This afternoon Toronto had four players with double doubles.
-Chris Bosh put up 11 and 12 in limited action.
-Jose Calderon had 13 points to go with his 11 assists.
-Andrea Bargnani carried the scoring load with 28, but also grabbed 10 rebounds.
-And Shawn Marion had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Add in Anthony Parker’s 24 points on 11 of 16 shooting and I venture that the starting line-up never looked so good in the 2008-09 season.
So what gives?
Are Raptors’ fans again being teased by this performance only to see another let-down Tuesday night against Minnesota?
Or is this a team that regardless of playoffs, can close out the season strong and start to tune into this style of play?
It’s too early to say but for the optimist in me, this was a very promising start.
And yes the Knicks are hardly the Lakers or Celtics, but they are a tough match because of their style of play (just ask San Antonio) and Toronto not only hung with them, but beat them at their own game.
Additionally, this wasn’t just a matter of Toronto putting more points on the board than the Knicks. The team also held the Knicks to 42.9% shooting and got key stops down the stretch when it mattered most. The Dinos still had troubles with Al Harrington, who finished with 31 points, but Wilson Chandler, whose athleticism killed TO Friday night, was a complete non-factor with only two points.
The Chandler disappearance was another example of how much of a 180 this afternoon was as while Anthony Parker had 0 points Friday night and Chandler dominated, this afternoon it was Parker who was unstoppable.
However what I really want to touch on here is Shawn Marion as I think Parker and Bargs owe him dinner tonight as a thank-you for their individual performances.
Marion just makes the game easier for everyone.
He’s so quick off his feet and active that he requires constant defensive attention, which then opens things up for his teammates. Marion’s 16 points today came almost entirely on put-backs, drop-steps around the rim, and transition baskets and as Jack Armstrong mentioned post-game, for all those who spouted PER’s and other stats to say that Marion wasn’t much of an upgrade over Jamario Moon, you just had to look at this game to realize how faulty that line of thinking is.
He also is not a selfish player, and while his shot-selection in Phoenix at times was called into question, so far in Toronto he’s been the antithesis of Moon in that respect, scoring only when he feels he has an advantage and constantly looking for mismatches to exploit; be they for himself or for his own teammates.
I think what was most important however is that Marion’s play leads to a complete paradigm shift amongst his teammates. Suddenly after a rebound, the poor-dribbling Moon isn’t waiting for Jose to come and get the ball, Now, Marion is getting it and is gone. Several times this afternoon I noticed that he waved off primary ball-handlers like Parker and Calderon and dribbled the ball right into the teeth of the Knicks’ unprepared defence, resulting in open looks for teammates. Soon, Parker and Jose were doing this as well and Toronto was fighting the Knicks' fire with fire.
I’ve mentioned this before when Jay Triano took over and Parker started getting minutes at the 1, but when AP doesn’t always have to contend with the other team’s best player, or is able to get out and run, he is infinitely more effective. He’s just not someone who can create off the dribble but he’s a great finisher in transition and a good enough shooter that on the break he can make teams pay.
And while Jose Calderon still looks more effective in the half-court, by having Marion push the ball and Jose fill the wings, suddenly Calderon can look for his shot thus making him infinitely more effective as well on the break.
That leaves TO’s bigs in terms of the Matrix Effect.
It’s tough to say if Bosh, who has more of "size-up his defender and make a decision in the half-court" game will be more effective. CB4 still looked rusty this afternoon and at times I felt Bargs was a better option in terms of his meshing with Marion. However Chris is definitely quicker end-to-end than most other bigs his size so we’ll have to wait and see.
It’s Andrea though that might benefit the most from Marion’s addition. With the Matrix floating around causing havoc, Bargnani has room to work inside and out and you could see that today regarding the way he mixed-up his game. He got to the free-throw line 12 times, took only five 3’s, hitting three of them, and was looking to get out and finish on the break as well.
The result of the Matrix Effect? How about 29 fast-break points on the afternoon, something that seems like a typo considering the way the club has looked to push the ball for most of this season.
Does this mean Toronto is going to be able to play this way effectively all the time?
Of course not. Other clubs will come prepared and make TO play in the half-court; which is when other issues will probably rear their ugly heads.
But this win was a must for the club’s confidence, and one that showed that there’s more pride than a lot of us thought still left in that locker room.
Here’s to hoping it carries over to Tuesday night.