Joe Johnson didn’t find things quite as easy this time around.
Hawks 88, Raptors 93

We needed to win these last two games and we did, so credit to the team for getting the job done before hitting the tough schedule ahead. We split the four game homestand and show some defensive improvement from the NJ and Boston games. Bosh was excellent as he usually is and finally got some help from his mates – Jason Kapono dusting off the shooting hand for 16 points and Joey Graham chipping in with 11. In a five point affair where neither team cracked 95 points its always going to be the defense that wins you the game and its no different here. We won because we didn’t allow Atlanta’s guards to walk all over us and showed some pride by making a concerned effort in checking our man on the perimeter. We played well enough to win but that doesn’t mean the game wasn’t peppered with defensive mistakes and stretches of stagnant offense which nobody on the Raptors TV post-game seems to mention. If you didn’t know the score and were watching their coverage you’d think that we won this game by 25 points when the reality is that if a couple shots had gone the other way, things would’ve been different.

Chris Bosh is the well that we all drink from and if it ever went dry we’d starve to death and have our carcasses eaten by vultures. A day after Sam Mitchell says that he’s watching Bosh’s minutes, he plays 44 and every single one of them was needed. Fact is that our offense is entirely dependent on Bosh and unable to generate a clean shot with him on the bench. Every time we needed a hoop we went to Bosh and he gave us 30/10 points on 50% shooting (13-26). This is after he started 3-9 in the first half because of missing a shootaround due to a bad elevator in his building. He’s not just a cog in the Raptors wheel, he’s the rim, the tires, the bolts and the hub cap. Give him the ball in relatively good position and he’s going to get you points one way or another. With Josh Smith out it was left upto Zaza Pachulia to deal with Bosh and to his credit he stayed with CB4 for the first half but the second was an entirely different story as Bosh found both the mid-range and drive game which easily negotiated Zaza, Horford and Solomon Jones’ defense. He did most of his damange in the third quarter where he went 7-10 and turned a four point deficit into a four point lead heading into the fourth where we played just enough defense to come through.

One of the reasons we’ve had to rely on Bosh so much is because Jose Calderon has been a total flop for the past few games. I’ve never seen a PG have an 11:1 AST/TO ratio and still be accused of not creating for his teammates but that is the case. 90% of the time the first pass after the high pick’ n roll goes to Bosh who then decides what to do with the possession. Either he decides to take a jumper (AST Calderon), drive, or pass off to the perimeter for a bunch of “fake drives” which if they create space for Moon, Parker or Calderon result in a jumper and if they don’t, the ball goes back to Bosh who now has no other option but to take the shot. Fortunately for us Jason Kapono and Joey Graham gave us enough bench production to avoid a repeat of the Orlando game.

Down the stretch the Hawks had a couple very good looks which would’ve made it a one point game and put pressure on the Raptors offense to score. They missed and we never got tested. Calderon gave us a 6-pt cushion with 1:11 left after he drove for the first time all game. He’s trying to shoot himself out of a slump but everything’s rattling in and out. His game looks to be entirely perimeter oriented and the Calderon of the last two years that used to look to turn the corner for layups and drive ‘n kicks seems to have disappeared. Maybe it’s the hammy, I don’t know, but on the court he’s not the same player we expect him to be.

Defense won us the game and Parker, Hump, Graham and Bargnani deserve credit – in that order. Parker forced Joe Johnson to shoot 7-22 (1-9 3FG) by keeping him in front of him. JJ’s a great player and no doubt he blew past Parker once or twice a quarter but it wasn’t nearly the matador defense he had played earlier against him. Parker’s footwork was supreme and his hands were always ready to contest. Since Parker checked JJ, it meant that Calderon checked Bibby and the expected happened: Bibby lit him up for 24 on 9-14. Lucky for us Bibby missed a couple big late (open) jumpers which would’ve put an entirely different complexion on this game. Good Joey made another appearance and did what he does best – slash to the rim, play hard on defense and try to get some easy points. Nothing complicated or spectacular, just good use of his athleticism and hustle. Looking at him in the past two games you wonder why this guy gets into Sam’s doghouse so often. As bad as he can be at times there’s definitely enough ability in there to make sure he doesn’t get more than 1 DNPCD at a time. We’ll see.

Andrea Bargnani got a couple blocks and Kris Humphries brought the “Hump hustle” with 7 rebounds in 19 minutes and stayed true to the fact that he’s always in the top two in per 48 rebounding on the team. The turning point in the game was the start of the fourth quarter when Atlanta had Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby on the bench and the Raptors scored twice. By the time they returned the lead had gone from 4 to 10 and 6 of the points in that 8-2 run came from Graham and Hump. The Hawks never recovered.

This Raptors team will never blow anyone out. Their best hope is to play good collective team defense, count on Bosh’s scoring and hope at least two other players step up their scoring to give them a chance in the fourth quarter. Once you get there, grind it out. Here’s an interesting stat: The Raptors are 4-1 when a bench player scores at least 15 points. Bottom line seems to be that Bosh can’t do it alone and since Calderon and Parker are struggling to find their offense, we have to look for the bench to compensate. Jason Kapono stepped up and even took a couple jumpers which you don’t usually dare see him take. We’re used to seeing him protect his percentages and this is what Jack Armstrong thinks about that:

“I wish Jason Kapono never knew what his three point shooting percentage was…its not about your percentage, they need him aggressive and shooting and even if you miss some, its OK”

Good to see its not just us fans that are thinking in the same vein. Sherman Hamilton’s response to that statement was to say that in the days of contracts and numbers a player has to know what he’s shooting. Good points both ways although Jack’s is far more idealistic.

I love how Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson responded to the Toronto media asking questions about Chris Bosh’s performance and whether this was one of the best games Bosh has played. These questions are designed to incite positive responses from opposing players about the your team but they were having none of it and responded in short blurts, “I don’t worry about Chris Bosh” or “I follow the Atlanta Hawks”. Love the attitude.

Another reporter asked Joe Johnson an angled question about what the Raptors did to disrupt the Hawks tonight. After asking him to repeat the question and thinking about it for a while he says:

“Ummm….there’s really nothing special that happened during the game, they just gave a better effort than us down the stretch”.

That could be used as a succinct summary. We’ll know much more about the team over the next three games when they face quality opponents in the Lakers, Nuggets and Jazz, games for which Jermaine O’Neal should be ready to go. Beating the Bobcats and Hawks is nice but let’s get a quality win now.

Hassan Adams is the official bench cheerleader…Crowd chanting Joey Joey was nice…Solomon got in the game in the fourth (!) and didn’t ruin things…Moon went 3-6 on his jumpers…Bargnani’s block on Horford was nice…We were +10 in PINP, even on fast-breakpoints and only -3 on the rebounds…You can check out all the post-game interviews in the video section. I probably shouldn’t be doing the post-game recaps after watching a game at Philthy’s, my judgment is very Budy, Milllery and Heineky so if I missed any stuff, forgive me.

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