For the sensible Raptors fan, this was the perfect game. It was a closely-fought, exciting game that was decided by an overtime buzzer-beater by Luol Deng. The Raptors remain fifth-worst in the NBA — a half-game behind Detroit for sixth-worst — which is important because we should root for the franchise to get a top-five pick in this upcoming draft.
As with Wednesday’s game against the Bulls, Derrick Rose sat out to heal his groin injury. Of course, this meant that optimistic Raptors fans couldn’t help but ask the question. But it was not to be on this night — the tank momentum was just too strong.
You might think you can’t afford more than a couple of my thoughts on this game, but you’re in luck tonight because we’ve got a special deal on a half-dozen of them. Don’t consume them all at once!
1. Luol Deng scored the winning bucket on a fluky play at the buzzer when C.J. Watson airballed a fadeaway but Deng was there to push the ball into the hoop. The Raptors all essentially stood around after Watson released his shot, probably assuming there was no point in boxing out. They assumed wrong, and that’s what crappy teams do in those situations. I hope Dwane Casey ripped them some new orifices in the locker room.
2. Let’s count the opportunities that the Raptors had to win this game, but pissed away with style. The Raptors had the final possession of the fourth quarter with the score tied 94-94 after James Johnson was stuffed by Omer Asik on a drive, but the Raptors recovered and had the ball again with 10 seconds to go. The ball went out to Andrea Bargnani, who bricked a 13-footer with six seconds left. Then, Gary Forbes couldn’t convert a tip, but the ball went out of bounds off the Bulls — Raptors ball with 3.6 seconds left. After that, Calderon inbounded to Bargnani, who was camped out behind the arc on the right side and his shot went in-and-out to send the game into OT. But wait, there’s more! James Johnson went to the line with the score tied at 100 with 15 seconds to go in the first overtime, and he only hit one of two. Johnson redeemed himself with a spectacular block on Deng, so Forbes was fouled with six seconds to go. Incredibly, Forbes missed both free throws even though he’s a career 72 percent shooter from the line. You know the rest.
3. You might think Andrea Bargnani had a horrible game with his 4-for-17 shooting line, but he was aggressive at both ends and managed to get to the free throw line 10 times for just the second time in 23 games. We all know he’s a better shooter than this, so it’s OK to overlook that flaw in tonight’s game and admire his effort on getting to the rack and grabbing seven rebounds. I still cringed when Leo Rautins referred to him as “the franchise player”, though.
4. With no DeMar DeRozan or Jerryd Bayless in the Raptors’ lineup tonight, this was Gary Forbes’ opportunity to shine and he didn’t disappoint in a career-high 47 minutes. I knew he was a pretty good rebounder going into this game, but he was a monster on the boards tonight with 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first NBA career double-double. He’s definitely proven to be a good value as a bench contributor at just $1.5 million per season.
5. Everybody thinks of Derrick Rose when the Bulls are mentioned, but I continue to be impressed by their depth, especially in their frontcourt. I complimented Taj Gibson in the recap for Wednesday’s game, but it was backup center Omer Asik that really grabbed my attention in this game. He’s a solid defensive presense, a tremendous rebounder and he’s usually pretty efficient on offense. In 18 minutes on Saturday night, he finished with 10 points on just five field goal attempts, seven rebounds and three blocks.
6. If you’re wondering why I’m so gung-ho about the top of the 2012 draft class and you’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament, check out the latest mock draft by Draft Express. The only guy in the top seven that I wouldn’t be excited to add to this roster is Andre Drummond,
Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson — 20 Pts, 7-14 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 5-6 FT, 8 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 4 Blk
Bulls Player of the Game: Luol Deng — 23 Pts, 10-24 FG, 3-5 FT, 10 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk