For the Raptors, Wednesday night amounted to the beginning of what shaped up to be a time of locking down defensively and getting touches offensively.
Alarmingly, the Raptors failed to impose their will when the circumstances demanded it against a vulnerable and beaten foe.
Shockingly, when the situation called for quick close-outs and movement on offence, instead open looks were yielded and the ball got stagnant. For stretches on Wednesday night, it was difficult to discern which team had more at stake.
Credit the visiting L.A. Clippers, who couldn’t make shots a night earlier in a blowout loss in Milwaukee and who didn’t arrive into Toronto until 2 a.m.
They were worthy of praise because the Clippers were playing hard, were denying penetration and were knocking down shots when looks were presented.
There was resistance when many thought the Clippers would capitulate.
The word urgency has been tossed around more times than Andrea Bargnani heaves perimeter shots.
No playoff spot has been assured, but it’s incumbent on the Raptors to bring a mentality to each tip and on each possession as though it is the post-season.
Weems, in the starting five, gives the Raptors more opportunities to get out and run and his athleticism ensures teams have to be accountable for him venturing into the paint, meaning they can’t focus solely on Bosh in and around the basket.
And while it was initially thought that Turkoglu coming out of the starting five was another form of punishment for his off-court indiscretions while battling a flu bug, head coach Jay Triano made it clear following Monday’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats that the changes to the starting five with Antoine Wright and Weems in and Turkoglu and DeMar DeRozan out, would be the case for the remainder of the regular season.
Weems’ play of late has made that possible.
Weems has reached a point in his career where there is some real consistency with his jump shot, another means of keeping defences at least somewhat honest and unable to key in on Bosh as much.
And best of all, opponents so far have been willing to let Weems have those shots.
“It’s automatic now,” teammate Antoine Wright says of Weems’ mid-range jumper. “I don’t even really think the other teams are respecting him, yet. I think they’re still playing him as a driver. He’s done a good job of staying with it and getting his work in and knocking it down.
“He’s really helping this team right now.”
With eight games remaining, the question was asked whether a team coming out as flat as it did should be a concern.
Bosh didn’t believe so.
“Nah, not at all,” Bosh said. “It wasn’t like we were down 10 or 12 points at the half. We were down four (five, actually). There is going to be some slippage sometimes and you have to make adjustments. It’s not about panicking. You just have to make the proper adjustments and come out the right way in the second half.”
Bosh explained away the Raptors’ poor first half by suggesting it takes a little longer to get into a game when the opponent isn’t playing for much, but then wisely suggested this practice couldn’t continue.
“When teams are playing loose like that, sometimes they are the tougher team to beat because you have to provide your own energy,” Bosh said. “Against teams like the Celtics and Cavs, we know we are going to have to come out hard so those are easier game to provide our own energy. We have to be aware of that and just respect every opponent we have left.”
With the next two games against two more teams playing out the string — Philadelphia and Golden State — those words should perhaps be left on a chalkboard somewhere as a reminder.
Sonny Weems, a recent addition to the Raptors’ starting five, was the one who provided the spark in that second half.
Aside from the usual jolt of energy Weems has come to provide, his perfect night from the floor – including just the second three pointer of his career – was the perfect spark for a strong second half.
"They were open shots, that’s all," said Weems, who had 17 points, five rebounds and four assists as Toronto moved two games ahead of Chicago in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
If only it was that simple.
What Weems provided was the second-half energy the Raptors sorely needed to pull away from the Clippers. Two of his baskets in the third quarter were fast-break finishes that ignited his teammates and the crowd and got Toronto on track. It was the kind of effort the Raptors have come to expect from the 23-year-old Weems.
"Sonny was a guy earlier this year that was going to maybe be a role player on this team but the kid comes back every single night and works on his jump shot with DeMar (DeRozan)," said coach Jay Triano. "He works hard every day in practice, he gives us something we don’t have and he’s earned a spot in a rotation."
That spot is now as a starter, usurping Hedo Turkoglu because of the athleticism and defence the 6-foot-6 Weems brings. It’s not something he takes for granted.
"Nah, you never get used to that because you can get pulled out real fast. I’m just glad I get the opportunity," said Weems. "Every day I wake up and I try to thank God every morning for putting me in this position. Last year, I didn’t play at all … now I have the chance to show my talent."
He’s earned his spot in the starting lineup alongside Antoine Wright as Triano tries to reshape his rotation on the fly with just eight games left in the season, introducing Weems’s and Wright’s additional length and bounce on the defensive end, though both have held their own scoring, too.
“We’re hoping it gives us energy right off the bat,” Triano said. He didn’t get it last night, but got some and more after the half.
The win was Toronto’s second straight and gives them a chance to gain a little momentum as they try to solidify their playoff position at bottom of the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
Toronto doesn’t play a team headed for the post-season until they head to Cleveland next week.
If the Raptors play their cards right, they could have a four-game winning streak on the line.
Stranger things have happened.
The Raptors shot 61% from the floor, so they clearly deserved the victory.
"We kept the ball moving," Chris Bosh, who had 34 points and 11 rebounds, said. "Granted, we didn’t play one of the stronger defences in the league. We’ll take everything we can get right now. It still counts."
Sure it does. The Clippers, though, are truly brutal.
Let’s just say that the Clippers, heading for their 18th season with 50 or more losses in their 25 years in Los Angeles (excluding the lockout-shortened year in which they went 9-41) had a lot to do with the Raptors win. The Clippers missed eight of their 15 free throws, including several by Chris Kaman in the third quarter when the game was still in the balance.
There was also the one possession in the fourth quarter where the Clippers earned a 24-second shot clock violation all by themselves, apparently just forgetting there are time restrictions in this game. They are, well, a tad underwhelming.
"When teams are playing loose like that, sometimes they’re the tougher teams to beat because you have to provide your own energy," Bosh said. "Against teams like the Celtics and the Cavs, we know we’re going to have to come out hard. Those are easier games to provide our own energy."
Indeed, the second quarter turned out to be the exception. The Raptors scored 31, 33 and 33 in the 1st, 2nd and 4th stanzas. The Clippers led for the last time at 75-74 with 2:24 left in the third quarter. From there, Toronto went on a 40-17 finish to the game with 7 straight to end the third and a 33-17 advantage in the fourth. It’s not quite as embarrassing as the 46-14 run the Warriors hung on them in LA, but it’s pretty impressive.
The Clippers defense has been really, really bad in the Kim Hughes era, and this game was no exception. The Raptors shot 61% for the game, and it’s not difficult to see why looking at the shot charts. Basically, they just paraded to the front of the rim, especially in the second half, and the Clippers did little to stop them.
The biggest step in the Bulls doing this would be to win their match up against the Raptors. Doing so would push both the Bulls and Raptors to 40-42 records for the season, with the Raptors making the playoffs based on the tiebreaker. The Bulls would still have to find one more win or another Raptors loss.
Some good places that the Bulls could look for an additional win are against the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats in the final two games of the season. If those teams have their playoff positions solidified, they may choose to rest their players for the playoffs, giving the Bulls an easy win.
The most likely place that the Raptors would lose an additional game is against the Philadelphia 76ers. While the 76ers are largely a terrible team, the Raptors are also an awful road team, making themselves vulnerable to a bad Philadelphia team. If the Warriors or Knicks have their offense clicking, they may also be able to hand the Raptors an additional loss.
However, as all three of these teams are terrible, the Raptors will likely win all of these games. Therefore, in order for the Bulls to make the playoffs, they will likely need to finish the season 6-2 to finish, including a win over the Raptors, to finish with a 41-41 record and the East’s final playoff spot.
Here is a statement: Chris Bosh is an underrated, unappreciated big man on the National Basketball Association. Bosh is having a career season, because of a contract year or not, shooting a career high 51.3% from the field, 36.4% from beyond the arc, averaging a career high 10.9 RPG and leading charge, carrying the Raptors towards the postseason.
Every time I write something about Toronto mentioning that this season’s team was build around Bosh in order to convince him to re-sign with the franchise, there’s always a comment wondering if Bosh should be the one to be built around. Truth is that Bosh isn’t a 1. But also there aren’t a lot of 1s that are big men, Dwight Howard may be the only one right now, usually a 1 is a Swingman or a PG. Bosh is incredibly talented and gets the game. He’s one of three 20 & 10 guys in the league. He may not be a specimen but he’s tough enough to fight on the frontcourt, can chase stretch 4s around the perimeter, can play with his back to basket, has offensive moves, proved to be clutch, have a reliable step back jumper and even 3 point range.
Toronto is the hunted. Chicago is only one and a half games behind them and can smell blood. The Raptors have not fared well in the month of March either winning only five games. Their remaining games are against the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia, Golden State, Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. The stretch of games against Cleveland, Boston Atlanta, and Chicago occur over a six day period. Toronto’s playoff hopes will die during these six days. The Raptors have also just placed their key free agent from last summer into a reserve role. Hedu Turkoglu, who signed a $53 million deal with the Raptors and was the only reason the Magic had a chance of competing against the Lakers in last year’s NBA Finals, is now a bench player. To have any hope of keeping Chicago at bay Turkoglu must be a starter. Player frustration and general dissent seems to be coming to a head north of the border. Chicago, meanwhile, has not made excuses for their poor play of late. Because of injuries they have not played as well as they could. Toronto, however, has not played well. No, they have played awful. They will continue to play this way for the remainder of the season as they know no other way. Bryan Colangelo may ascertain dreams of keeping Chris Bosh a Raptor but if you were Bosh and the team you play for continually fails you, would you want to stick around?
- Toronto shot 61% from the field for the GAME and outscored the Clippers in the 2nd half, 66-39
- Toronto’s energy was a bit off in the first half … trailing by 5 at the break and getting hammered on the glass and in fast-break points and 2nd chance points.
- “The Raptors may have been slow to rise but when they did, they completely dismantled the Clippers and got the win they had to have; a win they were supposed to have.”
- “Solid offensive execution in the 2nd half for Toronto and just enough defence to get it done.”
Over the last few games Chris Bosh had stopped doing the things that made him so successful early in the year. He stopped taking the ball to the rack and his free throw attempts per game plummeted. Tonight he took charge, didn’t settle for the jump shot and was rewarded by the referee. Chris has been one of the top 5 players in free throw attempts per game throughout the course of this year. That is an important stat to consider game in, game out. He has the respect of the league officials and must take advantage of it. If they’re going to give it to you, take it. Tonight he got back to what made him successful and he scored a tonne of points. More importantly the Raptors won the game. This could be imperative to winning basketball games down the stretch.
And on this night, that revised starting line-up out-scored the entire Clippers team 94-92.
Not that recent starters DeMar DeRozan and Hedo Turkoglu didn’t contribute. Both the former starters were very effective off the bench.
But more important, this line-up has proven to give the Raptors a defensive presence virtually unheard of for a Raptors team in recent years. Over the past four games, the Raptors have given up 96.8 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting.