In line with the time of the year, Carmello Anthony made a March Madness-esque buzzer-beater to defeat the Toronto Raptors, 97 to 96, in spite of the Dinos best overall effort in weeks...
It was hard to put into words last night's 97 to 96 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
On one hand, Raptors' fans saw an inspired effort, the best probably in weeks from Toronto.
On another, they saw a winnable game slip through the team's fingers in the match's final seconds.
Carmello Anthony rose up with a slight few ticks left on the clock, and drained a desperation jumper from the elbow as time expired, and with that, an impressive performance by the Toronto Raptors was wasted as the club a game under .500 once again.
Well...maybe not wasted.
It was an absolute joy to watch this club last night. Their defence was swarming, the offence ran smoothly, the team was aggressive on the glass (they out-rebounded the Nuggets by 20!!), and their was an energy and sense of desperation amongst the players that hadn't been present in weeks. Yes, this was a tough loss to swallow, but hopefully after last night, the team now sees how it must address each and every game going forward, if they're serious about locking down a playoff spot.
Said effort couldn't have come at a better time either. Toronto faces the Charlotte Bobcats and Miami Heat up next, two teams they're fighting tooth and nail with for playoff positioning. The club will need to come out with the same mentality as they did last night in order to secure W's...
...and hopefully the same line-up.
It's too early to know Hedo Turkoglu's status for next game but finally, Jay Triano rolled out a starting line-up combination that outside of Jose Calderon, many Raptors fans and blogs have been pining for for months. In went Sonny Weems and Antoine Wright - out went Hedo and DeMar DeRozan. The line-up presented a nice balance of offense and defense, with the scrappy Sonny Weems putting on a bit of an offensive show to go with his solid defensive work.
On top of this, Marco Belinelli, finally healthy enough to play, got some serious burn and was a big lift off the bench. The club didn't miss a beat minus Hedo and even DeRozan, despite being relegated to coming off the pine, was huge in a reserve role with 15 points and 4 rebounds.
In fact the entire bench brought it last night, outscoring the Denver reserves 39 to 25. I'm not sure about you, but I jst felt that the transition from starter to bench was much more free-flowing last night and I'm praying that Triano leaves things alone. (Unless he wants to start Jack in place of Jose...but I'm just being greedy here.) Watching DeRozan as an Energizer Bunny off the bench seemed to be a much better fit for him, although it was admittedly maddening to watch this during game 71 of the season instead of 41.
Hence the title of this post.
The entire game was a bitter sweet one for me.
Besides the sweet and sour factor of losing a game Toronto, on effort, deserved to win, there was also the validation of what many of us have been preaching for months in regards to line-up adjustments, adjustments that Triano ignored when I spoke to him pre and post-game Wednesday. I don't want to say "too little, too late," but the fact of the matter is there are 11 games left and this team is still trying to find a rotation that works. Last night's was a beauty, but that will inevitably be thrown off again once Hedo returns. The club is running out of time to solidify things in this capacity; not to mention that since 10 players saw minutes last night, Triano is hardly shrinking his rotation in time for the post-season.
The truth is, I'm not sure he can. The club just doesn't get enough consistent play from its starters from night to night to warrant a set line-up and while I loved the look and feel of the starting five last night, I realize there's no guarantee they won't lay an egg Sunday. Therefore Triano may still need to switch things up a bit.
Again, I'm just hoping that he doesn't try to have his fingers in the pie too much here.
Despite the loss, I'm not going to try and break things down any further. I'm not going to get into whether or not Jay should have had Amir or Andrea out there during the final possession for rebounding purposes, or Bosh's lack of clutch play at the end of the game. Yes, both could be called into question but I'd rather focus on the positives from last night's match, because for the first time in ages, there were quite a few.
For the first time in ages last night, I saw a team that deserved to be in the playoffs, and maybe one that could give an opponent some issues. The Nuggets aren't 100% but they're no slouch either, and it took two big shots from their clutch players, Billups and Melo, to grab the W.
The Raps need to keep that in the back of their minds as they head into this next round of games and if they can, I feel quite confident that their winning ways will return.