Wednesday night, the Raptors and Jermaine O’Neal hosted the Pacers with T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic in their return to the ACC. Emotions were running high on both sides of the floor as the Raptors had come into the game with a 4 game losing streak looking for the first win as a head coach for Jay Triano, while the Pacers were on a 3 game losing streak after beating the Lakers with 2 losses to the Celtics and 1 to the Cavaliers! As a Raptors fan, I thought we had a tough schedule, but we are second behind the Pacers in that regard. With games against the Lakers, the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Cavaliers and the Nets, these two teams have played a lot of very difficult games in the past 2 weeks so both were looking to this game to help readjust their outlook to some winning ways.
On most nights, the Raptors rely on Chris Bosh to carry this team and the past week he has looked tired and out of sorts and his struggles on both ends of the floor have contributed to the tough 2 weeks they have endured. Not to say there are not a lot of other reasons for the struggles, but one could see the weight of the losses mounting on him as he became a jump shooter and working his game away from the inside game that has made him an effective weapon all season. Tonight, he was able to score 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, the most critical of which came in the 4th quarter as he grabbed a couple huge offensive boards to keep the ball out of the Pacers hands and keep the pressure on them to stop us as we pulled away down the stretch. Tonight, the game was not about Chris Bosh and his rise to the top 5 players in the league, it was about the Raptors playing as a team and working through their poor defensive play to work as a group at both ends of the floor.
The game started slowly with both teams forcing the game and their will upon the other with little success. Then the Raptors looked to Jason Kapono who started the game hot and continued his solid play throughout. With Anthony Parker hurt, the starting line up included Jamario Moon at the SG position and Jason Kapono at the SF position. Both responded with spirited play on defense as a combined 42 points between them with Jason scoring 25 in the game. Jamario Moon grabbed 2 offensive boards, one a flying put back that rocked the building ending with 8 rebounds and Jason Kapono had 8 as well. Andrea Bargnani had a poor game offensively with 0 points, but he had a couple huge rebounds defensively as the Raptors looked to seal the game down the stretch. He ended with 4 rebounds. Jamario provided some very solid minutes defensively as he hounded Danny Granger all night and was 7 – 22 shooting at one point ending with 22 points, but was not much of a factor in the second half as Jamario Moon and Joey Graham held him in check. Joey Graham played one of his best games defensively Wednesday night and was a pest offensively posting up his man and attacking the rim collecting 12 points off the bench. Roko Ukic provided solid minutes again running the ball and attacking the rim scoring 5 points and handing out 2 assists but did much more to allow Jose Calderon valuable time to rest. He has begun to become a solid guard and with Jay Triano able to coach him from a guard’s perspective, I look forward to see the improvement of all our guards at both ends of the floor. Jermaine O’Neal picked up two very quick fouls and looked early like it was going to be a long night for him. From that point, he worked hard on defense and found himself getting the ball inside against Rasho Nesterovic, he went to work and ended up with 10 points and 9 rebounds including 2 offensive boards. Over all, a solid game for him as he faced his old team and looked very comfortable as the 3rd or 4th option on offense.
The night was heralded as the T.J. Ford Jose Calderon battle part 1. What we saw was a game that featured Jose as a pass first guard playing a slashing PG who couldn’t find his game. T.J. Ford struggled early shooting 2/4 in the first half and went 0/4 in the second as Jose and Jamario chased him down and gave him little room to pass as well. Jose Calderon ended the night with 11 points and 14 assists and only 2 turnovers while Ford ended up with 2 turnovers and 4 assists. Round 1? Jose refused to say this game was about them, and I agree. He showed a lot of class as he has done his time with the Raptors. Tonight was about the Raptors coming together as a team, not about getting in the face of the team you came from. Well done both guys who refused to let it become about them.
A couple points I wish to leave here. The Raptors held the Pacers to 34.7% FG and only 28% from 3 points range. The difference tonight was that the Raptors had a man on the shooter most of the night and the Pacers had few open looks. It was a good job by the Raptors to work hard at finding the shooter and staying with him through the rotation. Marquis Daniels had 21 points and was 7 – 19 but 7 – 7 from the line. He seemed to be the only Pacers player early who was hitting shots as the Raptors found their place in the new defensive rotations. He moved well with out the ball and eventually the Raptors found him and made him take tougher shots as the game moved on. Troy Murphy led the Pacers with a 20 point, 20 rebound game and was the only consistent threat from outside as he shot 4/8 from outside.
Again, the Raptors were outrebounded 52 to 47 which is a much better performance on the glass for the Raptors, but ending up -9 on the offensive glass was a huge reason the game was still close into the 4th. It would be easy to criticize this Raptors team for not getting after the ball in order to limit the offensive boards, but they will correct that issue as Jay continues to work his systems into this group. They were able to grab the ball when needed to control the game down the stretch, and that fact alone shows a huge step in the development of this team from last week. 7 blocks were huge as Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon each had 3 and they seemed to be huge as they came late in the 4th and helped ice the game.
It was great to see 6 Raptors end up with double digits points and Jose and Chris had double doubles and 4 players had 8 or more rebounds. Balanced scoring and balanced effort on the glass has got to become the hallmark of this team and let’s hope tonight is the first step.
The Raptors have the Nets with Vince Carter and Devin Harris who scored 32 in a loss to the Knicks Wednesday. Then they face the Hornets and Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler on Sunday. Let’s hope this gives the guys a much needed boost mentally and as a group. The schedule doesn’t get easier as the season goes on!