To say that this win was huge for the free-falling Raptors would be an understatement.
The struggles of the Toronto Raptors of late have been well documented in this space and the mood around the team has been less than stellar, but last night's 95-74 bludgeoning of the Dallas Mavericks may help turn things around in Toronto.
One of the biggest reasons for the Dinos impressive win last night was there improved effort on the defensive end of the floor.
"We've got to get back to the defensive fundamentals and that's on me, I got away from it. From now on it's going to be about that," Casey told reporters after the game. "Every man that steps on that floor has to be about defence."
The extra emphasis on defence payed off as the Raptors held the Mavericks to 39.1 percent shooting from the floor and, thanks to their improved close outs on the perimeter, they also stopped the Mavericks' streak of 1,108 consecutive games with a three-point make by holding them to 0-13 from beyond that three-point stripe.
A particularly impressive aspect of their defensive attack was the way they handled O.J Mayo. Mayo is in the midst of a break-out season and has been the Mavericks number one option on offense with Dirk Nowitzki on the shelf. This did not deter the Raptors from going after right after him defensively, sending double teams and pressure man defense possession after possession.
Mickael Pietrus and the returning Alan Anderson both did a fantastic job stoping Mayo all game long. Mayo finished just 2-8 from the floor and turned the ball over a game-high 6 times.
Offensively, the two most impressive performances came from the Dinos' bench.
Linas Klieza led all scorers with 20 points including 5 three-point makes. Casey summed up Kleiza's performance after the game by saying simply "Linas (Kleiza) had one of his nights. He has one every blue moon."
Toronto's second leading scorer was rookie Terrence Ross who managed 18 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes of action. The rookie also played some of the best defense he has played so far in his young career. But, as Dwane Casey noted after the game, the key to Ross' development will be continually displaying this type of effort.
"Being consistent, he's still learning. Defensively, he did a great job of closing out and those same shots he's taking, theres going to come a time (where) he's going to be hot like L.K," Casey said when asked how the young swingman can continue to help this team. "One of these days they are going to start falling, thats why i don't get upset with his 7 threes. He don't short change himself, i'll tell you that, he gets his money's worth and that's what he's supposed to do."
One of the biggest issues that has plagued this team so far this season has been their inability to put together a full 48 minutes of effort. Last night however, that is exactly what the team did. This, according to point guard John Lucas III, was due to the team's new approach of taking the game one quarter at a time.
"Each quarter is kind of like a game to us," Lucas told RaptorsHQ after the game, "So we wanted to win every game. We just had to win four games, you win four games then you win the game."
With the win, the Raptors improve to 5-19 which certainly isn't anything to celebrate. But, if nothing else, the win will help to improve team morale of the team and help to lighten the mood around the organization after a rough week that saw the MLSE board meet, calling into question the future of a number of players as well as the Head Coach and General Manager.
The Dinos will now look forward to a nice break in the schedule with 3 of their next 4 games coming at home and all of those games coming against teams that are currently .500 or below.
If the team is going to climb out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference, these next few games are ones that they absolutely need to win.
- Alan Anderson returned to action after missing the last 17 games with an injury. Anderson failed to make a shot from the floor, but was extremely effective on the defensive end.
- Vince Carter returned to town once again and was once again booed emphatically throughout the contest. Carter struggled in the game, shooting just 1-8.