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Timberwolves, Raptors 97 – Box

We start off with one of our favorite segments which happens to summarize this game. This is Jack Armstrong shedding some light on Amir Johnson’s effort last night, which should not be overshadowed by a brilliant performance by Andrea Bargnani.

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The Love-Darko frontline can be a scary proposition for the Raptors because they don’t have the strength or bulk to match underneath. Last night, it turned out they had the heart. Amir Johnson comes in weighing at 210lbs, Love is 260lbs, and Darko is 275lbs. This should be a blood bath in favor of their bigs, and it turned out to be a win for Johnson who dropped 19/11, had a ridiculous +31 in 30 minutes, and most importantly held Love to 3-16 shooting. The final rebounding tally was 44-39 in favor of the Raptors. Can’t say I saw that coming.

The offensive hero of the night again was Andrea Bargnani (31pts, 9reb, 11-25FG), who is the source of the offense right now. Ignore the FG percentage, those are shots he had to take and came within the flow of an offense that was struggling for the better part of the game. If he’s not scoring, his threat of scoring is counting for something. He’s developing some pet moves as well, notably a pump-fake (which is always respected), followed by a drive and a sweet reverse which you always think he’s going to miss but is actually finishing more comfortably with each game. There were parts of this game where it looked like the Raptors would fall short of offense since DeMar DeRozan wasn’t playing (some guy stole his jersey and was impersonating him on the floor, somebody needs to look into that), and Rasual Butler was making me miss Linas Kleiza by going 0-5 on wide open threes. Some of them were so open that the boxscore needs to have another column called WFOT (wide f***ing open threes). Bargnani’s 31 points and sheer presence overcame the short offensive supply, no doubt helped by the unexpected contribution of Amir Johnson.

If there was a game to get in this back-to-back-to-back, it was the first one at home coming off a day relaxing. The Raptors started off with Bargnani carrying the scoring load, and should have had a bigger lead if it weren’t for Butler’s long-range misfiring. To compound matters, it was Minnesota who got hot in the first from deep and edged to a 27-25 lead at the end of the first. The Raptors blew some key rotations on Love, almost being surprised by the comfort level he displays playing on the perimeter. Minny had five threes in the first which seemed to boost their confidence after a sluggish start (they were on a back-to-back as well).

The Raptors somehow managed to get themselves in the penalty very early in the second, and some lethargic play by the second unit caused Minny to march to the FT line 8492 times in the quarter. The game was slowed, the already sparse crowd wasn’t feeling it, Minny surged ahead on the backs of their FT shooting and the Raptors second unit couldn’t provide the required boost. DeRozan tried to take Barea in the post for a score, and that’s all I can remember of the guy. I’m sure he played more than that but you wouldn’t have noticed him. In my opinion, he’s struggling with team ball and needs to learn how to adapt from playing Triano’s style (freelancing offense where people just randomly shoot) to Casey’s offense (which is team-oriented even though it’s dependent on a key guy to anchor it). The weird part about DeRozan’s game right now is that he doesn’t have any go-to moves on the perimeter or in the post. His primary avenue of contribution the last two years have been FTs, and he’s not able to get to a position where he’s a candidate to be fouled. The reduction of pace by Casey is decreasing the number of times DeRozan can “come at” the defense in transition, hence the offensive drop.

I don’t know, I’m just a guy with a keyboard but that makes a little sense to me.

After the Raptors fell behind by 6 in the second, Casey called a timeout and reminded his team that there isn’t a guy on the T’Wolves that can matchup with Bargnani. He was right. Minny tried Derrick Williams, Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph, and Anthony Tolliver on him, and none of those guys deterred Bargnani from his mission of doing the right thing. Kudos to him. Barbosa chimed in through traditional fashion (shoulders bent, head down, slicing through a defense, throwing up shots that make you go “I guess”), and a defensive spark was provided by James Johnson leading to a 16-2 run to end the half.

Note on James Johnson. There are blocks and there are blocks that save you two points. James Johnson had blocks that save you two points, he had four of them and they may as well be 8 points credited to him. Better yet, there needs to be another column added to the boxscore: BTDSP (blocks that directly saved points). He even got one on Love or Darko (can’t remember which), a true showcase of inspired basketball by Johnson, who is accepting his role off the bench and becoming a poor man’s James Posey circa 2008.

Halftime score was 55-49 Raps.

Rick Adelman reminded his cronies at halftime that they needed to go back inside, seeing how that’s where the Raptors were thin. And so they did, it worked for a few possessions before Amir Johnson said enough is enough, and started being a thorn in their side again. And not just any kind of thorn, the thorn that goes deep into your finger so you can’t see it anymore, making you go to your girlfriend, “Can you check what’s stuck here?”, to which she says, “I don’t see anything”, and you go, “You sure? I can feel something”, to which she finally says, “It’s probably nothing”. But you know it’s something even though you can’t prove it. F**k this world sometimes.

Bargnani’s nine points pulled the Raptors ahead by 12 in the quarter, and this looked like it was going to extend to 20 quite soon. Jose Barea had other ideas, his late assault on Jose Calderon and Anthony Carter had this a 6 point game going into the fourth quarter. Bayless would’ve helped here, he’s the only one on the team quick enough to try and stick with Barea. I’m a little surprised he lodged only 17 minutes to Rubio’s 30. Obviously Calderon has defended Rubio tons in the past, so not sure why Adelman didn’t exploit a known weakness through Barea way more often.

Barea finally went to the bench with 6:00 left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 80. I’m thinking Adelman’s going to give him a minute’s rest, combine it with a timeout and bring him back out. Barea never saw the light of day again. Whew. Instead, the T’wolves only managed one field goal the rest of the game, as the Raptors defense upped its focus, and started making rotations that a quarter ago, you would’ve never thought they’d have the energy to make this late.

The Raptors defense isn’t a complex organism filled with intricate matchup-zones, strategic help assignments, they’re basically instructed to cover the guy that’s near you. That’s what they’re doing and it’s paying dividends. It helps to have some versatility with DeRozan, J. Johnson, A. Johnson, and Ed Davis on the floor, in that those guys can guard multiple positions without giving up too much in terms of rebounding and/or quickness.

The Raptors defense in combination with four jumpers iced the game: two by Jose, one by Bargnani, and a totally unexpected one from Amir, who was being begged by Love to shoot. This is what I call defense and shot-making winning you the game. It’s also fitting that it was Amir Johnson’s late steal off an in-bound, followed by a foul that sent him to the ground that iced this one. Bargnani and Johnson the players of the game for me.

On the road in Washington tonight, before coming home to face Sacramento. Somebody should swing by with a pre-game at some point, go Raps!