With a 103-96 victory over the Houston Rockets, the Toronto Raptors have now won consecutive games for the first time this season. Behind 24 points from Alan Anderson off the bench and a brilliant game from Jose Calderon, who notched the second triple-double of his career (both this season), the Raptors used a balanced scoring attack and strong defence to contain James Harden and defeat the Rockets.
One game after holding Dallas Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo to just 10 points and eight field goal attempts, the Raptors were able to make things difficult for Harden. Despite being hounded by multiple players –including Anderson, who at some points decided to essentially bear-hug Harden down the court to prevent him from getting the ball until a foul was called — Harden finished with 28 points, but needed 18 shots to get there, making just seven from the floor. Harden did get to the free throw line 15 times (making 14), but the Raptors were effective in containing the Rockets and controlling the pace of the game.
While the largest lead of the game was a 12-point advantage for the Raptors, the two teams were tied at the half. Toronto took the lead early into the third and the Rockets never led again. In crunch time of the fourth quarter, the Raptors stuck with a small lineup that had been working for them, keeping rookie Terrence Ross on the floor along with Amir Johnson, Alan Anderson, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon. Down the stretch it was Calderon and Anderson who remained calm under pressure, making free throws to keep a two-possession advantage over the Rockets until the final buzzer sounded.
A new identity
Yes, the Raptors have won two games in a row for the first time this season. Beyond that, though, is the way they got those two victories. Throw in the loss against Brooklyn as well — eight healthy bodies and a tough fight against a solid Nets team — and you have a Raptors team who has been playing a defence-first game. They’ve also been competing for a full 48 minutes and are having fun on the floor getting stops and then out to run.
Dictating the pace
After the loss to the Raptors on Friday night, Vince Carter talked about how Toronto had created the pace of the game and the Mavericks spent the rest of the evening trying to match it. After defeating the Rockets, Alan Anderson also mentioned pace and said it’s helping the team to control the game.
While Dwane Casey has often tried to match up against the opposing team, the Raptors elected to go small against the Rockets and forced them to try and match up with their speed. Why is the team starting to dictate the speed, style and pace of the game? Toronto is getting off to strong starts, allowing them to settle in on both ends of the floor.
After the game, Kevin McHale talked about his team’s inability to take control: “We just didn’t click tonight,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of movement and we just couldn’t get the stops in a row that we needed to get up. And if we did, it just seemed like we’d miss a bunny here, miss a bunny there and it just never felt like we ever kind of got control of that game. For a while in the second it felt like we were okay, but other than that it felt like we were always kind of constantly fighting from behind.”
Scoreless in Friday’s victory (0-for-8 from the floor), after Saturday’s practice Anderson said he was fine with not scoring if the team could continue to win games. The team did pick up another victory, but it was the 24 points from Anderson off of the bench that provided a huge boost for the Raptors.
Anderson’s line was an efficient one as he shot 6-for-12 from the floor, made three of his seven three-point attempts and hit all nine of his free throw attempts. In addition to leading the team in scoring, he also played tough defence on Harden, making him work for every point he scored. The value of Anderson on the floor not only shows up on the stat sheet, he’s a calming presence who understands what the Raptors need from him as well as what his limitations are.
Ball movement/taking care of the ball
Against the Rockets, the Raptors had 29 assists on 39 made field goals. They also turned the ball over just seven times and had six steals, adding 13 blocked shots. The effort the team has been giving defensively has allowed them to get out and run and be rewarded with easy buckets, dunks and layups. There has been much improved ball movement and better spacing on the floor from the team in the past two victories.
Calderon excelling as starter
If there is one word to describe Jose Calderon, it is professional. Through trade rumours, role reduction and being bounced in and out of the starting lineup, Calderon has been a rock for the Raptors. He’s steady and earnest, hardworking and relentlessly positive. While he is always going to give you his best every time he steps onto the floor, Calderon is just a different player when he’s starting.
Against the Rockets, he scored 18 points to go along with a team-high 10 rebounds and 14 assists without committing a single turnover. He made free throws down the stretch, grabbed long rebounds against a team who shoots a lot of three pointers and found his teammates time and time again with the perfect pass. Calderon was fantastic on Sunday and his teammates showed him their appreciation in the locker room by showering him with praise.
After the game, Calderon told the media that his goal is to be the most professional player in the NBA. When Anderson was told of Calderon’s goal, he smiled.
“You don’t get that a lot,” he said. “When you think of a player like that you think of a Derek Fisher or something like that. For a player to say he wants to be the most professional player in the NBA, you have [guys who say] ‘I want to be the best scorer, I want to be the best defensive player’, but that just shows his character, man. He’s a great guy, great person, great player. A leader, flat out.”
* Dwane Casey on the performance Calderon put on: “Huge. Solid. He’s a solid pro. I love him. He’s going to win a lot of basketball games for you. Team defensively, he did a solid job on Lin, staying with the schemes, quarterbacking. Just can’t say enough about Jose. And not only that, Amir Johnson did a heck of a job. He and Eddie both did a heck of a job of quarterbacking because when Harden comes off that pick-and-roll he’s coming at you 100 miles an hour and looks like a train coming at you and he leads the league in getting to the three point line and we did a decent job of not going over. He had 15, but Amir and Eddie did a good job in pick and roll situations."
* Alan Anderson on the team’s energy over the past week: “This is the first two games we’ve played 48 minutes of defence. Teams are going to have runs. That’s what basketball is, full of runs. We stopped their runs, they stopped our runs and we kept playing defence. They had a couple of layups here and there, but still…we’re trying, we’re putting in the effort and we’re having fun doing it.”
* Anderson on the strong start the team got off to and how everything is dictated by their effort on the defensive end of the floor: “Tonight I think we had a really good start. Our starting five came out there and our first two possessions they got after us a little bit, but then after that we got rolling. Playing defence, getting dunks, we’re getting lobs, we’re getting charges. I think it’s the little things that get us going and then our bench gets going and then we’re cheerleading and then Amir comes off and I come off and it trickles down. Guys are having fun. The best thing about us, once we start having fun playing defence, our offence is so easy because we have scorers.”
* Amir Johnson was surprised to hear he had five blocked shots. He joked that the stats crew might have padded his stat line and gave him a couple. Two lockers over, Anderson joked that he thought Johnson had stolen two of his blocks in the game.
* Kyle Lowry cheered his teammates on from the bench as he waits for that triceps to heal so he can return to action. After the game, he walked his toddler-aged son around the locker room so that he could give high fives to all of his father’s teammates.
* Terrence Ross said he knows that people think of him as a shooter and that he’s trying to show what he can do on the other side of the floor. "Defence, that’s what’s going to get you on the court more than scoring a lot,” he said. “If you can stop somebody you have a chance to show your offensive stuff.”
He also said the vibe on the floor feels different because everyone has been committed to defence. Asked why the team has finally made that a priority, Ross didn’t hesitant to respond: “Because we were tired of losing.”