It took a month and a half to get it done, but the Raptors finally put together back to back wins with an impressive victory over the Rockets.
- One of the themes of the last week or so has been whether the Raptors can recapture some of the defensive identity they had established for themselves last season, and given the last three games, I’d say that I’m cautiously optimistic they might be on their way. The Raptors went 2-1 against three teams that all came into the Air Canada Centre with a record of at least .500, and they held Brooklyn, Dallas and Houston to a combined 41.7 per cent shooting (The Nets and Rockets are both in the top-10 in offensive efficiency) and an average of just 88 points. The 96 scored by Houston was the most allowed in the mini three-game homestand.
- While the defence has been encouraging, I do wonder how much of it just has to do with a young team being more comfortable and more focused at home. With Sunday’s victory, the Raptors are now 5-5 at home compared to a paltry 1-14 on the road. For what it’s worth, they play 17 of their next 27 at the ACC.
- Jose Calderon put together a masterful performance at the point, picking apart the Rockets en route to his second triple-double of the season (18 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds), boosting his averages in 10 games as a starter to 13.2 points, 11.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 37 minutes per game . Calderon also provided surprisingly adequate defence on Jeremy Lin, who was atrocious today for Houston.
- Speaking of Lin, right now, the Rockets are paying about an average of $8 million per year for the next three years to a point guard who can’t shoot, who isn’t breaking defences down like he used to and who couldn’t defend the local point guard legend at your average YMCA. Lin’s young enough to become a consistently good lead guard going forward and seems like a good enough guy, so I’m not going to hate on the dude for getting paid, but if you’re a Rockets fan, I could understand why you might be getting nervous about that deal.
- They didn’t log heavy minutes together today, but the frontcourt combination of Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas looks very promising on the defensive end. Both young big men make it a priority to protect the basket, and their interior presence was noticeable and formidable early on in this one.
- Speaking of early on, I can’t remember the last time I saw two runs like that in the first quarter. The Raptors jumped on the Rockets first to get out on a 20-8 run to start the game, but were quickly down 32-26 by the early stages of the second quarter.
- James Harden is an incredible offensive player and he’s more than worthy of a max contract in today’s NBA, but he was gifted plenty of free throws this afternoon on some pretty cheap whistles. I was holding my breath in the upper bowl for fear fans were going to be called for breathing on him too hard.
Those free throws (the Rockets attempted 32 for the game) and the occasional three-pointer are what kept Houston in the game in the second half.
- While he struggled with his offence from time to time, it was nice to see Terrence Ross earn himself some crunchtime minutes on his defensive intensity and smart play. The guy can shoot and will score in the NBA as he develops, but for now, it’s refreshing to see a rookie at the wing who just knows how to play the game the right way.
- That’s not a shot at DeMar DeRozan, by the way, who wasn’t as polished as Ross is as a rookie. Today, DeRozan also struggled to score the ball efficiently (it took him 19 shots to get 19 points), but he seemed to hit a shot whenever the Raptors needed him to and chipped in with seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block in 35 minutes of action. DeMar’s ability to impact a game outside of his offence is where he’s really impressed me so far this season.
Moves like this aren’t bad, either.
- The Raptors blocked 13 shots to the Rockets’ measly one blocked shot, with Amir Johnson collecting five blocks on his own. Davis was solid in his own right and enjoyed a great third quarter, but I was fine with Dwane Casey keeping Amir in the game down the stretch, as it was clearly working.
- I’m not going to expect 24 points or 50 per cent shooting from Alan Anderson every night, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that he’s more than serviceable as an NBA wing player. He can create for himself, he plays hard on defence and he can spread the floor with his surprising range. He’s also become a dependable option late in close games, proving calm and collected under pressure. Add it all up, and at $854,389, he’s a valuable veteran presence on this young team, but if he can keep up a level of play even close to this, I wonder if the Raptors would be able to deal him to a contender later in the season for something of greater value down the line.
Raptors Player Of the Game: Jose Calderon – 18 Pts, 6/12 FG, 1/5 3PT, 5/6 FT, 10 Reb, 14 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk in 36:33 (I just realized that the most impressive statistic of all today was Calderon dishing out 14 assists with committing a single turnover)
Rockets Player Of the Game: James Harden – 28 Pts, 7/18 FG, 0/3 3PT, 14/15 FT, 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO in 41:20
We’re all happy about the two wins in a row and the overall effort in the last three games, but I do caution fellow fans not to get carried away by looking at the seemingly favourable schedule coming up this week and proclaiming an extended win streak. Until they prove otherwise, the Raptors are a horrendous road team capable of losing to anybody (even the Wizards) away from home, so I’m not even expecting them to beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Tuesday. In addition, the Raps aren’t good enough to look past the Pistons and Magic on Wednesday and Friday.
Having said that, if the team gives Dwane Casey the same kind of defensive intensity and focus they’ve shown in this little stretch, then the Raps are at least capable of taking two of three this week – maybe even all three – and heading into the Christmas break on a nice roll. I’m not going to kid myself with talk of getting back in a playoff race or anything of that nature, but if they can play up to their potential and take care of business this week, the Raptors might start playing some more meaningful games again in the new year. Of course, they have to take care of said business first.