He just wanted it more

Game No. 44: Raptors 114, Grizzlies 110 (OT)

After a nasty second half showing in New Jersey on Wednesday night, the Raptors had to put up with the playoff-bound Grizzlies in Memphis, who were welcoming Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay back to the lineup on Friday night. Throw in the fact that the Raps were still without Jose Calderon and were obviously without the recently traded Leandro Barbosa, and the odds were stacked against them.

As you can see, things didn’t exactly go according to script.

Here are some thoughts on the game.

1- The Raptors responded to one of their worst halves of the season (second half against the Nets on Wednesday) with what was easily one of the their most complete efforts of the year in Memphis. The Raps set the tone early, hit the Grizzlies first, continued to hit back after the Grizz responded and continued to fight for every possession, every loose ball, and seemingly every single point. It was an inspiring effort from the young Raptors, especially from Jerryd Bayless and Gary Forbes, and even though the team made some costly mistakes down the stretch, you have to give them credit for finding a way to eek this one out given the circumstances. Imagine how emotionally draining and uplifting this game would have been in the thick of a meaningful playoff race?

2- Jerryd Bayless has had games where he’s scored more than the 28 he poured in against the Grizzlies on Friday, but as far as I’m concerned, that was the best all around game I’ve ever seen the young guard play. 28 points on over 50 per cent shooting, nine assists, six rebounds, nine free throw attempts, and he was without question, the engine that pushed this team forward towards a scrappy road W. The defensive intensity and dribble-penetration dynamic that Bayless brings to the point guard position is a welcomed sight for Raptors fans, and a must in today’s NBA if you want to be a successful team. I’m not suggesting that Jerryd Bayless is a better point guard than Jose Calderon, because he’s not, but for all the praise heaped on Calderon, Bayless brings a lot to the table that Jose simply does not. As I tweeted during the game, while Bayless makes his fair share of questionable decisions playing the point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a guy who wants it as bad as he does.

And about those questionable in-game decisions Bayless is known for, he’s actually recorded 32 assists to just nine turnovers in the four games he’s started in place of Calderon. That’s a 3.55 assist-to-turnover ratio.

3- Jerryd Bayless definitely deserves praise for his performance, but we have to acknowledge the work Gary Forbes put in as well. We all talked about the opportunity that Barbosa’s trade opened up for Forbes, and on Friday night in Memphis, Gary made good on his end of the bargain with a career-high 20 points on an incredibly efficient nine shots. Forbes actually took more free throw attempts (11) than field goal attempts (nine). He also hit some big buckets and attacked the basket when the Raptors were desperate for a make. In terms of the post-Barbosa future, you couldn’t have asked for much more from Bayless and Forbes in game no. 1.

4- Between the five second count against the Lakers and the iffy lane violation call on the Raptors late in this game, you have to wonder if NBA officials are proud members of Raptors Tank Nation. In all seriousness though, as has become the custom in closely contested ball games, the Raptors attempted many less free throws than the opposition. The Raps went to the line a respectable 38 times. Though it’s hard to call that respectable when the Grizzlies went their 51 times. I don’t think the officiating was as unbalanced as those numbers suggest, but at the same time, I don’t think one team was playing more physical or less physical to the extent that those numbers suggest either.

5- A few words on the Grizzlies. This team is good. Like, legitimately good. If healthy, they could easily go on another deep playoff run this Spring. To me, the Thunder are still the class of the Western Conference, the Spurs are still the team that poses the biggest threat to the Thunder, and the Lakers are still dangerous enough to win the West if things bounce their way. But realistically looking at teams’ rosters, overall talent and depth, it’s tough to come up with a team in the West better than the Grizzlies from top to bottom. Would I put money on them to win the West? No. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see them fight their way into the Conference Final. This is one of the teams I’m really looking forward to watching down the stretch.

6- If you’ve been a regular RaptorBlog visitor this season, you know I’m as big a Tank Nation proponent as you’ll find. Games won on the backs of veterans are incredibly frustrating in a rebuilding year. Games won against fellow lottery teams when the Raptors don’t even play well enough to deserve a win do nothing for me. But Tank Nation member or not, it’s hard to search for negatives in a hard fought victory like this that saw the Raptors outwork and upset a legitimate Western Conference playoff team on the road, especially when the victory came as a result of the work put in by two players in Bayless and Forbes that could be pieces of the team’s future.

And if even all of that can’t cheer you up, fellow Tank Nation members, then just look at the NBA scoreboard for Friday night, where you’ll see that the Kings matched the Raptors by upsetting the Celtics.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 44 Min, 28 Pts, 9-17 FG, 3-5 3PT, 7-9 FT, 6 Reb, 9 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO, 6 PF

Grizzlies Player of the Game: Rudy Gay – 40 Min, 26 Pts, 10-20 FG, 3-5 3PT, 3-4 FT, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 4 TO, 6 PF (Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol could have been given the nod here)