In just over a two-minute span beginning at the 4:03 mark of the fourth quarter and with the sellout crowd imploring the home side to get some stops, Bargnani’s contributions were as follows: Rebound, block, block, block, rebound.
We can’t say this for certain, but if that’s not the best couple of minutes of Bargnani’s NBA career from a defensive standpoint, it has got to be right up there.
In that time frame, the Raptors went from a four-point deficit to a five-point lead with the visiting Wizards barely getting a sniff of the Raptors basket.
Bargnani finished the game with four blocks, matching the entire output by the Wizards. He also had six rebounds and 18 points, all but two of them coming in the first half.
With those four blocks, Bargnani now has at least a block in 14 consecutive games. Over that span, he has 26.
“Andrea was huge,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. “He was there to help on drives. Our defence was excellent over that late stretch.”
And none of it would have been possible without Bargnani, a guy who spent the better part of his first three seasons hearing plenty about his shooting exploits but very little about his defence.
“I think we just know how desperately we need to win these games going down the stretch, making the final push to the end of the season,” point guard Jarrett Jack said. “Especially the ones at home because they are very crucial and very vital to who we play out the rest of the season. We can’t let these opportunities slip out of our fingers.”
And they didn’t.
Jack was the catalyst on the offensive end scoring 11 of his team-high 23 points in the final quarter. And with Andrea Bargnani holding his own personal block party, the Raptors made all the necessary stops for the comeback win.
Including three blocks in a two-minute span, the Raptors held the Wizards scoreless from the 5:40 mark for the next 4:13 as they turned a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead with a 14-0 run.
“Jack got really aggressive and was great with the pick-and-rolls,” Wizards head coach Flip Saunders said. “Hedo Turkoglu made some big shots and Bargnani was great. We had about three times where he protected the rim and we didn’t get shots up at the rim. We had opportunities, we played hard and put ourselves in position but couldn’t make that big shot to withstand their momentum.”
"You watch the games that we’ve played well in this stretch and he’s always got his hand on a couple of shots and he saves it for the end," said Triano.
"He’s very, very attentive to where the ball is late in games."
The Raptors were without an injured Bosh for a second straight night and his absence was sorely felt on the offensive end.
Without the anchor – and the guy they could throw the ball to in late-clock situations – the Raptors seemed disoriented at times.
"I think it’s very important to get into our sets early so we can exercise just about every option we have on each play," said Jack. "Most NBA teams do a good job defending the first and maybe the second option but if you’re able to get to that third or fourth option, that’s where defences break down and open looks present themselves."
The Raptors trailed for much of the early going, and were down by as many as eight points, but when popular reserve Reggie Evans converted two free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter, they took a 34-32 lead into the second quarter.
Turkoglu came out of the game after with 8:23 left in the first quarter after picking up his second foul. When he returned to start the second quarter he was without the mask he has been wearing since suffering an orbital-bone fracture below the right eye on Jan. 31.
With Bargnani leading all scorers with 16 first-half points, the Raptors took a 64-57 lead into the half-time interval. A couple of turnovers by Wizards guard Randy Foye helped the Raptors.
It turns out Jarrett Jack, also from Georgia Tech, got the marquee spot. He also took over from his friend and teammate Chris Bosh, out with an ankle injury, as the team’s fourth quarter spark plug.
Jack scored the first seven points of a decisive 14-0 run, as the Raptors edged the Washington Wizards 109-104. Toronto is now at 31-24, a season-best seven games above .500.
Jack put on his pit-bull persona, going into the paint with abandon. He hit a three-pointer and then hit four free throws to get the Raptors within striking distance of the Wizards. Hedo Turkoglu scored five of the next seven points, as the Raptors took a lead they would not give back. Squeezed in the middle of two Turkoglu buckets, though, was a dunk from Antoine Wright off of a heady pass from Jack.
That is when a loud crowd – besides opening night and the Raptors January win over the Lakers, this was probably the most enthusiastic the Air Canada Centre has been – got louder.
"Jarrett carried us," Wright said of Jack, who finished with a team-high 23 points and eight assists. "He went over to coach and said he wanted the ball. He made good things happen. It’s one thing to request the ball. It’s another to actually make things happen."
Blatche was truly spectacular in the third quarter, when he brought the team back from a 10-point deficit. He scored 12 points during a 22-6 run. Blatche stole the ball from Jarrett Jack, sprinted up the court and dunked to bring the Wizards within one point, then gave his team the lead with a 15-foot jumper. The Wizards led 81-75 when Blatche rebounded a JaVale McGee miss and made a putback layup.
"I’m just approaching like I was taught by the veteran that left, play the game like it’s your job instead of a hobby and take full advantage of opportunities," Blatche said. "It’s more than just about me right now. I’m trying to help this organization get some wins and make my team better."
The Wizards came out of halftime and dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Raptors 31 to 21. Andray Blatche played one of the best quarters of his young career, scoring 14 points. JaVale McGee added six points as the Wiz reversed a seven-point deficit after the second to go up by three at the end of the third. In the fourth quarter, Washington fell flat, letting slip a golden opportunity to steal one on the road. Late in the game the Raptors went on a 14-0 run as the Wizards missed seven shots in a row. The late-game run allowed Toronto to take a 105-100 lead with less than two minutes to go. They would go on to win by five points.
"We had this game," Blatche said afterward. "We just made a couple of mistakes down the stretch and they made us pay for it."
The first mistake was failing to contain Jack, a Maryland native who ignited the game-deciding run by taking advantage of the Wizards’ poor pick-and-roll defense and attacking the rim. Jack scored 11 of his team-high 23 points in the final 5:09 and went on a personal 7-0 run with a three pointer and four free throws.
Hedo Turkoglu then got fouled by Al Thornton while making a reverse layup to give the Raptors a 101-100 lead. And after a fast-break dunk by Antoine Wright (19 points), Turkoglu drove and hit a shot off the glass to put Toronto ahead by five points. During that run, the Wizards missed nine shots and committed three turnovers, with Mike Miller contributing two of his game-high eight.
Josh Howard (17 points) missed two tip shots, Blatche, Randy Foye (14 points) and Thornton had seemingly easy layups swatted by Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani (18 points, four blocks). Blatche finally ended the scoring drought with an up-and-under move for a layup that brought the Wizards within 105-102, but with a chance to bring the Wizards closer, his reverse layup attempt rolled off the rim. "I made a great move to get open to get the rim the ball just didn’t go in. I don’t know how, I thought it was good," Blatche said.
On the Raptors’ next possession, Jack missed a driving layup, but Turkoglu rebounded the miss and José Calderon made two free throws to secure the win.
"We should’ve had that game," Thornton said after scoring 10 points. "We couldn’t make layups. We couldn’t throw it in the ocean for some reason. It was a back-to-back, I guess, but that’s not an excuse."
Again without the services of resident all-star Chris Bosh, the Toronto Raptors kept the same game plan that worked so well in New Jersey on Friday.
Move the ball.
The Raptors forged ahead with six players in double figures to post a 109-104 come-from-behind win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
"The most important thing we did tonight and last night is we shared the basketball," said Raptors head coach Jay Triano. "Without Chris where you can give it and you can make cuts off of him, and you know that he’s going to create, we have to create without the basketball. We have to move and makes screens and roll hard."
The Wizards played a great game tonight, hell the whole game till the last five minutes was good. Some questionable calls on both sides, but nothing extreme. The last 5 minutes, every call went for the Raptors, not one single foul was called in the Wizards favor, not even when Foye went up for the layup and basically had his head knocked off. They just called out of bounds. Now the Wizards at the end did give up pretty much, started taking stupid shots and didn’t even attempt at rebounding, but at the same time do you blame them? What’s the point of trying when you know the opposing team can punch you and they wont get called for a foul, but if you even breathe on them you are being called for fouls.
The Wizards had made a couple of fatal errors. First of all, they started going away from Andray Blatche, who was the hot hand in the second half. He scored 14 points in the third quarter but had preciously few scoring opportunities in the fourth despite his proficiency.
The second error was that the Wizards made their comeback too soon. In the fourth, the Raptors figured things out and started to play some tougher defense. Suddenly, rotations were better, Bargnani was registering some key blocks down the stretch, and the Raptors managed to keep rebounding the ball despite having a small lineup. In an extremely surprising move, Jay Triano placed Bargnani up front with Turkoglu and Antoine Wright as forwards. He then also placed Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack on the floor to create one of the weakest rebounding lineups possible. However, Bargnani held his own on several key stops and Turkoglu grabbed an important rebound in the final minute to close out the game so Triano’s gamble worked for one night.
When heading to the Air Canada Centre this afternoon the big story I wanted to chase was what it was like for Toronto’s coaching staff to scout a team that has five new faces since last weekend and three new starters. Clearly a couple other beat guys had similar thoughts because before the game Triano addressed what it was like to scout a team with so many new faces, Washington starting to show their potential after “cleansing” themselves at the trade deadline and the recent growth in Andray Blatche’s game.
Click play to listen to Triano address all of these topics:
- “There may have been some ugly points tonight – and last night too – but anytime you can get back to back wins without your best player in the line up, you’ll take it. And how ’bout Jarrett Jack! What a spark plug down the stretch.”
- “It was a good ‘character win’ for Toronto tonight. Although they gave up a 10-point lead, the Raps made hustle plays down the stretch to earn the victory.”
The Raps advantage tonight has come by the way of points in the paint (Raps 22, Wiz 8) and free throws. Toronto has been to the line 18 times, making good on 14 of their attempts, while Washington has only attempted nine free throws making only six.
Hedo Turkoglu has continued to struggle tonight. In 15 minutes of work, Hedo is one for four from the field scoring two points and dishing out three rebounds. At one point Jay Triano had to bench him because he had tallied two personal foul in four minutes. With Bosh out I would have expected Turk’s scoring to increase or at the least his shot attempts.
When Hedo was on the bench, Antoine Wright stepped in and was able to spread the offence shooting 4 for 4 from the field, three of which were three pointers. Wright ended the half with 13 points, two assists and one rebound.
Josh Howard started the game tonight on a tear as he went 3-3 from the field while scoring Washington’s first nine points of the game. While watching this unfold I couldn’t help but cringe as thoughts of a 40 plus point night danced in my head.
Cue the Antoine Wright show.
Sure, his 19 points on 7-10 shooting is impressive and will catch fans attention while skimming the stat sheet, but his real contribution came on the defensive end. After Wright was substituted into the game midway through the first quarter Howard went 2-14 from the field and struggled to score his remaining eight points.
“I Just tried to make it tough on him,” Wright told me after the game. “I tried to shield him to go to where the help was and tried to get into him a little bit. I just wanted to be physical with him.”
The Raptors were looking a little lost offensively and wasted many offensive possessions. Players were taking ill-advised shots early in the clock and were not looking for their teammates. Washington took full advantge of these miscues and built up a comfortable lead. When Jarrett Jack re-entred the game in the fouth quarter everything changed. The Raptors were looking for their teammates, taking confident shots and their defensive intensity went through the roof. Jack willed this team to victory tonight. He made many smart plays and chose to drive the net instead of settling for jumpers in that crucial fourth. Jack was the captain tonight and victory was his destination.
When asked to talk more about his strong play in the fourth quarter the humble point guard shrugged off the compliment and chalked it up to doing what the team needed to secure a win.
Not shocking since this kind of humble attitude has been prevalent all season while talking with him.
“I think we just know how desperately we need wins going down the stretch and making a final push to end the season,” a humble Jack told the media. “Especially games at home. They are crucial and vital to how we’re going to end up in the standings. We can’t let these opportunities slip through our fingers.”
Even if Jack brushed off his fourth quarter heroics after the game it’s clear this was a win that would have slipped through the Raptors claws if he hadn’t of stepped up.
Besides, who cares if Jack wasn’t willing to boast to the media after the game after his play did all the talking that was needed in the fourth quarter.