Calderon led a fine effort by the Raptors reserves.
“I thought our bench was the difference in the game … it turned it in the second quarter and it turned it in the fourth quarter,” said head coach Jay Triano.
Backup guard Leandro Barbosa missed his sixth game in a row for the Raptors because of an injured shoulder.
Rockets star centre Yao Ming did not make the trip because of a bruised ankle and the team was also without injured starting point guard Aaron Brooks.
The product didn’t suffer much, despite the absences, as the teams played an entertaining, hard-fought game in front of the 17,369 on hand.
There were encouraging signs for this club that continues to punch above its weight class, despite its poor record.
Houston was held to 96 points, far below the fourth-overall 105.5 per game the team averaged heading into the night.
Houston, also fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, was outboarded 44-37 by the gang in white.
“Actually, the last three games at home, they weren’t really good for me, I was like 1-for-17 or something like that here in Toronto, it looked like it was the building, I don’t know,” Calderon said as the Raptors basked in the glow of a second straight victory.
“I just needed to get a good one here at home for the fans. I don’t know, they were wide-open shots (that he missed early in the season) and I couldn’t make them and it was kind of getting in my head a little bit.
“After the layup, that’s why I was a little bit more emotional. It was an important one and it was like saying, ‘good, I needed that after for games at home.’”
Calderon has struggled mightily in Toronto’s first four games at home, going a combined 3-for-26 from the floor. But despite a pretty good road trip — 11-for-22 in three games, tossing out a 1-for-8 stinker in Washington — he needed to get some confidence at home.
Nights like Friday’s — 10 points, seven assists and a steady hand running the offence when the game turned in Toronto’s favour — will do that.
“You can’t argue with either of our point guards and the numbers they put up,” said coach Jay Triano after Calderon and Jarrett Jack combined for 14 points, 15 assists and just three turnovers. “I just thought late in the game, Jose had a good connection. I don’t know if it was just a coincidence with the guys he was on the floor with or whether he was in control of the game.”
One of the questions heading into Friday night’s game was which Raptors squad would show up. Would it be the gutsy Raptors who slayed mighty Orlando and challenged the Miami Heat last weekend? Or the lifeless squad that was walloped by the Washington Wizards on Nov. 16, killing any momentum they had generated against two elite squads? After that loss, veteran Reggie Evans, never one to mince words, ordered up a players meeting – and Toronto responded with a 94-86 win over Philadelphia 76ers the next day. “Reggie was the god father at the table,” said DeMar DeRozan.
Head coach Jay Triano downplayed the suggestion of inconsistency prior to Friday’s game. “We’ve shown [effort] in all but one game this year,” he said Friday, referring to the ugliness in Washington. “I don’t have an answer for what happened in that game. We’re trying to figure that out so that it doesn’t happen again.”
The Raptors turned out to be a mixed bag on Friday, looking okay in the first quarter, flat in the second, stellar by late in the third, and scrappy in the forth. The fire came from Weems’ dunk, and a key drive from Calderon.
After a 15-point loss in Washington on Tuesday, power forward Reggie Evans called the players-only meeting, which preceded the win over Philadelphia. You will remember this script from last year: The Raptors had delivered more than a few uninspired performance in a row, and a 31-point loss in Atlanta caused a meeting to be called. A few wins followed.
That team, however, looked to be mailing in some games. These Raptors were 3-9 coming into the Houston game, but only the Washington contest could be classified as a stinker.
“I think there were some things that needed to be addressed, and that’s why Reggie [Evans] called the meeting,” swingman Sonny Weems said. “It’s early in the season. We don’t want those problems to be going on throughout the season.”
Of course, nobody but the players know what actually happens in these meetings. According to DeRozan, Evans did most of the talking — he was “the Godfather”, DeRozan said — with everybody chipping in.
But whether they actually have any impact is impossible to tell. Not even Elias Sports Bureau keeps track of teams’ records following an impromptu meeting.
The meetings do prove one thing without a doubt, though.
“They all care,” Triano said. “They work hard. Every game’s been good except one as far as our energy and our effort. These guys care.”
The finish was far from the only problem. The Rockets bench was once again a no-show, getting outscored 46-11, while making just 4 of 15 shots. The Rockets paid little attention to defense in the first half, allowing a Raptors team that ranks 24th in shooting to make 53.3 percent in the first half to lead by as much as 13 and by eight at halftime.
The Rockets did rally back in an outstanding third quarter, dramatically improving defensively and getting good shots. But in the final 1:05 of the quarter, the Rockets were outscored 7-0 to end the quarter, finishing the quarter with three tough jumpers and down by one.
After trading baskets and the lead to start the fourth quarter, they stumbled again, as the Raptors rolled through a 12-0 run to a 10-point lead. From the Rockets’ six-point lead late in the third quarter to the 91-81 Toronto lead with 5 ½ minutes remaining, the Rockets made 2 of 12 shots with four turnovers.
"It’s the same old story,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “The second quarter, our bench went in and we stopped scoring. They took the lead on us there. We played well in the third quarter. We just keep having (poor) periods, for whatever reason. The last 1:31 of the third quarter, they get seven straight points on us. We just talked about ‘finish the quarter strong.’
“We’re just making too many mistakes at crucial times. You can’t list everything. The offensive boards they got (11 leading to 13 second-chance points.) Turnovers (17, leading to 18 fast break points) when they opened it up. Just the same story of a lot of games.”
Still, the Rockets rallied again and with 2:49 remaining, they cut the Toronto lead to 95-92. The only baskets they scored the rest of the way came when a loose ball bounced to Scola, giving him 19, and Martin got loose for a late layup to finish with 31.
Another impressive performance from Andrea Bargnani, who had an efficient, focused and complete game in the win. Bargnani was locked in early (huge given the Raps’ first-quarter struggles) and hit five of his first seven shots for 11 first-quarter points.
He went on to hit 11-of-17 overall from the floor for 26 points with six rebounds and four assists. The best part? Six of those 11 makes were in the paint with only one three-pointer attempted and made. He’s doing an excellent job of recognizing what aspects of his skill set to use (drive, jumper, post up), given the matchup.
Maybe the weirdest team in the league so far this season, but not one I can see making a realistic run at the playoffs. They were a good three-point shooting team last year; now they’re ranked 28th in long-range shooting, at just 29.5 percent. They used to be careful with the ball; now they turn it over a lot. They ranked 24th in offensive rebounding last season; they’re in the top five this season behind Reggie Evans, perhaps the most bizarre player in the league. They lost Chris Bosh and they’re somehow getting to the foul line more often.
Good luck figuring out which of these extremes is for real and which will reverse itself as the season goes on. It might not even matter, to be honest.
The one trend that makes complete sense: Teams are shredding the Raptors inside, shooting a very high percentage on shots within 10 feet of the hoop and forcing Toronto to foul often. In possibly related news: Andrea Bargnani is their starting center.
We know that Jay likes to go offence-defence late in close games and worked to near perfection at the end of last night’s win.
And almost didn’t get a chance to.
With about 2 1-2 minutes left and up five, he went to Sonny for Kleiza but it took a while for the bench to get the substitution in motion, or it almost took Sonny too long to get to the table because the refs had almost given the ball to the Rockets to inbound when the Raps were screaming “sub, sub, sub.”
Sonny eventually got there, got in the game and a second later, he helped team up with Amir for a key steal that led to a free throw and a few seconds ticking off the clock.
A couple of possessions later – and there was no stoppage when Toronto had the ball to get Kleiza back in for the offence part of the offence-defence move – Weems punctuated the night with a dunk off a Johnson block and a Bargnani outlet.
Sometimes small moves do pay off.
Having Alabi and Cleveland Cavaliers rookie forward Christian Eyenga sent down from its NBA affiliate teams certainly helped Erie’s cause Friday.
Along with scoring 13 points, Alabi added seven rebounds and seven blocks while Eyenga had 12 points, including a breakaway one-handed jam that put the finishing touches on an explosive first-half debut for Erie.
"Solomon changes a lot of things," Brown said. "Eyenga came in there and he’s very athletic and very active on things. When you’ve got two NBA guys down there, those guys are going to play hard."
In the first half, Erie shot a piping-hot 59.5 percent from the field and scored 24 points off 15 Springfield turnovers.
For a team that added two players, albeit from the NBA, in the last four days of camp, Erie started the game as if it had been together for a much longer period of time.
"We worked hard," Alabi said, smiling. "The few days I came with the team, they work really hard. They worked hard to make it easy."
While Alabi said he could have grabbed more rebounds and Eyenga was hard on himself for not doing as well as he’d like on defense, the only thing that really went wrong for Erie in the first half was Cedric Jackson taking a shot to the nose that left him bloody.
As DeRozan started getting to the foul line, the rest of the team followed and the Raptors managed to set up an aggressive defense and find ample scoring opportunities for all their players down the stretch. Players like Amir Johnson stayed out of foul trouble and provided an inside presence against players such as Luis Scola. Jose Calderon continued through most of the fourth except for a little bit of a rest, but was quickly reinserted when the Rockets caught up with the Raptors again. Andrea Bargnani continued his aggressiveness, and Kleiza provided some key rebounds.
So all in all, the Raptors played one quarter of inspired basketball and took over the game.
It’s now the start of the Raptors home stand and I’m glad that they started things off with a win. It didn’t come easy and it came against a team which is currently struggling to find any holding in the West. The fact that the Raptors kept a lead for most of the game before putting things away in the fourth is a start for this team, and something that I hope to see them build upon as this home stand continues. The foundation seems to be there, it’s just a matter of building on it day by day.
And yes, I still have a smile from the win.
While doing some research for Toronto’s game against Houston I uncovered a stat which caught me off guard: DeMar DeRozan has had 156 touches on offense so far this season yet only five of those touches have resulted in him cutting to the rim.
For a player who came into the NBA being heralded as one of the top athletes in his draft class and a high flyer the fact he isn’t cutting to the rim more often is surprising.
Before the game I was able to chat with Jay Triano about this and he told me DeRozan just needs to be more aggressive commanding the ball from his teammates.
“He’s got to move without the ball and use screens well,” Triano explained to Hoops Addict. “A lot of our sets go through the post and Andrea Bargnani so his numbers will be down in our halfcourt sets because of that. We just need to have our point guards give it up and create more movement.”
Watching the game unfold it felt as if DeRozan was told of this conversation because early in the game he attacked the rim on a great cut to the basket which resulted in a dunk that got the crowd on their feet.
He then followed that up with a cut to the rim on an inbounds play and Andrea Bargnani found him for a nice layin.
This attack mentality continued throughout the game as the four field goals he made came when he was driving to the rim and he also got 12 free throws (all of which were when he was attacking or cutting to the rim).
“Easy layups weren’t falling for me in the first half but I just tried to continue to be aggressive and get to the free throw line,” DeRozan admitted to Hoops Addict after the game.
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