As reviews go, Hedo Turkoglu’s third-quarter assessment of the Raptors latest effort wasn’t particularly positive.
Midway through the quarter, Turkoglu was back on defence in front of his own bench as the Timberwolves made their way up court and clearly could be heard saying: “This ain’t even (bleeping) basketball.”
And it was ugly, make no mistake. But the 106-100 win did allow the Raptors to keep pace with Miami, which also won and is a game up on the Raps, and to maintain their 21/2 game lead on winners Chicago, which presently is in ninth spot in the Eastern Conference. Idle Charlotte now finds itself tied with the Raptors in seventh spot.
Initially it was thought Turkoglu’s comment was referring to the fact that the Raps were in a life-and-death battle just to stay ahead of the Wolves, a team that was it not for the New Jersey Nets would be the laughing stock of the league. Turkoglu, though, said it was more a case of his teammates passing up shots that warranted his harsh criticism.
“It was an ugly game, man,” Turkoglu said. “We put ourselves in a difficult situation instead of playing easy and simple basketball. That’s what I was trying to tell my teammates. Especially with a team like (the Timberwolves). We can’t really mess around or take it easy because they can get hot like they did in the fourth quarter.”
Three times in the final two minutes, the Wolves cut the Raptors lead to three.
Where Turkoglu saw the negative, though, Jarrett Jack saw the positive.
“It was ugly but we were always in control,” Jack said. “They would cut it to three or four and we were able to calm ourselves down, weather the storm. There was no arguing, no one got rattled. No long faces. We settled down and came out and made plays.”
The Raptors, as it turned out, made it to the morning shootaround without the aid of the mechanically challenged bus. The team disembarked and, although the arena is only a few blocks from their hotel, cabs were called.
Weems estimated the ride cost “about three dollars, but I don’t know. I didn’t pay.”
Weems, to clarify, didn’t jump the fare. The team paid for the cabs for the players. The coaches walked, which, come game time, was exactly what some of the players appeared to be doing on the defensive end as the Timberwolves shot 61 per cent in the fourth quarter while keeping it close.
“Just play defence, that’s all we’ve got to do,” said Weems. “I think some people just don’t buy into it. It’s just some people being lazy. Once we buy into it, we can be a great team.”
Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems scored 13 points each off the bench for the Raptors, who got just 10 points on 3 for 7 shooting from Hedo Turkoglu.
“With this type of team, we can’t mess around,” Turkoglu said. “We can’t let it slide. Games like this and New Jersey, we can’t come out and joke around and take it easy because they’ve got nothing to lose.”
It almost cost them dearly.
Wayne Ellington scored 17 points and Jonny Flynn had 14 points and six assists for the Timberwolves, who are approaching the 15-game losing streak that followed a season-opening win over the Nets earlier this year.
The first half of the game was far from inspiring, apt for a contest that could not have looked too enticing to basketball fans looking for something to watch on the first day after a brilliant first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Raptors led by a single point at the break, with only a rare dunk from Jarrett Jack — both Raptors point guards, Jack and Jose Calderon, usually eschew the dunk for a layup — breaking up the routine, and sometimes lethargic, nature of the half.
Neither team topped the 40% shooting mark in the half, with the clubs combining for 15 turnovers. The sloppiness is understandable for the young Timberwolves, losers of 12 straight games before last night, but less so for Toronto.
Turkoglu also earned his way into foul trouble in the first half, another pattern that remained unbroken. He picked up three fouls in nine minutes. That kept him off the floor, with Weems, Toronto’s most reliable swingman for the most part, taking advantage of the extra time.
Toronto’s execution was so effective that the Raptors didn’t need Bosh to secure the win. Bosh did not score after his jumper put the Raptors up 90-82 with 5:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. The six-year veteran still led the Raptors with 21 points and 10 rebounds and gave fans a chance to ponder how he would look in a Wolves uniform next season.
Along with Cleveland’s LeBron James and Miami’s Dwyane Wade, Bosh will be one of the more sought-after free agents in the offseason. Bosh entered Monday’s game averaging 24.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
If the Wolves target Bosh in free agency, team management and fans might get more opportunities to evaluate him in the playoffs. Barring a major breakdown over the final three weeks of the regular season, the Raptors are in a good position to secure a playoff spot.
But just when it appeared that Minnesota might pull out its first Target Center victory since Feb. 6, the defense vanished. Toronto ran a simple pick-and-roll at the top of the key, basketball’s most basic play, on six consecutive possessions, and "our half-court defense just let us down," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said of Toronto’s slow-motion stretch drive. "We just couldn’t find ways to get stops."
The Raptors effortlessly freed their shooters for open shots, and scored on five of six possessions, making the Wolves’ frantic efforts to keep the Raptors within reach moot.
"We need one more stop and they hit a three. We needed one more stop and they hit a floater in the lane with the shot clock expiring," Flynn shrugged. "There have been a lot of scenarios this year where we couldn’t get that one stop."
Hedo Turkoglu struggled in the first half with foul trouble, but really responded when reinserted in the second half with improved shooting and strong playmaking ability.
During that final three-and-a-half minute stretch of the fourth, Turkoglu hit a three-pointer and a layup, set up two teammates for jumpers and pulled down two key rebounds. It was an impressive late display, albeit one Raptors fans want to see much more frequently.
The small crowd was actually making some noise when the Wolves pulled within a basket and Toronto called time out, and the momentum appeared to be building for a streak-breaking rally. After all, Toronto was the third or fourth straight Target Center opponent to appear ready to nod off in boredom much of the night. But when the game resumed, the Raptors ran a high screen-and-roll that appeared to dumbfound Minnesota’s defense.
Fight through the pick? Run underneath it? Rotate over to help cover the ball-handler? Make any sort of adjustment of any kind? All seemed quite beyond the Wolves’ capacity, and Hedu Turkoglu, Andrea Bargnani, Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright all suddenly, effortlessly, found themselves with the ball and no defender nearby. The Wolves’ offense was executing well enough, but Toronto simply scored at will, making resistance futile.
Last night was just an odd game. The Raps played well and yet needed some clutch plays and poor execution by the Wolves in the final moments to get the W. The win is an important one, but what is more important is what they do with it. Can the aforementioned Bargnani use this game as a turning point for the home stretch? Can the team start to get a consistent effort? Will they use these wins to build momentum or are these past two W’s nothing more than an inevitable result against some brutal competition?
It’s usually a loss that results in unanswered questions – but last’s night’s win seems to have had the same effect. Lucky for Raps fans it won’t take long for these questions to be answered. The Raps next few games against teams actually in the playoff picture (Utah and Denver) should tell us all we need to know.
Nice to see Sonny Weems and Antoine Wright come to the rescue tonight for the Raptors. The playoffs are about your stars playing well but they are also about role players stepping up, especially on the defensive end. If anyone on the team is going to do that it is going to be these two guys. Weems and Wright were summoned from the bench after Turkoglu picked up two quick fouls. They kept the Raptors in the game and took advantage of their opportunities. That is what role players do. They hit the shots when they’re there and play their role.
– Toronto has now won 12 straight against the Timberwolves
– Toronto didn’t match the intensity and energy in the 4th quarter that they had in the 3rd … coughing up 32 points to the Timberwolves
– “The bench was huge tonight … as Antoine Wright (13), Sonny Weems (13) and Jarrett Jack combined for 35 points and gave the team a big lift.”
– “Good third quarter energy and offensive execution down the stretch in 4th as well.”