A resurgent Washinton Wizards team entered into the ACC after besting the Denver Nuggets the other night, but the Toronto Raptors held on for the 109-104 win. The Raptors had to scrap it out for this one and Raptors HQ has the recap.
Hedo Turkoglu is like a box of chocolates.
Or is he like Forrest Gump?
For most of the game, Hedo put in a fairly decent performance. If you simply looked at his stat line, (16 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast) you'd probably think Turkoglu had a strong game and is rounding back into form. At least, that's what most of the Raptors broadcasting crew would like you to believe. Don't get me wrong. Turkoglu is playing exponentially better than he was a month ago, but there is still plenty in need of polish. Besides missing a fairly straightforward dunk, Hedo almost single handedly lost the game for the Raptors when the Dinos kept putting the ball into his hand. Of course, with ball in hand, Turkoglu consistently hogged the ball and looked for his own ill-timed shots exclusively down the stretch. Then again, he also rebounded the ball on a missed Jarrett Jack layup to seal the game.
So yes, like a box of chocolates.
In any case, the Raptors pulled out a win and I don't really have a good taste in my mouth thanks to how it all played itself out. The good parts were definitely there with Antoine Wright once again providing some surprising offense from the bench while also doing a serviceable job on newly acquired Wizard, Josh Howard. Howard lit up the Raptors in the beginning of the game before Wright was inserted. As Howard dictated the pace, the Raptors had to shoot at an incredibly high efficiency rate just to remain withing striking distance. Everyone on the Raptors got in on the scoring before finally being able to slow down the Wizards in the second. Rasho Nesterovic once again was an anchor in the absence of Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack's offense always seemed readily available.
It was good enough even to put up a seven point lead going into the half.
And all of this despite allowing the Wizards to score 57 points for the first half.
As any Raptor fan knows though, this was simply a recipe for disaster. Invariably, the Raptors would encounter a portion of the game where their shots wouldn't fall. The other team, still smoking hot thanks to the lack of defense, would come charging back to overtake the Raptors. The Raptors would then need to grit it out for a win.
It's not a pattern of an Eastern Conference contender, but it is what our Raptors team done throughout the year. It's definitely a habit that's often reared its head when the Raptors have played a sub .500 team and unless they clean it up, there will little chance for the Raptors to win a seven game playoff series.
Just to emphasize ineffective the Raptors' defense was, Washington managed to get 18 more scoring opportunities than the Raptors. This was even with the Raptors out rebounding the Wizards by four and only making one more turnover.
However the Raptors turned the tables on the Wizards.
It was almost too late. The Wizards had turned the corner and all the momentum seemed to be lost before the Raptors figured things out. The Wizards had made a couple of fatal errors. First of all, they started going away from Andray Blatche, who was the hot hand in the second half. He scored 14 points in the third quarter but had preciously few scoring opportunities in the fourth despite his proficiency.
The second error was that the Wizards made their comeback too soon. In the fourth, the Raptors figured things out and started to play some tougher defense. Suddenly, rotations were better, Bargnani was registering some key blocks down the stretch, and the Raptors managed to keep rebounding the ball despite having a small lineup. In an extremely surprising move, Jay Triano placed Bargnani up front with Turkoglu and Antoine Wright as forwards. He then also placed Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack on the floor to create one of the weakest rebounding lineups possible. However, Bargnani held his own on several key stops and Turkoglu grabbed an important rebound in the final minute to close out the game so Triano's gamble worked for one night.
When the Raptors stayed pat after the deadline, there were many of us disappointed that Bryan Colangelo did not take an opportunity to move some contracts to possibly gain some draft picks or at least some more experienced wingmen. One person I'm very glad that he's kept has got to be Rasho Nesterovic. From the onset, there was nothing but upside towards signing the big Slovanian center. He had proven his worth to the Raptors organization previously with his professional attitude and his utilitarian abilities At the time, I thought the Raptors got a huge bargain and now he's proving himself to be quite invaluable.
Over the course of the season so far, Colangelo's best moves of last summer have been his more subtle moves. Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, and Jarrett Jack were all mostly thought of as "spare parts" to the entire team. It's ironic then, that the Raptors find all of these players invaluable while their most publicized signing, Hedo Turkoglu, still has trouble justifying the money the Raptors have allocated towards him. With only a few more months until the playoffs begin, it's time Turkoglu justified his salary and his place on the roster. The Raptors have already used the excuse of needing to develop chemistry and the need to rest his injuries. Turkoglu himself has said that he needs the ball in his hand more often. As the days tick down, the Raptors will have fewer opportunities to finally get Turkoglu on track. And with Chris Bosh out of the lineup, now is the time to prove that you're one of the Alpha Dogs of the Raptors and to show that you really deserve the ball as much as you say you do.
Otherwise, it's time to learn how to play differently, yet efficiently on the current roster.