With 2:06 left in the third quarter and the Raps holding a six-point lead, Wright’s three-point attempt from the corner bounced out. But then, to add injury to insult, Wright stepped back and right on to the foot of one of the patrons along Gucci row and, as he attempted to get back on the floor, turned his ankle.
Down he went, in a ball of pain, and out went one of the Raptors’ top defenders just 81/2 minutes into the game.
When Wright did return, with 51/2 minutes remaining in the game, it was with a taped right ankle and the difference in the score exactly as it was when he left.
“It hurts, not as bad as this loss,” Wright said, “but it hurts. I’ll be all right.”
Wright admitted he probably should not have come back into the game. But having been in plenty of battles with this Denver team before, and with the Raptors needing every win they can get, he talked himself into it, mostly on adrenalin.
Wright said he’ll rest the ankle on Saturday and that there was no way he would miss Sunday’s game in Miami. Ankle sprains, however, have a history of being worse the day after the incident, so Wright may be re-assessing that one.
As for the game itself, Wright obviously wasn’t happy with the result, but couldn’t be upset with the effort, either.
“It’s tough. It’s the NBA. These things happen, but our guys played great,” he said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. Right there at the end, a bounce goes their way, Chauncey (Billups) made a heads-up play to find Melo (Carmelo Anthony) for a 15-foot jumper. It wasn’t easy. Jarrett (Jack) was all over him, but he’s a good player and you can’t give him that many opportunities late in the game.
“We didn’t give them any easy opportunities,” Wright said. “It wasn’t like a blown assignment. It was just the basketball gods weren’t with us today.
“We had guys in there fighting for that loose ball at the end and they came up with it.”
Bosh’s history always has included a stretch of inactivity caused by some injury.
Bosh’s recent history also includes a quick and MVP-type start to the season followed by a period of average play.
Those who like to bash Bosh point to his contract year and how he took until this past off-season to bulk up, which in turn would put him in a better position to fully capitalize on his free-agent status.
You’d like to give Bosh the benefit of the doubt because he has persevered through some difficult times in Toronto and is at least accountable.
But one has to start to wonder just how healthy Bosh is, just how capable he is to put the Raptors on his shoulders for the balance of the season.
His numbers aren’t as good, his body movement isn’t as smooth and he’s not nearly in sync as he was earlier in the season.
He has become turnover-prone and passive, not sure whether to attack, which makes the offence static and unproductive.
His biggest asset right now is his jumper, a step-back release that won a game last week against Atlanta late in regulation.
But for Bosh to be a presence and for the Raptors to be taken seriously again, he must be aggressive and he must get to the foul line.
Raptors fans, indeed, could find plenty of solace in the loss. The home team put in a valiant effort on the boards, hauling down 58 rebounds to Denver’s 38, Toronto’s largest such tally since 2002. DeMar DeRozan, demoted from the first five for the first time this season, scored 15 points off the bench on 7-of-8 shooting off the bench. And the Raptors held the Nuggets to 41 per cent shooting from the field and 97 points, Toronto’s first loss in the 21 times they’ve held an opponent under 100 this season.
Still, for all that, Denver’s stars made plays. And Toronto’s star? Chris Bosh, the free-agent-to-be of an all-star, renewed his commitment to playing out the string.
Bosh finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, which, on the surface, was no disgrace. But while Anthony and Billups shone with the game on the line, Bosh wilted. It was Bosh who fumbled a rebound of Anthony’s missed free throw with 38 seconds left to give Billups that chance at a game-tying trey. (And okay, call that a bad bounce.) It was Bosh who missed his first of two free throws with 16 seconds left. (And okay, misses happen.)
But the truth is, Bosh could have lifted the Raptors to a win with even the slightest of fourth-quarter effort. Instead, while he was given the ball repeatedly down the stretch, he chose every option but aggression. He missed four of the five shots he deigned to attempt in the fourth quarter, most of them jumpers. And he got to the free-throw line for all of four attempts all night, making good on only two.
For a team that once ruled the roost at home, the Raptors looked surprisingly drab during consecutive 26-point setbacks to the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma Thunder in their previous two outings at the ACC.
That led to much soul searching among the players during practice this week in preparation for last night’s encounter against the Nuggets as the Raptors vowed to take more of a vested interest in a season that was spiraling out of control.
Last night the Raptors played with more passion and desire than it has exhibited in its recent games, digging their way out of a first half-half disadvantage with a solid third quarter to take an 81-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
Sonny Weems led the onslaught, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the frame, to key the Toronto comeback, but they couldn’t make it hold up despite out-rebounding Denver by a healthy 58-38 margin in the contest.
The Raptors haven’t enjoyed such a significant rebounding advantage over an opponent in a game since 2002.
So when the Raptors came out flat once more on last night, alarm bells rung. And it was the zaniest thing, but it was the Raptors who responded to those alarm bells. It just was not quite good enough in the end.
There were obvious signs of a pulse. After getting outworked on the glass — a common sight — Bargnani committed a loose-ball foul, and then smashed the ball to the floor earning a technical foul. Bargnani, the poster boy for letting his shot dictate his effort, had 15 rebounds despite an off shooting evening.
The most telling statistic: Toronto had 58 rebounds to Denver’s 38. Seriously. This was not fan fiction.
And then there was the play late in the third quarter when, in chasing a loose ball out of bounds, point guard Jarrett Jack attempted to high jump over three rows of courtside seats. (Although, the dive had no hope of working; perhaps, in that split second, Jack decided the fans needed to see a display of hustle to show the team still cared.)
The victims of two consecutive 26-point losses at home, the Raptors had a major overhaul of the starting lineup, partly out of necessity, partly out of choice.
In Friday’s third quarter, with Carmelo Anthony-like fearlessness, Sonny Weems popped a 20-foot jumper in Anthony’s face.
Yeah, Sonny Weems, remember that guy? Weems is now a Raptor, and he scored 10 points in a third-quarter flurry, finishing with 14 points against his old squad. Last season, Weems was a Denver rookie, a high-flying forward who wasn’t the greatest defender. Traded in the offseason, he has averaged 6.4 points for the Raptors, who are one of the worst defensive teams in basketball.
Weems started for the ailing Hedo Turkoglu, the former Magic forward who averaged 16.8 points per game last season but just 11.9 this season, making a case for the worst offseason signing from last summer.
"It’s like night-and-day as far as I’ve seen," Nuggets acting coach Adrian Dantley said. "But sometimes it takes time to get the chemistry together."
The shot of Wright on the floor in disbelief summed up the night for the Raptors. Toronto struggled to start the game scoring only 19 points in the opening quarter, but they went on to score 32 in the second and 29 in the third before being shut down in the fourth by Denver’s active defense and chalking up only 15 points.
The Raptors are not known for their defense (27th ranked D in the NBA) and they really were not stiffling the Nuggets, but Denver rather just seemed to be shooting at a shrunken rim as they hit just 3-21 field goals in the third quarter and opened the fourth 0-5 from the floor.
Credit Denver’s defense in the fourth quarter for allowing them a chance to win the game and credit Melo’s icy cool veins with the game on the line for tonight’s win.
The reality of the Raptors’ current situation is this:
1. Once the trade deadline has passed, there is very little that can be done to fundamentally alter the personnel on a team’s roster.
2. Firing their head coach makes little sense, given that he was hand-picked by the GM to run the day-to-day operation only 9 months ago, and the organization is still paying the salary of its former head coach [i.e. Sam Mitchell], who was fired in December of last season.
3. The team’s defensive woes have NOT been rooted in the mediocre-to-poor play of Jose Calderon, who is comparable … as a less-than stellar individual defender with a solid offensive game … to 6 of the other starting Point Guards for the Top 15 teams in the league [i.e. see the chart below].
"One of our biggest wins of the year, considering what’s at stake, considering where we’re at," Billups said. "We’ve been struggling; we’ve been in a rough patch lately. We fought our way into that paper bag, and we’ve got to fight our way out of it. And this is a start."
They are far from out of the woods. Nine games remain on the schedule, and the Western Conference standings are still as tight as the Nuggets in the third quarter Friday night. When Karl and Martin will return is still up in the air.
But Billups has not made a more important assist, nor Anthony a more important shot than the final play in Toronto. They stopped the bleeding and reminded themselves of the magical feeling that has accompanied them through most of this season.
A Chris Bosh free throw with 16.2 ticks left gave Toronto a 96-95 lead, setting up Denver’s final possession.
With 5.9 seconds left, Anthony hoisted a 21-foot jumper over Antoine Wright, the same gentleman who defended Anthony when he hit the game-winning 3 against Dallas in Game 3 of the conference semifinals last May. But this time, Melo missed.
The ball bounced off multiple hands. Exactly 19,800 breaths were held. Denver’s Nene corralled the ball near the left corner and zipped it to Billups. Surely, there wasn’t enough time to do anything. Billups thought about shooting, but two huge players lunged at him. He instinctively dished it to Anthony at the right elbow, who sank the game-winner.
"That one shot," Anthony said, "really, really builds our confidence and gives us momentum heading into these two games."
The shot snapped the hearts of Raptors fans, who watched their team come out with the energy that had been lacking in back-to-back losses of 26 points in their last two home contests. The shot completed a comeback that had the Raptors up 12 with just over eight minutes to go in the fourth.
When a three-point play from Andrea Bargnani put the Raptors up three with 44.4 seconds, Anthony was fouled and missed two free throws. Despite the Raptors owning a 58-38 advantage on the boards for the game, the Nuggets came up with the offensive rebound and Chauncey Billups hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 95-95 with 33.9 seconds.
After Chris Bosh made one of two free throws, Anthony missed his first jumper with 6.9 seconds on the clock and the Nuggets came away with the biggest offensive rebound of the night, feeding Anthony for the game-winner.
"It’s disappointing, but down in the end their two clutch players made two great shots," said Raptors coach Jay Triano. "Chauncey’s three with a hand right in his face gives them a chance and then the second look, Carmelo makes a contested two at the buzzer. Their stars made plays. It’s tough to swallow, but there is nothing we can do about it."
The Denver Nuggets are more talented, but this one was lost through poor execution. With the Raptors in complete control—control they gained by hustling and sharing the ball—Triano’s squad decided to piss away the lead through a series of poor isolation opportunities for their marquee player.
However, for those who’ve watched Bosh closely and can actually look past his impressive numbers, it’s a well-known fact that Bosh has a history of wilting under the pressure of having the ball run through him against elite teams.
It’s hard to blame Bosh for not being a better player, so we’ll have to put this one on his teammates and coaches for giving him the ball and clearing out with the hope that he would suddenly become a player who could actually excel in such situations.
What we can blame Bosh for is his complete lack of mental toughness.
This one goes back to 2003. Reports surfaced that Bosh was flagged for his horrid caliper test scores and the Raptors were advised to avoid picking the Texan. They picked him anyway, and few have bothered to criticize the six-time All-Star.
- Raptors Roll Call March 26 vs Nuggets
- Toronto Raptors Morning Coffee March 28