If you accept the fact that Russell Westbrook is among the premier point guards in the NBA today, then perhaps it’s time Jose Calderon got some recognition.
You know, it has been a while.
And before you start slagging his defence — the old fallback in this city among Raptor fans — consider Westbrook is one of the fastest and highest scoring points in the league today and while Calderon wasn’t solely responsible, he was the Raptors’ first line of defence in holding Westbrook to 20 points in Friday’s 111-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now 20 points doesn’t sound like he was shut down or anything, but consider Westbrook needed 19 shots to get those 20 points and you start to appreciate the job Calderon and the Raptors did on him.
Without Kevin Durant (left knee sprain) in the lineup, Westbrook is asked to score and while he did go off for 38 in a triple overtime win over New Jersey on Wednesday, including all 13 in the overtime, the Raptors never let him get in a rhythm.
And that — keeping Westbrook from finding that rhythm — was job No. 1 as far as Calderon was concerned.
“I was trying to give him different looks so he wouldn’t get in that rhythm,” Calderon said. “With a guy like him if you are always waiting for him at the three-point line, he is going to know you will be there. I was trying to press him one time, wait for him the next. Go under the screen the first time, go over it the next — just try to show him different looks so he didn’t know what we were doing on defence.”
Calderon though readily admitted his role was just the first in stopping a guy of Westbrook’s abilities. Without the Raptors bigs backing him up the way they were last night, the blow-bys that were constantly being blamed on Calderon last season would have happened again.
For the first time in his career, Bargnani has grabbed seven or more rebounds in four consecutive games and people on both sides of the floor are taking notice.
“He’s playing like an all-star, he’s our franchise player,” said Amir Johnson, the other starting big man who shone with a 14-point, nine-rebound effort on perfect shooting from the field and the line.
“He comes in and does his thing and hopefully it continues for him.”
Thunder forward Jeff Green also spoke highly of Bargnani.
“They’re good, athletic (and) they’ve got a very good player in Bargnani,” Green said.
Bargnani set the tone for the Raptors, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter.
He also rebounded from a horrid second quarter with excellent play in the third and fourth quarters.
“It felt like we were at home playing in the gym, just messing around,” DeMar DeRozan said of the 34-18 third that gave Toronto command of the game in front of 16,774 Air Canada Centre spectators. “Running, getting out, getting steals, getting rebounds, just pushing it. With the crowd behind us, we’re tough to beat like that.
“I think we matched up well with them, we’ve got a young team and we matched up perfect.”
It was as good a stretch as the team has played all year; they forced six Thunder turnovers in the quarter and shot 62 per cent from the floor. They got production from everyone on the court and turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a nine-point lead.
“I thought the third quarter was very, very good basketball,” said coach Jay Triano. “We got up and pressured and kept the pressure on them and were able to get stops and scores.
“We didn’t think they were beating us, we thought we were beating ourselves. We had 10 turnovers in the first half and our transition wasn’t very good because of that … Every time we played good defence, they’d get a second chance and they had seven second-chance points on a three and two twos.”
What the Raptors did was out-Thunder the Thunder. One of the best young teams in the league – even without the injured Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City is known for its defence, quickness and energy.
But on every score, the Raptors beat them at their own game.
Without Durant, Toronto’s biggest worry was Westbrook. Before the game, head coach Jay Triano said he might have to vary his defensive matchups against the dynamic, passionate guard who’s been averaging about 34 points per game over the last four contests.
Jose Calderon faced the 22-year-old most of the night, and did an good job keeping him to 20 points. Calderon also managed two steals off of Westbrook which he converted, while adding eight points and impressive 15 assists.
Still, Calderon was only the first line of defense: the bigs, notably Bargnani and Johnson, provided some nice help when speedy 22-year-old Westbrook blew by. “There’s no way he’s stopping with just one guy,” Triano said.
Westbrook gave Calderon some props, saying the biggest problem for his team was their own defensive woes. “We just didn’t defend the way we’re supposed to, and that was the gist of it,” he said.
A pair of relative greybeards led the Raptors. Jose Calderon had a season-high 15 assists and solid defence containing Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook, while Leandro Barbosa emerged as a clutch late-game scorer, finishing with 22 points.
But the game was really won on two things. First, there was the overall consistency of Andrea Bargnani, who collected 26 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the year.
“Every time I thought we got a good stop and I was wondering if we were going to get the rebound, it was Andrea who came down with it,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “His effort on the boards was outstanding.”
More importantly, the Raptors put together an electric third quarter, one built on defence and the willingness to run. And those things are both predicated on young legs.
The Raptors won that quarter 34-18, with Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors collected 11 fast-break points in the frame, while Oklahoma City shot 29% from the floor in the quarter.
Youth brings energy, and both teams had that in a fast-paced game. After a miss in that third quarter, Johnson, 23, stole the ball back and passed it forward to DeRozan, 21, who sent an on-point alley-oop pass to Weems, 24. Two players later, Johnson got to throw down his own filthy dunk off of a pass from Calderon.
“That’s why we’re the Young Gunz,” DeRozan said, briefly forgetting that the troika has renamed itself the “Young Onez.”
But against the Raptors, the defense was light. Wait, light probably isn’t the right word. I think “terribleawfulsobad” is the word I’m looking for. Toronto has a list of good shooters and OKC’s defenders left them wide open a number of times. Then when the Thunder would get a stop, they didn’t secure a rebound or they fumbled the ball away. It really just wasn’t the Thunder’s night.
Besides the poor defense and stagnant offense, Toronto also hit a number of wild shots that you wouldn’t normally see go in. The ball bounced the Raptors way a couple times. Then there were a few calls that definitely didn’t help the Thunder (Royal Ivey’s foul on Leandro Barbosa comes to mind).
I think you could definitely see it in the Thunder that they were a little flat. The rotations weren’t as crisp, the team’s focus wavered in stretches and it seemed like OKC tried to coast a bit. Obviously there could be hangover from New Jersey, but I don’t know how much of an excuse that really is. We’ve seen teams win games on the second night of a back-to-back after a tough game. They may have been a little mentally worn, but I think they shouldn’t have been tired.
Without Durant, this would’ve been a really nice win on the road. With KD, I think the Thunder wins this game. It’s just that OKC didn’t have anyone to completely rely on. Jeff Green was good, Westbrook was solid and James Harden provided some nice offense. But none of those guys are the kind of consistent four quarter scorers like KD. You can’t get by with a makeshift offense in the NBA on multiple nights. You need your stars. And OKC needs KD back sooner than later.
The absence of Kevin Durant, which up to this point hadn’t been much of a problem, was keenly felt: apart from his scoring prowess, Kid Delicious has been a defensive stalwart of late, and in that deadly third quarter, the Thunder defense disintegrated. Scott Brooks went small, and when that failed, went smaller; the end result was giant Andrea Bargnani rolling up 26 points and 12 rebounds. Leandro Barbosa was fearsome off the bench with 22. And José Calderón, the only Toronto starter not to score in double figures, contributed 15 assists to go with his 8 points.
Offensively, the Thunder weren’t too awful, with both Russell Westbrook and James Harden scoring 20, plus 17 from Jeff Green, and one could argue that the defense wasn’t that bad, what with eleven steals and seven blocked shots. But stops, when needed, were few and far between, and nobody had an answer to Amir Johnson (14 points), who didn’t miss the bucket even once all night.
Or you could simply point out that the Raptors, after a 2-9 start, are now 8-11, and that there is such a thing as being on a roll.
Friday saw possibly the best third quarter that the Raptors have played all season. They simply came out of the break recommitted on the defensive end, determined to deny second-chance opportunities and took better care of the basketball (one turnover).
The result was a 17-4 run to start the quarter that allowed the Raptors to seize control for good. The Raptors finished the frame with an 11-2 advantage in fast break points, four of their seven steals and 12 assists on 13 made baskets. You can’t ask for much better than that.
"The doctors are making me wear (a brace) for a couple of weeks until they feel that I am ready to take it off," explained Davis. "It is more of a precautionary thing. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t wear it."
Davis only got into two D-League games for very limited minutes before his hasty recall to Toronto and he knew this could impact his early performances.
"I know that I am not in 100 percent game shape right now; it is just going to take time," said Davis. "The more I practice with the team and the more I play in the games, the more comfortable I’ll feel. You can do all the drills you want, but when you get into the game, it is like night and day."
DeRozan saw the effect of that lack of conditioning on Davis in his first game back, but he also saw why Davis was a lottery pick in this year’s draft.
"(Davis) was good, I am happy for him, but I know he can do a lot more, he got winded quick," explained DeRozan. "He blocked shots, got rebounds and second chance points, and that’s big. I think we need that."
The Raptors had planned to play their first round draft pick as soon as he was ready and play him enough minutes to ensure he develops. In these first couple of starts, Davis hasn’t disappointed.
"He has that look about him where it doesn’t look like he is giving you (everything), but all of a sudden, he is at the rim and he is blocking shots or getting tip-ins; he is right there with his hand above the rim," described Head Coach Jay Triano. "We put him in (the game) early; he knew he was going to go in at the six minute mark and he was ready."
Scott Brooks arguably was the most animated he has been in his 171 games as Thunder coach, shaking his head in disgust while pleading for better defense and less selfish play in the second half.
Afterward, Brooks took longer than usual to emerge from the locker room, and that was followed by blunt answers that were shorter than usual.
“We just got beat,” Brooks said. “Got to give them a lot of credit. They were ready to play and defended in the second half when they needed to. We had no answer for their ball movement. Defensively, we struggled tonight and that’s what we’ve got to continue to work on and get better at as our team continues to grow.”
Facing a fleet-footed Toronto team was not an enviable position after Wednesday’s three-hour, 21-minute marathon against the Nets, and fatigue appeared to show for the Thunder as Brooks played all 12 players who were available.
After not committing a turnover in three overtime periods and having just two in the first half against Toronto, the Thunder had six turnovers in the third quarter alone.
The Raptors (8-11) outshot the Thunder 61.9 percent (13 for 21) to 28.6 percent (6 for 21) in the period to blow the game open.
Toronto shot 54.9 percent for the game and was led by Andrea Bargnani with 26 points and 12 rebounds, while Leandro Barbosa added 22 off the bench. Starting point guard Jose Calderon had 15 assists.
- Andrea Bargnani is nice! I see shades of Dirk in Bargnani’s perimeter and in-between game. Good luck to anyone trying to block his shot. Serge Ibaka looked awful on him. Nick Collison had his shot and Thabo Sefolosha got extended minutes on the Raptors sharp-shooting big man as well. None of them had an answer. Bargnani had 26 points and 12 boards.
- Keeping with that theme, Jose Calderon reminds me of a poor man’s Steve Nash. Calderon keeps his dribble and makes plays sometimes that make you think he has eyes in the back of his head. Westbrook’s defense on Calderon was non-existent, but for Calderon to finish with 15 assists in 30 minutes (and the rate was actually much better than that) was mighty impressive.
Six Raptors reached double-digit scoring in the affair after seven did the same on Wednesday versus the Washington Wizards. Not only does the team seemed to have grown comfortable with the idea of equal opportunity basketball but they are a squad playing well out of timeouts, breaks and intermissions. That usually means guys are working from the same page, from the starters to the bench. Each player in Triano’s nine-man rotation on Friday played at least 16 minutes but only Bargnani played over 31 minutes in the game (41 minutes).
It’s the kind of roster management Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has mastered with his own squad but like in so many ways on this night, his team was beat at their own game.
“Everything has changed,” said Barbosa who finished with 22 points. “Even the fans were really helping us with the energy we brought int he second half. I think we just decided to go out there and play the game and we took the lead and didn’t want to leave an opportunity for them to take the lead back. We were really smart and did a great job at the end.”