It was another loss in Boston for the Raptors but the disturbing issue for Raptor fans was not a defeat at the hands of one of the best teams in the east, a team that many expect to be right there in May and June when they start sizing teams up for championship rings, but the way the team lost.
After a solid first half where they had a one-point lead shooting 67 per cent going to the locker room, the Toronto offence stalled. Part of the offensive blackout was due to Hedo Turkoglu picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, and since their defence is not the type to hold them in games right now, some players took it upon themselves to try to do too much. It led to a stretch where the Celtics outscored the Raptors 25-4 to turn a four-point deficit, at 61-57, into a 17-point lead at 82-65. It was the show of Boston’s vaunted signature defence as Toronto finished the third quarter shooting a paltry 7-for-20 (35 per cent) being held without a field goal for a 7:19 span in the middle of the frame.
But it was the first possession of the fourth quarter that made a statement about the game and the team that Toronto needs to become. Paul Pierce drove the lane and finished with an emphatic dunk on Chris Bosh, planting his knee in Bosh’s lower midsection as he finished the play. Great drive and the emotion being such that it is in sports saw Pierce stand over Bosh and flex at the completion of the play. Some might say unnecessary but that’s the ego and passion that is part of the spontaneous reaction in the “yeah baby, I just served you” mentality of sports, at any level. However, there needed to be some type of response from Toronto and while there yet may be in a future encounter with Boston, last night, the retort was not sufficient in these eyes.
We’re not talking about an immediate retaliatory fight but there does have to be a certain degree of overt belligerence and bellicosity at that moment. It wasn’t seen in this instance but at some point Toronto needs to draw its line in the sand so opponents won’t continually kick the sand in their face.
Bosh is not a direct, in-your-face type personality as he is more of a lead-by-example type of player. It then becomes imperative that his teammates protect him, and that he protects himself, in some way, shape or form. True, it’s a new group of players that don’t have any history in Toronto, but the perception continues to be that this team needs to be tougher and hit back in these types of situations. Bosh for one is tired of all the chatter about it.
“I’m tired of talking about toughness,” said Bosh in the locker room post-game. “We talk about it too much. We talk about everything too much. We’ve got to stop talking about it and just do it.” There will surely be a “next” time and it will be interesting to see how Toronto responds and if talk becomes the order of the day once again.
Perhaps it speaks to the team’s overall attitude. The issue of toughness is one that has always been in question in Toronto. At some point you need to be willing to make a stand and unfortunately the guy, Reggie Evans, who many thought would lead the charge is injured.
Antoine Wright was vocal on a couple of subjects last night. One of those issues being the response to the Pierce dunk.
“We’ve got guys standing over our best player, flexing, and it’s not something we can stand for,” said a subdued but upset Wright following the game. ” I was pretty frustrated sitting on the bench watching their whole team run out there on the floor and we only had our coaches up shouting and screaming at their players. I don’t like that.”
The other issue that the veteran swingman spoke to the media about before the game was the way some players chose to prepare for games. At times it’s a bit too lax for him and he sees it as something that needs to change. It’s an issue now because the team is not winning. Each player prepares differently but if losses continue to mount, players are going to have to look at pregame routines and make changes. A slow start that is due a lack of mental preparedness is something Wright says needs to change.
“You’ve got guys in here eating popcorn, joking around before the game and we go out there and lose by 40,” Wright told media members gathered around his locker in reference to the loss at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats (it was actually a 35-point loss). “It’s a direct result of what’s going on before the game and guys not coming in with the right mind frame.”
He talked about his time in Dallas and New Jersey with Jason Kidd remarking that Jason loved to joke around, to a certain point, and as the game drew closer, his focus sharpened to the point where you could look at him and tell it was game time.
It’s something Wright says he has talked with Bosh about, the first conversation coming at the back of the airplane on the trip from Charlotte to Boston. But like Bosh said, enough with the talk, speak with your actions. People may not believe what you say but they will believe what you do.
Raptor fans can take some solace in the fact that the season is not yet at the quarter pole and the problems have been identified. In fact, so have the solutions. It’s up to the team to apply the right answers to the questions when they arise. Does it come to pass that at season’s end, they will look back at the last two games as a turning point? It just may be in one way or the other.