I think at this point in the week, I need to pause and do some reflection on the two games we just witnessed with the Celtics. The Celtics came into the game Sunday having lost 4 straight games to the Knicks, the Bobcats, the Rockets and the Cavaliers and were looking to turn around the play of the team to where it was when they were 27 – 2 and winners of 19 straight. The Raptors were coming off a week which saw them beat the Magic, the Wizards and the Grizzlies, but lose to the Bucks. Both teams were looking to show signs of life but are at very different points in their seasons. The Celtics seem to have been deflated by the loss to the Lakers on Christmas but are still a top 3 team in the league but are struggling to maintain consistent energy and focus during the long season. The Raptors were looking to show that the gains made as a team last week despite the injuries to Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon were not just blibs on the radar of this below average season of hope.
Sunday, January 11th, 2009 Celtics @ Raptors
Ray Allen was allowed to hit 5 open 3’s in the first after the Raptors had opened up a brief lead and never allowed the Raptors to hold the lead again as this game was not close for the majority of it. The Celtics were without Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins but got huge defensive games from Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine to shut our interior game down. Glen Davis had 11 rebounds off the bench to add to the pressure the Raptors felt inside all afternoon. The Raptors did battle back from 20 points down to a point where they could have tied the game late, but shooting under 30% for most of the game and finishing at 37% from the floor, they were just unable to hit the shot they needed to complete the recovery.
Monday, January 12th, 2009 Raptors @ Celtics
Paul Piece scored 39 points as the Raptors found some defense, but were just not able to stop one of the best wing men in the game. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were held 12 and 9 points and were bothered all night as the Raptors Jamario Moon and Roko Ukic played solid defense and gave them a chance to win with Andrea Bargnani leading the team with 23 points including the game tying 3 point shot with about 1 second left. It was a game in which the Raptors had a lead going into the 4th quarter but allowed the Celtics to make a couple of quick 3’s by Scalebrine while committing turnovers and allowing them back into the game. Jason Kapono and Joey Graham played well but could not make a shot late in the game. Will Solomon was replaced by Roko Ukic down the stretch after turning the ball over 3 straight possessions costing the Raptors the game in the Overtime.
Here are a few things that I saw over these past two games that I think will bode well as this team moves on after going 0 – 4 against the Celtics for the season.
Play of the Point Guards
Roko Ukic and Will Solomon combined for 32 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds and only 6 turnovers over these two games. As I see it, Roko has moved closer to becoming the full time back up with his poise and his ball control making better decisions in the overtime than Will while facing a Celtics team who were pressing him at every spot on the floor. His 16 points last night were a large part of the reason we had a lead going into the 4th and why we should have won that game if someone could make a stop on Paul Pierce.
Play of the 3 position
Jamario Moon had 15 points and 7 rebounds on Sunday, but had only 8 points – most coming very early in the game and 1 rebound Monday. I wish I could say he was playing tough and that Paul Pierce was just too much, but he was often lost in the key or caught out of position helping weakside while Pierce was planted at the 3 point line waiting for the ball. Jason Kapono had 12 points and 2 rebounds Sunday but was held to 7 points and 1 rebound last night. He did have the sense to get the ball to Andrea Bargnani for the tie, but he has become a liability on defense night after night. Joey Graham had 12 points and 8 rebounds Sunday, but was held to 7 points and 3 on Monday as he was unable to provide the same intensity defensively as he has shown and Paul Pierce was feeling it. This has been and will continue to be the Achilles heel of this team. Wing play has been spotty at best and when we play teams like the Celtics or the Hornets or the 76ers who have athletic wing players, our guys just can’t compete.
Play of Chris Bosh
Many will say that he disappeared last night or faded down the stretch or cowered in the face of Kevin Garnett. All have merit, but none speak of the heart he has brought these past two games. 33 points and 22 rebounds playing perhaps the toughest PF in the game are pretty good numbers. KG over these two games had 30 points and 23 rebounds, including a couple of offensive boards that kept the ball out of the hands of the scrappy Raptors. To say Chris was outplayed by KG is not accurate and unfair. Of those 45 rebounds combined, Bosh had 6 offensive boards including the one that lead to the game tying shot last night while KG had 5 over the two games. Sure KG brings an intensity that we all wish CB4 had, but there is only ONE KG and he has played the game at a very high level since his days with the Timberwolves. That is not how Chris Bosh plays nor does anyone else in the league. Bosh battled KG for the past two nights and held himself to a standard that no one else on the floor had to battle. I for one was thoroughly impressed by his performance and his leadership and hope this is a sign of what could be over the rest of the season.
Play of Andrea Bargnani
Since the injury to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrea has been the starting Center on this team and has begun to blossom into a much more able scorer, a tough defender and a gritty player. Soon, the refs will stop calling those stupid touch fouls on him and he will begin to draw more contact calls as he has begun to show what Bryan Colangello must have seen before he drafted him. In the games against the Celtics, he scored 40 points, grabbed 17 rebounds including 3 offensive boards, handed out 6 assists on 4 turnovers. All of these are aspects of his game that have been improving this season and we are seeing an Andrea Bargnani who has confidence in himself and has won his teams respect and his coach’s confidence as well.
With games against the Bulls led by Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, the Pacers lead by Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels and T.J. Ford with the Suns coming in on Sunday with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire and a guy named Shaquille O’Neal, let’s hope the Raptors will see a lot of great things they have done over the past 2 games and keep building the momentum.