We could use more of these. The Toronto Raptors put on a clinic tonight, racing out to a 39-15 lead in the first and never looked back, disposing of the New Jersey Nets 118-95. Even the most pessimistic Raptor fan had to feel that this contest was just a formality.
What to take, if anything, away from this victory? For one, give the ball to the big Turk. He played very well as a facilitator, dropping 7 assists in the first half. It was shades of the cinderella ’06-’07 season, when the extra pass was in vogue. I know he’s complained recently about not being used properly, and now it’s obvious that it was another way of saying, “Give me the goddamned ball” because good things happen to him, and the team, when that happens. Let’s hope Triano gives him more and more touches. Don’t know what happens when Calderon comes back, but that’s why you’re an NBA coach, to figure this out. The offense has not been the problem this year, but methinks that when a guy like Hedo does well on that end of the court, it will have a positive effect on the defensive side as well. All in all, Hedo seemed loose, in a good way this time. Bargnani did as well, making some nice plays and showing actual awareness off the dribble. Perhaps the weight of signing fat contracts has been overbearing on these two, but you could never tell from the effort they have put forth for much of the season.
Chris Bosh did most of his damage early. The most significant thing he accomplished tonight was putting Brook Lopez in foul trouble early in the first quarter. This is already a bad, bad team. You take out Lopez and insert Eduardo Najera at center and then it gets ridiculous. Once that happened, it went from bad to worse to Yogi Stewart. Bosh looked like Shaq out there, he was double-teamed constantly in the post, which he seemed content to pass out of. It was bittersweet, seeing Bosh having the kind of impact a true post presence has, and then realizing it will never be like that again. Well, until we play the Nets again.
Jarret Jack did a good job of swinging the ball around to a waiting Turk or Bargs. JJ was his usual aggressive self, dictating the tempo early on. He drove in at will, more often than not, kicking it out or handing off for layups and dunks. It was the kind of stuff that would make you feel all warm and tingly inside… if it wasn’t the Nets.
DeMar DeRozan rebounded after a couple of duds, showing his trademark aggressiveness and an improving jumper. It was good to see him enjoy a game that, let’s admit, felt like a pickup game at times. It was good for his confidence. Let’s hope we see more of this going forward.
Marcus Banks may have had his best game as a Toronto Raptor. He stuck all but one of his shots and played good defense. In fact, the intensity was there all game. Even Andrea’s defense looked good, energy level as high as I’ve ever seen it (although his rebounding was lacking). Maybe these guys are really that bad defensively. When they play better quality opponents that can break them down, it’s almost as if they give up, because they just know it’s going to happen anyway. Today, there was no chance of that happening, and they hustled on the defensive end, seemingly to make up for previous efforts.
Finally, mad props to Amir Johnson. He has been the pleasant surprise of the Raptor season thus far and tonight was no exception. That’s all there is to say.
The Raptors definitely did some good things out there tonight. While the level of their opponents is bound to be better than what they saw tonight, it doesn’t mean they cannot play with the same kind of selflessness and team-first philosophy. More importantly, it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the game like they clearly did on this Friday evening, something that may help relieve them from the heavy burden of expectations.