You know, I just about pegged the Raptors to lose this game.
I mean, most of the starters hit 40 minutes the night before, the Bucks were coming home to show off their prowess to their home crowd, and the Raptors just traded blow for blow with a West Coast, run and gun, unorthodox team.
Oh, and boy was it ugly.
A game with little to no actual flow for the first half, with lots of interior clogging from both teams led to a simply eye-gouging game that was at times unwatchable. Where as the Warriors game had great back and forth with lots of excellent execution plays, one had to keep wondering which of the two teams in this night would finally put the hammer down and bring themselves to become the winner.
Even Calderon, who was one of the huge bright spots for the night, made an uncharacteristic six turnovers during the game. Toss in a bench who with the exception of Jason Kapono, was completely unable to score for the entire game, and the Raptors instead showed that it was impossible for them to not play their starters for the game.
Frankly, there was simply no excellence of execution.
It's also important to note just how important Jermaine O'Neal's presence is now; rubbing off on others and having the Raptors ready to put themselves in positions to win no matter what the situation. For three games now, we've seen Jermaine's block and alter shots in ways that we have never seen on a consistent basis from a Raptors' squad. With him and Bosh switching their man and always one person around the basket, the Raptors are figuring how to win even the ugly ones with some interior play.
Fortunately, the Bucks were just as inept throughout most of the game. Shooting at under 45% overall, but an absolutely horrible 23% from beyond the arc, the Bucks had trouble with most shots outside of the paint.
In fact, throughout most of the second quarter, the Bucks could not make a jumper and the Raptors capitalized on this throughout the game by keeping a high percentage from beyond the arc. Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd were held to just 10 for 32 in the entire game, leading me to believe that the Bucks still have a lot of work to do before they reap the full benefits of the Jefferson trade.
Nevertheless, the Raptors managed to grab a cushion going into the 4th quarter and never looked back.
It's been quite a while since we've seen Sam Mitchell get a technical (I wonder if he swore and broke his temporary moratorium) and it was that usage that finally seemed to ignite the Raptors defense in the 3rd. Gaining a 10 point lead, the Raptors had just barely enough in the tank to push it through to the end.
I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that we've now seen this Raptors club come out with three different victories that were all predicated on timely stops and some good shooting from all starters with one bench player at least stepping up to provide a little help.
Slowly, but surely, it seems as though our Raptors are establishing a defense. We're just lucky that it's not in the middle of an 0-3 start, and instead, the Raptors find themselves undefeated in this young season.
But maybe more importantly, and identity is being forged, and once that identity is solidified, the Raptors will finally be able to know who they are and the type of team they can be against the elite of the NBA.
It's a long process, but it will be well worth it in the long run.