Excellent performance, great win, but the job’s not yet done. Before we get carried away we need to realize that this game will mean little if we have a letdown on Saturday and head back to Orlando down 3-1. I’ll just say a few more words of caution before we get to the game. Much like in the series against Philadelphia, we managed to easily beat the Magic in our first home game, it’s an almost natural win. A team down 0-2 comes back home and wins behind a great crowd. You feel like you’re back in the series and let your guard down just a bit and in the next game you get stung by a bitter home loss. The Raptors suffered a letdown in that game with Iverson’s steal on Oakley followed by a deep 3 tilting the advantage in favor of Philly who stole back home-court advantage and tied the series at 2-2. The Raptors must ensure that they don’t repeat the same mistake, only this time they’d be facing a 3-1 hole.
On to the game, the Raptors finally came out with the energy that’s been missing from their 1st quarters and the “change” that Sam Mitchell made wasn’t really a change at all, it was one of the most familiar lineups the Raptors have played all season – Bargnani, Bosh, Moon, Ford and Parker. There was nothing complicated about the lineup and it was basically common sense more than anything. The excellent first quarter start proved once again how unnecessary the Game 1 and 2 adjustments really were, this team played the Magic tight in the regular season with a “traditional” lineup, there was never a need to make a change.
Jamario Moon’s insertion into the lineup yielded instant dividends as he led the Raptors rebounding effort with 10 on the way to outmanning the Magic 42-34 – a rare feat indeed. He didn’t take a single bad shot and always looked to pass when the Magic were daring him to shoot. Bargnani’s defense on Howard was fundamentally sound and forced Howard into taking a few uncomfortable looking shots, Howard still got his on the offensive glass but overall, he was well-contained by the Raptors and the whistle-happy officials. Howard might be a beast but there are weaknesses in his game that are there to exploit, he doesn’t have great footwork, is turnover prone and isn’t a great passer out of double teams. The pressure the Raptors put on him today showed that.
The Sea of Red at the ACC did their job, the energy of the crowd propelled the Raptors as they hit the offensive glass, knocked down their jumpers and were active on defense. Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Parker provided some early scoring and TJ Ford was instrumental in pressuring Nelson and not allowing the Magic guard to penetrate and find shooters. A 28-20 first quarter was something the Raptors desperately needed and it set the table up for a confident and energetic game. The Magic chipped away at the Raptor lead but TJ Ford singlehandedly went on an 11 point run against Carlos Arroyo late in the second quarter to push the lead to 21 at the half. What might get lost in the second quarter is Rasho Nesterovic’s 6-minute spell of Chris Bosh which allowed the latter to get some rest after looking sluggish early on.
Every Magic run was answered as Jose Calderon and TJ Ford picked out shooters to a tune of 49%. Aside from some brief stretches in the second half, the Raptors ball movement was crisp and effective. When we’re hitting our outside shots, everything opens up for us and it doesn’t even matter if Chris Bosh has 3 points at the half as long as he’s kicking out of the hard Magic doubles effectively. Jose Calderon’s recognition of when to shoot and when to pass is flawless, he made the Magic pay for doubling Bosh off of him by knocking the perimeter jumper and was ultra-quick in starting the swing sequences when he didn’t have a clean look. The best example of his court awareness was when he dribbled the ball across the right side of the court and through the paint while dragging the defense with him and then finding Bosh for a dunk in the paint. TJ Ford’s strong performance also meant Dave Feschuk hopping on the Ford bandwagon, all it takes is one game for this to flip. If Ford goes 2-10 in Game 4 he’ll go back to calling him a problem child. Wanker.
The Magic were still able to get guard penetration but it wasn’t as bad as the previous games, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis have shown that they can get by their man with relative ease and find Evans and Bogans at the corners, fortunately for us the Magic aren’t hitting their perimeter shots – 6-27 3FG for 22%. This is a scary stat because you get a feeling that they’ll eventually start knocking them down. The Raptors were better at contesting shots today but for us to even this series on Saturday we have to do a better job of keeping Lewis and Turkoglu at bay – and that means Chris Bosh must not bite on Lewis’ fakes and Parker/Moon should tempt Hedo to shoot.
The Player of the Game had to be the ACC crowd, they had a direct impact on the game and were very much responsible for Howard’s 3-8 FT performance. You could tell that the Haawwaard chant was getting to D12, not so much the Superman Sucks one. Howard ended up with 19/12 but it wasn’t the demoralizing type of performance that we saw in Games 1 and 2, he turned the ball over 5 times, wasn’t able to pass out of double teams and showed his frustration with the officials and his teammates.
Forderon’s 39/16 contribution was the difference in the game and the bench did its part outscoring the Magic reserves 42-24, this was how this series was envisioned if you’re a Raptors fan. Dominant point guard play, X-factor production, Bosh canceling out Howard and superior outside shooting from the Raptors – that’s how we can get back in the series and have a chance to win it. For the first time in quite some time you can honestly say that the Raptors played with a hunger and desire greater than the other team. We got to keep it going on Saturday otherwise its all for naught.
Apparently Jameer Nelson collapsed after the game because of back spasms, I think Forderon abused him a bit much today. Hopefully they don’t let up on the little bugger in Game 4.
I am at a complete loss to explain Jason Kapono’s performance. Another great game for him, 15 points on 6-10 shooting, its not like the Magic are leaving him wide open. He’s been able to run out on the break, find favorable positions to spot up from and keep the defense honest by dribble-driving. However, a lot of his success can be credited to Calderon who is looking for him on every opportunity. Jose’s recognition of “hot hands” is superb, he’ll almost always pass you the ball if you’ve made your previous shot. Delfino’s minutes were productive, he hit a big three, grabbed 6 rebounds and most importantly played Turkoglu and Bogans tight. Anthony Parker made up for his miserable Game 2 with 10 points and some very effective close-outs on Bogans/Evans and Lewis. Usually his shot contests are in vain but tonight he did more than just waive his arms as the shot was being released, he actually bothered the release.
Sam Mitchell did a good job of using his timeouts, usually he waits far too long before putting an end to runs. His timeout after Lewis opened the third quarter with two straight threes got the Raptors thinking straight once again. Complacency is almost natural when you get a 21 point lead and that’s even more true with this Raptors squad. We’ve blown big leads, small leads, fourth quarter leads, and all kinds of other leads, so it was a breath of fresh air to see us make a stand and answer every Magic run. As I said before, if we’re moving the ball crisply across the perimeter after Bosh double teams, we’re an entirely different team than the stagnant mess you see at times. I’m not saying we’re great, but we’re good enough to beat other defensively suspect teams like the Magic.
The guy that scares me the most on the Magic is Rashard Lewis, he can get by Bosh at will and is too big and lengthy for Moon, Parker or Delfino to guard. If he sets his mind to taking our SFs in the post, he can give us nightmares. He was 8-15 FG and 3-8 from three, that means when he was playing near the paint he was shooting 5-7. The more we can keep him on the perimeter, the better. I don’t know if the Magic know this but the biggest mismatch in their favor is Rashard Lewis against anybody on the Raptors. Here’s hoping they never figure that out.
Dime Mag’s got an interesting quote and take on Sam Mitchell “not caring” about what the media says:
…And then there was Sam Mitchell. When a reporter asked if he was gonna take credit for the Raps playing better after Games 1 and 2, Mitchell said, “No, I’m not going to take any credit, because I’d be scared to death if you actually gave me some. We’re not going to do that. You just keep on doing what you do; chopping me up, putting me in the meat grinder. And that’s fine, because I’m not going to read it anyway. It doesn’t bother me. That’s what I keep telling you guys. How can something bother you that you’re not conscious of? I don’t ever read what’s spoken about me or printed about me. I’m just going to coach the basketball team.” Really? That sounds a lot like someone who is VERY MUCH aware of and bothered by what’s written about him
Forderon is the Top Rap but since we can’t have two, I flipped a coin. A note to the clowns wearing white: you guys stand out like a sore thumb. WTF is your excuse for not taking the free T-Shirt they handed out? Another quick hit: Adnan Virk was hitting on Dwight Howard’s dad.