Josh Smith, Amir Johnson
Raptors 94, 76ers 86 – Box

A night after getting clobbered in Washington, the Raptors deliver a win on the road in Philly which was also playing the tail end of a back-to-back. When these two teams met in preseason, I commented that these are the games that will help the Raptors get to 25 wins this season. They’ve already dropped “winnable” games to New York, Golden State, Washington and Sacramento, so it’s good to see the Raptors finally beat a team that’s already half dead. The proceedings on Wednesday night were helped by the absenteeism of Andre Iguodala, but that wasn’t the talking point of this one. It was Andrea Bargnani.

When Bargnani starts off a quarter shooting the lights out, I yawn because I’ve learned that the higher you get the farther you fall, and I don’t want to get too high in the first quarter. The excitement about his 11 first quarter points was reserved because all too often he’s come crashing down very soon after. Not last night, maybe it was the sight of the sluggish Spencer Hawes that stimulated Bargnani’s senses, or maybe it was knowing that Hawes was the man ex-mentor Jermaine O’Neal once dropped 36 on in a Raptors uniform, whatever the case, Bargnani did not relent his attack on Hawes or any other poor schmuck who tried to defend him. The Sixers switched Speights over to him for a bit but it didn’t matter, they also tried the shorter Elton Brand who could not contend with Bargnani’s realization that if he only intelligently used the tools at his disposal and applied 70% effort, he could have his way with anybody the Sixers could throw at him. The line read 30 points on 12-18 shooting and 7 rebounds. The shot chart is a balanced one to look at. Some good post-ups, a couple great seal-and-turns, good movement off the screens in the paint, and when he was given the room in the elbow-three area, he made them pay. Take a bow.

The Sixers have the 25th ranked offense in the league and it showed, if it weren’t for Elton Brand being guarded by Reggie Evans, they wouldn’t have hit 75 points. And if the Raptors had tightened their transition defense just a wee bit and not allowed 23 fastbeak points while only scoring 8 of their own, the Sixers would have had trouble hitting 60. They shot 36.8% for the game and really didn’t take advantage of their 14 extra possessions. Brand struggled to score against the taller Bargnani and Johnson but had his way with the shorter Evans. The Raptors didn’t seem to care about Brand’s points as they figured Brand going one-on-one down low isn’t going to kill them as long as the other were in check. He finished with 27 points on 9-19 shooting, but didn’t do anything to ease the tension in Philadelphia’s sputtering offense, an offense which almost forced Jrue Holiday to create something out of nothing in late-clock situations.

Sonny Weems is showing why I have such faith in him and picked him to average between 12-15 points this season. His mid-range game is well-documented and the major question being asked of him is about his motor and how committed he is to improving other parts of his game like his drive, defense, off-the-ball movement and such. He answered his critics with a tight performance which showcased those skills that seem to come so easily for him. On display last night were his three pointer, mid-range jumper, drive, body-control, transition offense and most of all, his hustle. He had a career-high 25 points on 10-18 shooting, very efficient numbers which were desperately needed. The Raptors might have shot 34-73 (46.6%) from the field, but once you take out Bargnani and Weems (22/36 – 61%), the rest of the team shot 12-37 for 32%.

Jarrett Jack deserves to be crapped on for this game. I can understand if you are having a bad shooting night (2-13 FG), it happens to everyone and is expected in an 82-game grind. What’s not expected is the so-called “team leader” to abandon his teammates and start playing absolutely selfish basketball. Jack was awful, he took at least three shots without even passing the ball once in the possession, looked off teammates who had it going, didn’t even run one instance of an honest two-man game, didn’t track Holiday at all and allowed him easy access to any spot on the court, did a piss-poor job of handling Philly’s first quarter traps, and appeared to be taking his bad performance in stride. When the Raptors second-unit made their little spurt at the start of the fourth, Jack almost gave it right back by playing selfish basketball yet again, luckily he got the hook from Triano who inserted Jose Calderon. The Spaniard had a nice offensive game, didn’t cling to the ball, made the common-sense pass and wasn’t taken advantage of by Holiday or Lou Williams. In fact, it was Calderon’s defense that led to four Raptors points in the fourth quarter.

Final note is on Amir Johnson. As well as Bargnani was playing in the first quarter, the Raptors were still down by six when he exited for a rest. The spark provided by the bench in the second quarter was key and it was led by Amir Johnson’s defense. Up until that point Holiday had waltzed past Jack to get to the rim as no help came, once Johnson came in the dynamics of the game changed. Lou Williams tried something similar, no doubt upon instruction, and Johnson set the tone with this block which lead to a Weems dunk. The Raptors are 29th in the NBA in blocks and have watched guards come into the lane without any fear of punishment, so it was refreshing to see Johnson display an interior defense that’s been missing all-together this season.

This game was a war of attrition between a poor Philly offense and a bad Raptors defense. Something had to give and it ended up being the Philly defense as a very motivated Andrea Bargnani kept demanding the ball right up until the end and delivered when he got it. Raptors split the 4-game road trip and have 12 of their next 17 at home starting with Houston this Friday. We’re watching some close games which is always entertaining, and we’re also headed for a high lottery pick. It’s all good, I guess. Here are some totally random and very possibly pointless notes.

  • Darius Songaila had two hilarious airballs on open jumpers.
  • The PA announcer has an echo thing going where, say if Brand scores, he goes, “Elton Brand…Brand….Brand….” It’s pretty funny.
  • Reggie Evans was 3-4 from the line and blew on his fingers to cool himself down after going 2-2.
  • For the 2954th time in franchise history, Leo Rautins cited the importance of keeping the ball inbounds after getting a block.
  • Julian Wright didn’t get off the bench, Linas Kleiza ended up going 1-7 for 7 points. Matt Devlin referred to the paint as “his area” after he scored on his first shot.
  • DeRozan with a very anonymous performance, after clanging a couple jumpers early he seemed to lose confidence and decided that he’d try the drive-and-kick today. Worked out well, five assists, one of them real talent.