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Raptors Snatch Victory from Suns in Vegas

Franchise recaps last night's Toronto win over the Phoenix Suns in Summer League play, a win for Toronto that came in the game's final minute and evened their record in Vegas at 2 and 2...

If anyone ever questions how important training camp and preparation is for a team going into a season, look no further than the Toronto Raptors' Summer League experience so far.

After a pretty terrible 0 and 2 start, the Raptors have started to gel with last night's come-from-behind victory over the Phoenix Suns being their second straight win, knotting their Summer League record at 2 and 2.

The secret to the recent success?

I'd say there are a few key points that have lead to the turnaround in on-court performance:

1) Playing your best players together - Perhaps this is self-evident but part of Summer League is giving minutes to various prospects at first to see what they can do, and how their development is coming along.  However after the first few matches, the coaching staff gets a pretty good idea of who the top dogs are, and can use them a lot more effectively.  For instance last night, Quincy Douby, DeMar DeRozan, Roko Ukic and Patrick O'Bryant each played over 24 minutes with Ekene Ibekwe nearly hitting that mark too.  Throw in some key minutes for Brent Petway and Smush Parker and you've got the best seven of this group and it was the trio of Douby, DeRozan and Ukic that ended up winning this game for Toronto.

2) Familiarity - Toronto's first couple of games were quite sloppy and failed to produce much in terms of rhythm.  And while the Raps didn't exactly shoot the lights out last night, they did play much better together, cutting down on needless turnovers and  making better decisions with the ball overall.

3) Defense - Last night the Dinos also stepped things up defensively.  They forced Phoenix into 22 turnovers, and held the Suns to 38% shooting from the field.  Summer League usually isn't the place to showcase defensive fortitudes but I felt that the Raps did a much better job fronting their men in the post (yes, even O'Bryant guarding Robin Lopez) and getting in passing lanes for steals.  (Toronto had 11 on the night.)

4) Rebounding - The Raptors' Summer League entry as presently composed is never going to be a dominant rebounding club.  Patrick O'Bryant had a measley six boards in almost 28 minutes of action and most of the team just isn't a glass-cleaning bunch.  However the insertion of Ekene Ibekwe into the starting line-up last night gave this team a huge boost in this department and was in my opinion the biggest factor in this win.  For those not familiar with Ibekwe, he had a solid college career at Maryland (over 1000 points and 500 rebounds) and can be a force on the boards due to his size and athleticism.  He grabbed 11 on the night and coupled with two blocks and two steals, really helped provide the Raptors with some assistance in areas that were previously major stumbling blocks for this club in Vegas.  His offensive game is still quite raw, but I'm hoping that the Toronto coaching staff keeps him permanently in the starting 4 spot for the final two games to see just what else he can do.  Oh, and he's got a bit of feistiness as well.  I mean, how many times do you see a player pick up a technical foul in Summer League play?

Now in spite of all the postives from last night's win, I'm not saying that this was a perfect match.  There was still the requisite Roko Ukic airball in second quarter, some terrible boxing out by Mr. O'Bryant, and a handful of other issues.  But this was the best I'd seen the Raptors play from a macro level so far.

Outside of the win itself, the broadcast (which is pretty terrible quality-wise as an aside, and made me realize how spoiled I was to be able to take in the first three games courtside) also featured a long chat between the game's commentators and Maurizio Gherardini.

There wasn't anything jaw-dropping that came out of the interview, but it was interesting to hear a wide range of topics being discussed, from the changing face of basketball world-wide, to the Raptors themselves and the city of Toronto.  The whole piece ended up being a great PR piece for the city of Toronto more than anything, but I also found it intriguing that Quincy Douby's name came up on a number of occasions.  He's indeed been Toronto's best player through four games in Vegas, and I'd say a fairly sure bet to help round out the roster.

What's most impressed me about Douby actually is how aggressive he's been taking the ball to the basket.  He's shooting the ball from the perimeter well enough that he's able to use his great hesitation dribble, putting defenders back on their heels enough for him to get by and drive to the hole.  If he can continue this play into next season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him as the ninth or 10th man for the Raps.

The other player who's really impressed me from the Raptors of course is DeMar DeRozan.

DeMar lead Toronto in scoring last night with 20, but it was the way he did it that continued to make me think that what we saw from him towards the end of his career at USC was just the tip of the ice-berg.  He again showed a very well-rounded offensive repretoire scoring in transition, off the bounce, from mid and long-range, and at times seems to be everywhere on the court at once. 

One sequence with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter really showed this as DeRozan created the offence for the Raptors, and yet when his teammate's shot didn't end up falling, DeMar was there to tap the rebound back out, and then looked to attack the rim again.

This is an element that Toronto hasn't seen from the wing position in years and I'm starting to think that he will indeed be an impact player for the Raps next year, be it as a starter or off the bench.

In the end, this one came down to the game's final minute and Douby, DeRozan and Ukic lead an 8-0 run to end the game in a W for the Dinos.

Up next for the Raptors tonight is the Bucks at 7:00 PM EST in what should be another good test.  The Bucks much like the Raps boast several players on their club with NBA experience so I'm expecting another hard-fought close contest.

Let's see if Toronto can continue to build on their last two games to come away with a third straight win.