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Tip-In: Toronto Raptors Post Game – Pressure Cooker

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The Raps had no answer for Paul Pierce in the 4th quarter...

The Raps had no answer for Paul Pierce in the 4th quarter...

Now that was NBA basketball at its finest.

Whether you are a Raptors fan, a Celtics fan or a fan of basketball at any level, this was a game not to be missed. In a regular season game that had all the makings of a game 7 playoff match-up,the Raps and Celts went nose to nose in a battle down to the wire. The defensive intensity was at a high, there were no easy hoops, and each and every possession mattered.

Right from the get-go Toronto was sending the message that they were ready to take their game to the next level. For 33 minutes that message was loud and clear and the person sending the message early and often was Jermaine O’Neal. In easily his best performance of the year, JO brought a fiery intensity to the game and early on was dominant making a fool out of Kendrick Perkins.

As expected from this Boston team however, they were not going to back down and that included Mr. Perkins.

For those who missed the game the second quarter brought something Raptors fans have not seen in a long while - a nose to nose confrontation. Having been owned by JO early, Perkins got very physical with O’Neal and JO didn’t back down. For me it was a sight for sore eyes as I have been waiting for the Raps to show some true toughness for quite sometime. This confrontation helped to elevate the intensity in the game to unprecedented levels for a match so early in the season.

This intensity manifested itself in many forms including the nard-nosed defense, the enormous amount of talk between players, in particular Calderon and Garnett, and the boisterous crowd. Every player was up for this game from Paul Pierce to Kris Humphries and for a while there it looked like the Raps were going to pull it out.

Unfortunately the Celtics sent a message of their own.

Down the stretch as the pressure continued to build the Celtics simply executed better than the Raptors and they responded to the challenge. When the final buzzer sounded the men in green had put the Raps back in their place and made it clear that more than the "A game" was needed to knock off the King of the Mountain.

As the pressure continued to build in the fourth quarter it was Toronto that was to first to break. The Celtics looked to their captain Paul Pierce to take over the game and he did just that scorching the Raps time and time again down the floor. He continuously found a way to get into the paint and nailed shot after shot. The game plan was simple for the Celtics in that Pierce would either create his own shot or create an easy opportunity for a teammate.

On the flip side the Raps simply didn’t execute and they had a brutal time trying to find an open shot. Much of the Raps problems late stemmed from the fact that the Celtics cued in on CB4 and denied him of every opportunity to get the ball and create. As a result the Raps were left with a two man game between JO and Calderon and the results were not pretty.

Really this game can be summed up quite easily - the Raps couldn’t find a guy to create his own shot.

It’s not a new story for the Raptors. We all knew that with the departure of TJ Ford that there was no-one on the wing or the point to rely on in tight situations. Calderon is a stellar point guard, but much of his success comes from the pick and roll, not breaking down his opponent off the bounce. The downside to not having such a player was felt last night and it has to be on GM Bryan Colangelo’s mind.

With rumours swirling about the Raps looking at guys like Al Harrington and Gerald Wallace you have to wonder whether one of these guys would have made the difference. The question I think you have to ask is whether Harrington or Wallace is a guy you want to rely-on in late game situations to get you the key hoop. Obviously CB4 is the first choice but are either of these players a better alternative to what’s already on this roster? Considering what the price tag would be to obtain one of them (Bargs/Kapono) and knowing their games I would argue no.

I think we saw last night just how good the Raps can play when everyone is geared up for a game.

Do I think that getting a first rate 3 would help take this team to an elite level? Yes. I don’t however think the names out there are the answer. I for one am only trading Bargnani and Kapono for a top tier player, even if the market doesn’t bear one at this time.

There are a lot of positives to be taken from this game. The bench play was stellar, the defense was the best it’s been all year, and the Raptors forced Boston into giving its best effort to pull out the W at home.

Nevertheless, even with all these positives the loss leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s a feeling similar to the one I had after that infamous Nets-Raptors match a few season ago, the one where Mo got tossed on a blown call and when Vince nailed a 3 over Jose from about three feet beyond the arc to secure the Nets victory.

For the next little while I’ll be thinking about it as the one that got away and I’d imagine the players will be as well.

HOWLAND

While Howland was on deck for this recap, this was just too interesting a match for me not to chime in as well.

Should Toronto have doubled Paul Pierce?

Perhaps, however the way House and Allen were starting to shoot, I’m not sure leaving one of them open would have made much difference.

And what about pulling Kapono in favour of Moon or Graham?

Sorry, with the exception of maybe Pierce’s final basket, I don’t see how this was even an option.

Without Kapono’s offense, Toronto would have been dead in the water much earlier in the quarter as his shooting and creation off the dribble (he had six assists) kept the Dinos in it.

No, as Howland stated, the difference in this was simply that Boston had Paul Pierce and Toronto had no one.

For Bryan Colangelo, this game was a perfect snapshot of the 2008-09 Toronto Raptors in my opinion; good enough to take it to the best clubs at times, but missing that athletic presence to round things out. Let’s face it, in the biggest game of the season for Toronto, Andrea Bargnani was beyond invisible. I watched him possession after possession on the second half, standing in the corner, completely uninvolved in the offence. Perhaps that was the play and it didn’t evolve to the point where he was to be a presence in the set, but really, there’s no excuse for him not getting deep position against Leon Powe or Glen Davis, the two Boston "bigs" during this time period.

So if you’re BC, you’re faced with a dilemma.

Do you believe that as the season evolves, Bargs will be that difference maker in a game like this, and therefore you’re willing to hold off on trades?

Or do you look at the age of guys like Parker, O’Neal and Calderon and see last night’s match and think "we can be really good right now," and thus look to pull the trigger on a slasher?

The stats don’t lie, both teams were nearly identical in metrics across the board with one exception; Boston got to the line 27 times while Toronto, only 18. I think that’s why I get so frustrated with BC’s draft picks as at some point the need for some "athletic aggression from the wing" needs to be addressed. And if it could have been had for cheap, in the form of a second round pick, all the better.

I loved the fire and passion Toronto played with last night, especially from Jose, who as the Food Court lunch reports is ready now to take on his biggest fear, but without that shot creator in the game’s final minutes, Raptors’ fans will likely see many more teams smothering Bosh and making Kapono, Parker and Calderon beat them via jump shots.

On many a night that will still probably be enough to get a win but against teams like Boston as we saw last night, that’s just not going to be good enough.

FRANCHISE