The Raptors couldn't distance themselves from the Rockets until the fourth when they finally were able to click in both their offense and defense together. Pulling out a win in the final minutes, the Raptors took control and didn't let it go. But it wasn't easy and Vicious D tells us why
I'll tell you folks.
Those Raptors made me eat crow.
After asking whether the Raptors should consider playing more of their youthful end-of-benchers, the Raptors came out and got extremely productive minutes from their bench. Guys like David Andersen and Linas Kleiza were both positive in +/- stats by a large margin. Kleiza in particular completely dominated the Rockets when he decided to go inside. Over and over again, he took Chase Budinger on the post.
There were a lot of games within the overall larger score and at times, it wasn't pretty for our hometown heroes.
To start off, the Raptors got themselves in trouble in the first half by entering into the game with the aspiration to merely out-shoot Houston. Truth be told, it actually worked for the most part. The team kept shooting a high percentage and seemed to be firing on all cylinders, except for DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan seemed to get into a sort of funk and just couldn't get any calls to go his way. However, his teammates, mainly Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems simply couldn't miss and led the Raptors in scoring going into the half and gave the Raptors the lead.
Nevertheless, I was extremely nervous about how the Raptors played for the first two quarters.
Interior defense was extremely lacking for one. The Rockets seemed to be able to get to the rim at will and guys like Kevin Martin and Luis Scola attempted to break the Raptors' interior. Guys like Andrea Bargnani were having trouble keeping their man in front of them, and this issue extended out to Jarrett Jack who just couldn't slow down Kyle Lowry all day.
On the other hand, the Raptors themselves were quite anemic in getting to the line. A lot of it had to do with the refs who simply refused to give the Raptors any kinds of trips to the foul line.
It's why by the half, I was convinced that guys like Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry would chew up the Raptors from the inside out in the second half.
And with several turnovers in the third quarter, the Rockets ended up taking the lead thanks to a barrage of 3-pointers and a parade to the free throw line. Initiated by Kyle Lowry, the Rockets managed to draw the Raptors defenders into the paint before he kicked the ball back out to wide open perimeter shooters. It was looking like the Raptors wouldn't be able to figure out how to crack the Rockets, but I have to give them credit, they fought back with some key moves and decisions by their coach.
Jay Triano's decision to use Jose Calderon was a great move because while Jarrett Jack was having a decent night with his eight assists and one turnover, his defense was abysmal. Calderon had the hot hand and seemed to be able to get all of his teammates involved in the offense and defensively, he was having more luck slowing down Lowry than Jack was. Another lucky move was that Weems went out in the 3rd quarter with a slight injury which brought in Linas Kleiza. Kleiza stepped up and continued his work attack the middle in the first half.
But even more essential was that DeMar DeRozan was given the time to play through his slump.
By being an aggressive force, DeRozan eventually found his game. Going to the charity stripe 12 times was just what our Raptors needed as every point scored also meant the Raptors had enough time to set up their defense properly. In addition, DeRozan did a pretty admirable job down the stretch in limiting Kevin Martin's opportunities.
As DeRozan started getting to the foul line, the rest of the team followed and the Raptors managed to set up an aggressive defense and find ample scoring opportunities for all their players down the stretch. Players like Amir Johnson stayed out of foul trouble and provided an inside presence against players such as Luis Scola. Jose Calderon continued through most of the fourth except for a little bit of a rest, but was quickly reinserted when the Rockets caught up with the Raptors again. Andrea Bargnani continued his aggressiveness, and Kleiza provided some key rebounds.
So all in all, the Raptors played one quarter of inspired basketball and took over the game.
It's now the start of the Raptors home stand and I'm glad that they started things off with a win. It didn't come easy and it came against a team which is currently struggling to find any holding in the West. The fact that the Raptors kept a lead for most of the game before putting things away in the fourth is a start for this team, and something that I hope to see them build upon as this home stand continues. The foundation seems to be there, it's just a matter of building on it day by day.
And yes, I still have a smile from the win.