Like so many times this year, the Toronto Raptors pulled out a game at home that they probably shouldn’t have. Yes, they got lucky on St. Patrick’s day in the end, but for a while it looked like they’d had a few brews at halftime, laying down another clunker in the third quarter.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This was the Raps biggest game of the year to date. The teams confidence was shook as it went from high to low in the matter of a dozen games. Fingers pointed at the team, and at specific players. Two of the main targets, Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu did step up to the challenge tonight. You knew they had to. I mean if they aren’t going to respond to this situation, then you could have basically written them off for this year. This had the same feeling the Chicago game had back in December after the Raps were handed a royal beatdown by this same Atlanta team.
So it was kind of expected the Raps would come out guns blazing to start this game. The guns didn’t start firing right away as the Raps spotted the Hawks a quick 7 – 0 lead. This is when the Raps called out a time out and went on a 23 – 7 run. We’ll call this Andrea’s Run because he dominated fot his stretch. It was the kind of effort that’s bittersweet in the sense that it was great to see him get inside and bang for an offensive rebound, post up and attack the rim aggressively, but the bitter part being that perhaps I’m getting excited about something we should be taking for granted from our starting center. Even more bitter is why he can’t do it on a consistent basis. Ok, Al Horford is good, but I don’t think the way he aggressively took the ball to the rim and his overall activity level on defense was a revelation for Hawks fans. It’s something they expect from him, and he delivers it on a consistent basis. But let’s give credit where credit is due, Andrea had a very good 1st and 4th quarter, and an overall solid game.
I think this game was more the exception than the norm, but I’m willing to see this through. Amir played another great game tonight. His play to get his hand on the Turk free throw miss saved the game. What bothers me more than anything is that because this guy hustles and brings energy, he gets labelled as such, and it seems synonymous with “unskilled”. Make no mistake, this is one very skilled basketball player. He is getting very good with that jump hook, and his hustle includes challenging any play down the lane, getting this team extra possessions for second chance points. That’s a skill too, just like shooting is. Try telling Charles Barkley it isn’t. If Bargs starts coasting again, I want to see Amir in there for more than 25 minutes, at least.
The Raptors continued to play well, keeping a double-digit lead until something happened that I wish I could see from the Raps. I wish I had seen it when Paul Pierce stood over our best player after a dunk, seemingly taunting him. The Hawks rallied after a frustrated Josh Smith got “disrespected” by Jose Calderon. Hey, Caldy actually didn’t mean to, but unintentional swag’s better than no swag at all right?
Cue the Hawks rally. After a spontaneous players-only huddle where they must have pumped themselves up, Atlanta whittled a 10 point lead down to a one-possession game in less than 3 minutes. End of half. Gone was the adrenalin of a big home game, and the lead that came with it. Now came the dreaded 3rd quarter.
It was dreadful alright. The Raps got lucky with the absence of Joe Johnson, but Jamal Crawford made up for it. He was a tough guard all night, and the 3rd quarter was no exception. Demar DeRozan may have gotten burned by the wily veteran, but he got some back with his own stellar offensive play. He is going through another strong stretch of play. There is no denying his quickness, especially in the open court. 19 points, without any threes, impressive.
Chris Bosh really struggled in the third. It might have been one of his worst quarters of the year. Some of it has to do with Horford. Earlier in the game, Horford denied him on the drive, with some help of course. It succeeded in putting Bosh into jumpshot mode. Which is fine if your jumper is working. He got into foul trouble midway thoruh the 3rd, something he rarely does. He’s not fully back yet, Bosh is. Not sure what it is, but he’s not at the level he was pre-injury, and this team just cannot afford him to be any less than 100%. That is the sad reality that is the 2009/10 Toronto Raptors.
It was 86 – 75 at the end of 3, and you have to give credit to the Raps for bending but not breaking. They were always within arm’s length of the Hawks and with some of the stellar fourth quarters this team had had at home, you knew that keeping it close was important. Enter Hedo Turkoglu, who made a pivotal 3-pt play with 6 mins to go, just after a big Jarret Jack floater. I like Jarret at the end of games. You need assertive guard play in crunch time, and Jarret does that better than Jose, me thinks. Jose was great in the 1st, not so much the rest of the game. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall into that passive player we all grew to loathe as a starter.
I wouldn’t worry as much about this if Jay Triano wasn’t our coach. I don’t know why MLSE allows us to hear in on his timeouts, because they expose him as someone who carries no authority behind his words. It’s not that he’s not loud or overly demonstrative, Phil Jackson isn’t for example, but when the Zen Master talks, you listen. With Jay, he just doesn’t sound convincing. I could be wrong but he doesn’t make eye contact with players, nor does he address specific players, which you need to do sometimes. Does that part get editted out? Perhaps. I hope. There was no way to edit that timeout on a fast break… at the end of the game… where the Raps had numbers. Not going to hang everything on the coach though, because I think it’s just too easy to do it when fans can’t admit their team is just not as talented as they would hope.
Back to Turk. He looked a tad quicker out there. The effort was there, and maybe the conditioning he referred to recently is starting to reap its benefits. If he’s getting back to the player he was last year, this game being the first of many steps, then a lot of our questions are answered. That’s how important he is, especially in Bryan Colangelo’s eyes. He should be the second option on this team. Yes, he’s not terribly efficient, but he generates offense through his passing as well, which is not as quantifiable.
In the end, Chris Bosh hit a nice stepback fadeaway over Al Horford to ice the game. Good for him, good for the Raptors to struggle but make ‘em when they counted. Big men have never been counted on to close games. Some of the greatest, Patrick Ewing comes to mind, failed more than they succeeded in endgame scenarios. But on a team that hasn’t seen a quality backcourt gunner since the days of Vince Carter, he has started to figure it out. He’s stepped up to the challenge, worked hard this offseason to become a better player, and is now arguably the best power forward in the game. He’s not the problem on this team, and this victory was one important step to retaining respectability and his services for the next few years.