Will Solomon Dwight HowardHoward’s second foul was key in the Raptors’ great first quarter.
Magic 102, Raptors 108

Sorry for the lateness of this post-game, but after the Raptors notched their second quality win of the season (second of 2009, both without JO…), Realizar, Arsenalist, Dinosty and me went to Philthy’s to celebrate, a drink led to a few pitchers, a big plate of nacho’s, and some trash talking at the pool table. I lost my wallet and witnessed a freak tragedy on the subway ride home…but my future nightmares are of no concern…

The Raptors win a statement-game, get back-to-back quality wins, come within a game and a half of the playoffs and move to 2-0 in 2009. Good start to the second half of the season. What makes this win sweet is who it came against – the Magic. You remember them right? The team that we dominated last year in the regular season and who handily dispatched us in the playoffs? The same team who signed Pietrus, someone I thought who would really help shore up our wing position. Thankfully he wasn’t playing. Unlike the Houston game where the Rockets failed to complete and settled for jumper and jumper en route to 34% shooting, this game came down to the wire and tested the Raptors ability to execute their offense in the clutch. Sometimes a narrow win can tell you a lot more than a blowout and today Roko Ukic, Andrea Bargnani and even the often maligned (and rightfully so) Anthony Parker displayed excellent composure in the fourth quarter.

With Calderon and O’Neal out, things looked grim. Hell, even with them in the lineup things still would have looked grim. But after the Houston win there was hope and our very own AltRaps picked the Raptors by 8, they won by 6 but he’ll take it! True to form, the Raptors jumped out to a 34-22 lead as Dwight Howard picked up two early fouls, the second one coming at the hands of an aggressive Will Solomon drive which sent him to the bench. I breathed a sigh of relief because Howard had already torched us for 9 points in the first 2:19 of the game. The Raptors took advantage and outscored the Magic 23-13 for the remainder of the quarter as Parker, Solomon, Bosh and Ukic all scored at least 4 points in this stretch. The Magic weren’t getting dribble-penetration at the point-of-attack and Rashard Lewis was the only early drive ‘n kick threat with Hedo not being aggressive and Nelson being checked nicely by Rokoman.

The second quarter saw Howard return and the Orlando wings heat up as Nelson hit for 8 including two threes to cut the lead down to 3. At this point I thought we blew it again. I’m jaded, I admit it, but games like this go a long way in healing the wounds I have suffered at the hands of this franchise (I know I’m not alone here). Andrea Bargnani’s 6 points in this stretch and timely hoops from Parker and Solomon to end the half saw the Raptors stretch the lead back to 7. Despite struggling earlier in the quarter we finished it strong and had something to be happy about going into the locker room. Bargnani’s jumper was working, Bosh was being mildly aggressive, Howard was being kept off the offensive glass, Rokoman were doing great and Parker was hitting everything.

It turned out that the meltdown wasn’t avoided, it was merely delayed. For most of the third quarter we matched the Magic score-for-score thanks to Parker’s 10 points in the frame but the Magic wings heated up late in the quarter as Courtney Lee and Rashard Lewis drained threes. This was one of our weakest defensive stretches in the game, the rotations were late, we were biting on every head-fake and were giving the Magic wide open looks, Moon being guilty of falling for the head-fake and Parker for helping when help wasn’t needed. This all resulted in a 10-2 run to end the quarter which gave the Magic their first lead since 15-14 midway through the first. The stage was set: do the Raptors fold yet again or do they show some cahones and compete against an elite team in a tense and turbulent affair. Turns out for once, we didn’t back down and came through.

Roko Ukic gets the game-ball for running this team like a 10-year veteran in the fourth quarter. Triano gets the credit for sticking with Roko despite Will not exaclyt having a bad game, great recognition by Triano of a player being hot and sticking with him. He easily had his best game of the year. He ran the offense for most of the second half and made us forget for 24 minutes that Jose was sitting on the bench looking like a scrub (where the hell was JO btw?). He ran the break, attacked the defense off the bounce, distributed the ball, played some great defense and hit a couple off-balance layups – something he does better than shooting long jumpers. Stat of the game for Roko: he out-rebounded the teachers-pet Voshkul. Three plays stand out for me that Roko executed perfectly:

  • Finding Bargnani for a dunk on the break with a crazy behind the back jump pass
  • Finding Parker for a dunk with a sick back-door bounce pass
  • Finding Kapono for a lay-up with a sick back-door bounce pass

When was the last time the Raptors ran a back-door play that worked (I was looking for the video from last season when TJ got robbed on that sick back-doory alley-oop to win the game, but nothing)?

Roko was awesome but we shouldn’t forget Will, he got the call to start the game and hit the ground running. He played in control, distributed the ball, found open shooters, didn’t jump to pass and forced very little on the offensive end. The jumpers he took weren’t that bad either, he was open (I just don’t like him getting taking shots when there are other shooters on the floor). He even finished a play where he ripped by Nelson and finished a layup in traffic that prompted Arse to say: Calderon can’t do that…

What’s the Raptors record when Parker scores 20+ points this season? 2-0. Parker could do no wrong, and showed us what the Raptors REALLY need – a second scoring option who operates on the perimeter. Looking like the Parker of two seasons ago, he ran the lanes, curled off screens and popped jumpers, cut back-door, hit a couple layups and even had 3 dunks under the basket after hard cuts through the paint. His defense wasn’t bad, but he got caught a few times drifting (his check scored more than enough). A caveat on Parker’s performance: he didn’t do anything differently then what he normally does. He hit tough shots that he’s been missing, he ran the same lanes, he got the same looks, it’s just that he hit 13-16. Nothing close to this percentage will be sustained but hopefully he has regained some of his mojo, if not that then maybe it’ll up his trade value. I was thinking that Jamario Moon needs to learn to not worry about blocking every shot on the perimeter because 8 out of 10 times it results in his man blowing by him after a fake. I mean, how often does one block a three? Just as I was thinking this to myself in the fourth quarter, he ends up getting a crucial block on Lewis and ruining Stan Van Gundy’s out-of-timeout play.

You wouldn’t know it since Howard dropped 39 but I thought Bargnani did a commendable defensive job. I mean, Howard is a freak but Bargnani did a good job of banging with him in the paint and making him work on his dribble to get into position instead of simply conceding it. Offensively, he extended the defense with some good shooting int he 1st quarter, ran the lanes, grabbed a couple boards, and didn’t piss me off once the whole time. The best part: solid showings two games in a row that resulted in quality Raptor wins. ALSO, he was a big part in holding Howard to 8 rebounds. Vegetable Lasagna was not on the menu tonight. We win the battle of the boards 39-31 and only commit 9 turnovers which is a testament to how disciplined we were in those areas. Our wings outrebounded theirs 23-15 which means that even though we were paying extra attention to Howard, providing help from the perimeter for the driving Lewis and Hedo, we didn’t neglect our rebounding duties. That’s a great sign.

Most of Chris Bosh’s 23 points and 11 rebounds came in the final frame, certainly the most important one. He was an anchor on offense and defense, and I don’t have very much to say other then the guy is good great elite damn good, and every measure must be taken to keep him in the TDot. He grabbed a couple key defensive rebounds over Howard with under two minutes left which iced the game. Sure, Howard went off for 39 but we kept others in check just long enough to eek one out against a damn good team.

The Bad
Wasn’t all roses:

  • The Raptors surrendered 102 points. With the defense only existing on the few key possessions that  won them the game down the stretch.
  • Gave up 34 three point shots. Most of them were solid looks that the Magic just missed. I’ll take it, but you can’t count on misses from the other team for a win.
  • Voshkul? Seriously? His line: 11min, 0-1 FT and 3 PF’s. The guy posts donuts across the board and gets 11 of Humphries minutes. WTF man?
  • Jamario Moon runs the court fairly well, but he doesn’t run passing lanes on the break well at all. He needs to make himself available as an offensive option when the Raptors run the break.
  • He may have been in the building, but I didn’t see him on the bench. Where the hell is O’Neal? Why isn’t he supporting the Raptors by being on the bench with Jawai and Calderon?
  • Speaking of O’Neal, is it me or is this team better without him?
  • and finally…queue music…dribble penetration. Every game. Set up most of the Magic’s 34 three point attempts, and opened up space for them to do whatever they wanted. Fortunately the DP just hurt and didn’t kill the Raps.

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