The thing about NBA recap stories is that their narratives are driven mostly by the end result. This seems obvious and sensible, but many games are decided by a handful of plays that would have changed the ultimate outcome if they had turned out differently.
For example, if Paul Pierce made this shot with the clock running out yesterday, we wouldn’t be talking about the Raptors hanging tough to beat the mighty Celtics, we’d be lamenting how the Raptors blew a 12-point lead because they couldn’t score more than a single point over a six-minute span in the fourth quarter.
To be fair, DeMar DeRozan defended Pierce about as well as anyone could be expected to, but you have to know that Pierce will make that shot at least one out of every three tries. Of course, the reason that Pierce and the Celtics were even put in that position was that the officials didn’t call Leandro Barbosa’s foul on Ray Allen that caused him to turn the ball over with the Raptors trailing by a point late in the game. The Raptors took advantage when Amir Johnson was fouled and hit two free throws to give Toronto the lead with 2.7 seconds left.
Before I get to the non-call, we should give props to Amir Johnson not only for making the clutch free throws but for his best performance of the season, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds in just 24 minutes. Nine of those points came at the free throw line and he’s currently ranked 11th in the NBA with a 90.2 percent success rate from the charity stripe. Considering that he was 66 percent from the line over five NBA seasons before this one, it’s obvious he’s been putting in work on that part of his game.
(Incredibly random but fun sidenote: Only two players in NBA history have played at least 277 minutes in a season while shooting at least 60 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line: Johnson so far this season and Jeff Pendergraph last season with the Blazers.)
Anyway, back to the crucial non-call. I’ve slowed down the replay so it’s abundantly clear that the officials blew this one. If Ray Allen got the free throws he deserved here, it’s a safe bet the Celtics would have won this game.
Barbosa clearly hit Allen on the elbow on that play. Considering that the Raptors were obviously going for the foul there, I’m not entirely sure how they missed this. As a Raptors fan, I’m certainly not complaining. But let’s not pretend that this wasn’t an egregious screw job by the refs. This win was a gift that I’m more than happy to accept due to my dislike of the Celtics and many of their fans.
Speaking of gifts, the ongoing excellence of Sonny Weems is the gift that keeps on giving. With his 16-point performance yesterday, that makes eight straight games he’s scored in double figures. It seems as though that wing player who can create his own shot that we’ve craved has been right under our noses. Here’s Weems scoring with ease on a nice play drawn up out of a timeout. Worth noting: This play immediately preceded the critical Ray Allen “turnover”.
Triano gets a lot of the credit for that play, but Weems gets all the credit for this second-quarter play where he beat Ray Allen off a nice crossover and finished with authority. Not that Allen is an elite defender, but it’s still extremely exciting to see Weems’ new confidence and ability to make plays like this.
While I don’t have any video evidence, I have to recognize Andrea Bargnani’s 29-point performance — particularly since he went to the free throw line a career-high 13 times. When I expressed doubts before this season about his ability to be a legitimate first option on offence, one of my main complaints was that he didn’t get to the free throw line enough. Bargnani was aggressive while playing within the flow of the game yesterday, and with his third game in a row scoring at least 26 points he’s serving notice that he wants to be “the man” for the Raptors — on the offensive end, anyway.
Whether or not the Raptors “deserved” this win and regardless of how much Rajon Rondo’s absence hurt the Celtics, that’s three in a row for Toronto and they’re suddenly right in that middle of the Eastern Conference’s “sidestage of suck” that is currently headlined by the sixth-place Indiana Pacers and their 5-6 record. At 5-9, the Raptors are 1 1/2 games behind the Pacers and only a game behind the Knicks and Cavs for seventh place. So much for “Tank Nation”, I guess.