The Toronto Raptors needed a suspect continuation call and a Lou Williams miss to get it done, but with a 108 to 106 win over the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the Dinos have managed to climb one game over .500 for the first time in months...
Winners of eight of their last 10.
Winners of three in a row.
A half game back of Miami for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Only about five games back of the likes of Atlanta and Orlando suddenly for a top three spot in the East.
Yes...it feels pretty good to be a fan of the Toronto Raptors right now.
With a 108 to 106 win over Philly last night, the team continues its roll, one that with a win over the undermanned Celtics tomorrow, could really turn into a nice stretch for the club. The team still faces some tough tests in Dallas, Cleveland and the LA Lakers (twice) this month, but they also play the Knicks, Pacers and Bucks twice each in games that could really help cement their playoff status. Two of the latter three clubs are fighting for one of the Eastern Conference's final playoff births so it's essential that Toronto get W's in most of these matches to keep pace with the East's elite.
Throw in a match against Miami and suddenly January could be the key month in Toronto's 2009-10 campaign in terms of determining playoff seeding.
In that light, while it is only early in January, a comment from one of our readers post-game made me want to poll Raptors' nation:
If the Raps can't catch the fourth seed in the East when all is said and done, which of the top four teams would you prefer the Dinos' face in the first round?
Right now I'm going to say Orlando, Cleveland, Atlanta and Boston in that order.
And if Boston can't stay healthy, I'd swap the final two.
The Hawks as we've seen this season, are simply a terrible match-up for Toronto at present. They've got length and athleticism to cause serious match-up problems, and the toughness and shot-blocking ability in the paint to help negate Chris Bosh.
As we saw in last night's hard-fought win over Philly, Toronto simply doesn't deal well with quickness and athleticism, and it was one of the key reasons they got behind early, and were down by 11 at the half. Last night's game really was Philadelphia's to lose and with nine turnovers in the 3rd quarter and some solid brick-laying offensively, luckily for us fans, they did just that.
In addition, after 20 trips to the free throw line in the first half, the 76ers managed but five the rest of the way as the team got away from the game plan that made them so successful early on. The Raptors' perimeter was having an extremely tough time keeping the uber-quick Lou Williams in check, as well as the likes of Andre Iguodala and even the aging Allen Iverson. Iverson in particular was a thorn in TO's side early, creating for teammates and getting the rim at will.
But as the game progressed, players like Iguodala started to settle for long-range shots and stopped pushing the ball down the Raptors' throats, a strategy that was so effective early on. The Raps get some credit here as well though, doing a much better job preventing said run-outs by being much more effecient in the rebounding department as the game moved on.
The result was a 34 to 25 third quarter in favour of the Raptors, which was all they needed to give them a shot to win in the fourth. Bosh and Andrea Bargnani (with one of his all-around best games of the season) were huge down the stretch on a night when Hedo Turkoglu looked just like the ball-and-chain I thought Toronto overpaid for.
I'm hoping now that the dust has settled on the win that coach Jay Triano and crew learn from last night's contest. Against teams like Philadelphia, amongst the best in the league in terms of fast-break scoring, the club needs to do a much better job in transition.
As well Jay, can we finally rethink the Calderon-Jack-Turkoglu clutch-time three-headed monster?
For the second-straight game I felt it almost cost the Raps the win and as one of our commenters noted, it's "like having too many cooks in the kitchen."
Putting aside Bosh's desperation "And 1" with seconds left in the game, a questionable continuation call at best, the Dinos' clutch-time offence looked hesitant and shaky with too many "thinkers" on the court and not enough "doers." DeMar DeRozan has been pretty agressive the past few games so I'd much prefer to see him in their at the 2 right now, especially on offense since Triano has been switching up O for D on final possessions when possible.
However it's hard to complain too much about that win, one of the most satisfying of the year for me despite the record of the opponent.
It's games like these that Toronto was unable to get back in, or close out, early in the season, and I think a great sign of the progress this club has made over the past few weeks.
Let's once more see if that can translate to an improved effort against the Boston Celtics next...regardless of who suits up for the C's on Sunday.