From a Raptors perspective, it was a frustrating game for three quarters, but you have to admit, it was entertaining throughout.
With both Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani listed as game-time decisions before hand, it was a bit of a surprise to see both players start, and combine for 73 minutes. But believe me, the Raptors needed every second out of those two.
Through three quarters of play, the Raptors were exciting to watch on the offensive end, but dreadful to watch on the opposite end. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries (yes, old “Hump” himself) were having their way on the inside, and any momentum the Raptors were generating was quickly being squashed by a lethargic performance on D.
Heading into the fourth quarter down two, a disastrous home loss to the Nets was looming.
The turning point seemed to be a timeout around the midway point of the fourth quarter, when Jay Triano could be seen laying into his under-achieving team. It was something many Triano critics have been waiting for, and it was something the young Raptors needed.
The Raps came out of that timeout a different team. They buckled down on defence (though it should be noted, that’s no accomplishment against the woeful Nets) and created scoring opportunities off of that stingy D. It was amazing to watch what could have been, had the Raptors played 48 minutes of hard defence instead of just six. The Nets would have been run off of the floor.
Never the less, Toronto picked up win no. 10 on the season, and now we turn to the usual individual evaluations.
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way. That second half was the most impressive and dominant I’ve ever seen Andrea Bargnani. Yes, I’m aware it was just the Nets, I’m aware he’s had good games against better opponents, and I’m aware he’s dropped 41 at MSG. But I have not seen that fire in Andrea’s eyes since his days in Italy.
He flat-out demanded the ball on offence, he was locked in on D and was even diving for loose balls (something I’ve actually never seen Il Mago do before). Andrea was the total package in the second half.
I’m not sure if Sam Mitchell being in town had a similar effect on Bargnani as Apollo Creed coming back to train Rocky, but I tell you, in all seriousness, Bargnani had the Eye of the Tiger tonight, and he looked very much like an Italian Stallion.
Jose Calderon returned from his time off with what may have been his best performance of the season. 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 14 assists; you can’t ask for much more from your starting point-man. More than anything though, Jose controlled the offence beautifully, and you don’t need a boxscore to have noticed that.
Linas Kleiza looked good in his first start in a while, as he knocked down most of his open jumpers, attacked when given the opportunity, grabbed 12 rebounds and cut down on his “what the hell was that?” shots. I didn’t think Kleiza had earned his starting job back, but I definitely believe he has earned another start after tonight.
As mentioned earlier, it was nice to see Triano give his team a public scolding. They needed it, and I think fans needed it to believe Triano was as fed up as they were. Now there’s one more thing I ask of Jay before this Christmas: let Sonny Weems stew on the bench for a while.
Sonny did not play tonight because of back spasms, but hasn’t played well enough, lately, to warrant rotation minutes anyway. When Weems is healthy again, scratch him. See if that teaches him a lesson and gets him back to playing team-ball, because his sporadic, selfish play of late should not be welcomed back with open arms.
On a side-note, is anyone else wondering what happened to Devin Harris? The guy who burst onto the scene as one of the NBA’s up-and-coming young point guards, during the 08-09 season, has come crashing down to earth. He isn’t a horrible point guard by any stretch, but certainly is nowhere near where he was just two years ago. And if you’re thinking, “it’s no big deal, he’s still young,” then I must remind you, Harris is now 27-years-old.
Back to the Raptors.
After grabbing win no. 10 against the lowly Nets, the two-time defending NBA champions are in the house on Sunday, so the young Raps best be prepared.
If you’re looking for some positives though, know that the Raptors have played the Lakers extremely well in their last three meetings, which included the big win in Toronto last season. If nothing else, at least you know the ACC will be rocking again on Sunday afternoon.
Enjoy your weekend, Raps fans.
Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 38 Min, 32 Pts, 14-26 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 3-3 FT, 9 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk
Nets Player of the Game: Brook Lopez – 32 Min, 20 Pts, 7-13 FG, 6-7 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 4 Blk
Goat of the Game: Sasha Vujacic – 27 Min, 6 Pts, 3-10 FG, 0-5 3Pt, 2 Reb, 2 Ast (and one bone-headed play in the final minute)