The Raptors notched another confidence-building, team-bonding, towel-waving win in the stretch of very winnable games, disposing of the Indiana Pacers 117-102. The Pacers turned out to be a pesty opponent, one that seemed to be improved from earlier battles with a healthy Mike Dunleavy and a pine-riding TJ Ford. But this Rap team has become even better in the last couple of months, due to whatever you want to call it, the schedule balancing out, players starting to gel, Andrea Bargnani’s acknowledgement that defense is that phenomenon that occurs between offensive possessions, the improved play of Jarrett Jack, or the return of Jose Calderon as the Super Sub we all came to know and love a couple of years ago. Whatever the reasons are, you knew it would take something special from the Pacers to steal this one.
The Raps got lucky with Danny Granger getting into foul trouble early on in the game. I don’t know if lucky is the right word, because Granger was assigned to cover Bosh. This worked quite well when the Pacers beat the Raps back in Indiana, and Jim O’ Brien predictably went back to it to start off the game. The difference was that the coaching staff were quite prepared for this and looked to establish Bosh early with some high-low passes.
Not sure about the wisdom of putting your best player (Granger) in a unconventional matchup on defense, against the other teams best player, to boot. Granger picked up quick 3rd and 4th fouls as well. After the 4th foul, he was kept in the game and the Raps did a good job of going at him on defense as he provided minimal resistance in fear of picking up the fifth. It’s important that Chris Bosh had a good game in this situation, because it makes some sense, to put a smaller, quicker player on him to take away his drive. This did happen to an extent, Bosh did only attempt 2 free throws, but his jumper was dead-on tonight, and that made up for it. If his shot’s a little cold, it looks like something that might work on him, but tonight’s performance should serve as a deterrent.
Without Granger as a major factor, the Pacers employed the 2008 Raptor offense: shats, shats, and guess what, some more shats. To their credit, they made a whole bunch of them. The Raps didn’t do a horrible job at closing out, as the Pacers were shooting with even a little bit of daylight, but the realization that they had to play tighter on guys like Luther Head and Troy Murphy did help in the 3pt % falling in the 4th quarter. Antoine Wright did a great job defending Granger in the fourth, just as he did on Wade a few nights ago. Makes you wonder if he’s not a much better fit for this team than the Man of Few Words, Actually Just One Word: BALL. Had to do it. This is a team that’s got a couple of very capable ball handlers, but is still pedestrian when it comes to defence. You know what else? He’s playing smart, responsible ball. There are fewer of those wtf? moments on offense. Much better spot up shooter recently. He’s hitting that corner three that Anthony Parker used to with such effectiveness. That open set shot is the one the Man has not been able to hit this year.
Another thing of note, Chris Bosh is developing some court vision and this team is going to become even deadlier on offense because of it. Seven assists today. He found Andrea on more than one occassion. You know how people say that the Lebrons and Wades of the world make players around them better, and that’s one of the reason why that are “true” franchise players? Performances like these take CB4 one step closer to that designation. And it’s a valid argument. Tonight was overall one of his best games of the year, great balance of aggression and finesse tonight.
Speaking of finesse, Amir Johnson continues to tease us with skilled offensive moves. He’s too quick for guys his size, kind of like Chris, and now he’s beginning to exploit it. The usual energy was there, and he even made Jose Calderon look competent in throwing a lob pass. I kid, I kid, we all love Jose right now, just as much as Jose loves playing off the bench. That’s what he’s telling everyone, at least.
Finally, let’s not forget the former Pacer Jarrett Jack. This signing is starting to look like a real bargain. He’s been aggressive at all the right times and his shot is really starting to fall now. Earl Watson and A.J. Price are adequate NBA point guards, but JJ they’re not. He looks like he really enjoys playing against Indiana, and I’m sure he would enjoy nothing more than picking up a season-high 6th consecutive victory at the Conseco Fieldhouse on Tuesday.
Or maybe he’s just happy that there was so much BALL to go around. Teehee.