All it took was some typical Amir Johnson hustle and a big shot from a Chris Bosh after he’d barely made one all night for Toronto to steal a 106-105 victory from the Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, putting the breaks on an ugly five-game losing streak.
“Man, it’s been a long time since we played with any urgency like that, or played on the defensive side like that,” Sonny Weems said after Bosh’s game-winner with 2.9 seconds left allowed Toronto win.
“I think everyone’s fed up with playing like that.”
It was a victory achieved in the most unlikely of manners for a team that’s stumbled for weeks. They had a big lead – 15 points at one time – and let it get away; they were down and seemingly out when they trailed by nine with less than four minutes and somehow – out of nowhere – the summoned a comeback.
And wasn't that as good as waving goodbye?
No, no, no. Nobody's saying Bosh has made his decision to leave Toronto when he has the option to become a free agent in July, although there have been plenty of observers, both inside the team and around the league, who have noted his post-all-star-break swoon and wondered if it indicates the intention of an impending departure.
Damn those speculators, indeed. Wednesday night, depending on how you looked at it, offered a counterpoint to the latest in attempted fortune telling. Bosh, after flat-footing it through a subpar shooting night, nailed the winning shot in a 106-105 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The timely swish – along with a missed 22-footer at the buzzer by Atlanta's Jamal Crawford – broke Toronto's five-game losing skid just as it sent a roller-coaster Raptors season back on the ascent, at least momentarily.
After the game Turkoglu chalked up his play tonight to finally feeling healthy.
“I was feeling much better,” a modest Turkoglu told the media following the win against Atlanta. “It has been hard to settle on jumpers. I just decided I didn’t want to play like that anymore and I need to be more aggressive and get to the free throw line. I wanted to make some easy layups to get myself in a rhythm and tonight my ankle was feeling much better. Hopefully in a few days it’s going to be closer to 100 per cent.”
Or, as Chris Bosh told me after the game, maybe Turkoglu’s just one of those guys who thrives on pressure.
He knows there’s been a lot of expectations placed on him after signing a big contract last summer and Turkoglu is aware he hasn’t come close to meeting those expectations.
Calderon got the team off quickly, sprinting with the ball out of the backcourt and pushing it forward, with ripple effects all over.
DeMar DeRozan, the rookie some like to finger for the Toronto Raptors woes? He was statistically blameless, chipping in with 19 on 7-of-12 shooting, including 11 points in the first quarter when the Raptors jumped out to 30-25 lead.
Andrea Bargnani responded to calls for him to rebound his position better by battling in the paint, snaring three offensive rebounds, posting up deep and grabbing 11 rebounds to go along with his game-high 22 points.
Quick keys to the win:
– Turnovers. We didn’t turn the ball over against a team that could kill on the fast break.
– FT line. We got to the line in the fourth quarter, and got some freebies. Scoring against the Hawks in the half court setting is very tough.
– Fight. They got down 11 in the fourth but they fought back, didn’t quit. That’s all you can ask really.
Winning this game doesn’t change the fact, that I don’t want to see the Hawks in the Playoffs. Horrible match up for the Raptors. They may not have the size, but they got the athletic ability and quickness that the Raptors will have lots of issues dealing with. Their help defense is top notch. They double Bosh a lot, but they are very quick to recover on the help. Just a tremendous job by Mike Woodson.
Stats that stood out:
– Points in the Paint: 58-46, Toronto
– 2nd Chance Points: 16-6, Toronto
– Fast Break Points: 31-23, Toronto
– The Raptors win only their 8th game all season when trailing after 3 quarters
– This was Toronto’s first win over a .500 or better team since January 27
– Atlanta shot 61.1% from 3PT land (11/18)
– In spite of a rough, rough night (6/19 FG) Chris Bosh did hit the dramatic shot with :2.1 seconds to play and did register another double-double as well (14 points, 10 rebounds)
– Bosh surpassed 10,000 career points in this game (first ever Raptor to do so)
Though the stat sheet was no friend to Bosh — he went 6-for-19 from the field, shot just two free throws and finished with five fouls — he knew he was going to take the shot if it wound up in his hands on the final play. Bosh said the decision to play the hero role was an easy one, even despite his struggles.
"It's not tough at all, because you want to make the next one," said Bosh. "I think every shot after is the one to kind of erase the memory, get the bad taste out of your mouth."
He also reached a personal plateau, becoming the first player to score 10,000 points in a Raptor uniform.
"Something like that is always special," said Bosh. "Just to be the first to do something is always cool."
The win came at a pivotal time for Toronto (33-33), which once sat comfortably in fifth place but is now scrambling to stay ahead of the ninth-place Chicago Bulls.
He struggled in last night's game, only shooting 6 for 19, but Chris Bosh came up big when he needed to. Bosh nailed a jumper with just 2.1 seconds to play to help snap the Raps' losing slump. They caught a huge break when Hedo Turkoglu missed his second free throw with 14 seconds to play and regained possession when Atlanta attempted to grab the rebound but turned it over back to the Raps. This gave enough time for Bosh to make the J over Al Horford.
“We’re at the point now where every shot is a big shot,” Bosh said. “I’m just glad it went in. I shot it with confidence. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it wasn’t going in. I’m just glad that it gave us the go-ahead to win the game.”
Bosh doesn’t even get to make the attempt, however, without the hustle of Amir Johnson. With Hedo Turkoglu at the line awaiting his second free throw and the Raptors down a point, Triano made his most productive substitution of the night sending Johnson in for Bosh.
When Turkoglu missed the second free throw, Johnson did what he does best.
“I heard Turk on the line when he said it was off so that made me jump ahead of my guy,” Johnson said. “When I got in front of him I got my hand on the ball before he tipped it off the other guy.”
Jack Donohue, the old coach, used to say that having Triano on the floor was like having another coach on the team. He didn’t have to tell him what to do, Triano just had an instinct for it. He understood what was necessary, even if he knew he didn’t have the star’s ability to make a difference. And maybe that’s part of the problem coaching in the NBA. For some, the game comes too easily. They don’t have to listen. They don’t have to push themselves. They’re already set for life no matter how many games they win.
Even in the victory Wednesday, the Raps still gave up too many easy buckets, too many uncontested shots — and at one point the Hawks were shooting 73% from three-point land, which borders on the absurd.
“I don’t care who it’s against right now, we wanted and needed a win, just for morale,” said coach Jay Triano. “On the road trip (a four-game, four-loss sojourn out west), we didn’t get the results we wanted but we had a coupe of bad quarters that hurt us. Other than that, I thought we competed fairly well.
“But we need to be rewarded every now and then so we continue to compete.”
They were rewarded because they worked hard, which is not something that can be said about them over the past three weeks.
Johnson, who has become invaluable for his constant hustle, was able to rebound a missed Hedo Turkoglu free throw with 14 seconds left and the Raptors trailing by one that got Toronto an extra possession.
“He wanted the basketball,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said, “and we gave it to him.”
If the sample size was the first 47 1/2 minutes of the game, Bosh had not earned the ball. On a night when his team — finally — seemed to play with conviction somewhat consistently, Bosh clanked jumper after jumper. The Hawks reliably sent a second defender at Bosh, but when the power forward got looks at the basket, he usually settled for jumpers and missed 13 of the 19 he tried.
You ever here the phrase "defense wins championships." Of course you have, because if there are three constants in life, they are death, taxes and basketball talking heads repeating that phrase.
Don't tell that to the Toronto Raptors though. We've talked about how terrible they are on defense, but it's even worse than we thought. Pro Basketball Talk's Matt Moore runs some advanced numbers and reveals that the Raptors could end up being the worst defensive team to ever make the playoffs.
"The GM is always going to make moves," Bosh said. "But I am not a GM. I don't paint the picture. I just play my role."
He did say, however, that if he stays with Toronto, he plans to have a voice in the direction of the team. "If you are able to be in that position, you should use it," Bosh said. "Anytime you are in the certain position as a player, you want to be able to have some kind of say-so about where the organization is going because you are committed to them and they should be committed to you. [Dwyane] Wade is Miami's best player. They should take care of him. That is how it is supposed to be."
Bosh did not want to get into the specifics of the changes that need to be made, but there are obvious issues. Starting with defense, where the Raptors rank 27th in scoring defense (105.9 points) and last in defensive efficiency.
Triano, Bosh, Calderon, DeRozan, Turkoglu, Bargnani, Johnson speak with the media following Tuesday's practice at Air Canada Centre.