It was just two short weeks ago I was at the ACC and had to witness Vince Carter, in all his glory, absolutely stick it to the Raptors and their fans. Since that time, and much to my dismay, all the sports networks have show the reverse dunk highlight at least ten thousand times…just one shy of number of Rogers adds during a Raps broadcast.
The previous game against the Nets was really a watershed moment for the Raps in this young season. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a brutal streak of games which left one head coach behind and a team looking for a new identity.
I was eager to see how things would turn out this time around and the results were nothing short of shocking. This game was the polar opposite from the last match-up between these two teams. How so? To put last night’s game into context, Roko Ukic had more points and assists than Vince Carter despite having played 10 less minutes. It wasn’t however just Carter’s play that was below par for the Nets. On a whole the team shot a miserable 31% from the field and had a difficult time finding any sort of flow. Maybe their play was simply a reflection of their absolutely non-existent fan base.
I would attribute much of Vince Carter’s play last night to this lack of fan support. As discussed in prior posts, I firmly believe that Carter only gets up for those games where he has something to prove. When he comes to Toronto he wants to quiet the fans. Last night he had nothing to prove and as a result he looked disinterested. This lack of passion showed in his production on the floor. VC stunk it up going 0 for 13 and was a negative 32 during his time on the hardwood. He also showed little desire to attack the rim and perhaps rightfully so. The one time he did get into the paint he met the big body and arms of Jermaine O’Neal.
Carter’s poor shooting percentage was not the only reason the Nets had a bad night at the office on the offensive end. The Raps had a banner game on the defensive end. They were really "getting after it". To hold any team to 31% from the floor means you are doing something right and for the Raps this doing something right means flooding the paint with defenders. For the majority of the evening the Nets were left shooting long jumpers on the offensive end as the Raps were not allowing players like Devin Harris to get to the rim at will.
Harris may be one of the fastest players in the league but on this evening his encountered serious resistance close to the hoop and was either forced to throw-up a wild shot or send the rock back outside to the likes of Bobby Simmons (4-12 FGM-A) and Keyon Dooling (1-10 FGM-A). The Raps defense on the interior was smothering and the Nets go frustrated as a result. Harris was given a technical foul late and the team’s frustration led to 18 turnovers.
Last night was truly a team effort. For the second game in a row Coach Triano’s starting line-up included J-Killa and Jamario Moon and thus it has been a successful formula. I have been preaching to anyone that will listen that with both Bosh and O’Neal up-front, having Kapono in the starting line-up is an absolute no brainer. Kapono’s offensive abilities, which include his craftiness and passing, are just too great to have sitting on the bench. Despite his slow start last night he managed to get on track and was lights out as the Raps put the game out of reach.
Moon’s play has also been refreshing as of late, but the biggest surprise to me is that despite having these two guys who were key bench players in the starting line-up, the bench continues to produce. Graham, Ukic and Bargnani combined for 37 points. Graham was a game high plus twenty eight while on the floor and had an unbelievable dunk which left no-one on the Raps bench sitting. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t had a stinker of a game since getting the minutes.
What’s been great as a fan is to see this team start to have fun again. The five game losing streak really took the wind out of everyone’s sails and this recent taste of winning is buoying spirits. In reality, the past two games have really been the polar opposite of what we have come to expect from this team over the past couple of seasons. Suddenly it’s like the tables have been turned and the Raps are the one’s taking it to the rim while forcing opponents to beat them from the outside.
Now last night was not all good. Despite the concerted effort to clog the paint the team was badly out-rebounded yet again. This continues to surprise me given the length and height the Raps have up front. All in all though it was one of the best played games for this Toronto team all season. This should only help as this team will need to be close to perfect with the New Orleans Hornets coming to the ACC on Sunday. Despite having lost to Boston last night (who doesn’t lose to Boston?) the Hornets are still a premier team in the league having won 7 of their last 9.
To get the latest on the Hornets we turned to Ryan of Hornets247 (www.hornets247.com) in our "Blogging with the Enemy".
RHQ: Talk to us about the team right now. They were viewed as maybe the Lakers toughest comp in the preseason in terms of the West but have stumbled a bit. Will this recent trade help shake things up?
Hornets247: The stumbling has been pretty badly overplayed. They are 12-6 right now, which happens to be the exact same record they had last year after 18 games. The perception that they are struggling comes from two bad games against Houston and the Lakers where they came out flat, their perimeter shots weren't falling, and they fell behind big before barely making it respectable at the end. Peja had a slow start, though he's on fire now, and Tyson had a lot of non-basketball issues he was working through that he's still trying to come back from. The team is fine, though like last year their second unit is pretty ineffectual.
The trade for Antonio Daniels will definitely help. The Hornet's didn't have a backup point, they had two backup shooting guards, and Daniels is a one of my favorite reserve point guards. Never underestimate a calm lead guard.
RHQ: What's up with Mo Pete? Looks like he's getting back into the rotation after injury. He started strong and came into this season in better shape, how key is he to the Hornets playoff run?
Hornets247: I'm not sure if Peterson is going to get his starting spot back. That really depends on whether Rasual Butler can keep his offensive game going. If Rasual keeps it up, his man-to-man defense on wing players is very good, and he'll probably retain the starting spot over Morris. What does that mean for Morris? Either he becomes our primary offensive weapon off the bench, working with Posey and Daniels, or it might make him trade bait. The Hornets have six swingmen, Peja, Butler, Peterson, Julian Wright, James Posey and Devin Brown, and there is only room for 4 of them in the rotation. It wouldn't surprise me to have GM Jeff Bower decide that he needs to move one or two swingmen for a serviceable big man, because our back up big men are beyond atrocious. Peterson would be able to fetch something decent in trade.
RHQ: Sunday's game. What are the keys for New Orleans to getting a W?
Hornets247: The Hornets haven't changed much from last year. Paul always creates open perimeter shots, so last year, the Hornets took a hefty number of threes, and if they weren't falling, relied on Tyson to clean up the misses. If they shot poorly from deep and the rebounding failed, usually the Hornets lost. This year, Tyson is just now rounding into form, so the Hornets are a little more vulnerable if they aren't hitting their outside shots. So watch those percentages from deep and Tyson's activity.
Some interesting food for thought there considering how the Raps have been playing defense as of late. This leads us to our three keys.
1. What to do with Peja?– The Raps defensive philosophy of clogging the paint is in for a real test on Saturday. The Hornets feature some great shooters on the outside including Peja who as of late has been lights out (Boston game aside). If the Hornets instantly start making a few shots from the outside what will Triano do? Will he abandon his philosophy and get his guys out guarding the wing or hope the outside shooters have a tough time heating up after being exposed to the Toronto cold. I for one expect Triano to stick to his guns and have his guys defend the interior at whatever the cost. He is still trying to implement a defensive system and principles and I can’t see him abandoning the strategy for one team.
2. West vs. Bosh – I love this match-up. West is vastly underrated as a player and I expect a battle between these guys. Both of these players have solid mid-range games and can put up a double-double in no time. Bosh must outrebound West on Sunday to give the Raps a chance. Blocking West out and keeping him off the glass is an absolute must to stay in this game.
3. Fight Fire With Fire – I for one think whoever shoots better from the outside will win this game. I expect a significant number of threes to be taken in this contest with the likes of Posey, Peja, Butler, Mo P, Kapono, Bargnani etc. Whoever can catch the feeling first will have a solid advantage. What can’t happen however is the Raps falling in love with the three. Establishing the bigs early to open up easy opportunities from the outside is a must. If the Raps start chucking right away the Raps could lose any and all momentum built up from the past two victories.