Game No. 19: Raptors 111, Jazz 106 (2-OT)

One night after beating the Suns for the first time since 2004 and snapping a 14-game losing streak against Phoenix, the Raptors emerge victorious in double-overtime to beat the Jazz for the first time since 2004, snapping a 12-game losing streak to Utah, with both wins coming on the road.

They may still be 6-13, but I think it’s safe to say these aren’t your older brother’s Raptors.

Much like Tuesday night’s win in Phoenix, the Raptors started sluggishly, dug an early hole, made up the deficit in the second quarter, and then eventually pulled away. The Raps were down 18 in the first half and didn’t take their first lead until the score was 50-48.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- As nice as the W in Phoenix was, this win was 10 times more impressive, and I would have been saying that even if the Raptors had lost in overtime. On Tuesday, Toronto beat a poor Suns team. But on this night, on the back end of a back-to-back, the Raptors rallied from down 18 early and rallied from down nine with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter to outlast a 10-5 team (8-2 at home) that had been off for four days. Even more impressive, they did it despite Andrea Bargnani going down in overtime.

2- Speaking of Bargnani, that didn’t look good. I obviously have no background in medicine, but given the way Bargs was limping after going down with the same injury that sidelined him for two weeks already this month, I think it’s safe to assume that Il Mago will be out of action for at least that long again. Whether it’s warranted or not, most fans will likely point to the fact that in his first two games back after that aforementioned two-week break, Bargnani logged 82 minutes in just a 24-hour span. I’ll admit that even I was going to bring up my concern for Bargnani’s minutes in this post before he even went down.

It really is a shame. Andrea was playing like an All Star on both ends of the court, and I don’t know if I ever saw him put as much effort into defence as I saw Wednesday in Utah.

3- I’d like to dedicate some more time to DeMar DeRozan. I liked his game tonight. DeMar competed on the defensive end, scored 17 points on just 11 shots and grabbed eight rebounds to go with two assists and two steals. While I appreciated the fact that DeRozan didn’t try to force anything when it wasn’t there for him offensively, I didn’t like that he seemed to shy away from the ball down the stretch and in the two overtime periods (where he attempted just one shot). Part of it is obviously not getting looks from his teammates, but part of it has to fall on DeMar’s shoulders too. I really want to see him almost demand the ball in tight games like he did last season, particularly when Bargnani isn’t on the floor.

4- Bargnani played noticeably well when he was in the ball game. Linas Kleiza probably won the game for the Raptors in crunch time. Jose Calderon threw up some prayers and had them answered. DeRozan, as mentioned, was good. But two players who I thought made a big impact despite flying under the radar were the two Johnsons, James and Amir. They combined for just eight points on four-of-nine shooting and six rebounds, but their fantastic efforts on the defensive side of the ball should be lauded. Both came up with some much-needed defensive stops and some huge blocks when the Raptors needed them. As a team, Toronto had an impressive 10 blocks…James (six) and Amir (three) combined for nine of them.

5- A quick word on the Jazz. This is a team that I thought was criminally underrated coming into the season and a team I thought could even make the playoffs in the West. What they’re doing this season (currently 10-6, fifth in West) shouldn’t surprise people. They have a loaded front court with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson (who didn’t play tonight) and a couple of nice young bigs in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. They’re not spectacular on the wings, but they have depth and players who can hold their own. And despite his regression, they have a more than capable point guard in Devin Harris. I’m not saying fans and analysts should have predicted the Jazz to be contenders, but on paper, I don’t see where people interpreted this team as a cellar-dweller.

6- And finally, a word on your Toronto Raptors, and expectations. I don’t know whether it’s an indication of how impressive Dwane Casey has been in getting maximum output out of a lackluster roster, or just an indication of how little we all expected from this team, but at 6-13 through 19 games, the Raptors are actually exceeding my expectations. In case you missed it or forgot, I predicted the Raptors to finish 20-46, and that was considered a pretty optimistic outlook compared to others. In addition, I had them pegged at 4-15 at this point in the season, and had them winning just five games on the road all season. We’re only just past the quarter-point, and they already have four away wins.

Does it mean they’re going to “over-achieve,” or wind up with two more wins than I originally predicted? No, but like I said, it’s interesting that despite losing 13 of 19 and already going through an eight-game losing streak, they’re still doing better than a lot of us expected.

Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 33 Min, 25 Pts, 8-16 FG, 4-9 3PT, 5-5 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 TO

Jazz Player of the Game: Paul Millsap – 49 Min, 31 Pts, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO