Editor's Note: The HQ is expanding! Since about the end of last season it became clear to the team that they could use a few extra resources to help on the content side, so last month they put out the call to Ryerson's School of Journalism here in Toronto, seeking interns. They've narrowed their list down to a few final candidates, but want readers help in deciding who eventually rounds out the team. To that end, all week the HQ will be posting work from the finalists, and at the end of it, will seek feedback from you, the readers, as to who should get the gig!
We kick things off this morning with a recap provided by Gabe Lee, contestant number one...
With their 102-101 win over the Boston Celtics, the Raptors improved to 4-1 since Sonny Weems was inserted into the starting line-up. The Raps also welcomed back Jose Calderon into the starting 5, as a result of shipping Jarrett Jack to New Orleans. Both teams were shorthanded: the Raps were missing the new pieces they acquired in the trade and the Celtics' Rajon Rondo sat out with a hamstring injury.
The C's were off to a fast start, 31-23, riding the hot hand of Nate Robinson's 16 first quarter points. The second quarter appeared to be the Raps' best quarter of basketball (38 points explosion) against a quality opponent thus far in the season, their offence seemed to be really flowing and the play of their bench, led by Barbosa, was promising. The resilient Celtics kept it close until the end, but Rondo's playmaking ability was severely missed. Barbosa's steal off Ray Allen in the last 10 seconds of the game led to Amir Johnson's game winning free throws.
Andrea Bargnani is stringing a couple big games together, 29 points today, and looks to be settling into the role of the team's primary offensive weapon. Barbosa and Weems both had nice games, their impacts resonated beyond their stat lines. And free throw hero Amir Johnson chipped in 17 points and 11 boards. Boston's big three of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce were quiet for much of the game; the Celtics were led in scoring by Nate Robinson's 22 points.
With wins over Orlando and Boston in the span of two weeks, the Raps' losing ways seem like a distant memory. While they almost gave the crowd at the ACC a collective heart attack, one thing's for sure when they play together and play hard, this Raptor team is hard not to root for with their underdog mentality.
A few notes:
-The Raptors are 3-1 since Sonny Weems replaced Linas Kleiza in the starting lineup.
-Thought maybe we'd see some fireworks between Reggie Evans and Kevin Garnett. After the infamous KG and Charlie Villanueva incident, when Charlie accused KG of calling him a cancer patient. Reggie publicly called KG out in an interview with the Toronto star: "‘I’ve seen KG get his ass whupped.… He’s always barking, and when it’s time to get physical, he’s always been a little Chihuahua."
-Good patience shown all night by Andrea Bargnani, using what the defense was giving him, even passing on a contested three, swinging the basketball, using the screens designed to free him up, and trusting his team mates will find him again (which they did). Passing on a good shot for a great shot is an essential skill for a budding superstar.
-Jose spoke on an interview earlier in the game about how the game is fun for the Raptors because someone new steps up every game. It's great for the Raptors, but drives fantasy owners crazy.
-Speaking of Jose, a lot of Raptor fans whine about his defence, and it looks like he's taken it to heart this season. He took a charge from Big Baby and did number of little things right last night. Not saying Jose won't get abused by top tier point guards (a la if Rondo was playing and Nate in the first Q), but overall good to see him trying to get after it.
-A quintessential example of how the "ball don't lie", a phrase coined by former Celtic Rasheed Wallace, late in this one. A ghastly call made by the referee as KG blatantly loses control of the ball, slaps it out of bounds and the Celtics retain possession. The Raptors argue the call, and receive a technical. Ray Allen, a career .9999 free throw shooter (slight exaggeration), steps to the line and clanks it.
-Smart coaching by Jay Triano on the night overall. In particular, inserting a struggling Andrea in the 3rd Q to match up with the newly subbed in Glen Davis. Andrea immediately scores five points in the next two minutes, abusing Davis like a pylon.
-The battle in the trenches between Amir Johnson and KG throughout the quarter was riveting. Amir did an admirable job on many an occasion denying KG the ball and then closing out on KG's favourite jumper at the top of the key.
-There's a staggering difference between Boston's offence and Toronto's offence in the clutch. As Leo Rautins put it "Pierce's penetration creates opportunities to score," while the Raptors have been scrapping all over the place looking for someone to step up and make a play.
-What an unbelievable way to end the game. With the Raps down one, the ball is inbounded to Allen (who would most definitely go to the line and put the C's up 3, remember ball don't lie) and Barbosa appears to be looking to commit a foul but ends up stripping Ray. Jose picks up the ball passes cross court to Barbosa, Barbosa's layup is missed, but Amir Johnson is fouled on the offensive rebound!
Amir steps up and hits both free throws putting the Raps up 102-101 with 2.7 seconds left. Out of the timeout Piece misses a makeable look. Raptors win! Raptors win! Raptors win! The Raps almost gave the ACC a collective heart attack this afternoon, but undoubtedly they're a team that's fun to cheer for.