Over the past three seasons we have recapped, in some capacity, every single Raptors game, both regular season and post-season. After a big game, win or lose, the re-caps tend to write themselves. Other times, in particular in boring games, it is tougher to sit down and write. Last nights game against the Memphis Grizzlies definitely falls into the latter category.
The Raptors 103-82 victory, which I attended, was far from noteworthy and in short was pretty darn boring. The game lacked any sort of flow, was fairly poorly played and lacked energy. I am sure if you were to ask any of the 14,000 or so fans that attended (yup, it was pretty empty) they would all tell you the same.
The first half was definitely one to forget.
After getting off to a good start (key #1 in yesterday’s preview) the Raps, to no-one’s surprise, let the Grizzlies back into the game and barely held on to the lead after 24 minutes of play. After starting out hot from the field the Raps started turning the ball over, forcing up bad shots, and allowing Rudy Gay, despite being the only offensive threat on the floor for the Grizz (Mayo was on the sideline with a mild injury), to get into a groove on the offensive end. Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for CB4’s play the Raps could have found themselves down by a dozen.
Luckily the second half was a different story.
Led by Andrea Bargnani the Raps turned up the heat on the Grizz in the third quarter and the former Vancouver franchise had no response. It is now safe to say that Bargnani is playing the best basketball of his career. He looks uber confident on the court and has really found his stroke. Il Mago was once again on fire from beyond the arc and it was his long distance bombs which helped the Raps pull away.
It’s not just Andrea’s shooting that was impressive on this evening, it was also his rebounding and the budding chemistry he is having with CB4. Since Jermaine O’Neal’s absence Bargnani and Bosh have had the opportunity to play substantial minutes together and right now the results are very positive. You can see the two big men in constant conversation while on the floor and they are slowly learning to play together on the floor which couldn’t be said on a number of occasions last season. It’s a sight for sore eyes.
It’s a good think that both Bosh and Bargnani showed up on this evening because no-one else contributed much. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon were sub-par and despite the decent stats, Will Solomon was more of a liability then an asset jacking up brutal jumpers time after time. Although his assist numbers were solid most of his dimes came from simple passes off the top to an open wing player who subsequently hit the J. Don’t be deceived by the numbers, there was nothing special in those 9 assists. This team desperately needs Jose to come back and BC has to be looking at that PG situation and getting mightily concerned.
Jose was on the sidelines for this one in civvies cheering on his mates. What continues to surprise me is that the other injured big name Raptor is not courtside. Has the search party been sent out for O’Neal yet? Doesn’t anyone else find it bizarre that Jermaine is no where to be found nor is there any discussion about what is ailing him? Where or where is the Raptors $22 million dollar man and why are people not asking questions?
Nevertheless, without O’Neal the Raps are winning ball games at a pretty good rate and have won 4 of their last 5. Surprisingly enough that’s a whole lot better than their competition in this Sunday’s matinee, the Boston Celtics.
The defending champions are in a major slump and are heading to the ACC having lost 7 of their last 9 games, the most recent loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics at one point looked like a team with unshakeable confidence, but that is no longer the case. Since Christmas and the loss to the Lakers, Kevin Garnett and crew have shown they are beatable and the secret on just how to beat them is no longer under wraps. The Celtics, led by the Big Ticket, have always been the aggressor and have pushed teams around. Garnett’s intensity made teams shy away. What is clear now though is if you push back and push back harder then the Celtics will fold. The Celtics are not as tough as they would appear. Can the Raps take advantage? Here’s the three keys:
1. Push First: Now that the Raps have the secret to success against the men in green the biggest question is whether they can take advantage. Can the Raps take the fight to the Celtics rather than waiting for the Celtics to take the fight to them? This season the Raps have not shown me much in terms of toughness but if they can come out against the Celtics and be the aggressor then all will be forgotten. This is the type of game where the Raps would be much better off if O’Neal was around, but even if they are shorthanded they can’t bend to the Celtics will. I expect to see Triano use players like Jake Voshkul and Joey Graham more than usual to help set a physical tone. If the Raps don’t kick the Celtics when they are down from the opening tip the Celtics are too good of a team to not take control.
2. PG Play: Here’s hoping Calderon can suit up on Sunday. Although Solomon is a better defender than Jose the Raps need Calderon’s offensive abilities to have a chance. The Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the L and they will be more than happy to sit back, clog the paint and let Will Solomon bomb away all afternoon. On the flip side if Calderon is not 100% healthy then he could be a big defensive liability against the speedy Rajon Rondo. Triano could have a tough time splitting up the PG minutes if this game if all three guys are available. No matter who plays they are going to have to play some of their best basketball of the season.
3. All Hands on Deck: If the Raps really want to win this match-up they have to get big games out of a handful of players. Another performance like the one last night will result in a bad, one-sided loss. Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Kapono and even Roko have to come out focused and ready to play. Bosh isn’t good enough to take the Celtics down on his own and I am pretty sure Bargs has got an off game coming. Boston always plays well against the Raps and they will be looking at this two-game mini series as the perfect opportunity to get back on the right track. As mentioned in the Memphis preview this is a huge couple of games for the Raptors and one’s that will go a long way in determining how this season plays out. A couple of victories here and suddenly the landscape will have changed. A couple of losses and this hot start to 2009 will all be for not. In fact I’m not hesitant to say that this Sunday’s game might be the most important game of the year.
I for one think we will learn all we need to know about this Toronto Raptors team in the next two games. Should be interesting, something that couldn’t be said about the Memphis match-up.