From the middle of the third quarter to the final 30 seconds of the game I kept expecting something wacky to happen and sure enough, the Raptors and Wizards gave us some high drama for the third consecutive year in Washington. Although Chris Bosh’s game winning 3-pointer wasn’t as circus a shot as Morris Peterson’s last second one-handed heave to tie the game in 2007 or Anthony Parker’s patented off-balance 360 corner fade-away off a full court pass with no time remaining last season (watch), it did add to the lore of this growing rivalry.
Bosh’s 3-pointer left 9 seconds on the clock which gave Caron Butler a chance to reprise his role as team-hero from his performance on Friday in Toronto but he came up whack. Butler again accepted the inbounds pass in the final seconds and was immediately checked by Marion. Instead of shaking off Marion with a crisp pull-up jumper that worked for him on Friday, Butler chose to try to beat Marion off the dribble and drive to the basket. However, he failed and when he got into the paint he was met by a perfectly positioned Bosh. With no time to think and no passing lanes in sight, Butler was forced to attempt an acrobatic reverse layup that ‘wackedly’ clanked off the bottom of the backboard. The result was a 97-96 Raptors win.
As far as wackiness goes, last night’s game contained enough evidence to confirm its existence. Let’s start at the end with Bosh’s three. Coming out of a 20-second timeout, as Bosh himself confirmed in his post-game interview, they called for him to pop-out off his screen for Calderon. Now Bosh popping-out to the elbow is the customary play but in this case he fooled the Wizards by popping-out and positioning himself behind the three-point line. When no Wizard player rotated to find him, Calderon’s sharp pass found him completely wide open. Upon receiving the pass, Bosh quickly surveyed the defense and when no one ran up to check him (the Wizards literally dared him to take the shot by falling back and positioning themselves for a rebound), Bosh was forced to take the completely wide open shot. And like any stone-cold clutch player, he drilled it. (After seeing Antawn Jamison make a three earlier in the game – he was 1-6 from behind the arc – I joked that Bosh now had “Jamison range”. Bosh, by the way, was 1-2 from downtown.)
Another wacky element was Jamison limping off the court and leaving the game at the 10:38 mark of the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain in the middle of an all-out monster performance. (When I noticed Jamison sitting next to Gilbert Arenas, I knew he wasn’t going to return). Jamison started the game off slow like the rest of his teammates, he stepped-up in the 2nd quarter and decimated the Raptors who started the quarter with as wack a line-up all season: Douby, Kapono, Graham, Bosh, Voskhul. After being down by as many as 14 halfway through the first, the Wiz went on a 25-10 run to take 39-40 lead by the halfway point of the second. During this run, Jamison’s presence in the offensive paint was dominating. Ripping down boards, scoring on put-backs and drives while fluidly running the floor and making smooth outside jumpers, he exhibited the exact same style of play as Bosh. To reinforce the comparison, both Jamison and Bosh have almost identical season statistics. I though that once Jamison was out, they were going to fold. They didn’t. With both Jamison and Butler on the bench, the Wizards maintained an 11-point lead, when Butler entered the fourth at the 6:45 mark, he immediate drew a foul and hit both is free throws to increase their lead to 80-93. But from that point on, the Raptors took over and ended the game with a 17-3 run of their own. A large part of this win is thanks to Jamison not playing the majority of the fourth quarter.
The Raptors made their game-ending run with Douby and O’Bryant on the court. Down the stretch, Douby hit Marion with a great pass that led him to the rim for a basket and hit Bosh with a great alley-oop; while O’Bryant (who got the start for Bargnani) knocked down a baseline jumper, slammed downed a big dunk and made two huge blocks. Even though both their impact was statistically minimal their contributions were considerable.
As for our third D-Leaguer, Pops, I liked the way he and Marion complimented each other by effectively crashing the boards together. Pops showed the kind of energy and hustle we saw in his first 10 games. Wearing a wrist/thumb guard, he’s obviously playing through an injury that affected his hand strength seeing that he was stripped of the ball in the offensive paint as he was going up for dunks. His hand injury is the main reason why he’s been so susceptible to getting stripped lately.
Looking forward to next season, a front-court rotation of Pops, O’Bryant and Humphries off the bench would look good to me. They’re all young, athletic and salary-cap cheap. In limited minutes behind Bosh and Bargnani, I think they could all be serviceable in making positive contributions. Consistency will be the issue, but I think they could all have distinct roles on this team and be successful in them. Look for them to be on the active roster in November.
Their was still more wackiness and we needed not look any further than good ol’ Roko “Cocoa” Ukic. Before I get into his shortcomings I have to point out that any comparison to him and Douby is really unjust. Ukic is a euro rookie who was realistically expected to be under whelm this season, whereas Douby is a 4-year NBA professional who got cut during the season and decided to play in the D-League, so of course he’s going to play better than Ukic – he’s got 4 years on him. After 80 games in Ukic’s first NBA season, his first year living in North America, he has definitely hit the proverbial rookie wall. And last night, Ukic couldn’t do anything good or right. When he got the ball, he couldn’t create anything for himself or his teammates. When he looked to pass he hesitated to make one because he couldn’t find anyone open, except Bosh (but that’s because he immediately looked for him as soon has the caught the ball as if it was a grenade to be handled by our best player). And than when he drove to the basket he got blocked on both occasions. Not to mention that he was playing with Bosh, Marion, Pops and Kapono, one of our better lineups. All in all, Ukic’s completely worn-out which was to be expected at this point in the season.
However, when discussing the merits of Douby and Ukic neither them compare of Juan Dixon. All three players are 3rd string combo guards but it was apparent that Dixon is head, shoulders, eyebrows and hairstyles above Douby and Ukic. Sure it’s possible both Douby and Ukic improve to the point of surpassing Dixon on the depth chart in a couple of years. But right now and next season, I’d take Dixon over either of them as the team’s 11th man. (I know Ukic is our back-up PG, but he’s not deserving or prepared for that role.)
Another thing I have to mention about our two recent tilts against the Wizards is the comparison between Butler and Marion. They both have the same long and strong body-type and are great talents. Both can run the floor, fight for rebounds and finish hard. But what separates Butler as being the better player is his ability to create his own shot and breakdown defenders. Throughout his career, Butler’s never had the opportunity to play with a top-tier, pass-first PG. Since arriving in Washington, he’s excelled playing for lesser quality point guards like Crittenton, Dixon, Mike James, Gilbert Areans, etc. If Butler ever gets the chance to play with a PG the likes of Steve Nash and Calderon, he’ll prove to be better player than Marion ever was. That’s no disrespect to Marion, it’s just that Butler has everything Marion has, plus the ball-handling skills and the shot-creation.
All of last night’s game wackiness aside, when looking at the final team stats, it was telling that the Raptors won despite the fact they shot only 40% from the field because they took 17 more shots, out-rebounded the Wiz, scored almost twice as many assist and committed 9 less turnovers.
- If Jamison doesn’t get hurt, the Raptors don’t win this game.
- The Raptors do look like their trying not to lose their 50th game of the season. (One more to go and one more to play).
- The Wizards already have a great combination of solid veterans and good young players. Add a healthy Agent O and a top-pick and they suddenly look deadly.
- I was really impressed by what I saw from JaVale McGee. He’s a beast.
- The Wiz really need a to draft a PG if they don’t get the #1 pick.
- Seriously, Kapono should be forced to only take 3-point shots.
- Both Bosh and Marion scored 25 points and 15 rebounds respectively.
- With a starting core of Calderon, Bosh, Marion and Bargnani, and a bench comprised of Parker, Graham Douby, Ukic, Pops, O’Bryant and Hump, this team is just starting-caliber SG away from being a really good playoff team next season.
- Flip Saunders is going to look good behind the Wizards bench next season.
- Today’s Raptors Republic post-game theme song is dedicated to all the Wizard fans that remember this classic hype/wack track from 1992! (Boo-ya!)
- Fact: If Gilbert Arenas was healthy this season, the Raptors would have been the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
- TSN was kind enough to broadcast this game.
- Next season, I think Raps fans should watch more games using the high-quality live feeds that are now on the net. (Cable TV is now obsolete).