So, Raptor fans: Does the parade start at city hall and end at the ACC or should it go the other way?
The Raptors have reeled off four straight wins and while the parade thing is all in jest, the way the team is playing now is certainly more in line with some of the expectations that were posted at the start of the season. The team is coming together, players are accepting the roles given to them and, after the defensive tweaks, all systems seem to be working better.
Thursday night was another example in the 106-104 victory over New York where depth and some newly-developed mental toughness helped them steal one on the road. It was an off-night for Andrea Bargnani, but Hedo Turkoglu had one of his best games of the campaign as he put up a season-high 26 points and chipped in with 11 rebounds to notch his second double-double of the season.
While Turkoglu was a big part of the win, he didn’t do it all himself. One thing that has become the norm this season is Chris Bosh’s effort and there he was again punching the clock and going to work with 27 points and 15 rebounds.
That’s not where it ended for the Raptors. Antoine Wright put up a season-high with 13 points, played good defence, managed to pick up five rebounds and seems to be more comfortable on the floor. To his credit, Wright has been putting in extra work and is a regular in assistants Eric Hughes’ and Alvin Williams’ “taxi club” — the moniker I have given to the group of Hughes, Williams, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick O’Bryant and Sonny Weems. All head to the gym before the rest of the team boards either the first or second bus to the arena. You can count basketball development coordinator Jama Mahlalela as part of the group when it happens at home.
For all the slack Toronto has taken regarding their defence or lack thereof, it has been the constant stepping forward at key times over this four-game winning streak. In fact, the Raptors have accomplished something that has only been done three times in the last 11 years as they have overcome double-digit deficits in each victory.
Over the last four outings, the fourth quarter defence has held Milwaukee to 42.9 per cent, Lakers to 40 per cent, Miami to 40 per cent and the Knicks to 39.1 per cent while still managing to make key offensive plays. Thursday night was no exception as Bosh, after missing a couple of jumpers late in the final quarter found himself with the ball and the clock running down as Toronto sat on a one-point lead. Was it time for a jumper? Nope. Bosh drove and scored a tough hoop in the paint to give Toronto some insurance. It has been plays like that which have Toronto sitting as the No. 2 team in the league when it comes to free throws attempted and free throws made.
Plays like that from Bosh may have been why some New Yorkers were hollering at him before the game in the Brooklyn twang, “Eh, Bosh, eh Chris, you gatta come to Nu Yawk next year and save da Knicks. We suck now, c’mon man, sign wid us next yea-ah.” All I could think of was, “Hey dude, you need to get in line.”
It’s not all physical plays but a sense of basketball awareness fueling this Raptors streak. Case in point was head coach Jay Triano’s play call at the end of the game. With Toronto up 105-104, Triano called a time out to advance the ball. With the ball in the front court, Triano had an option in his play call that could have made New York look really bad had referee Tony Brown not bailed them out.
A few seasons back, the NBA changed a rule. It used to be that once you called a timeout and chose the option to advance the ball to the front court, you could not throw it into the back court, but since the change any part of the floor is open game. Personally I don’t like the rule because once you cross the mid-court line during play you can’t pitch it into the back court, so why now? But that’s just the defender in me that knows it’s hard to defend the entire court.
Triano’s play, with 9.6 second remaining, had the option to pass into the backcourt and when Jarrett Jack and Turkoglu saw Danilo Gallinari out top, they made eye contact and passed the ball into the backcourt. That forced Gallinari to chase Jack and only a very questionable bit of contact allowed the foul to be called and stop the clock. If not, a boy from the Bob Uecker seats where my man Eric Smith and I call the game, it sure looked like Gallinari whiffed (or as Uecker would yell from the last row, “Hey ump, he missed the tag!” — you youngsters go back and Google the old beer commercial and you’ll know what I’m talking about) Jack and Toronto probably play keep away with the Knicks chasing them and run out the clock without a New York foul.
So Toronto goes for its fifth straight win against Indiana on Sunday at home where they have played very well of late. Looking at the schedule and the way they are playing right now, it could be a nice ride into the All-Star break, and as writer Bruce Arthur said, it might be time to get new shocks and tires for the Raptor Bandwagon.