Toronto Raptors 104, Charlotte Bobcats 100

That was an extremely hard fought win which required our starters to play capacity minutes, anything less from them would’ve meant a loss. Chris Bosh, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Rasho Nesterovic logged 46, 41, 36 and 28 minutes, respectively, as Sam Mitchell’s hand was forced by the ineffectiveness of the bench who managed to net only 7 points. It’s a good thing our starters were somewhat rested in the New Orleans spanking otherwise this one could’ve easily gone south. Last time we played them they outrebounded us 50-37 and had 32 second chance points, this time around we won the rebounding battle 39-38 and that kept us in the game. Down the stretch when we needed points Chris Bosh delivered more often than not by attacking Jared Dudley and getting to the FT line, effectively punctuating a somewhat inconsistent evening for the Raptors.

The terrible perimeter defense was terrible once again. Raymond Felton and Early Boykins had little trouble getting past TJ Ford and Jose Calderon, the latter getting exploited seemingly on ever possession. Once the first line of defense was penetrated, Charlotte’s options opened up with the beneficiaries being Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor. TJ Ford was on fire in the first quarter and could do no wrong in leading the Raptors to a 39-32 advantage. Zero bad decisions, excellent passes and timely shots earmarked TJ’s performance but then again giving up 32 in the first quarter isn’t exactly great defense. The tide turned in the second quarter when Calderon was introduced to face Earl Boykins who ran circles around him and completely changed the dynamics of the game. It went from being a Raptors offensive showcase to Charlotte giving us a lesson in fast-break basketball, aggressive takes to the rim and open jumpers all created because of guard penetration.

It wasn’t just Boykins and Felton that had success in blowing by their man, Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace were doing the same and offsetting hard-fought Raptor scores on the other end. Anthony Parker’s sound 20 and Rasho Nesterovic’s 14/11 were absolutely massive in this game and lifted the pressure off of Bosh who had his hands full with the tight-checking Jared Dudley. Our offense labored in some stretches of the game but for the most part, there was more movement in our sets than we’ve seen in some time. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker filled up the lanes well and were always in motion in the half-court sets, that’s what happens when TJ Ford is at the top of his game. He’s so quick and decisive when he’s at full-steam that his teammates need to keep up with what’s going on in his head. Twice he found Moon early on the break for dunks and once Parker found him on the break for a layup, these are plays that happen because of sheer hustle and TJ brought that tonight. Sure, Felton’s 10/10 were impressive but he did not finish the game strong and made some very bad decisions tilting the advantage in favor of the Raptors. Kinda disagree with this article that calls the Raptors effort “dismal”, I thought they played well enough given their recent form.

Charlotte was killing us on the weak-side cuts all-game long (especially in the second quarter), we were a step too slow fighting through screens and Wallace and Richardson were getting easy scores. What was adding to the misery was Charlotte pushing the ball up court, getting into their sets early and executing them by getting guard penetration. The Raptors looked fatigued and didn’t have a defensive answer. TJ Ford’s introduction into the lineup eased things up a little and we went on a 4-0 run to end the second which cut the lead from 9 to 5 giving us something to build on in the third. By that time Bosh was rested, we were sharper on defense, hit the glass hard and Rasho/parker picked up the scoring. It was evident that if we played a 5 on 5 game from this point out, we’d have a good shot to win it because our defense had picked up and Charlotte’s offense wasn’t nearly as active or efficient – it’s that first game back from West theory again.

Jason Kapono didn’t see the light of day after starting against the Hornets. Good decision on Sam’s part, unless he was guarding Matt Carrol there wasn’t a damn chance that he’d be able to guard anybody on the Bobcats. They’re 2/3s are too quick and too good. Chris Bosh’s primary advantage against every PF in this league save Kevin Garnett is that he’s significantly quicker than them and he put that quickness to good use against Okafor who can’t stay with Bosh. Charlotte switched Dudley on him in the second half but Bosh still managed to get to the line. Dudley made his life harder but give credit to Bosh for still having a say in this game.

If you got the game PVR’d, fast forward to :30 seconds left in the second half and listen to Jack Armstrong talk about the Raptors situation, I’m going to try and summarize: This team needs to find a consistency going into the playoffs that it hasn’t been able to achieve all year long. They don’t bring the right defensive attitude and concentration on a game-by-game basis and their perimeter defense need a lot of work. The way we’re playing right now it’s a first round exit and we need to be a lot better in the first round, especially on defense.

Once again Jack is bang on about the team. We’re fortunate enough to have a somewhat easy schedule to end the year which is an excellent platform of going into the playoffs on a high note in terms of confidence and on-court play. The biggest thing we need to work on in these last few weeks is our defensive mindset. We can’t allow guard penetration based on a pump fakes, we can’t be late in our close-outs, we need to do a better job of fighting through screens, rotating when our teammates are beaten, concentrating on keeping our man in front of us, reading the scouting reports and playing to the players’ weakness. Just take today’s example, why are we playing Felton so tight knowing that he’s a 39% shooter? It’s things like these we need to iron out before the post-season starts and it’s a race against the clock.

I think Jamario Moon’s play deserves some mention, very solid night 6/7 for 15 points and 2 blocks which would’ve been converted to 4 points easily. There were a couple instances where he passed up opportunities to drive but he did run the break well, stuck the mid-range jumper, never forced a shot and played good enough defense on Gerald Wallace who can be a lot to handle. Write off Calderon’s bad game to the pest that is Earl Boykins. The game was played at a frantic pace when Boykins was in command which did not suit Calderon who was left chasing the little munchkin all around the floor.

The Raptors show good concentration in the second half in pulling out a win on the road against a team that’s been playing really well. Can we win consistently with 7 points from our bench and the starters being worked like mules? No, but I’ll take this win. I don’t want to be the guy who said I told you so but I told you so. TJ hit rock bottom in Utah and from that point on his performances have been controlled and very much in the context of the team game. I think he’s going to have a huge say if this team is going to finish strong and threaten in the playoffs. Having said that, I do think he’s a gonner in the off-season, but that’s a subject for another post on another day.

Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night and we got two reasons to beat them: get a grip on the 6th spot and help NJ get into the playoffs. Yeah, I want to see Boston vs. NJ, I think the Nets can win two games in that series.

Oh yeah, check this out, it’s Chris Bosh vs. Phil Jackson.

Top Rap? TJ Ford.

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