Taking the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors finish off their record at 29-23 and tie their franchise record in wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors also introduced a jacked-up crowd to Reggie Evans which definitely lived up to the hype.
Is it disturbing that more people in the States probably saw the debut of Reggie Evans than people in Canada?
Thanks to having the game on TSN2, the Raptors closed off the first part of their season with a win that was definitely well earned. In a bit of a twist to their last couple of games, the Raptors played with a great effort for the majority of the game, but allowed the 76ers to storm back in the fourth to make it a game. The Raptors, to their credit, managed to put the 76ers away in the final minutes and capped off the game with a 104-93 victory. And if you wanted to get a "coles notes" version it would go something like this:
Raptors and Sixers stay close for a quarter.
Raptors pull away for two quarters thanks to some good defense and interior presence.
The Sixers counter by tightening their defense and going small.
Raptors pull out stops in the end and get the victory.
Overall, the Raptors played a mostly complete game but should have come out with an "easy win"
Of course several players need to be highlighted starting with Jose Calderon. Calderon came in when the game was close at the beginning of the game and totally changed the way the game was being played by hitting player after player for alley-oop after alley-oop. In what might have been one of his most impressive outings in a long while, Calderon managed to dish off four assists in two minutes of work before scoring himself to finish off the quarter. He then was instrumental in building up the lead going into the half and hitting a major four-point play late in the game.
Side-by-side with Calderon was Sonny Weems. Taking over for the absent Hedo Turkoglu, (away due to a family illness) the athletic favourite of the HQ came into the game and found different ways to contribute. From finishing off the aforementioned Calderon alley-oop to playing some inspired defense down the stretch, Weems was much needed when the 76ers decided to put their fastest and most athletic group on the floor. When Jay Triano finally placed Weems in the final minutes to stop the defensive bleeding, both he and Antoine Wright played inspired help-D to neutralize Lou Williams in the dying minutes.
After that, Andrea Bargnani took over.
Casting aside his other work for the night, Bargnani capped off his day by hitting a three then getting an important rebound to go to the line for another two points before finally challenging a shot by Andre Iguodala and registering a block to seal the game. You can't just ask more from your starting center to cap off a game.
Throw in another solid outing by Chris Bosh with a 20 and 10 night and you have the recipe for a win.
The 76ers, though, wouldn't let the Raptors off easy. Led by Lou Williams efficient and productive night (26 points and 5 rebounds), Eddie Jordan managed to place a lineup that slowly tightened the screws on the Raptors so that stress fractures appeared. Jordan also had to sacrifice Elton Brand's production with his adjusted lineup in the third as he wanted to counter the Raptors with both Jason Smith and Thaddeus Young. With Brand carrying the majority of the Sixers' scoring power in their starting lineup, it was definitely a risky move, but one that paid off.
That is, until Jason Smith left the game with a hurt ankle when he got tangled up with Iguodala.
The story of the night, however, had to be the "bull in the china shop".
Reggie Evans's story has been one that has been much publicized. The ACC was already chanting his name as he stood on the sideline to check into the game, you could feel the electricity in the air. In the time that he's been out, Evans's popularity has skyrocketed thanks to his twitter account (@ReggieEvans30) and his work ethic. Besides registering two points, three rebounds, an assist, and a turnover, Evans's time on the floor was pretty much a wash with a 0 +/- score. However, there is little that could be denied that Evans gave it his all as he took a charge after a frenetic sequence that left him exhausted and tired. There were also lots of small things whether it was with Evans trying to save a rebound he had no business getting, or pushing and pinning Samuel Dalembert under the basket so he couldn't get a rebound, Evans showed qualities that have been missing from this Raptors team. He even received a chant for a return in the second half when the Raptors lost their momentum.
While I believe that there will eventually be a debate about whether Reggie or Amir Johnson should get the most minutes on any given night, there is also no denying that both players give the Raptors different looks that are unique. Reggie gives the Raptors a bit more defense and a lot more muscle while Amir has clearly shown a scoring touch with Jose Calderon on the floor. Situationally, the Raptors have the luxury of choosing which player to place in the game; something that most teams wished they had.
It's why for the time being, I'm very bullish on the Raptors and their chances to continue to make headway as the post All-Star season begins. The Raptors, while blowing their lead against a team that has won five in a row, did not fold under the pressure and continued to give it their all. While some of us continue to debate the merits of one player over another or lineup decisions made by Jay Triano and his coaching staff, there's no denying that the Raptors are a talented club who can play a variety of styles and play them well. The team itself is starting to emerge as a dangerous team in the league and continues to put distance between themselves and their competition.
Sitting 2.5 games above Charlotte and 4 games behind Boston, the Raptors are carving a spot for themselves at fifth place in the conference. There's been talk about what Bryan Colangelo should be looking for as the trade deadline approaches and we will be looking into that further in the days ahead, but for now, the Raptors are a team that has chemistry. It's taken a long road with some internal battles for sure, but as a fan, it's hard not to be happy with where the Raptors are overall and the possibilities that exist in the following months.
For now though, please enjoy the All-Star activities and join us over the coming days as we cover the All-Star weekend in Dallas.