far, he has averaged around 8 rebounds per game (three on the offensive glass) and it'll be up to Jermaine O'Neal to keep Perkins from completely eating up Toronto on the glass.
On the other hand, Boston's front line might pose a real danger to the way Toronto plays. Although our bigs are much more adept at making jump shots, it was by attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line that really puts Toronto's front line in a different gear. With the Celtics having such big bodies clogging the paint, the worry becomes much larger that Toronto's bigs will simply settle for outside shots.
3. Jose Manuel Calderon -
Oh, I love Calderon like I love a brother. I always have since the beginning of his NBA career. But if there's one concern especially from the last few games, it's that Calderon has had lots of difficulty defending the dribble drive of opposing guards.
Against the Celtics, Calderon has but one thing to take care of, and that's just to simply keep with Rajon Rondo for the entire game. Keeping Rondo from getting into the paint will ensure that it will be just that much more difficult for the Celtics to get their offensive schemes rolling, and forcing Rondo into making jump shots should be the overall strategy of the team. That also means that Calderon has to be able to guard Rondo one-on-one by fighting through screens to keep up with the very quick Rondo.
However in addition, the Celtics are a patient team that believe in their fundamental ability to stop opposing team's offensive schemes. It'll be important for Jose to dictate patience in the Raptors’ offensive schemes. They need to run their pick and roll offense and they need to be unafraid of taking the big 3-point shot. Most importantly, the Raptors have to execute by keeping the ball moving, and it'll be up to Calderon to make sure the offense remains on the same page throughout the entire game.
Overall though, the Raptors do have an opportunity to play big and play in their pace against the Celtics. Both teams are going to be tired after playing yesterday, and the Raptors in particular need to make a statement that they can beat some of the top teams in the East if they want to prove that they belong with the elite.
As they say, to be the best, you have to beat the best.
PS - The latest edition of the Carnival of the NBA is up here at "Both Teams Played Hard."