The Toronto Raptors needed a win and the Philadelphia 76ers gave it to them. The 90-72 victory over the 76ers wasn’t a pretty one to watch, but it ended with the Raptors on the right side of the win/loss column and that’s all they were concerned with. That, and apologizing for a final-possession alley-oop that the Sixers weren’t thrilled with to close out the game.
When a locker room is apologizing for a highlight-reel play and teammates are clowning Amir Johnson for his choice of glasses — clear, plastic frames his teammates jokingly referred to as “goggles,” with one making a comparison to Bill Nye, resulting in Landry Fields to chime in by saying he likes the science guy — it’s easy to tell that you’ve stepped into the winning locker room.
After a victory everyone is light and the vibe is good, even if the game was bad. On Wednesday night, both teams came out flat and played an undesirable first half. Holding a two-point halftime lead, the Raptors refocused during the break and came out with more energy in the third. Outscoring Philadelphia 29-21 in the quarter, Toronto shot a blistering 63 per cent in the third, thanks in large part to Jose Calderon’s 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
Once the Raptors pulled ahead by double-digits, the Sixers never really were able to threaten their lead in the fourth. All five Raptors starters reached double figures, led by a 19-point, 12-rebound, five-assist night for Amir Johnson and 19 points from DeMar DeRozan.
- Landry Fields moves into the starting lineup. After Sunday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dwane Casey was asked about starting Fields over Mickael Pietrus. Casey said that hadn’t been a thought and that the team would stick with what had worked through their recent winning streak. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Casey said he would be putting Fields into the lineup for Pietrus. Pleased with the effort Fields had given in the last few weeks, Casey wanted to try having his energy on the floor to start the game. While Fields had been playing a lot of minutes at the four-spot, he alternated between the three and four depending on the lineup used by the Sixers on Wednesday night. He continued to impress, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with one assist and three steals. Fields’ rebounding is a huge boost for the Raptors and on Wednesday night, they overpowered a smaller 76ers team, out-rebounding them 46-37.
- The Ed Davis/Amir Johnson combo. Toronto’s big men had a solid night against the Sixers. Although Aaron Gray was available, he did not play and the team went primarily with Johnson and Davis along with Fields sliding over to the four spot when necessary. Davis has proven his value and worth in his increased role while Andrea Bargnani has been out. Johnson’s value to this team seems to increase by the month and it would not be incorrect to think of him on the short list of team MVP of the season. The duo combined for 36 points, 21 rebounds and seven assists in the victory.
- Jose Calderon double-doubles. Jose Calderon remains in the starting lineup despite Kyle Lowry’s return. Each player has handled the splitting of minutes well thus far and it would be tough for Lowry to say anything on nights when Calderon tallies a double-double and the team walks off the floor with a victory. On Wednesday night, Lowry played just 16 minutes as Calderon finished with 14 points and 11 assists. He shot 7-for-12 from the floor and scored 10 of his 14 in that crucial third quarter where the Raptors pulled away.
- After a solid start to the season, the Sixers have now lost 16 of their past 21 games. In a way, they’ve flipped the script of the Raptors who had that horrendous start to the season, playing 15 of their first 22 on the road. While the Raptors managed to pull together and grow together on and off the court during a disastrous five-game West Coast swing, the Sixers are feeling the pressure to try to do the same right now.
- A voice on the outside on how different the Raptors look without Andrea Bargnani on the floor. After the game, Thaddeus Young talked about the improvements of the Raptors as a whole since the two teams faced each other earlier this season.
“They’re playing more together,” Young said. “They’re playing more as a team. Jose and Kyle, they’re getting them into their offence and they’re cutting harder. Their bigs are playing a little bit harder than they did. They’re making plays.”
On how the team functions differently without Bargnani stretching the floor, Young said, “They’re not just a ‘I’ma come down and throw it down to Bargnani’ team. They’re a team that’s playing team basketball right now and they’re moving the basketball.”
Whether Bargnani is or isn’t on the floor, the team needs to continue to play as a team. Moving the ball, getting contributions across the board and coming out with energy are keys to this team controlling the pace and winning games, regardless of who is logging minutes.