Not to be boastful, but, YESSS!! I did it!! Rather, they did it. With a 96-90 victory over the visiting New Orleans Hornets, the Raptors improved their record in games I cover to 1-9, ending a remarkably unlucky streak for yours truly. Overall, the Raptors improve to 17-44, not that it really matters at this point in the season.
Still, tonight’s victory was thoroughly impressive, with appreciable contributions from seven rotation players (sorry, Leandro). A big thank you must be given to Chris Paul as well, as he had the worst game I’ve ever seen him play. Paul struggled to post a 7-4-5 Pts-Rbs-Ast line on just 3/10 shooting. More importantly, he was absolutely torched by Jose Calderon, who had maybe his most complete game of the season. As a team the Hornets shot 44%, but without Paul firing on all cylinders they managed just 17 assists on 36 field goals, and their scoring was largely a product of one-on-one basketball (granted, that’s not the worst strategy against the Raptors).
David West chipped in with 17-and-10, while Marco Bellineli added 13 points on 14 mostly ill-advised shots. It was the other ex-Raptor, Jarrett Jack, who was most productive for the Hornets, scoring 17 points of 7/9 shooting in just 27 minutes off the bench. Even still, he couldn’t make up for Paul’s egg and Emeka Okafor’s no-show (a single point and seven rebounds). I’ll refrain from making a DUI-related joke here – since I already did on Twitter – but Jack was definitely feeling the buzz of his former hometown crowd and really drank it in.
Really, though, this game was about Jose and the Raptors. While they almost let a 17-point third quarter lead slip away (it got as small as two points in the fourth), the Raptors played well-balanced basketball and earned this win. As a team they shot 49%, no doubt aided by the fact that 29 of their 39 field goals were assisted. The rebounding and turnover differentials were negligible, and the end result was a product of offensive and defensive execution.
Defensively, the Raptors didn’t do anything groundbreaking or outside the box, however, the effort level was high except for the lull late in the third and early in the fourth. The defense didn’t glaringly deviate from the norm, but it was extremely active, and this forced mistakes and visibly frustrated the Hornets. The combination of Amir Johnson, James “Silky” Johnson, and Ed Davis was especially pesky, combining for 10 blocks (seven by Amir alone, who had a great game defensively to go with 10 rebounds and eight points). Davis continues to show a high basketball IQ and good timing on his blocks, and Silky Johnson appears to be, at worst, a more skilled version of Julian Wright. Johnson is long, built solid, and very athletic, which should make him a tough match-up for a lot of threes, and even some power forwards. The plus-minus doesn’t necessarily back my point up here (the unit takes something off the table offesnively), but it’s a good combination to throw out at more athletic teams or to create transition offense.
On the offensive end, the Raptors executed well and spread the offense around. Most of the credit is due to Jose Calderon here, who crafted a masterful performance. Jose posted 22 points on 7/10 shooting (3/4 3FG, 5/5 FT), adding seven rebounds and 16 assists. Early, he looked for teammates first, saving his scoring for the fourth (10 points) and allowing other teammates, especially DeMar DeRozan, to get into rhyhtym. It just felt like Jose’s night from the onset, and the point was driven home with three minutes left as he turned a 1-on-3 transition into a layup after completely blowing by Chris Paul, who had forgotten the idea of angled pursuit. After the game, Jose made reference to their January 19 meeting, when he was held scoreless (with 13 dimes but seven turnovers), and you have to love that competitive quality about Jose. And you have to love performances like this, even if Raptor Nation does tend to be a little hard on him, myself included.
DeRozan looked primed for a big game when he entered the break with 15 points, but he made just one bucket in the second half, finishing with 17 on 8/17 shooting. For his detractors out there, no, he didn’t add much else (one rebound, only one free throw attempt), and while I understand the concern, I’m just appreciative that his mid-range game has improved so much. If he can consistently sink the turnarounds and straight jumpers that we saw tonight, and eventually stretch that out to the three-point line…well, then I’ll get on his case for the other stuff. I realize this is asking too little of a player, but for right now I’m taking what I can get….this is my first time covering a win all year, y’kno, so I’m in a positive mood.
For those of you who aren’t….there’s Andrea Bargnani. Bargs was allegedly still feeling the effects of the flu tonight, so maybe we can forgive his 14-point, three rebound performance? I mean, he shot 6/16 and for a while in the second half was really forcing his offense, but he did draw a fourth quarter charge (!!!), and break a sweat (whether or not that was flu-related, I can’t be sure).
Sonny Weems had an up-and-down game as well, pouring in 12 on 5/8 in the first half but taking a Nestea Plunge to cool down in the second, going 1/4 the rest of the way, missing a transition bucket and clunking a mid-range jumper off the backboard. Still, save for the Charlotte game it’s the best he’s looked in a while, and you wonder if Silky Johnson’s presence has started to light a fire under him. Then again, it was just one game.
Speaking of Silky…no, I won’t explain the nickname, but it has a root. Please just trust me on this one, go with it, and I would be insanely appreciative if it caught on. If not, life goes on, but it’d be a real win for me in an otherwise dim season. Johnson showed some promise again tonight, going for 13 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Through four games, he appears to be a keeper, a solid rotation player, and better than anything the team would have been able to pick up with the late first-round pick they gave up. I’m sure there’s a reason Chicago soured on him (maybe he always tried his Tae-Kwon Do moves on teammates?) but I’m yet to see anything negative enough that he’d fall out of our rotation. He is fairly turnover-prone, sure, but he’s extremely active defensively and sees the floor very well for a wing player.
Am I missing any key points from tonight? I probably am…as the Hornets came back from down 17 to cut the lead to two, I was already writing another negative doomsday-ish article in my brain, and I kind of forgot most of the early positives. So I spread the love around. Hey, the Raptors won a game I did the post-game for…this is a good day. Thank you Jose Calderon, and thank you Chris Paul.