Joey, another reason to thank Rob Babcock.
Raptors 110, T’Wolves 102

Pinch-hitting for Raps Fan who feels like crap this morning for some reason so if you’re his fan, sorry to disappoint. This was one of those games which you casually watch without paying much attention to the details, after all it is Minnesota and they’re playing without their best player by a mile, Al Jefferson. Luckily we had Rodney Carney’s exploits to look forward to, he of course happens to be mentioned more often on this site than the Upper Brass which is saying a lot. Carney didn’t bring his A-game and neither did the Raptors or the T’Wolves, in fact, this was a game between two terrible teams that were trying not to lose and we were fortunate enough to have a player that loves feasting on slow white guys.

Coming into this one the Raptors had lost 6-straight and the fear was that we’d end the “first half” of the season losers of 8-straight since we’ve got San Antonio tonight. However, Joey Graham couldn’t bear to start his upcoming long weekend with that on his conscience and he decided to do something about it. Try 11 first quarter points where he looked about as aggressive as Dinosty at the buffet table. As he was backing down Ryan Gomes for post-scores I wondered just why the hell his name was even mentioned in a trade rumour on Hoopsworld, then I remembered it was Hoopsworld. If I ever get a chance to meet the Raptor players he’s the only player whose hands I’ll shake. Why? Because his first instinct is to attack and play strong, not use finger rolls from 4 feet out.

Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair mustn’t have seen any Raptors games because they were settling for jumpers early, not knowing that all you need to do is knock on Jose Calderon’s door and he’ll let you in, bend over and buy you dinner afterward. They were letting us off the hook by not testing our perimeter defense and being content with the outside shot. Kevin Love was the only one that appeared interested in scoring in the paint and crashing the boards. We won the first quarter 26-13 which was a breath of fresh air, actually, it was more like a homeless guy giving you CPR, but still, there was something positive in the aforementioned air. Joey Graham was playing aggressive, Bargnani nailed a couple jumpers and even O’Neal seemed into it. In these dark times that’s like winning 649.

The second quarter is when Kevin McHale busted out his iPhone in the huddle, YouTubed “Raptors highlights” and the search results brought forth a plethora of videos of the Raptors giving up dribble penetration until they were sore in the hips. Telfair, Hoye and Gomes got the point and the second quarter was nothing but them head-faking, pump-faking and ass-faking Jose Calderon to get into the paint and kicking out for shooters. Gomes broke us down single-handedly for layups as the help was just too lazy and uninterested. Mike Miller started heating up and when Minnesota missed there was the always rebound-happy Kevin Love (getting a lot of minutes under McHale) and the evergreen Brian Cardinal cleaning up the mess. One on play Bargnani had position on Cardinal but got out-jumped and conceded the rebound. I wasn’t even upset, I just laughed, rewinded the PVR and saw it again.

Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes now have company, you can add Kevin Love to the players Jermaine O’Neal loves playing against. O’Neal was a turnover machine as usual but did manage to get some low-post scores against the 6’8″ Love (6′ 10″ my ass) who played him physical enough for JO to miss some close shots. Then again, he blows three layups a game anyway. JO had 6 second quarter points and Leo accused the Raptors of not feeding the hot hand by looking elsewhere other than JO. Seriously, Leo, just STFU. There’s isn’t a player in this league that gets cold after he’s looked off for two possessions. I swear, if they fire Leo Rautins I’ll consider this season a resounding success. Anyway, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye had 20 points in the second quarter including a couple deep bombs to put the T’Wolves up 7. Our perimeter defense was once again a problem as we ended the first half as per our MO – by conceding a 15-4 run.

I was still confident that we’d win this game because although they were getting dribble penetration, they’re just too streaky of shooters to maintain that pace for the whole game. The start of the third quarter was proving me wrong as the T’Wolves continued to be aggressive and didn’t settle for jumpers, they had obviously recognized where to hurt the Raptors and were executing with surgical precision (not really, but I always wanted to use the phrase “surgical precision” in a post so here we go). The difference between the second and third quarter for us was that we were able to match them offensively. Kapono hit a couple threes against a surprisingly unsuspecting Minny defense, Bargnani had 7 and we went back to Joey Graham and his one-on-one moves which proved to be a positive.

They matched us with 32 in the quarter so the lead remained at 7 heading into the fourth. The problem wasn’t offense, it was defense. Calderon was no match for their quick wings and if this game was to be won we’d need some stops. They were getting into the paint too easily and although O’Neal came over to help the rebounding rotation was VERY LATE, Bargnani being the most guilty party. We gave up 44 points in the paint to the T’Wolves without Jefferson in the lineup. That’s like letting a cripple stay with you in a 100 meter dash.

We got the stops we were looking for early in the fourth quarter when Parker took over PG duties while Jose iced his 85.65784% hamstring (not 100% mind you, because otherwise he’s a surefire All-Star, you know). With Parker at the point and something resembling defensive intensity seen on the Raptors’ faces we started the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run where Rodney Carney and Randy Foye were pressured to turn the ball over and take bad jumpers by Parker and Graham. Jason Kapono started practicing his jumper for the three-point shootout and got a couple to drop against a Minny defense that looked surprised every time he made a jumper. We took an 84-82 lead with 9:14 left.

The game stayed close for a couple more minutes until Bargnani dropped a big time three bomb that got Bosh off his Twitter and cheering for the team. Minny was now jacking up shots, Mike Miller was trying to get his and pulling back for threes which which were clanging hard. Minny lost their nerve and played some pretty erratic offense when all they needed to do was repeat their 2nd and 3rd quarter play. We went down to JO against Kevin Love who seemed a bit tired at this point (college season’s over after game 50) and couldn’t defend JO’s two-hand dribbles, huge ass and muscle. See, he’s the only guy that follows a real workout regimen, thus giving him the strength to do that kind of stuff. JO scored 10 points in the final 4:03 as the Raptors actually rallied back to beat someone and in the process slightly upped JO’s trade value.

We beat the T’Wolves, whoop-dee-doo. In the grand scheme of things this win means nothing. Even if we had lost it still wouldn’t have mattered. These are just games without a purpose, we’re just seeing this season through and waiting for the trade deadline to bring about some hope, optimism and reason to look forward to the summer and maybe even next year. Wow, I’m up to well over a thousand words for this post. Time to end this, but not before the one-liners:

  • JO got some very generous calls down the stretch.
  • Rodney Carney’s first shot hit the backboard and nothing more. The crowd’s reaction could be summed up as “Ewwww”.
  • Jamario Moon was +21 with 11 points and 9 rebounds. He is ideal trade bait, there are teams that actually value this guy and he could fetch us something in a package. You guys have to believe me when I say that.
  • I’m not a Jose-hater, and one of his 9 assists was a sweet bounce pass to Moon on the break. If you sense a ‘but’ coming you’re right. BUT, he still pulls back too often and missed at least 4 fast-break opportunities. I just wish he was a more “traditional” point guard who could drive and kick, beat his man one-on-one and finish in the paint traffic on occasion. Don’t get me wrong, I like the perimeter assists and all but there needs to be more umph in his game.
  • Jason Kapono was 7-10 FG including 3-5 from three for 18 points. Here’s hoping for a few more games like these including a three-peat at All-Star weekend so that he can make BC’s dump-job a little easier.
  • Did you know Jamario Moon’s middle name is Raman?
  • Top 5 Raptors 3PA: Bargnani (195), Parker (163), Kapono (144), Calderon (129) and Moon (108)
  • Raptors shot 63% in the fourth quarter compared to Minny’s 35%.
  • Best Lineup: Graham, Parker, Kapono, Moon and O’Neal with +6 to bring us back at the start of the fourth. Worst Lineup: Graham, Kapono, Bargnani, Calderon and O’Neal going -9 to end the first half. Source.
  • Rodney Carney: 4-11, 12 points, 4 rebounds and 1-5 from three.

Check the Roll Call which is talking about trading players and has a naked picture of Adriana Lima. Also, there’s Twitter and the RSS feed. We’ll talk after the Spurs game, thanks for reading.

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