I joked a few times that Rudy Gay was destined to be a Raptor after the infamous “Not this guy!” game-winner in Toronto a couple of years ago went viral. Then when he actually was traded to the Raptors, I half-joked that he was destined to hit a game-winner early in his Raps career. Well it all came to fruition on Friday night in Indiana, where in a change of pace from the usual storyline in this frustrating season, the Raptors finally managed to snap victory from the jaws of defeat instead of the other way around.
Here are some thoughts on the game…
- First and foremost, Rudy Gay. The whole “closer” thing in the NBA is a bit of a myth, because fans and plenty of old school media guys simply see a closer as a guy who has hit a few game-winning shots in his career, and therefore is more likely to do it again. In truth, “closing” tight basketball games is as much about taking care of your possessions, playing defence, and solidifying a defensive stop with a rebound as it is about that one shot at the end that will live on in everyone’s mind. But as I mentioned in my analysis of the trade the night it went down, Gay does provide a type of “closer” role that the Raptors have been sorely lacking for years. Not just because he has hit some big shots in his career, but because he has a rare ability as a 6-8 forward (other than the absolute elite players that size) to handle the ball and create for himself in short clock situations. And that’s what he did tonight in Indiana.
Furthermore, you can certainly criticize Gay for shooting 9-of-25 tonight to make it now 17-of-49 over his last two games, including 1-of-9 from three-point range. But if you’re going to criticize those numbers or point to them as a reason the Raptors even needed a game-winning shot in overtime, then you also have to acknowledge the five rebounds, five steals, two assists and two blocks Gay produced in his 44 minutes of hard fought action, which also included him coming up with the game-saving steal at the end of regulation, which led to Amir Johnson’s buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime (Rudy was also the only member of the starting five to register a positive +/- on the night).
Yes, obvious calculations like field goal percentage and other more advanced stats have taught us to look past the simple number of points a player scores, and I’m fully on board that statistical/analytical bandwagon. But those same people who rely more and more on statistics every year – myself included – should therefore also be privy to the fact that if a player can have a bad overall game even though he scores a lot, then he can also have a good all around game even though he shot the ball poorly.
To close this rant that has now consumed this post, I’ll point out that as poorly as Gay was shooting as a Raptor coming into this game (under 43 per cent), his three-game PER as a Raptor coming into tonight was over 20, which usually signifies an All-Star caliber player.
Alright, now can we please just enjoy this win and Gay’s big shot for a little while?
Oh right, more thoughts…
- I mentioned the buzzer-beating, overtime forcing put-back by Amir. Just double checking – I wasn’t the only one who fully expected the basket to be waved off after the officials reviewed it because I’ve become so jaded this season, was I? Seriously though, kudos to Gay for coming up with the steal, and kudos to Amir for sticking with the play and scoring four points to go along with three offensive rebounds in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
- You realize that we just witnessed the most Raptors loss ever, right? It just happened to be the team the Raptors were playing who suffered the very Raptors-esque fate instead of the Raptors themselves. Up four in the final 10 seconds at home, and you allow a bunch of put-back attempts and a turnover on the inbounds to force overtime before eventually losing it on a shot in the final two seconds of overtime?
Tell me you wouldn’t have assumed that’s a Raptors loss someone was describing…exactly.
- As I had mentioned in the Game Thread, the Pacers came in winners of five in a row, winners of 15 straight at home, 31-19 overall, 20-3 at home and favoured in this game by 7.5 points, so I don’t intend to take anything away from the Raptors on this night. In addition, I had also mentioned a couple of times that this was the game I was most looking forward to this week because I wanted to see how the Raptors matched up against such a hot team and a team that can make noise in the Eastern Conference post-season again this Spring. Well the Raps passed the test. If only they had passed more of them before tonight. Sigh.
- Another thing I mentioned in the Game Thread? That I thought this was the perfect game to reinsert Jonas Valanciunas into the starting lineup since he has had success against Hibbert this season. Well Dwane Casey didn’t do that, but I was happy to see Casey pluck Valanciunas off the bench when Amir fouled out rather than going back to Aaron Gray (Raptors fans would have gone APE if Gray finished out the game over JV). When all was said and done, Valanciunas finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes of action.
Jonas and Amir actually combined for 28 points on 13-of-22 shooting to go with 27 rebounds and four blocks. Anyone have a problem with starting these guys together (Amir can play the four) and logging them starter’s minutes together? Good, now make it happen, Dwane.
- Speaking of minute allocation, I was happy to see Terrence Ross log 18 minutes despite struggling with his shot while Alan Anderson only logged a handful. Ross and Valanciunas are the two most promising young players on the roster, not to mention the fact that with the team capped out for the next little while, Ross’ and Valanciunas’ development is likely the key to a higher ceiling for this group. In addition, you’re really not giving anything up by playing them over guys like Anderson and Gray, and even if you were, this team isn’t in a playoff race anymore, so there’s no reason to limit their minutes on behalf of veteran bit players, with all due respect to Alan and Aaron.
- As for Andrea Bargnani off of the bench…I’m not letting my guard down when it comes to Bargnani and I’m certainly not thinking about keeping him around long-term, but I will say this - If you’ve been reduced to a bench scorer’s role because you don’t rebound or defend well enough to justify starter’s minutes, then you better go about producing that offence as smartly and efficiently as you can, and to his credit, Andrea did that tonight, scoring 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 29 minutes without forcing anything. In two games back from injury off the bench, Bargnani has scored 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting in about 53 total minutes. He still isn’t rebounding, but he’s playing better defence and doing his job right now, and that’s simply to score when his name is called off the pine. Let’s keep it that way.
- On Tyler Hansbrough’s cheap take down of Valanciunas, which sent the big rookie to the floor awkwardly on his recovering hand, I obviously wasn’t impressed, but I’m not that surprised. Indiana has a few of the “fake tough guy” types if you ask me, and Psycho T is up there in that regard (remember him backing away from Haslem in the playoffs?), no matter his reputation as a ‘legitimate’ tough guy. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him take a cheap shot, and it probably won’t be the last. I hope the league reviews it and punishes Hansbrough in some way.
Raptors Player Of the Game: Rudy Gay – 23 Pts, 9/25 FG, 0/2 3PT, 5/6 FT, 5 Reb, 2 Ast, 5 Stl, 2 Blk, 1 TO in 43:49
Pacers Player Of the Game: Paul George – 26 Pts, 8/19 FG, 5/10 3PT, 5/6 FT, 14 Reb, 5 Ast, 1 Stl, 3 TO in 47:14