“Toronto knew we had a long night last night and they came out with a lot of energy,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said.
“They are a much, much improved team (from the one that started the streak in Philly last week) … They just had a lot of juice tonight.”
Indeed, newcomers Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic were outstanding in limited minutes, providing a spark with deadeye outside shooting. Their performances were needed since DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Linas Kleiza were off, managing just a combined 6-for-18 shooting for 17 total points.
Bayless nailed a three at the buzzer ending the first quarter and surprisingly hit two more from outside, on the way to a 13 point, two rebound, two assist evening in 15 minutes. Stojakovic canned a three and notched seven points in just six minutes.
Bayless looked calm and confident running the show and the shooting was a big bonus. Stojakovic, bemused by a raucous welcome from the ACC faithful, also looked deadly in his brief debut.
Bayless looked particularly strong playing beside a revitalized Leandro Barbosa, who had 11 points off the bench.
“We can compete against anybody if we play this way,” said Jose Calderon, strong in a 16-point, nine assist, one turnover night.
“We outwork the other team now and that’s why we’re winning.”
Sixers star Andre Iguodala said Philadelphia needs to start emulating the Raptors, and Evans in particular.
“It is just about hard work, there is no equation behind that,” Iguodala said. “(Evans) just goes out there and works hard and you can only respect that. If anything, our guys should learn from him, the way he plays the game.”
“Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie” they yelled in appreciation for an honest night’s work from a guy who’s not about glory.
Reggie Evans set a new career high for rebounds in Toronto’s 106-90 shellacking of the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, grabbing 22 of them and further endearing himself to a fan base that loves effort as much as it does success.
“I was just really doing what I normally do,” said Evans, who tied franchise records for rebounds in a quarter (10 in the first) and a half (14 in the first) as part of his big night. “That was the main thing, I wasn’t focused on any career high.
“Just taking advantage of every opportunity that came my way. Coach was saying we need you to do what you normally do.”
What Evans has done consistently since the season began is give the Raptors a decided advantage on the boards and fuel an offence that thrives in transition.
He had to step out and guard Phildelphia’s Thaddeus Young on the perimeter for a fair bit in the absence of the suspended Sixer big man Elton Brand. He simply dug down and did his job.
“We said, ‘you’re not going to be guarding Elton Brand . . . you’re going to have smaller guy, you have to guard a guy who can shoot the three and you still have to get back in because we need you to get your rebounds’ and he more than accommodated it,” said Toronto coach Jay Triano.
Evans’ work on the boards helped ignite a blistering Toronto offence that threw 62 first-half points at the Sixers and hung on for a season-best fourth straight win.
Let’s just give the Raptors credit: After scratching out a one-point win over the Boston Celtics last Sunday, they buried the Sixers with a shock-and-awe first half. Playing a team coming off an overtime loss in which it had blown a late lead and without one of its few authoritative individuals in the suspended Elton Brand, the Raptors tore into Doug Collins’ team with a ferocity. Yes, it became messy at the end – the Raptors turned the ball over more times in a nine-minute span of the third quarter than they had in the first half – but the Raptors are full measure for this streak and whatever lessons they’ve learned during it.
Collins later called the Raptors a “much, much improved team” from the club he saw when it and the Sixers were both 2-9. A “nice team,” which is one of those phrases that resonate a little more with people in the game – any game – than with fans because it suggests something has caught the studied eye of a coach.
Here’s the thing about the Raptors: With the loss of Chris Bosh, everybody has been saying that this is now Andrea Bargnani’s team, and for the last four games he’s played like he believes it.
Within the first three minutes Wednesday he had drawn three fouls. What is also known is that the Raptors need more star power, because star power is a currency all its own in the NBA. The game is refereed differently when a team has a star.
A good draft pick and perhaps another marquee signing or trade acquisition will be crucial to the long-term success of this team, but when that happens a dependable bench will also be a necessity. And that’s one of the things to like about the Raptors’ recent play: The bench has contributed, both statistically and emotionally. That’s one reason pinpointed by Evans after the game for the team’s recent success: focus that is a lot easier to maintain when a guy can come off the court for a blow and know that the person replacing him won’t let the side down.
Bayless had an interesting start to his Raptors career. He picked up a quick touch foul on Jodie Meeks shortly after checking into the game in the first quarter, and then missed a jumper after failing to run a play Triano called.
Bayless hit a three-pointer to end the quarter, but Triano, after offering him an affirming “Nice job,” showed him the play that he either elected not to run or simply did not hear called.
Bayless, though, exudes an uncommon intensity. He seems like a player who might welcome some coaching, and even thrive with it. By the second quarter, he was initiating the offence. Bayless had 13 points and a pair of assists in 15 minutes of work.
“We kind of restricted what we wanted him to do, and asked him before the game what he was most comfortable running,” Triano said. “The more time he spends with us, the more time he’ll grasp as far as what we’re doing offensively.”
As for Stojakovic, he added seven points in six minutes on a feel-good evening.
"Low, low energy," Collins said. "We started out very sluggish, which was my concern. I thought we played tired early."
The Raptors led by 15 at the end of the first quarter, 19 at halftime, and 16 at the end of the third quarter.
In the second half, the Raptors led by as many as 22 points.
The Sixers, without power forward Elton Brand, dropped to 3-12. The Raptors, led by Andrea Bargnani’s 24 points, improved to 6-9.
Collins played every eligible player, including rookie Craig Brackins, who played his first NBA minutes. Brand was not in the arena, serving a one-game suspension for his flagrant foul during Tuesday night’s loss to the Wizards in Washington.
"We have not been able to come up with just a comfortable rotation," Collins said. "About the time we do, somebody else misses a game and you’re scrambling a little bit. But that’s what I get paid to do."
None of Collins’ lineups worked: not going small and trying for speed, not going bigger and hoping to battle, and not going young and looking for inspiration. At every turn, the Raptors snagged rebounds, made pull-up jumpers, and knocked down three-pointers.
Toronto forward Reggie Evans, traded from the Sixers before last season, finished with 12 points, 22 rebounds, and the undying admiration of nearly all of the 15,012 in attendance.
In all 48 minutes, there was only one moment when it seemed the Sixers could have made a run. With 8 minutes, 8 seconds left in the game, and with the Sixers trailing by 94-83, swingman Andre Iguodala missed a 23-foot jumper with the shot clock still showing robust numbers.
The Raptors quickly pushed their lead back to 15.
By the time the Sixers had another similar chance, with the ball and down by 100-90, there was only 2:55 left on the clock – not enough time for a comeback.
Wednesday was one of the Raptors’ better total team efforts of the campaign and Jose Calderon was a very big reason why. In his strongest performance of the season, Calderon scored a season-high 16 points (on seven-of-10 shooting), matched his season-high with nine assists and turned it over just once.
Calderon showed plenty of poise and confidence in getting the team off to its solid start and then managing things late when the Sixers mounted a fourth-quarter charge in the final eight minutes.
Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, on the other hand, has already taken steps to dramatically rebuild, which was evident with his trade this week, which saw him dump three players not in the club’s future plans — Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks and David Andersen — for a young talent and a guy they can trade for another pick or prospect later this season.
Drafting, of course, is a huge component.
And Colangelo is way ahead of the game there, looking forward to two first-round picks in 2011, including one that likely will be a lottery pick.
The Leafs, as a result of the Phil Kessel deal, will be on the outside looking in at the 2011 draft, unless Burke can pull off a miracle and acquire a high first-rounder.
Right there, the fact that the Raptors have a high first-round pick and a $12.5 million US trade exemption — thanks the Chris Bosh sign and trade — gives them a much better chance of securing a star young player.
Free agents and draft picks are great, but the most important component looking ahead is which team has the most flexibility and which has the most young talent.
Frankly, that’s a toss-up.
Let’s talk about the new guys. Bayless has 13 points in 14 minutes, 3/3 from downtown, which is usually not his strength. He moves well, can get to rim very quickly. When he drives, he looks to score. Over-dribble a couple of times, need to learn when to give up the ball. Defensively, he has the size and speed to defend in this league, did a good job on Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday. However, he did bite on a couple of head fakes, which is something that he needs to work on. A fine debut overall.
Peja didn’t play much but was productive. 7 points in 6 minutes. It looks like that they Raptors will play him as a stretch PF, and running the pick and pop with Jose. He can still knock down shots with his feet set (not so much when it’s off the dribble), but he is a pretty big liability on the defensive end. The 76ers eyes light up when they see him on the court, and attack him at will. He was pulled rather quickly in the 4th quarter. 6 minutes is about the right playing time for him, he could play more depending on match-ups and productions.
Banks, whose $4.752 million contract – the last year of his deal – will continue to count against the Hornets’ salary structure, has decided on the advice of his representatives and the Hornets’ front office, not to report to the team.
He was inactive for Wednesday night’s game at Utah and will continue to be on the team’s inactive list.
It was unlikely Banks would be part of the rotation, much less the active roster, because the Hornets have a crowd at the combo-guard position, with Willie Green as the primary backup, and second-year player Marcus Thornton unable to secure playing time, much less active-roster status.