What a difference a couple of days makes! After being thoroughly dominated by the New York Knicks in the Big Apple on Tuesday, the Raptors rebounded at home for a complete, four-quarter victory, drubbing the Knicks 96-79.
Coming into the game, the Knicks were winners of five straight, undefeated under new interim coach Mike Woodson. As a quick aside, I don’t think Woodson is a good long-term fit for the Knicks, if he’s still anything like the man who coached the Hawks. His iso-Joe offense will work for Carmelo Anthony but not the others, and his “switch everything” defensive philosophy doesn’t suit a team with poor defenders (‘Melo and Amar’e) and a defensive lynchpin (Chandler). That said, up until this game he had at least appeared to wake the Knicks up from their D’Antoni-induced slumber and/or Linsanity hangover.
That is, until DeMar DeRozan and Gary Forbes thought it best to help out the Milwaukee Bucks’ push for a playoff spot, dropping New York’s hold on the final Eastern Conference playoff spot to just half a game. Even on a night where Jose Calderon, clearly fatigued having returned from an injury to play big minutes three times in four nights, tried to shoot his way to the bench (0/10, but still played 44 minutes), the offense clicked. The team shot 46% for the game and got to the line 26 times, while also winning the battle on the boards (46-39) and protecting the ball better (17 turnovers to 22).
Before we get to the big stories offensively, which were, as mentioned, DeMar and The Gary Forbes Show, it should be noted that Andrea Bargnani finally looked like the Bargs we saw early in the year, before his calf injury. While 21-and-7 with 4 turnovers doesn’t jump off the page, he was 9/20 shooting, his only even remotely efficient offensive game since his return, save for the Cavaliers game back on the 13th. Bargs looked to have some aggression back, not hesitating nearly as much as we’ve seen lately. While his miniscule 2 free throw attempts and 1/5 three-point shooting remain worrisome, hopefully this game worked to get his confidence back in his mid-range game. But if you’re reading this, Andrea, please don’t ever try that ridiculous, guarded turn-around long-2 you pulled out early in the 4th quarter.
So onto DeMar. His boxscores have been greatly improved of late, putting up at least 17 points in 5 straight contests now. In two of these, including last night (8/9) he’s gotten to the line at will. In the other three, the stripe has been nary a rumor. While each game had a good tally in the points column, free throws are a lot more consistent than mid-range jumpers, so I strongly prefer the DeMar from last night to the DeMar from the Chicago or Memphis games. 30 points on 72% true shooting is as efficient as you’ll get from a scoring two-guard.
With all of that said, there was a scary moment at the end of the game, as DeMar collided with Jose in mid-air trying to block a Jerome Jordan dunk attempt. DeMar fell hard and immediately got up limping into the tunnel. While it might have been a precaution with under 3 minutes to go, it’s also possible his 131-game starting streak is in jeopardy, which would leave him one short of Boogie Williams’ Raptors “starters ironman” record. Not that this means anything – the much bigger concern is that, like last season, Demar appears to be putting it together as the season progresses, and it’d be unfortunate for him to lose any progress with an injury.
For the Raptors…well, who cares, we’ve got GARY FORBES, baby! Jokes aside, for the second time in the past two weeks, Forbes was a revelation off the bench. Much like in his 20-point game against the Grizzlies, Forbes did a great job putting pressure on the defense and attacking, giving us a glimpse of the Forbes we guaranteed two years to, curiously enough, in the summer. He finished with 19 points and 6 rebounds, shooting 8/12, and throwing a ridiculous off-the-backboard alley-oop pass to DeMar late in the fourth off a Jose Calderon steal, more or less sealing the victory. If it weren’t enough, on the next possession he stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup. Yes, at times Forbes has given us a pause as a “why did they sign this guy?” player, but he’s looked good on several occasions now since playing time opened up (with the Bayless and Jose injuries, and Barbosa departure). It seems fair to give him 20 minutes a game from here on out to see if he’s a capable fourth guard for the rotation moving forward.
And if you’re the religious type, or like hilarious clichés, you’ll be glad to know that immediately after the game, Forbes thanked God for making him humble and patient. Because of course he did.
If you’re looking for other individual positives, as always check out our great Roll Call post-game feature. I’ll make note that other than Jose’s shooting (he added 10 dimes and a pair of steals, so I can’t be too critical overall), there weren’t any sore spots. Amir had four blocks while Ed added a pair, and Solomon Alabi lit the proverbial victory cigar with 1:50 of floor time. If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes, I probably wouldn’t believe that he could dunk. He’s that bad at basketball.
Oh, the opponent? Well, disregard the obvious disarray and confusion the Knicks’ offense shows when alternating between Lin-and-the-pick-and-roll, iso-Melo, and Baron-feeds-the-stars schemes, and you can still give the Raptors credit for a strong defensive performance. Three-point defense is said to not be a repeatable skill for a team, so maybe the Knicks won’t ever shoot 5/28 (18%) from long range against the Raptors again, but the Raps are 10th overall in 3FG defense (33.9%), and their ability to rotate and close out on shooters certainly passed the eye test last night. Casey clearly had the team ready for a 3-point barrage, and they did a good job holding Shumpert, Smith, Lin, and Melo in check from out there. They also forced a handful of late-clock heaves, and only the Novakalypse did any serious damage (5/9 for 15 points).
Strong D, an attacking offense, and winning in the hustle stats? Looks like a complete win to me. Now, on to the good stuff…
Rasual Butler’s Corpse was waived. FINALLY! I couldn’t be happier with a roster move unless the Raptors somehow signed LeBron James or drafted Anthony Davis. Butler’s bitch-ass somehow got on the floor for 453 minutes this year, which is roughly 453 too many for someone of his, uhh…talents. The added benefit is now having three open roster spots to give D-League players a shot down the stretch. The Raptors are technically now under the roster minimum (for cap purposes, I believe there is a “hold” in the 13th spot, so you can’t cheap out by rostering only 8 guys or something shady like that). Let’s try out a point guard and swingman on some 10-day contracts. Hello, Justin Dentmon, Morris Almond, or Brandon Costner. Hell, even if they sign a bum, at least we know they saw this picture I sent them about Rasual.