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The young Raptors had reason to celebrate Sunday afternoon, and it had nothing to do with Santa coming to town

Wow, what a game.

If this Raptors team has been good for one thing through three and a half weeks of the season, it’s been thrilling ball games, win or lose.

Even though the Celtics were without Rondo, the Raptors had to be big underdogs this afternoon, especially due to the fact that they were dealing with a thin lineup after yesterday’s trade.

The crowd of nearly 18 000 in the Air Canada Centre was quiet for most of the first half, but like the team they were rooting for today, the fans picked up the intensity when it mattered the most. The ACC was electric for the fourth quarter.

The Raptors came out of the gates with good energy, but they looked embarrassingly over-matched for most of the first quarter. The swarming Celtics’ defence bottled up the Raptors on one end, while Nate Robinson and Boston’s offence ate up the Raps on the other end.

You are forgiven if you looked up at the score midway through the first quarter, saw the Celtics up 21-8, and thought about ditching the ACC for the Santa Claus Parade.

Then in come the Raptors reserves, and the game changes instantly.

Amir Johnson and Leandro Barbosa started the rally, and Andrea Bargnani decided he was going to impose his will on the Celtics’ bigs. Yes, you read that last part correctly.

Andrea may have showed more growth and maturity as an NBA-er today than he had in his first four years. Despite being beaten down by Kevin Garnett in the first few minutes and missing his first four shots (including two free throws), Bargnani began to demand the ball on almost every possession, working inside and out, laying the foundation for a 29-point game.

It was this aggressive play from Bargnani that put every Celtics big that tried to guard him in early foul trouble. In the third quarter, Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Glen Davis all had four fouls, thanks to “Il Mago.”

The Raptors turned an early 13-point deficit into a 12-point lead by the third quarter, and took a nine-point lead into the game’s final five minutes.

But you knew, some way, some how, a Celtics run was coming.

A couple of Paul Pierce buckets here, a couple of horrible Raptors possessions there, and then a couple of Ray Allen threes had the Celtics up four with less than two minutes remaining.

It was an incredibly quick swing that took some energy out of the building, and you would assume, would have taken some wind out of the home team.

And then, as they have for the last three games, the Raptors found a way to get some late stops and force turnovers to come away with a win.

With Boston up one, the Celtics in-bounded, and everyone assumed Ray Allen would be fouled. The Celtics coughed it up, Jose Calderon recovered, and although they had a timeout to use, the Raptors ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Don’t ask how, but it worked. Amir Johnson was fouled, knocked down two clutch free throws (Amir’s improved free throw shooting has been a story in itself this season), and Paul Pierce missed a jumper at the other end.

Game over. The Raptors did what they couldn’t do with Chris Bosh in the lineup; beat the Celtics’ Big Three at the ACC.

There are a few things I wanted to point out before I end this post.

First, credit Barbosa for having such a profound impact in a big game, despite not playing for a couple of weeks.

Second, Amir Johnson and Reggie Evans combined for 26 points and 27 rebounds today. I’d say the Raptors are a tough team to beat when that happens.

Third, I don’t want to imply that Bargnani is better than Bosh, because that’s just not true. But, Andrea attacked KG more today than I ever saw Bosh attack him in a Raptors-Celtics matchup. Chris always seemed to shy away from battling his idol. Andrea simply went about his business as usual.

And lastly, I have criticized Jay Triano over the last couple of years, and probably will again this season. But I have to give credit to Jay for getting the absolute best out of this team for 12 or 13 out of 14 games so far this season. That’s harder to do than it should be with NBA athletes.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson -24 Min, 17 Pts, 4-5 FG, 9-9 FT, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk

Celtics Player of the Game: Nate Robinson – 35 Min, 22 Pts, 8-14 FG, 3-6 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 4 Reb, 2 Ast

Comments (18)

  1. Good point. Jay deserves credit for the hustle this team displays.
    The numbers you presented combined for Amir and Reggie lacked a huge one – Amir +14in 24 minutes, Reggie – 18 in 32 minutes. You can argue Reggie played against the starters but that still a huge difference. I believe it is more of a reflexion of how much of an effect Amir can have on the game.
    Amir finished with 5 fouls in 25 minutes against a tough Boston interior. Here’s hoping the minutes between he and Reggie can be reversed.

  2. Very good game to watch. Loved seeing the Bargs he actually looks like he getting more comfortable now that Bosh is gone. Loved seeing his intensity. Watching him in the huddle talking to guys and just looked like he was having fun. Where are all the Barg haters now. Still wish we picked Roy??? Looking forward to seeing the new Raps on Wednesday.

  3. Amazing to see how good Bargnani can be when he just goes out and plays without over-thinking or second guessing himself. And how clutch was Amir? Man, I enjoyed this one! Way to go Raps!

  4. I love the “where are all the Barg haters now” comments after he had a good game. When he plays well, his CRITICS have less to complain about. Obviously. The problem is there have been quite a few opportunities to complain about him over the last 4+ years.

    Of course, since YOU brought it up, Bargnani grabbed just 2 rebounds and was still horrible on defense. I can’t tell you how many times Bargnani simply watched and didn’t move when Boston drove the lane.

    And so Toronto the Raptors are 3-2 when Bargnani scores at least 26 points. Possibly one reason for that is because if Bargnani doesn’t score at least 26 points, he’s more a liability than a positive. The reason is because, besides scoring, he does little else.

    I think it’s great that he scored well today and I’m happy the Raptors won, but he has certainly not done ANYTHING to disprove the theory that he’s a one dimensional player.

  5. Geez Tim … you don’t really sound like you’re happy the Raptors won. Just saying.

  6. Yeah a brokem record.
    Garnett? Shaq? Baby? They must be shitty defenders because Bargnani torched them all. Nearly outscored the trio (29-32).
    So Bostons three bigs scored 32 points combined. Bargs may have some defensive flaws but he does a few things right.

  7. I’m thrilled the Raptors won. It just bothers me when some people marginalize the criticisms people like me have regarding someone like Bargnani, by calling us haters.

    The term hater should not be part of any intelligent discussion.

    And Tinman, why must Garnett, Shaq and Glen Davis be shitty defenders? I never claimed that Bargnani wasn’t a good scorer. Again, you’re trying to marginalize my criticisms without actually debating the content.

    What bothers me even more than Bargnani’s poor defense and rebounding is how some people insult his critics rather than try and debate them intelligently.

    I don’t call people fanboys or haters if I disagree with them. I never hurl personal insults at people because I don’t like their argument. I don’t take it personally if someone criticizes a player I like. And I’ve never once criticized Bargnani for anything that didn’t have to do with what he did on the court.

  8. Nice to roll out of bed, eat pancakes, and watch the raps win.

    However, I want to write about the on-going lack of debate about Bargs. Tim W. is right about the poor counter argument coming from David. I have sat back reading the back and forth, and although I enjoy Bags, Although I don’t always agree with Tim, his argument is solid, and really David you just keep provoking good responses from Tim. Bargs doesn’t move his feet, doesn’t have the natural sense of a good defender, and he still doesn’t know how to use his body to get rebounds. If he can maintain good offensive numbers he isn’t a liability, but he really lacks basketball IQ on D. I am still a fan, mainly because I really love the raps, but you cannot deny Bags stinks on defense.

  9. oh come on…

    if we lose bargs we don’t have a big man with a consistent scoring game. more simply, we don’t have a big man who can shoot outside of 8 feet. yeah yeah yeah, he can’t rebound and his lateral quickness is pretty bad. but what would you rather do… start reggie and amir?

    bottom line is we have 4 grinder big men and 1 scorer, who isn’t even as bad at defense as a lot of ppl say (ie better than bosh) he just doesn’t really rebound too well. get over it. yes he’s one dimensional but that one dimension suits our current team. if he gets his head out of his ass and starts rebounding… then yeah, even better.

  10. cdawg you are the voice of reason. I concede.

  11. cdawg,

    You assume that the Raptors lose Bargnani for nothing. And last year, Denver, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Charlotte all made the playoffs without a big man who averaged more than 15 ppg.

    And Amir is actually a good offensive player. He’s not going to get you 20 ppg, but he’s scores incredibly efficiently and at a higher rate than most give him credit for. If he could keep his fouls down, Amir can average 15 ppg in 36 mpg.

    And you really need to watch Bargnani more closely if you say his defense is not as bad as people say. And it’s not even close to Bosh. Bargnani is one of the worst defensive big men in the league. He is THE worst team defender big in the league.

    And the Raptors do need his scoring, but not more than it needs a big man who is not a liability on the defensive and on the boards. It’s not that he’s weak. It’s that he’s a liability. In other words, he actually hurts the team on that end. Bargnani HAS to score so much to make up for his inability to defend and board. If he’s not scoring 26 ppg, he’s hurting the team.

  12. If we all agree that Bargnani is a really good scorer, possibily the best scorer on the Raptors, why didn’t the Raptors get him the ball in the last 6 minutes or so? He attempted just two shots, one of which was a LONG 3 pointer he took just because the 24 seconds were almost over. This while the Celtics were mounting a run and the Raptors couldn’t score a basket to save their lives.
    The Italian broadcasters were blaming Triano for not telling the players to give him the ball and Bargnani for not demanding it. What do you think about it?

  13. Osso, what do I think about it? I think it’s a team game and when played properly, the team wins or loses the 48 minute game.

  14. Great win for the raps. But is anyone else kind of terrified about the line Nate Robinson put up? Dude’s half the player Rondo is and he torched the Raps’ perimeter D. Calderon’s playing 35 minutes a night for the rest of the season, get used to seeing mediocre point guards embarrass us.

  15. Osso,

    Bargnani’s been shying away from doing anything in crunch time all season. Against Boston, he played better in the fourth quarter (on offense) than he has all year. The problem with Bargnani is you can’t simply give him the ball and ask him to do something. Him scoring is almost entirely reliant on his energy level and how the rest of the team creates for him. It’s why the team has often gone to guys like DeRozan and Barbosa in crunch time. They have a better ability to create off the dribble.

    BigJ

    Nate Robinson can score. He’s put up big scoring games on lots of teams, and with much better defensive PGs. His big problem, and why he’s not a starter (other than his lack of size), is that he’s really a SG in a PGs body. He scored big, but he only dished out 2 assists in 35 minutes. And he’s only averaging 1.6 apg in 14.5 mpg.

  16. Tim
    Boston’s 3 big men combined for 32 points. Raptors outrebounded them handily(as they have for all but 2 games(a guess) this season. 14 games in – the Raptors do not have a rebounding problem. We are winning the battles. Yet you dwell on Bargnani.
    You’ll notice I didn’t mention him in my initial posting, thought Amir “drove the bus”.
    I think you weree responding to DM’s post which had some valid points. He is more into the game and a big part of it is because Bosh is no longer here. Getting rid of Jack is icing. He is talking more and seems to be growing in his role.
    BC has stated that this is a growth year. Amir’s gotta control his fouling, Demar has to keep being agressive, Davis needs to get his feet wet, Sonny has gotta keep being Sonny, and Andrea has to grow into his new role.

    By the way I was campaigning a Bargnani for Oden trade prior to GO latest setback.
    And didn’t you post something about this being the last time you’ll rag on Bargnani.

  17. TInman,

    I said on my blog that it would be the last post about Bargnani in a while. I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it anywhere.

    And while the Raptors are outrebounding their opponents, it’s not always about the numbers, but about the situations. The Sacramento game is a perfect example when Cousins grabbed two offensive rebounds in crunch time and that was a very big reason why the Kings ended up winning. This even though the Raptors outrebounded the Kings. If Bargnani can’t keep his own man off the boards when it matters, who cares how many rebounds the rest of the team gets?

    And I didn’t bring up Bargnani. Someone else did in a rather crude manner. I simply responded.

  18. 511,
    I’m Italian so I have a natural inclination to defend my country-mate. Moreover, I’m not a basketball player or coach so my knowledge of the game is quite limited.
    That said, I did find weird that they were letting DeRozan, Weems and others shoot brick after brick while Boston was coming back, whitout even trying to get the ball to Bargnani who, on sunday, did seem pretty on on offense.

    Tim W.,
    it was the first game I saw this season, so If you say it’s Bargnani who doesn’t want to be involved in crunch time, I believe you. I also thoroughly agree with everyone who says that Bargnani’s rebounding is terrible and something he sould be ashamed of, given his height and position.

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