The Bosh-Howard matchup rarely disappoints.
Raptors 99, Magic 95

A man can try to watch a game on tape-delay without knowing the score, he can try to avoid all human contact, he can answer the phone with a warning instead of a hello, he can not check his email, he can cover his ears in the elevator, but alas, he can not avoid his wife randomly changing the channel in the middle of Lost only to land on The Score for a millisecond and in that millisecond what might you guess was on the ticker? Oh yes, TOR 99 ORL 95.

Let’s get right to the final meaningful possession, with the Raptors up three with 23 seconds left and Orlando inbounding, Bosh and Graham make a mess of the screen set by Howard. Either Bosh didn’t fight through like he was supposed to or more likely, Joey didn’t switch like it would have made sense to. The result was Rashard Lewis – who had already hit 4 threes – getting so wide open that he had to do a double-take, the shot rimmed out and the Raptors escaped. Let’s go in Memento style to the previous play. Raptors are nursing a single point edge and Orlando’s bound to get the ball back, we need a score to ensure overtime at the worst and Triano has Bosh going one-on-one with Howard near the three-point line and launching a jumper with one foot outside the arc – big splash! Thank you, Chris, please don’t do that again.

There’s something special about a win when you’ve gone toe-to-toe with a great team in their building and come out on top by playing sound possession basketball. The fourth quarter saw us bend but not break, a 7 point lead had been whittled down to 1 because of a 5:15 stretch which saw us only get two points. With Bargnani fouled out and fatigue setting in, our earlier crisp ball-movement had died down considerably and we had resorted to giving Bosh the ball against Howard hoping for something to happen. That something was Bosh going 3-6 FG and committing 3 turnovers in the process. Things looked a little shaky when we went to him twice more with 2:12 left but this time he finally decided to try to get fouled and put the pressure on the terrible refs to make another makeup call, a count I’m sure they lost midway through the first quarter. He ended up getting four crucial FTs and earned the right to say that for one game at least, he carried us on his back in the fourth. The Magic missed some makeable shots in the quarter but I’m inclined to give our active defense the majority of the credit, especially an undersized Joey teaming up with Bosh to slow down Howard.

The Magic have killed us in the past by getting in the paint and kicking back out to their shooters who’ve drained threes till we’re crying in despair. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu have been as tough as matchups come for us and even with Nelson out, the threat of Rafer was was still there, at least until it was neutralized by Calderon by doing something very simple – give him space. How many times this season have we seen Calderon play a guard way too tight and get burned in the process? Raymond Felton, Devin Harris and Rajan Rondo immediately come to mind. With their PG’s offensive impact neutralized, up next was Hedo, and life was much more difficult for him with Marion around. He was 4-12 and had to work harder for his 19 points than AltRaps’ Lower Brass “date” has to for $20. His impact on the game was minimal leaving Rashard Lewis as the only support for Dwight Howard.

I don’t recall many wasted possessions by the Raptors in this one, it seemed like they played the “right” way on every play except the one at the end of the third quarter when Kapono passed up a look to give Voskuhl a shot at his first three since 1999. The way we moved the ball in the first quarter against an athletic Orlando team was impressive, the timing of Jose’s passes to flashers using screens to cut to the elbow/wing area was precise – there was no delay in the passes which usually allows the defense to catch-up. Bargnani was the beneficiary of a couple of these which he converted through soft jumpers. He had Howard coming out to guard him just like we’d want him to and everything was roses until he picked up his second foul. The defense against Howard wasn’t great but passable, playing with two fouls does that to a player. He had 12 first quarter points which had Howard scratching his head, however his decline started when he picked up his third foul late in the second quarter. He came back in the second half and picked up two phantom fouls which slowed his offense while making him a liability on defense, he eventually fouled out in the fourth.

The Magic’s only source of consistent offense was Dwight Howard who they dumped the ball down to on every possession. He got 30 on 16 shots and was 10-21 FT which is something any team will be happy to live with. He usually makes his living against us by hammering home offensive rebounds but the Magic as a team only managed 11 second-chance points and Howard was restricted to only 9 rebounds. While the Magic struggled to find diversity in their offense, we were firing on all cylinders – we shot 67% in the first quarter thanks to Bargnani’s early play and Marion’s intelligent recognition of when to go in the post combined with Calderon and Parker’s ability to find the mismatch when he was switched against Courtney Lee or Rafer Alston. Marion had his nasty little hook shot working and made his moves with purpose. He finished with 17 points but the more impressive aspect of his game were his 15 rebounds which went a long way in the Raptors pummeling the Magic 49-35 on the glass. Our big men (even Voskuhl) did a great job of boxing out Howard which left the cleanup duties to the wings and Marion took full advantage.

There was a play in the first quarter which summed up the level of cohesion in our offense. Bosh received the ball after Bargnani was involved in some screen action on the wing and as Bargnani cut, Bosh found him with a hard two-handed pass which came straight out of the Princeton playbook. It was one of those rare moments this year that I’ve rewinded the PVR to check out a Raptors highlight. If Chris Bosh’s primary responsibilities were being a hustle player he’d be the best in the league. He finished with 24/12 and for the 6th straight game showed just how well he can use his wiry frame to get rebounds. He had no business getting his four offensive rebounds, just sheer desire. Where this was all season is a different issue. Triano matched him up with the Orlando bench in the second quarter and it worked out well for us, he took it to Gortat and Battie as the Raptors were able to maintain their slim 4-7 point edge throughout the half.

There are a couple plays that I’d like to point out which demonstrate how different this Jose is than the one we’ve seen all year. Twice he had Dwight Howard matched up against him on a switch and both times he took it right at him for a layup. It’s a simple no-nonsense play but I recall tearing my hair our earlier in the year when Jose used to simply pass out of these obvious mismatches. He also picked up a clever charge against Anthony Johnson in the backcourt by using quick feet to anticipate his path. Quick thinking-on-his-feet Jose? Haven’t seen that guy all year long. I have to point out that the refs were terrible in this game and that half of Bargnani’s fouls were total BS, but, they gave us a lot of 50-50 calls in the first half. Of course they took those back in the second but still, worth a mention.

The starting lineup accounted for all of our 27 points in the third quarter. Jose was quick-hitting Parker spotting up in the corner, he was pushing the ball on the break knowing Marion’s trailing and will either get a chance to score in transition or get good post position. Bosh was strictly on the perimeter all night long but managed to knock down a couple shots against Howard who was forced to be the creator on this night instead of his guards who couldn’t find the space to create. He tried to draw the double and kick-out to the nearest passer but their ball movement couldn’t beat our rotations which were always there. The Magic did have a lot of success by re-posting Howard after the initial kick-out, they often caught us in two minds whenever they went back to Howard as the help didn’t know whether to re-double or complete the rotation they had set out to make. Open threes for Orlando were rare and mostly in transition, they average 10.2 threes on 39% shooting, last night they had 7 threes on 27% shooting. In a five point game that’s the difference right there (and Howard’s 11 missed FTs).

The key stretch in this game happened when Bosh and Bargnani both went down with foul trouble at 5:30 of the third quarter with the Raptors holding a 66-65 edge. Jose Calderon scored 11 of the 15 Raptor points to end the quarter and gave us a 7-point buffer to play with in the fourth. Three of the jumpers were assisted by Joey Graham or Shawn Marion who had managed to attract help in the paint and the fourth was Jose recognizing Anthony Johnson going under a screen, very intelligent basketball by our much-maligned PG.

A couple defensive plays in that third quarter were classic: Parker picking Lee’s pocket to find Marion for a dunk and then coming up behind Lee to knock the ball out to start the break – aaah, haven’t seen that kind of creativity in a long time. That quarter also saw Bargnani get turned around and guard Howard in the post with his arms up and back facing him, it showed a commitment to playing defense which hasn’t been there most of the season. Our offense was great, it was great because we were moving the ball and whenever we stopped doing that, like in the fourth quarter, we struggled. The “dump the ball down to Bosh and wait for something to happen” approach has never worked and if this team, as it stands, has a hope in hell of doing anything meaningful, our offense has to be 100% team-oriented. We don’t have a dominant player like Dwight Howard who everyone else can leech off, we’re going to have to work as a highly efficient and cohesive unit to get the points we need and hopefully maintain he defensive effort required to slow down teams enough to let our offense be the advantage. A lot like the 06-07 crew.

They asked Bosh how the winning felt knowing that you’re not going to make the playoffs, he said:

It’s not over. It’s not over yet dude. We’re going to keep playing, we still have a chance.

Nice game but let’s not get delusional.

Liners:

  • An optimist might say this team has found himself and that injuries, coaching change and trades were the reason for our failed season.
  • A pessimist might say that this team plays great when there’s no pressure.
  • The defense by committee on Howard in the fourth quarter was key – Joey Graham and Chris Bosh pushed him our far enough to force two misses.
  • Shawn Marion gave Jack Armstrong a post-game interview. I have no idea what he said but it sounded like defense sharing ball guy hard running off white dudes layups missing out.
  • If Bosh misses that jumper, he’s the goat.
  • Shawn Marion dominated Hedo Turkoglu on both ends.
  • I know his left handed finish fell short, but that was a sweet hesitation move by Roko.
  • Kapono ended up on the bench after Pietrus faked him out at the 5:43 mark of the fourth quarter.
  • Courtney Lee blew by Anthony Parker twice in the first quarter and it looked like it was going to be a long night. He never did it again.
  • I know the game means nothing but this one felt sweet.
  • Some bad news, we have overtaken the Knicks and are now picking 9th.

Thanks for reading and do check the Roll Call which is classic as usual. @raptorsrepublic

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