Just when you thought the tank was up and rolling again, out comes this effort...
On a night when the Detroit Pistons, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets all won, the Toronto Raptors just couldn't roll over, using a full team effort to upset the Denver Nuggets, 106 to 95. A loss would have tied the Raps for the fourth-worst record in the league with the aforementioned Nets, and helped close the gap between themselves and the Hornets, who sport the league's third-worst record.
But it was not to be as you could see from the jump how badly Toronto wanted this W.
The club took a two point lead into the halftime break thanks to a Linas Kleiza buzzer-beater, and after a back-and-forth third Q, the Raps used a 17 to 2 run to break things open in the fourth quarter once and for all.
Andrea Bargnani had his best offensive game in ages, scoring 26 points and getting to the line 12 times, while Kleiza, Calderon, DeRozan and Gary Forbes all had double figure scoring nights.
It's Forbes though that I want to touch on this morning.
Since getting major playing time we've seen an interesting wrinkle to Forbes' game that was not so apparent earlier in the season; the kid is a terrific rebounder for his position. He grabbed 10 of Toronto's 49 rebounds last night, his second double-digit rebounding effort in three nights, and this was a major boost for the Dinos. Considering the Nuggets are one of the league's best rebounding clubs, this effort by Forbes really helped in terms of getting the W and again showed how valuable a dominant glass-cleaning performance can be at the 2-guard spot.
It also made me think of Toronto's issues at shooting guard in general. In many ways this is their weakest spot on the floor (12.0 PER as opposed to a league average of 14.5) and it's an area I feel the Raps really have to address this off-season. Sure, statistically speaking the club's PER difference is greater at the 3, but in many ways you expect that considering they don't have a marquee guy at that spot.
DeMar was supposed to BE that marquee guy at the 2, the future shooting guard of the franchise, so to speak.
He had 17 points in his return from injury last night, but they were a fairly hollow 17 considering he hit only 6 of 20 shots from the field and 5 of 11 free throws. And while he did have five rebounds and five assists, it's tough to swallow shooting numbers like that from DeMar (which unfortunately happen all too often) considering...well, that's what a shooting guard is supposed to be able to do. Shoot.
He's hitting only 42 per cent of shots from the field and let's not talk about long-range statistics.
Couple that with less than four rebounds and two assists on average and that's just not enough production from that position on the floor.
That's why performances like the one Forbes had last night really stand out.
I'll take 11 and 10 in 19 minutes on any night, especially when 9 of those 11 come off some very strong three-point shooting. (On that note, how about Forbes staring down the Denver bench after hitting a dagger 3 late?)
That's why it's going to be very interesting to see which direction Bryan Colangelo goes in this upcoming draft. A player like Bradley Beal at face value seems to do all of the things that Forbes does, but better. How long can the Raps afford to wait on DeMar, hoping he starts to lock into some manner of consistent play?
To me, with Jerryd Bayless now sidelined for the rest of the season, this whole shooting guard issue, and the play of Andrea Bargnani, are the two most interesting stories to follow with only about 15 games left in this abridged campaign. Should DeRozan continue to make like a yo-yo performance-wise, could we begin to see someone like Forbes get his minutes down the stretch? Or will DeMar lock in like he did late last season, and show that he is indeed on the cusp of being a go-to scorer in this league?
The good thing is, for Raptors fans, either situation is a win.
If DeMar can become a consistent offensive threat and contribute in other areas, then next year looks a lot brighter.
And if he struggles, well, this likely works too.
A struggling DeMar may mean more ping pong balls when all is said and done and ironically, this could end up helping the Raptors increase their odds of finding his draft-day replacement.