Jack has never appeared in a post-season game and the chances of Toronto playing in the playoffs grew worse with each painstaking loss.
“As long as we stay together and continue to fight, there’s no reason why we can’t move up in the standings," Jack said. “It’s not really important who we play the rest of the way, but the rhythm in which we’re playing.”
Jack saved his best for last in Charlotte, scoring all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Except for an ill-advised runner that he tried to bank in, Jack stepped up, even as the Raptors showed some deficiencies in their execution on offence and some lapses on defence.
But they made plays and they weren’t hanging their heads in despair like they’ve done in the past.
Jack recalls one huddle in particular late when the game’s momentum was shifting in Charlotte’s favour.
“We huddled as a group and there were no heads dropping," Jack said. “We were together and we played in unison. We were assertive.
“Eventually, we knew we’d turn this around.”
Turkoglu was neither upset nor did he offer much insight into the team’s decision not to play him a night earlier in Miami, where he dressed and had a courtside view of Toronto’s 97-94 loss after leading by as many as 17.
Without really saying it, Turkoglu seemed to indicate he knew before Sunday’s tip that he wouldn’t be playing.
Turkoglu has been a major bust in his first year in Toronto after signing a five-year deal worth $53 million.
There have been moments this season that cried out for meaningful change, but the Raptors decided to make a statement in the wake of last week’s development that saw Turkoglu miss 11/2 games because of a stomach ailment. At the same time Turkoglu was ill, he was spotted out on the town.
The perception, for obvious reasons, is wrong, sort of like Vince Carter showing up at a Nelly concert and dancing on stage when he was supposedly rehabbing a knee injury.
No one should be foolish enough to suggest the Raptors are better off without Turkoglu — because they’re not.
Say what you want about his attitude, approach and presence, but he can create on a team that lacks creators.
The problem rests with how the Raptors dealt with Turkoglu in the first place after they doled out a king’s ransom for the small forward.
Surviving another harrowing finish – up seven with three minutes left, clinging to a two-point advantage without the ball and with 10 seconds go – the Raptors got a much-needed win here Monday night, upsetting the Bobcats 103-101 to put the skids to a three-game losing streak.
It was an all-too-rare show of unity from a team that some felt has been fracturing for more than a month.
"I think we really asserted ourselves," said guard Jarrett Jack. "Throughout the game there were calls that didn’t go particularly the way we would like. In the huddle, we didn’t hang our heads. Everybody was into it. The guys on the bench – everybody. We were just saying, `Stay together.’
"This is the time where we really have got to show that team unity, that camaraderie we have been building all season. This is the time where it counts the most."
The win gives Toronto a one-game edge on the Chicago Bulls for eighth in the Eastern Conference and moves them to just 1 1/2 games behind seventh-place Charlotte.
Most importantly, it puts behind them – for now at least – an ugly stretch of blown double-digit leads and the one-game de facto suspension of Hedo Turkoglu.
Last night they started the fourth trailing 78-72 but took their first lead since the first quarter a minute later helped by a pair of quick assists from Turkoglu on baskets by Jarrett Jack and DeRozan, and he was on the floor when the Raptors appeared to take control of the game, getting consecutive three-point plays at the three-minute mark to go up by seven points.
But the Raptors offence stalled out again down the stretch, and Turkoglu was no particular help, missing a late three-pointer and then turning the ball over by stepping out of bounds with 70 seconds to play and Toronto nursing a two-point lead.
But this time their defence stiffened as Charlotte failed to score a field goal until a Tyson Chandler dunk with 20 seconds left, but in the meantime the Raptors made enough crucial free throws – though Weems didn’t help matters by bricking a pair with 13 seconds to play that would have iced the game – and were able to force a turnover by Charlotte in the final seconds as the Bobcats tried to push the game into overtime.
Turkoglu finished with 11 points and three assists in 28 minutes, while the Raptors were led by Chris Bosh, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds, with support from Wright who had 15 points and six rebounds. Toronto shot 50.6 per cent from the floor to Charlotte’s 46.4 in the win.
Of course, if Charlotte makes a few more shots down the stretch, that camaraderie comment seems like a punch line instead of legitimate enthusiasm. And it still could end up as a punch line.
There were enough signs of life, however, to put the pessimism away for an evening. Chris Bosh was more lively around the rim, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Jose Calderon was more explosive than usual. And, as a team, Toronto had 10 offensive rebounds to Charlotte’s four.
And, yes, there was Turkoglu.
An evening after his surprise "did not play-coach’s decision" on his boxscore line, there was still a bit of commotion surrounding the forward.
After Sunday’s game, Turkoglu declined comment. He elaborated yesterday before the game, but not that much more. There was talk of respecting decisions, and little else.
"I can’t be angry. I respect all the decisions from now on," Turkoglu said. "I’m just upset at the silly situation, and I can’t help. I’m just upset. I can’t be mad about it. All you can do is be positive."
Six of the Bulls’ last nine games are against teams with winning records.
”We have had some tough games, and these last couple were kind of our little breather before we play Phoenix, Boston, Cleveland and Toronto,” Miller said. ”We play everyone in front of us, so Toronto, obviously, is going to be a big game.”
Toronto also has nine games left, but its schedule is much more favorable. The Raptors have five home games, and only face three teams — the Cavaliers, Celtics and Atlanta Hawks — with winning records.
The rest of Toronto’s games — besides their April 11 game against the Bulls — are against some of the dregs of the NBA: the Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks.
On paper, the Raptors would appear to have the upper hand, but for that to be the case, they’ll have to prove that Monday’s victory gets them turned around. Before that game, Toronto was 4-13 since Feb. 24.
At this point, the Bulls need a lot of help from the Raptors.
The loss dropped them to 38-35 and gave the Raptors (36-37) the season series, 2-1, should a tiebreaker be necessary.
Jackson saw the whole thing as a fluke.
"We didn’t lose that game. They didn’t beat us,” Jackson kept saying. "A lot of things went their way to cause them to win. But they didn’t beat us.”
Jackson was careful not to directly implicate the officials, but it was obvious he was frustrated after the Raptors took 15 free throws in the fourth quarter to the Bobcats’ eight. A five-point Toronto possession, off a dunk by Chris Bosh, a missed free throw, then three free throws by Jarrett Jack (Raymond Felton was charged with a shooting foul outside the 3-point line) seemed to get everyone agitated.
But that doesn’t explain away the Bobcats’ mistakes, particularly a turnover by Felton with three seconds left in what could have been the tying or winning possession.
"I’ll take responsibility,” said Felton, who finished with 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Given the massive expectations placed upon this team prior to the season, it feels more than a little strange to write this, but the Raptors would be better off missing the playoffs.
Barely making it in, only to be obliterated by LeBron James and his Cavaliers in Round 1 accomplishes what exactly?
That is, unless they somehow find a way to move up to the 5th or 6th spot in the East by going on a run reminiscent of its 12 of 14 stretch in 2002. That would at least allow the notion of an upset to enter the realm of possibility.
That run isn’t going to happen though, so, here’s why missing the playoffs is the best outcome for this franchise at this moment.
"It was a character win for us tonight," Toronto coach Jay Triano said. "I think we’ve been playing well. I was glad to see them get rewarded with a win. The last three games we’ve been playing good basketball, but had a few bad breaks."
Tonight’s game was an important one for both Toronto and Charlotte as both teams battle for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto is now two games behind the Bobcats for seventh in the standings.
"This is a big win for us," Triano added. "They are a team we’re chasing and this gives us the tie breaker now. More importantly, I feel good for our players. Our guys found a way tonight and that impressed me."
Toronto took the NBA’s stingiest defense to task in the fourth quarter. The Raptors scored 31 points in the final period thanks to 9-for-15 shooting and 12 points from Jarrett Jack. It was the first time in which Charlotte had allowed more than 100 points in 14 games.
Hedo Turkoglu, who missed Friday night with a stomach illness and was a healthy scratch from Sunday’s loss at Miami, came off the bench and netted 11 points.
"If I get an opportunity," Turkoglu said. "I will just try to do my best. I got a chance tonight and put all the things behind me and stepped on the court. This is my job and I tried to do my best."
Turkoglu’s three with 4:22 to play put the Raptors in front to stay and jumpstarted an 8-0 run. Toronto took its largest lead of the game, 100-93, after a three-point play from Jack.
"I was struggling a bit and the guys on the bench got on me tonight about getting involved," Jack said. "They got my attention and got me going. Once I hit one, I was able to come up big for us."
Question: Will Chris Bosh be in Toronto next season?
Do you think the Raptors have had enough talent to get past the first round in their playoff appearances? I do. That means if you’re Chris Bosh, and you want the franchise money, if you haven’t been past the first round, maybe you have to look in the mirror. That’s where I think it’s important. Being a franchise guy isn’t just going somewhere where there is more talent, it’s making your team better.
Their win against the Bobcats was not only important in oder to distance themselves from the Bulls but also to assure some of their certainties. The offense worked well, shooting 51% and Turkoglu exercised his role as closer hitting the go ahead 3 pointer on clutch time.
These final 8 games are huge for the Raptors’ future. If they manage to blow this playoff spot to a Bulls team with 3 keepers on their roster, they can kiss good bye to Chris Bosh. Bosh may love to live in Toronto but he also seems to be the type of superstar that wants to win, not just money like Boozer and Stoudemire, and lately Toronto’s play have raise doubts if this team could ever manage to provide him some sort of hopeful future. That’s why that playoff berth matters so much, even if that joke of a defense force them to be one and done.
Tonight was all about redemption for the Raptors. Over the last two games they have been one of the worst fourth quarter teams in the league, gift wrapping consecutive games to Denver and Miami, two teams they should have beat. Tonight they used a huge fourth quarter and timely play of Jack, Bosh and (Dare I say it) Hedo Turkoglu in addition to the Bobcats shooting woes, to nail home a thrilling win. The game would have been a lot less nerve-wracking had the Raptors decided to hit a free throw in the fourth, but in the end, a win is a win.
Toronto’s win over Charlotte on Monday night was just their 2nd win over a team with a winning record since January 28th! Two-plus months and 27 games played! They are 2-11 against +.500 teams during that time, and 10-4 against sub-.500 teams. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – This team has had a peachy schedule for awhile (note: first time I’ve ever used "peachy" in a sentence).
If Bargs can attack the glass and be the true secondary scoring option this team needs on a consistent basis, and Bosh can get refocussed here down the stretch, who knows.
Mind you this is the 2009-2010 Toronto Raptors we’re talking about here, and one solid outing doesn’t have me ready to cash in my "over" bet yet.
However last night was the best I’ve seen this club look from front-to-back in ages, and considering the recent woes in Raptorland, I’ll take it and look forwards to the next few matches.