Good teams become very good when they seize an opportunity and respond by imposing their will, regardless of the opponent's won-loss record.
The very good teams evolve into elite status when no opponent is taken for granted and every possession leads to a basket or at least a good look at the basket.
The Raps began the game, the first in a home-and-home series with Indiana, by turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes.
They were susceptible off the dribble and when rotations came late the Pacers capitalized by making open three-pointers.
As well as the Raptors have played, the time has arrived when they simply must take that next step, a process that could very well determine their playoff seeding.
Make no mistake because it's no longer a case of whether the Raptors will appear in the post-season, it's just a question of where they'll finish.
Turkoglu took a Mike Dunleavy elbow in the face just as the game turned a minute old and did not return. X-rays during the game revealed a slight non-displaced fracture of the orbital bone under his right eye. The team was already investigating the use of a mask for future games.
But the way this team is rolling and overcoming injuries, the concern level is surprisingly low.
The timing couldn’t be worse for Turkoglu personally, who was coming off his best game as a Raptor two nights earlier when he hit for season highs with 26 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the New York Knicks.
Raptors' season ticket holders came up big last night by donating the majority of the 400 seats used by the members of the Canadian military.
"We're going to watch this one, dissect this one and the Pacers are going to do the same," said coach Jay Triano. "(Coach Jim) O'Brien is a very good coach. They are going to find counters to the things we did and this is a tough thing to do."
So Tuesday is no gimme. But beyond that?
Well, at the risk of looking long distance, there are the New Jersey Nets, currently 4-42 and ensuring Snooki and The Situation et al don't come across as the most pathetic creatures in the state. After that are Sacramento, Philly, Memphis, at the Nets, Washington and Portland. The gravy ends with Cleveland arriving Feb. 26, by which time we'll all have luge and biathlon on the brain anyway, but that's six of seven at home against teams that, save Portland, are below .500. That's not heavy lifting.
About now is when someone –thanks, coach Triano – comes out with the "play 'em one game at a time" caution. Damn thing is, he's right.
Somewhere, the GM had to be smiling, because his team sure was.
"We have a strong bench," was Chris Bosh's understatement after the Raptors stretched their season-high winning streak to five. "I think that was going to be one of the keys to our success this year, how our bench was going to play, and so far we've played pretty well.
"We're going to need them to continue to play well and just play hard and play with passion and play defence every night. They do a great job … everything's working right now."
Toronto power forward Chris Bosh agreed the Pacers are a difficult team to subdue.
“The way they run their offence is tough,” said Bosh, who came close to recording his first career triple-double with 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. “They're all over the place.
“And the next thing you know someone's wide open at the three-point line and they can really shoot it from there.”
The only downside to the night as far as the Raptors were concerned was Hedo Turkoglu took an elbow in the face charging into Indiana's Mike Dunleavy in the first minute of the game.
Turkoglu did not return and his injury has been diagnosed as a “very small” non-displaced fracture of the orbital bone under his right eye.
The Raps may not have had the Sunday matinee advantage but they managed to out away the Indiana Pacers with some hot shooting and a total team effort. The final score, a 117-102 victory.
The Raptors are now a team officially on a roll.
The Raptors then went on an 18-4 run to take an 85-70 lead.
Bosh, former Pacer Jarrett Jack and Bargnani accounted for all 18 points during the run.
Head, whose playing time has been sporadic recently, got the Pacers back in the game by scoring seven quick points at the start of the fourth quarter. His 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire tied the score at 97.
The Pacers had a chance to take the lead on their next possession, but Roy Hibbert missed badly on a hook shot attempt to end their run.
The Raptors, meanwhile, went on a 13-2 run to seize control of the game again.
"There's a lot of capable players in this league. It's all about your opportunities," Jack said. "For me I've kind of gotten them as a secondary option. I'm able to make the most of it and help the team."
Jack has helped the Raptors go from a struggling team to one with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
"He plays with a tremendous amount of energy and he's a very verbal guy," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "He understands what a coaching staff is trying to do and he'll go out with the best of his ability and execute whatever you want to execute.
"He does it with a great deal with passion. It's good to have a guy like that on the court that controls a lot of situations with his voice."
THE FAN presents all of the highlights (1) and Eric Smith's game recap (2) from Sunday's 117-102 Raptors win.
Alvin joins the pre-game show to talk about his career & the Raps season thus far.
A perfect week is always an accomplishment, whether you beat the Lakers during that week or the Knicks and Pacers. Some of the “winnable” games the Raptors have been piling into the win-column lately are nice to see, because a lot of them are games that the .500 Raptors a lot of people expected to see would have coughed up. The Raptors need to continue to build on their improvement over the last month or so and take the schedule one game at a time. If they can keep their composure, this hot streak should continue for at least the next week. Given the fact the game in Indiana is the back-half of a home-and-home, 2-1 in the week that will be is tolerable, but 3-0 is certainly attainable.
Check out the game between the Raptors and Pacers all in just six minutes!
Jay Triano talks to the media following the Raptors home win over the Indiana Pacers.
Sonny Weems talks to the media following the Raptors win at the ACC over the Pacers on Sunday.
Jose Calderon talks to the media following the Raptors win over the Pacers on Sunday.
Antoine Wright talks to the Raptors NBA TV panel following the win over the Pacers on Sunday.
The bottled up Danny Granger with some different defensive looks and, after a sluggish defence first half, they held Indiana to 39 per cent shooting in the final two quarters.
"It's almost like Antoine's our closer," Triano said. "He comes in and guards the best guy at the end because he can pressure the basketball, he can fight through screens, he can help and he's quick enough to get back. He's like a utility guy out there who just finds ways to stop guys."
And when they did, Bosh went to work. He sat out the first three minutes of the fourth quarter on his regular rest cycle but when the Pacers had wiped out almost all of a 16-point Toronto lead, he came in to calm things down, going 4-for-7 from the floor down the stretch to ice the game.
Hedo Turkoglu has figured out that Toronto isn’t a one-newspaper, Waffle House backwater like Orlando. When he made his plea for more touches after a loss to the Boston Celtics earlier this year, he did so only after Toronto Raptors media-relations staff prevented a clubhouse attendant from taking Turkoglu’s clothes out of his locker, forcing him to change with the rest of his teammates instead of making a quick exit. But there’s no need to take him to task for his postgame interview on Thursday, in which he answered a question from Jack Armstrong about his aggressive play with the word “ball,” (as in he finally had it in his hands) and “I got nothing else to say.” Good on the big Turk for stirring it up. It’s better than hearing trade “demands” from the inconsequential likes of Garnet Exelby and Jamal Mayers, no?
"We have a strong bench," Bosh said. "I think that was one of the keys to our success this year how our bench was going to play. Just play hard, play with passion and play defense every night. Amir does a great job, Antoine stepped in and did a great job and of course, Jose is always solid."
After Toronto managed to build a 16-point lead in the third, the Pacers raced back. Opening the fourth on an 11-2 run, Indiana tied the game at 97-97. But when the Raptors responded, the Pacers faded, allowing Toronto to close the game on a 20-5 run.
"This is a tough team to guard because they are all perimeter guys and we have to try and stay with our bigs," Raptors coach Jay Triano said. "I thought it took us a half to get into it and then we held them to 38 percent in the second half."
Without Hedo and with the Pacers charging back to tie the game, after being down 16pts, a Raptor fan could be forgiven for sensing a disappointing loss was coming. There was a time when it was the Raptors M.O. to let a winnable game slip away to a team they should beat. Not so anymore. The Raptors have built a confidence in themselves. As a fan, the fourth quarter has become less stressful because you can just feel that the Raptors will take charge and win despite being down. They have the swaggar of a team that knows how to win. Winning is something to expect instead of something to hope. It has been a long time since I could sit comfortably on my couch or barstool and feel that way about this team.
The problem with this adjustment is it frustrated his head coach because he wanted to Bosh to attack Indiana’s defenders that had found themselves in foul trouble.
“I think Chris (Bosh) was messing with me a little bit sometimes,” Jay Triano joked the media after the game while laughing. “In the first half they went small and we found ways to get him the basketball. In the second half, we get the matchups we want and guys are in foul trouble, and he shoots jump shots. I just looked at him one of the times he was on the free throw line and I said, ‘He’s got three fouls or four fouls,’ and the next five plays he goes to the basket and scores.”
This attempt at humour from his head coach was warmly embraced by Bosh after the game.
The Toronto Raptors continue to take advantage of their recent favourable schedule as they beat the Indiana Pacers at home and extend their winning streak to 5. This matches their season high win streak and builds upon the work they have accomplished in the past week. Winning with a strong performance by nearly everyone and getting a big boost off the bench. The Raptors played the way they should, going up by double digits and competing the entire game with the exception of a 3rd quarter lull. No come-from-behind drama this time. They face Indiana again in their next game for the second half of a home-and-home series.
But the game as a whole had a strange feel to it, more like a workout than an actual game. Maybe it was the Sunday supper time start, but the Raptors seemed in control all night even though the Pacers continued to hang around. Of course, when a team shoots 60.2% from the floor their going to be in control and really, for the first three quarters the shooting percentage was closer to the mid-60's.
Along with nukin' the nets, the Raptors maintained control of the game by being prepared for the small ball attack of the Pacers this time around. In their last meeting, Jim O'Brien sprung the small lineup on the Raptors in the third quarter and Chris Bosh struggled adjusting and the Raps tried desperately to attack the mismatches, but they were doing it on the fly.
– “The Leafs may have pulled off a big trade earlier today, but the headlines tomorrow should be about the Raptors 5-game winning streak. It’s been a while since this city has had a winning team to talk about and cheer about – so it’s time to give the Raps their due. Heck, they’ve won 11 of their last 12 at home!”
– “The bench continues to shine — in particular … Johnson and Antoine Wright.”