Game No. 18: Raptors 99, Suns 96

Despite another sluggish start and early double-digit deficit, the Raptors were able to battle back on the road in Phoenix for just their fifth win of the season. The game was won between the second and third quarters, when the Raptors put together their first back-to-back 30-point quarters of the season.

In addition to snapping an eight-game losing streak, the Raptors also beat the Suns for the first time since February 10, 2004, and for the first time since November 2, 2001, they beat a Steve Nash-led team.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- It’s a bit easier to get some offence going and get a W when you have an All-Star in the lineup, and I continue to believe that’s the caliber of play Andrea Bargnani is bringing this season. Despite missing six games with a strained calf and being out of action for 13 days, Bargnani picked up right where he left off. Sure, he got off to a slow start offensively (0-of-4 from the floor), but he was still doing the little things on the floor and staying aggressive, which told me he was mentally into the game and just needed to get his timing back.

What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly that timing would return. Bargnani exploded for 18 points in the third quarter alone, when the Raptors really turned the tide in the ball game, and finished with a game-high and personal season-high of 36 points. Even better, he did it on 21 shots while playing some solid defence and coming up with six rebounds. Andrea the All-Star? Yes, Andrea the All-Star.

2- As if Ed Davis’ season hasn’t been frustrating enough, the young big man had to feel like he hit rock bottom tonight. Three minutes of playing time, zero points on 0-for-1 shooting, one rebound, one turnover, three personal fouls.  Ouch, that’s really all there is to say. This has to be the bottom of the barrel for Davis…right?!

3- I mentioned that the Raptors had to claw back after another sluggish start to a game and another early double-digit deficit. For a young team that should be able to pounce on older teams early, these first quarter woes are really becoming a major concern for Toronto. In their last six first quarters, the Raptors have been outscored by a combined 159-88 (an average of about 26.5-14.7), have trailed by anywhere from eight-to-16 points after the last six opening frames and haven’t scored more than 18 points in a first quarter in any of those games. With that aforementioned youth, I assumed the Raptors would lose a lot of games this season after opening up surprising leads early on. Instead, they’re almost facing an uphill battle by the game’s first stoppage.

4- As bad as the first quarter was for the Raptors in this game, the third quarter was that much better. Carried by a barrage of Bargnani buckets, Toronto outscored Phoenix 31-19 (Bargnani himself, with 18 points in the third, almost matched the Suns’ entire output for the quarter), and went from being down four at halftime to up eight heading into the fourth quarter. It was definitely one of the best, most complete quarters of the season for the Raptors, if not the best so far this year, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint.

5- Here’s my quick take on the Suns. Outside of Steve Nash, and maybe Marcin Gortat, I don’t think you can name one player on that roster who is an NBA starter at this point in their career. Even beyond looking for starters, can you even find more than three or four guys on that roster who can legitimately impact a game on any given night? The Suns need to blow it up and start all over again, and that process will be made easier when about $30 million comes off their books this off-season. But they can speed up the rebuilding process by trading Steve Nash before the trade deadline (and freeing him from this mess of a situation) and stock-piling some good young talent, which they have none of right now. Trading Nash mid-season would also likely put them in better position for the stacked 2012 Draft.

They owe it to Nash, and they owe it to themselves.

6- I could spend my last thought knocking another lackluster performance from DeMar DeRozan, but I’ve said enough about his recent play already. Instead, I’ll take the high road and talk about a positive right now, and that’s James Johnson. Johnson finished with 18 points (on seven-of-12 shooting) to go along with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. In addition, he played more minutes than anyone besides Bargnani and turned the ball over just twice in those 35 minutes. In his last three games, Johnson is averaging 16 points on 54 per cent shooting to go along with six rebounds and about two blocks and two steals.

He doesn’t have to score that prolifically, but as I’ve mentioned recently, if Johnson can even become an average offensive option when the Raptors need him, then coupled with his versatile defence, I’d say at 24, he definitely has a place in the Raptors’ future in some capacity.

***

Next up for the Raptors is the back end of a back-to-back in Utah on Wednesday night. The Jazz are an underrated team in the Western Conference and are sitting at home well rested, so the Raps could and should get knocked back down to earth after this win.

Never the less, even in a mostly lost season more about draft positioning than anything else, you still don’t want to see double-digit losing streaks, so this was a much-needed victory for the young Raptors.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 42 Min, 36 Pts, 10-21 FG, 4-6 3PT, 12-12 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Suns Player of the Game: Marcin Gortat – 38 Min, 21 Pts, 9-16 FG, 3-5 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk

Comments (12)

  1. Bargnani where have u been!! If this is what we are going to see from u from now on, then those 5 long years was definetly worth the wait. DD needs to pick his game up, I’m still waiting for him to bring “air Canada” back into the air Canada centre as he said he would do. Vote bargs for allstar, he deserves it.

  2. I feel for the anti-Bargs Raptors fans a bit, the ones who’ve gotten so used to bash-bash-bashing that it’s difficult now not to. I know, because I went all the way from being really excited about what he might do in this league during his first two or three years, to being bitterly-disappointed-just-wanting-him-out-of-my-sight, so … I know. And while I feared he’d go elsewhere and do exactly what he’s doing now only for somebody else, luckily for us, that didn’t happen. Even still, a small part of my mind wants to protect the fan in me from having to watch the near greatness we’re seeing right now — I mean, c’mon — crashing all the way back to what we all got ourselves used to seeing right up to last season even. But really, it’s looking less and less likely that that’ll happen. (And ya, I sort of look over my shoulder and cross my fingers as I say that. And probably will for a while. Fool me once, right?) But we just might have the real deal here, worth keeping and nurturing and cheering for unabashedly. So, as conflicted as some Raptors fan are about it and as difficult as it might be just yet to flat out cheer for Bargs and what it looks like he’s becoming as a player, … it’s ok if you do. ‘Cause who knew?

  3. I don’t see why anyone should have a hard time rooting for Bargs. I wanted him gone and am now happy he’s here. If for some unlikely reason he regresses and stops playing with this kind of effort and defence, I’ll go back to wanting him gone. I root for the team and if players are sucking and/or not bringing a consistent effort, I’m going to be a hater.

    It’s honestly one of the most unlikely turnarounds I’ve seen in a player. His movement on D this season is like night and day compared to previous seasons. I’m happy as hell he’s proving me wrong but I don’t take back a word of criticism.

    This is a bizarre season so far. If you would have told me that Bargs would be playing this well and the team defence would be this much improved, I would have guessed the team would be above 500 since I just assumed DD and Ed would be at least as good as last season. I don’t know what I’m more surprised by — Bargs or the regression of DD and Davis. Even Amir the last few games has looked like a shell of his former self.

    I refuse to get too worked up about James Johnson. He’s in Joey Graham mode right now. He has some tantalizing talent but I don’t see the b-ball IQ yet and he’s up and down. Happy to have him around this season to see if he can be more consistent though.

  4. The important thing for James Johnson is to play smart. Too often is he forcing up shots getting coaxed into offensive fouls which limits his minutes. We end up getting less of the good James Johnson which is a good rebounder and solid team defender due to the poor decisions he makes some of the time.

    Now replace James Johnson’s name with Joey Graham and you have a comment I probably made 2-3 years ago and we all know how that turned out.

    • LOL, That’s funny. That’s a good analogy between James Johnson and Joey Graham. I thought Joey Graham would be an impact player with his talent , his energy on the defensive end, but he just went flat. I bet you have probably said the same thing about Sonny Weems too, Am I right?

    • But the problem with Joey G. was that he also had the bad habit of disappearing from the game for good stretches, while on the floor. And for someone who is supposed to bring hustle and defense, that is unacceptable. That’s where James J. is different that Joey G. Regardless how many mistakes he make offensively, he always plays defense and he doesn’t perform the disappearing act on that side of the floor.

      Also talent-wise JJ is better than JG – don’t confuse talent with chiseled abs and ability to jump over the backboard. I am talking about being able to play basketball 5 on 5. That means dribble, pass, penetrate, set picks, see plays and have a nose for the ball. I still don’t like his jump shot, even though he shot it well the last games. But JJ is a baller. Which I cannot say about JG.

  5. “Outside of Steve Nash, and maybe Marcin Gortat, I don’t think you can name one player on that roster who is an NBA starter at this point in their career. Even beyond looking for starters, can you even find more than three or four guys on that roster who can legitimately impact a game on any given night? ” I fully agree with you there. The Suns have players that would make decent rotation players on good teams, but they do not have the talent to make them a real contender. The bets thing to do is just blow it all up. Give Nash and Hill a nice retirement party and start over.

  6. “Outside of Steve Nash, and maybe Marcin Gortat, I don’t think you can name one player on that roster who is an NBA starter at this point in their career. Even beyond looking for starters, can you even find more than three or four guys on that roster who can legitimately impact a game on any given night? ”

    and yet Raptors fans get so excited after the win…..

    • A win is a win baby, it all adds up in the end. But to get that lottery pick they need to start losing, lol. Vote bargs for allstar!!

  7. I’m in the same boat on Bargnani. Was excited about drafting him, was excited by his rookie season, was insanely frustrated by his next four seasons but always maintained that he had the natural talent and potential to be an All Star in this league and a “22 and 8″ guy. Now I see him play and think the guy can be a legit All Star for the next four or five years if he stays healthy.

    As for the James Johnson vs. Graham/Weems comparisons. Personally, I think James is a more complete player than the other two. JG was athletic and could play D when he wanted to, but that “want” showed up about once a month. Sonny looked real good when he was earning his minutes by playing D and sticking to his role on offence, but then he became a chucker who forgot what got him here. As for Johnson, while his offence and turnovers are frustrating, I don’t ever see a lack of “want” in him. In fact, I don’t remember the last Raptor who had so many chase-down blocks simply because he never gives up on a play.

  8. I’d like to see him maintain this for the entire season before I get carried away. Bargs was extended based on 20 games in his third season, I don’t want to see him being anointed as this All-Star caliber player based on 12 games as well.

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