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.

Raptors 103, Rockets 96

- 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.

Baby steps…

Comments (18)

  1. I still attribute some of the significant improvement over the last three games to a bit of home cooking like you do as the discrepancy between how teams play at home compared to on the road continues to widen in the NBA.

    Still though, you can’t help but be impressed with the defense and a 100+ point game while maintaining that defensive intensity is an even better sign.

    “Imagine how good they’ll be when Bargnani returns.” he said, trying to make his sarcasm laden statement obvious.

  2. Toronto wins most of its early Sunday games vs. debauched visiting teams , so this one should have a footnote or an asterisk (probably both) with a long and detailed list of Toronto nightspots where NBA players have been seen on Saturday night and how late they may have been partying after the after party.

    But it is time to float the AMNESTY BARGNANI option. No team will ship any worthy pieces this way (or picks) for a player so poorly regarded by the stats geeks. Either find a dumb, possibly racist team with middling assets (Minnesota? Portland?) or just cut him loose.

    • Hey, dumb teen,
      what kind of racism are you speaking about, in a sport 99% black where the players don’t stand those whitie coaches any more? Where Lin and Gallinari and D’Antoni are kicked out of NYC by their own black teamates? Where people like you promote every single day an ethnical cleansing in Toronto?
      Oh, I got it: when the guilt is no more enough on Bargs or Calderon or Kleiza shoulders, it goes up to Colangelo, or the MLSE, or even the KKK!

      • Dumb initial post, even more idiotic response. “Ethnical cleansing in Toronto” – pull your head out of your ass.

      • I’m pretty sure he was referencing the chatter from the preseason about how white the T-Wolves are. Google ‘timberwolves civil rights’.

  3. Great game. Reffing was awful but I thought they got a break or two in the Dallas game. Harden had to have a whistle up his derriere because every time he drove he went to the line. I don’t want to say it kept the Rockets in the game, but it kept the Rockets in the game.

  4. Lin making Jose look good; if this guy gets into the All-star game it’ll really be a joke.

  5. As much as I like Jose……

    I don’t like it when fans take a game like this and say, he’s still got it, why don’t we keep him around to help develop the youth movement.

    It happens every year.

    • this is very true. Caldy gets paid a lot of money and still plays non existent defence, often negating a lot of his offensive prowess.

    • I also don’t like it when fans (and some RaptorsBlog writer, who will remain nameless) minimize what he does on offense because he’s not a get into the lane, shoot first PG that so many seem to want.

      That said, while I’ve always been a big defender of Calderon, the Raptors need to trade him while his value is as high as it is. Unfortunately, Colangelo doesn’t trade expiring contracts unless he gets one back, which negates any real value Calderon would have. And he certainly doesn’t trade for draft picks, which is what he should be doing.

      • This Calderon situation is so entertaining, especially this season. They clearly want to trade him but they also want to win as many games as possible and realize that Lowry will probably never stay healthy consistently. So, they’ll keep over thinking the situation and will always end up keeping him when it comes down to it.

        At this point, a Calderon trade would be much more surprising to me than a Bargnani traded assuming they are trading separately and not as part of the same package.

      • i agree with you Tim and that was the point I was trying to make…. when he’s playing well, he’s better than almost all backups (and a few starters) in the league. Plus, put him around some better talent, and a PF/C combo who can both play help D, and who knows how well he does. I was more saying, sell high, rather than waiting until he’s injured and/or slumping for the trade rumours to surface. He’d be an upgrade at backup PG to most of the teams in playoff contention so, as long as we get that teams backup PG in return plus something else….. Calderon’s ‘intangibles’ in developing this young team shouldn’t be the reason that a trade like that doesn’t take place….

  6. The impressive defensive play in three games only prove that Bargnani is on his way out of toronto…even a late first round pick I would through him with no hesitate

  7. whens the last time barny had a double double lol ? just curious

  8. So we can expect them to go 9-18 in the next 27 games? 50% at home, 7% on the road. Pathetic and nothing to cheer for.

    You’re Harden comments are spot on. You know, I get that refs tend to favour the home teams slightly, but I haven’t seen ANY of that this season with the Raptors. The Alan Anderson foul on Harden? The replay showed that Alan didn’t touch him. It showed Harden not reacting to a foul (i.e. not faking that one happened) and still we have some bozo ref giving him a free And 1 at home? Come on now. This anti-Raptors bias is getting carried away this season.

    Yes to the Ross comments.

    In fairness to DD, he did get passed the ball a ton with 2 seconds left in the shot clock today. (Atta boy Jose) I’m still not loving DD’s shot selection, but he has greatly improved vs last seasson. If he keeps it up, he will be earning his new contract.

    I’ve said all season AA is the best money BC spent this summer.

    More JV and Ed Davis please.

    Less Bargs has been great. Can we make that a permanent thing BC?

  9. Kyle Lowry plays great defence, and he plays tough. That being said, he’s not a past first point guard, and he does not look like he trusts his teammates on the floor. Calderon on the other hand, knows how to get the best out of his teammates, but can’t play defence and is soft. All of our big wins this year come with Caleron at the point. I have been for trading Calderon, although I just don’t see this team being better when he leaves. Kyle Lowry will not work out on this team, mark my words. This team is the deepest at the point guard position, altough I say that is their weekest position…. The only way they can trade Calderon is if they beleive Kyle Lowry is our point guard of the future…. and that he is not.

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