cavsraps

This, along with the home game against Minnesota, were the two games so far this year that the Raptors were favored to win, and that’s exactly what they did with a convincing fourth quarter run.

These are the kind of games where you can judge Dwane Casey, where can match the other team’s talent level. He didn’t need to pull out any magical schemes. Basic pick-and-roll executed properly against some really bad defense did the trick.

The Raptors did step up their defensive intensity in the deciding moments of the game, so that’s something to take away for a team that has taken a step back from last year in this regard.

Let’s go quarter-by-quarter:

First quarter

Raptors got off to a good start due to stagnant Orlando offense. You could see that some matchups favor the home team. One advantage was Dominic McGuire frustrating Arron Afflalo with his length advantage. Afflalo looked good in Denver, but being the main guy has exposed his flaws. There’s a Joey Graham-esque vibe to his game, and that’s not a great thing.

Jameer Nelson could have helped the Magic by getting into the lane, having the quickness advantage over Jose Calderon. But partly due to Calderon’s determined defense and Nelson’s passiveness, this first quarter was a struggle for the Magic due to a lot of isolation plays.

Jonas Valunciunas isn’t a pogo stick. Let’s just keep it at that.

With a lot of eyes trained on him, Andrea Barganani had a good start offensively. But the Magic should have got the memo: Don’t bite on that pump fake. Credit goes to the Raptor offense for finding him later in the shot clock where guys were kind of running out on him, leaving them vulnerable to the fake, but that’s basic preparation that’s missing from the Orlando coaching staff. They did seem to settle down as the game wore on.

Jose kept up his quality play, and taking advantage of another questionable Orlando decision to run under screens for him. He made them pay with a couple of open threes.

Back to Valunciunas. It is early in the season, but how about hitting him when he’s rolling to the basket? Wasn’t that a big part of his skill set in Europe?

JJ Reddick is missing from the Orlando lineup. He’s no Dirk, but the Raptors have been pretty lucky in this regard. He may have changed the dynamic of this game.

Starting to realize that noone on this team can cover this latest version of DeMar DeRozan. The stepback jumper is hard to guard regardless, but DeMar also has the size advantage over Afflalo. Noone else on the team can guard him either. Looks like a $10 mill player today. The key word being today.

E`Twaan Moore hits a couple of easy threes over John Lucas. That`s not a good matchup, and Lucas should be right up in his grill if he really has to guard him. He will be in this predicament on many nights as long as he is the backup.

Second quarter

Looks like the pre-game pep talk from coach Casey is starting to wear off. Bargnani starts chucking from pretty much anywhere on the court. He`s hearing Kyle Lowry`s footsteps.

Bargs gets the benefit of an off-the-ball call. Trying to remember the last time he got called the other way? Fouls do indicate some level of aggression, don`t they.

Looking at the current lineup for the Magic and there`s three rookies on the floor. This should turn into a blowout soon, but the Magic hang on to that 10 point deficit.

Linas Kleiza comes into the game. You can see he`s a little jacked for what has to be the first Lithuania night ever in the NBA.

Both teams are hoisting a lot of tough shots. Coaches must be going crazy.

Glen Davis takes advantage of a leaner front line with Ed Davis and makes some nice plays to keep the Raptors within reach. He uses his body well and is deceptively quick.

That`s two games in a row now where Ed Davis is not fucking around. Enough of that weak elbow jumper from last year. He`s attacking the rim strong and chasing hard on the offensive glass.

The height advantage is clearly in the Raptors` favor. Orlando is not doing themselves any favors by trying to go inside.

If anything, the Toronto Raptors are clearly the class of the league in blocking practise shots by the opposing team after the whistle. Because, you know, that shot going in will change everything mentally.

Third quarter

Arron Afflalo is decidedly more aggressive to start the second half. He draws a bunch of free throws and starts a mini-run for Orlando.

So the Raptors avoided a bad start, however they start off slow in the third quarter instead. It`s probably more of a personnel issue than it is intensity, but that probably won`t change until Lowry is back. Jose needs to realize he`s the engine of this offense and come out more assertive in these situations.

Oh look, Bargnani is shooting deep jumpers like it`s going out of style, again.

Dominic McGuire has a good stretch here. He seems like a good low maintenance glue guy, but is he an upgrade over James Johnson? Less athleticism, but better shot.

Valunciunas is showing off that motor. Some key rebounds and showing he can finish against a team with no real inside presence. This Raptor offense has shown a tendency to disappear for long stretches. Having Val create second chances could help alleviate some of that.

Here comes Orlando again. Three-point play for Mississauga product Andrew Nicholson brings Orlando to within one. Could be a decent addition to the national team.

This is where Amir Johnson takes a charge to preserve a 65 – 63 lead, and begins taking over the game in a way we haven`t seen from him before.

67 – 66. Orlando finally takes the lead after Jameer Nelson catches DeMar napping on a screen-and-roll. Nelson finally playing like he needs to, establishing his drive, and then hitting his jumper over Calderon once he gets some space.

Fourth quarter

The play of the game: Jose to Amir for a monster jam and a technical for slapping the glass. Pulls Toronto into a 71 – 71 tie, and the crowd is buzzing.

Orlando responds by trying to post up. It looks like they are going after Bargnani, but he`s long and quick. His real problem is reacting to almost any other situation defensively.

Threes by Kleiza and AMIR(!) help open up a Raptor lead.

Bad decision making from Jameer Nelson and even worse pick-and-roll defense from Big Baby. You take Amir rolling to the basket or you hedge hard on Jose. This is like watching the Jay Triano edition of the Raptors.

Raps clearly have have upped the intensity level. After a few forced plays, Magic guards try feeding the ball to cutters but they are tightly marked by Raptors and turnovers result, one resulting in a nice alley-oop from Jose to DeMar.

Way too much respect for a Calderon dribble drive leaves Kleiza open on the baseline. Open three-ball makes it 92 – 78. How do you say Salami and Cheese in Lithuanian ?

So all is good for now in Raptorland. If the Raptors played down to the Magic`s level until the fourth quarter, that is another problem in itself, but at least they showed how their superiority when it counted. This was a game they sorely needed.

Other teams will not defend as poorly as Orlando did. Let`s not forget that 4th quarter in Indiana not very long ago. That being said, this game can serve as a springboard for Amir Johnson to play to his potential. Make no mistake though, it`s Jose Calderon that`s is carrying this team on his back right now.