It wasn't pretty, but the Toronto Raptors got the win they needed in a 94 to 88 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. Franchise breaks it down and tees up tonight's match against the Milwaukee Bucks...
If you missed last night's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, give yourself a round of applause.
If you stuck around and either watched the game live on TV or in person at the Air Canada Center, I hope you managed to grab a drink or two...
The Raps grinded out a 94 to 88 victory yesterday evening in a game that is probably best summed up Clint Eastwood style; the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Let's start with the most positive thing about last night's performance, Toronto in the end got the win. As one of our readers described it yesterday evening, this was the perfect "trap game;" a sure-fire win on paper that hardly played out the same way in reality. While the T-Wolves are lacking in talent, they don't take a possession off and fought this one down to the wire. I found the game quite similar to the Raps' second game of the season against a stubborn Memphis team, only this time, Toronto put in the necessary effort to ensure the match didn't end up in a loss.
This effort was especially apparent on the defensive end where Toronto did a fairly good job for the third straight game as well. We're not talking lock-down D here, but not all of Minny's 38 per cent shooting on the night was due to poor shot selection and simple misses. The Dinos dug in and got some key stops, especially down the stretch.
On the individual plus side, Jarrett Jack did a reasonable job replacing Jose Calderon, who sat out this game with a sore left hip, and Chris Bosh, despite missing practice earlier with a cold, threw down a workman-like 21 points and 16 rebounds.
Outside of the win itself though, the biggest plus for me was the number 48; as in the number of free-throws the Raps attempted on the night. In past years (and even past games this season it could be argued) Toronto has stubbornly continued to hoist up jumpers even when they weren't falling, neglecting one of their biggest strengths; free-throw shooting. Last night however, especially late in the game, players like Hedo Turkoglu and Jack were relentless going to the whole and considering Minnesota as a team only took 23 foul shots, this was the difference maker in the win.
Outside of Bosh and maybe Jack, it sure is hard to give any other individual kudos on the night. Andrea Bargnani had some key rebounds but again struggled offensively going 6 of 18. And despite getting to the line 12 times, Hedo Turkoglu was a horrific 2 of 11 including 0 for 5 on 3-pointers.
And let's not even get into Toronto's bench, which was a combined 3 of 16 from the field chipping in a measly 10 points in 64 minutes of action.
Finally, while some may put the fact that Toronto extended its NBA record 3-point streak in the "Good" section of this recap, I'm placing it firmly in here. Andrea Bargnani dropped in a long-range bomb with about 5 minutes left to keep the streak alive but this topic became way too prevalent in a game that simply needed to be won, 3-pointers or no 3-pointers. Yes, it's an impressive streak and if the Raps can keep it up, great stuff. However at some points last night it looked like the Dinos were chucking them up just to keep the streak going, not because the 3-pointers were in the flow of the offense or necessary to get the W.
This was indeed a case of "winning ugly" as Toronto shot only 9.5 per cent from 3-point range and 32 per cent from the field. Jay Triano described it as a "lid on the basket" post-game and he was absolutely right - the Raps just couldn't buy a basket. If you're into stats, check the box score from this one because there are some hideous metrics indeed.
One stat that really stood out for me was Toronto's 14 assists on the night, a number that has to be close to a season low if not a season low. While I felt that Jarrett Jack did a good job overall (17 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists), the team really missed Jose Calderon's offensive leadership. The ball just didn't move at times and it seemed that there were more desperation heaves with the shot-clock winding down then there have been all season. This would account for some of the poor shooting numbers on the night and if Toronto wants any sort of shot at beating Milwaukee tonight, they need to get that offense running on all cylinders again.
And with the Bucks on the docket tonight, that brings us to our first key:
1) Offense vs. Defense:
Milwaukee is one of the least efficient teams in the league in terms of offense, but is one of the best defensively. They are holding opponents to 98 points a night on average, and force opponents into 17 turnovers a game on average, third best in the league.
Essentially, they are a bit of a mirror image of the Raps.
Therefore if Toronto struggles on O like they did last night, this one could be over quickly.
The Raps need to come out aggressive and attack from inside to out with Bosh leading the charge. If they can get some easy looks on the interior, or get to the free-throw line early, this should open things up on the perimeter.
Back-to-back scenarios have not been kind to the Dinos this season and considering TO's offensive woes last night, it's the latter point that's especially crucial this evening. Hopefully Jay Triano emphasizes it and we see players like DeMar DeRozan, Jarrett Jack and Chris Bosh going to the rim with abandon all night if the jumpers aren't clicking.
2) Point Guard Play:
The Dinos need to do a much better job tonight of running their offence and this falls not only on Jarrett Jack if Jose Calderon sits again, but also on the likes of Hedo Turkoglu and gasp...Marcus Banks. Banks hardly won over many fans with his play last night but hopefully this evening he can provide a bit more boost in terms of running the O. Banks' play had many of our readers last night clamoring for Marco Belinelli and I'd have to agree; while the Mad Bomber hasn't been able to get his offence going consistently of late, he's a terrific playmaker and perhaps some shot-creation duties will in turn help his shot-making abilities.
Outside of the match-up at center pitting a reborn Andrew Bogut (nearly averaging a double-double a game this year) against a struggling Andrea Bargnani, it's this positional match-up that I'll be keeping the closest eye on. Rookie Brandon Jennings hasn't been as unstoppable as he was earlier in the season but make no mistake about it, he and backcourt mate Luke Ridnour form a perfect PG combo and could give Toronto fits. Ridnour injured his left arm last night and did not return so he may not play tonight, but regardless, Jack and co. will need to keep Jennings and his penetration skills at bay as much as possible.
3) Sustained Effort:
A final quick point here; as much as last night's game was tough on the eyes, it was a strangely satisfying win because Toronto pushed through a poor-shooting game and did the little things necessary to eke out a victory. I've spoken at length this season about doing "the little things" and the past three games have been major steps forward in this area.
Tonight Toronto faces a Scott Skiles led club that specializes in "doing the little things" and if the Raps fail to execute or bring a sustained effort level throughout, the Bucks will certainly capitalize. The last three wins have been nice in terms of evening out the team's won-loss record, but tonight's match and the ones that follow this week should really go a long ways in showing fans if indeed this team is back on the right track.