That was the most fun I’ve had watching the Toronto Raptors this season. The energy, the defensive intensity, the chemistry — they were all on display in last night’s win over the struggling Hornets. In my first video post in over a month, I’m going to focus on the three players who stood out last night: Jose Calderon, James Johnson and Amir Johnson.
I never thought I’d see the day when Jose Calderon would absolutely dominate Chris Paul in a game, but that’s exactly what happened last night. To be fair, Paul obviously isn’t 100 percent “right” — physically or mentally — and he looked as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him on the court. But full credit should go to Calderon following up his brutal zero-point, seven-turnover performance against the Hornets in January with an inspired game that saw him finish with 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 16 assists and seven rebounds while Paul finished with just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, five assists and four rebounds.
In 62 games this season, last night was only the second time Paul has failed to reach double figures in points, assists or rebounds. Conversely, it was only the fifth time in 413 career NBA games that Jose Calderon had at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds — and it was the first one of those performances where he was on the winning side. Surprisingly, Calderon now has a career 4-4 win-loss record against Paul.
Who knows why Calderon doesn’t seem to play with this kind of fire in every game? Jay Triano has been riding Calderon to be more aggressive on offence, and that mentality was on full display last night. He was threading the needle on brilliant passes to teammates for easy layups and dunks, taking shots that were available and hitting them, and showing a rare confidence driving to the basket on fast breaks. If it wasn’t the best game of his NBA career, it had to be in his top five.
Four games into his career as a Raptor, James Johnson reminds me of nobody more than a discount rack Shawn Marion — and I mean that as a compliment. He’s athletic, fearless (he’d probably win a fight against most NBA players), surprisingly adept handling the ball, and he obviously takes pride in being a disruptive force on defence. He set the tone on both ends of the court last night and he is exactly the kind of player the Raptors need if they’re ever going to lose their reputation as one of the softest teams in the league.
Amir Johnson had a bit of a rough night offensively, scoring just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting in 37 minutes. Regardless, he was a significant reason for the Raptors’ win as he grabbed 10 rebounds and tied a career high with seven blocks. Most impressively, he accomplished this while committing just two fouls. Any Hornet who brought it weak to the rack was likely to have their sorry attempt sent away by one of the Johnsons who combined for nine blocks. Here are Amir’s seven rejections for your enjoyment.