For those in Camp A you can breathe a sigh of relief. Last night the Raptors managed to snap out of another first quarter lull and grab the much needed W, but it wasn’t easy.
Early on it looked like the Raps were going to lay another stinker down by twelve at the end of the first quarter and looking fairly lifeless on both ends of the court. The "here we go again" mentality was sinking in early and I couldn’t help but think that the Penn State – Ohio State game would have been the better watch. The Raps definitely were not "Playing Hard From the Tip", our first key to the game.
So what changed? The offense started to click in the second quarter and as a result the intensity on the defensive end followed suit and the Raps were back in the game by half. Leading the charge? One Andrea Bargnani.
What a great performance by Il Mago on this evening. Andrea clearly read the scouting report on the Wolves and was relentless attacking the rim and getting into the paint. Out of his 15 field goal attempts Andrea only two came from beyond the arc.
There was clearly no-one on this Minny roster with the ability to slow down the 7-footer and he took full advantage. With a little help from the refs and some questionable continuation calls that went in his favour Bargs had 26 points. Of course that is what happens when you attack the rim…the refs start giving you the calls. It’s been a rare sight this season.
On the flip side it is still pretty clear that CB4 is still getting back into the flow. Although he matched Andrea’s output on the offensive end there were times when he looked uncomfortable and unsure of himself. Although Bosh’s jumper starting falling in the second half there were times early when Brian "The Custodian" Cardinal was simply overpowering him and causing him problems offensively. When 100% healthy CB4 would own Cardinal. In a few more games I think we will see the real CB4 back in action. He is not far off and I fully expect CB4 to have a monster game in the near future.
The other guy who had a solid performance on this evening?
As our long time reader’s know we have been critical of a few of the "personalities" involved in Raptors broadcasts but the one person who gets constant praise from us is Jack Armstrong. This broadcast was the perfect example of why. The Coach simply calls it like it is. The perfect example was when Marion continued to move the ball around and made the extra pass creating an open look for Parker beyond the arc. Jack’s comment: "Had that been Jamario Moon he would have shot that ball and not made the pass to the better shooter." You gotta love it.
The one thing that Armstrong said last night that will stick with me for sometime is that the Raps defense seems reliant on their offense. When the offense is not clicking the team seems to play lax defense and when they start hitting their shots the defensive intensity seems to pick-up. This is clearly a big issue that needs to be addressed. For most teams with a winning record, or championship aspirations, it starts on the defensive end. The Raps don’t seem to abide by that philosophy.
If the Raps do want to make a run for the playoffs they are going to have to bring it defensively every single night, no matter what is transpiring on the offensive end. Against teams like the Suns, the Mavs and the Jazz poor defense will almost undoubtedly do them in. The Raps have enough offensive fire power to play with most NBA teams, but when the defense plays like it did in the first quarter of tonight’s game it is sure to be a loss. If they play active defense like they did late in the game they will have a much better chance of stealing a few wins from superior opponents.
Minnesota is obviously not a superior opponent and although it would be easy to discount this victory let’s give credit when credit is due. Kevin McHale, in spite of the teams record, it doing a pretty solid job with a weak roster. Even without Al Jefferson, McHale has his guys playing hard and staying in games even when greatly overmatched. The former GM is getting the most out of players like Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye and this team doesn’t roll over when the going gets tough. There were a number of times that the Raps looked poised to pull away late but Minnesota, until the final minutes, did a great job of keeping it close. This never say die attitude they seem to be playing with is something the Raps are going to have to take on the road with them against Phoenix.
Oh and the upcoming game against Phoenix? You guessed it, another must win game.