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Celtics 101, Raptors 102 – Box

The Boston Celtics are a vastly different team without Rajon Rondo, but all credit goes to the Toronto Raptors, who had another gutsy effort in squeaking out a suprising victory at the ACC Sunday afternoon. They played with an 8-man rotation, which they have now had to do, with great success, twice. This team is showing the ability to raise their game against the elite teams in the league, which is a surprising but very welcomed trend. The games seem more exciting, their defense is at least a factor, and the offense is a little more balanced than last year, with countless possessions of Chris Bosh playing cat and mouse with the rest of the team waiting intently.

Andrea Bargnani’s offense can be very predictable at times as wel, but after a listless Washington performance, has been attacking the rim constantly, and getting to the line regularly. He was Kevin Garnett’s assignment, but Garnett had more trouble with Bargnani today than he ever did with Chris Bosh. That’s the cold, hard truth. When he’s playing like this, his efficiency rises to respectable levels. 29 points on 20 shots I can handle, and that’s where his offense balances out his defensive flaws. He had a couple of spectacular and1′s and he showed a lot of emotion today. It wasn’t just this game, but part of a personal evolution of him as a player, and that can only be a good thing. More aggressive, emotionally charged, and defensively a little more active, thus the 5 fouls. You need to see more than 1 or 2 fouls. It’s like the opposite of Amir Johnson’s problem. Amir is too active and aggressive that he gets into foul trouble, Andrea is not taking enough risks if he’s never getting into foul trouble.

So a lot of positive things about Andrea’s game today. When the Raptors inevitably evaporated their double digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Raptors went away from him and the offense seemed to sputter.

It didn’t help that Jose Calderon became passive late in the game. In fact, he had an unimpressive start as well, lacking that spark he has been showing off the bench. All too familar. His pace, activity level just drops and it took a run led by Leandro Barbosa in the 2nd quarter to bring the Raps back into the game. The last point guard that Barbosa teamed up with, one Steve Nash, could teach Calderon a thing or two about consistent, relentless point guard play. Barbosa did not look out of place as a distributor. Nate Robinson was chewing up Jose in the first quarter. He coudn’t be stopped, but wasn’t much of a factor for the remainder of the game.

And what about Amir Johnson, who has such a positive impact on the game when he’s actually on the floor. He changes the game defensively and continues to be simple, but very effectively om the inside. He can grab the ball near the rim, collect himself and go back up very smoothly for a PF/C. Huge offensive board and free throws to win the game. Does a stellar free throw percentage mean that Amir should be able to stick that 10 – 15 footer?

Reggie Evans had another solid workmanlike effort on the glass, set some nice picks, and had a couple of offensive highlights. Well, any offensive play of Reggie’s is a highlight in itself. Probably still tries to do too much with some of the offensive rebounds he gets, but the guy makes us a decent rebounding team pretty much on his own, so I’ll live with it.

Although his shot selection is suspect at times, Sonny Weems is really starting to open some eyes. The shooting we know about, but he had a couple of spectacular drives where he was able to turn the corner and kick into another gear for a clean dunk. It’s really getting hard to see why DeMar DeRozan is considered a better prospect than him. DeRozan himself is going through another mini-slump. His shot seems to have deserted him, and that definitely bothers him. In his mind, DeRozan does not want to be a one-dimensional threat like a Desmond Mason, for lack of a better example. But even his free throw shooting is down, where’s Dave Hopla at these days?

The Raptors kind of lucked out by not having to face Rondo, because he is the best player on this team. It’s more like Rondo and then the Big Three. If you saw the Miami game, or any game of his this year, you see a point guard who has developed great court vision and creates something on almost every possession.

We saw Jose Calderon with Barbosa near the end of the game like the famed Calderon/Jack combo of last year. Don’t see this version working either, and I really hope he doesn’t do it with Bayless. The coach needs to trust the talent on the floor and not break conventional lineups just to have more ballhandlers on the floor. It’s a nightmare defensively.

Still not sure how good/bad this team is, whether it’s the listless inexperienced squad that dropped home games to Washington and Charlotte, or the energetic youngsters that fought LA and Miami to the wire, and beat Orlando and Boston. One thing is becoming increasingly apparent, however.

They are a lot of fun to watch.