The conclusion of Week 9 in the NBA finds the Raptors with a 12 – 18 record after recording 2 wins and 1 loss in games 3, 4 and 5 of the 6 week road trip that winds up tonight in the Bay area against the Warriors. With victories against the Clippers and the Kings and a game against the Trail Blazers in which both Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge played major roles in the second half blitz of the enigmatic Raptors, we end this trip with an opportunity to take a .500% record back to Toronto. As we stand today, we are 4th in the Atlantic behind the Nets and the 76ers and the Celtics.
Here is how I saw the games this past week.
Monday, December 22, 2008 Raptors @ L.A. Clippers
Raptors 97 – Clippers 75
On a night when the Raptors really needed a win, the Clippers were ready to provide the Raptors with fuel. Jake Voskuhl reminded those of us who watched the original Bad Boys Pistons team that Bill Laimbeer played the game and seems to still be lingering in the hall, just out of view. After a Chris Bosh lay-up, Zach Randolph banged knees with Jake and was forced out of the game. In 8 minutes, Jake grabbed 5 rebounds and added 2 points and was very active at both ends of the floor working in the paint and making room for Chris Bosh who scored 18 of his 31 points in the 4th quarter. Eric Gordon and Zach scored 19 for the Clippers and Baron Davis added 16 points and 9 assists in the loss. Jermaine O’Neal chipped in 23 points and added 9 rebounds while Anthony Parker had a solid game with 12 points off the bench. Jose Calderon was steady with 8 points and 9 assists. Some will say that this is a half-game win as it is only the Clippers, but as I see it, they are on the schedule so it counts. A win is a win and at this point, any positive energy is much appreciated to this fragile collective team ego.
Friday, December 26, 2008 Raptors @ Sacramento Kings
Raptors 107 – Kings 101
The night belonged to Jermaine O’Neal who scored a season high 36 points in just his first 30+ point game since he dropped 39 on the Bulls in March, 2007 while still with the Pacers. With Chris Bosh scoring just 13 points while struggling with foul trouble early in the first half, Jermaine was scoring at will in the low post reminding his former team mate Brad Miller what he surely remembered from all those practice sessions against O’Neal. With 9 rebounds including 4 offensive boards, Jermaine O’Neal was the focus of most of the offense and the centerpiece of the defense. John Salmons and Brad Miller both scored 20 points while Bobby Jackson added 17 while Jose Calderon scored 16 to go with Chris Bosh’s 13 and Jason Kapono who scored 10. Andrea Bargnani filled in the gap more than adequately for Bosh with his 14 points. Over all, this game was close probably because of the 16 turnovers which kept the Kings in the game early in the second half. Taking only 69 shots, the Raptors hit 55% and grabbed 12 offensive boards, while giving up 17 second chance points to the Kings. With some hard work on defense, the Raptors were able to close out the Kings and enjoy a two game winning streak on the road. We really can’t be upset with this at all.
Saturday, December 27, 2008 Raptors @ Portland Trail Blazers
Raptors 89 – Trail Blazers 102
After building up an 11 point lead, the Raptors were hit with a buzzer beater from the back court by Travis Outlaw which seemed to dig deep into the hearts of the Raptors who never recovered. The second half belonged to Brandon Roy who scored at will in the brutal second half in which the Raptors scored only 10 points in the 3rd quarter and 22 in the 4th. Roy scored 14 in the 4th and a game high 32 points on the night. LeMarcus Aldridge scored 21 and added 9 rebounds while Greg Oden scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh scored 29 and 17 points but could not find a way to consistently stop the solid front line the Trail Blazers put on the floor. Outlaw added 12 off the bench. Jose Calderon scored 11 and Andrea Bargnani scored 13 while Jamario Moon scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds including 7 offensive boards. The Raptors went 12 – 34 in the second half and had the bulk of their 13 turnovers in the 10 point 3rd quarter. Jason Kapono and Joey Graham both were held scoreless which was a huge reason this game fell flat quickly in the 3rd as neither could find a rhythm from the floor and the middle was just not available after some nice adjustments by this young Trail Blazers team. Will Solomon added 5 points and Anthony Parker added 6 off the bench, but it was just no where near what they needed.
Week 9 showed me that this team has the talent needed to compete with even the best teams in this league, but seem unable or unwilling to pay the price yet. To continue to lose implies a willingness to not do the small things needed to win. It seems small, but things like clearing the boards, making guys take pressured shots, finding your man in transition defense, taking the ball to the hole on a break and not settling for jump shots when you have the numbers. The Raptors played some good ball this past week and when the ball movement was there, this team was tough to play against. What has happened, it seems, is that teams realize that the Raptors seem to have no will to compete and no heart to struggle through a shooting slump as a group. If one guy is missing, they tend to feed him rather than find the hot hand. Andrea Bargnani was hot in the first half against Portland, but sat until late in the third by which time the Raptors were down by 10 or more and had gone cold, then Jay sat him down. I understand that we need to move the ball into our two big men, but when they are getting out played and the Raptors allow guards to penetrate the zone and torch them for 32 pretty much uncontested shots, the heart to defend has been ripped out of this team.
With games against the Warriors, the Nuggets and the Rockets, the Raptors will face a tempo team, a solid back court and wing based team and a team with one of the toughest front courts in the league. Character will be revealed as we head home.