Archive for the ‘James Johnson’ Category

Game No. 62: Hawks 109, Raptors 87

After over their head wins against the Celtics on Friday and in Atlanta on Sunday, the undermanned Raptors were due for a letdown, and the playoff caliber Hawks had to have revenge on their minds.

So I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the Raptors taking the game to the Hawks in the first half and hanging with them for a good chunk of three quarters. But once Atlanta started to pull away early in the fourth quarter, you knew the mini winning streak had run its course. The 22-point spread may be closer to what most people expected from this game, but it was in no way indicative of a dominating performance from the Hawks.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’m not going to come out and proclaim that Solomon Alabi can flat out play, but come on, hands up if you even thought the guy could hold his own against fellow NBA-ers, let alone against a 36-25 team. Alabi wasn’t great, but he did in fact hold his own, and looked far from out place while putting up better numbers than any other Raptors big man that played (Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Aaron Gray). Solo finished with eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block (plus three personal fouls and two turnovers) in 24 minutes. I know he shocked the hell out of me, and personally, I’d like to see him get some minutes in the last four games of the season to judge whether this was a mere aberration, or if he can actually serve a purpose as an extra big man off the bench.

2- Another guy whose performance I liked in this game was Ben Uzoh, who along with Alan Anderson, was signed for the remainder of the season on Monday. In recent recaps, I’ve noted Uzoh’s impressive perimeter defence (though Jeff Teague torched him tonight) and his quickness in penetrating the opposing team’s defence. But another thing I like about Ben’s game is his rebounding prowess for a point guard. At 6’3, Uzoh is usually one of the smallest, if not the smallest guy on the court. And yet I’ve noticed that he’s always one of the Raptors crashing the boards on both ends of the floor and putting his body on the line to gain or save possession of the ball for his team. There was no better example than on Monday night, when Uzoh grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in 33 minutes, upping his average since joining the Raptors to seven rebounds per 36 minutes. It’s just one part of his game, but it shows me that he’s got heart and a great motor, and when combined with his quickness, defence and youth (he only recently turned 24), is one of many reasons I’d like to see him back in Raptors colours as a solid third point guard next season.

3- Welcome back, James. After being benched for two games by Dwane Casey a couple of weeks ago, James Johnson had failed to really make an impression in his first few games back in the lineup. That started to change on Sunday night in Atlanta, when Johnson’s big fourth quarter helped the Raptors pull away for the win. Then on Monday night, James put up 18 points on a very efficient 7-of-11 shooting to go along with four rebounds, five assists, a steal and a Raptors dunk of the year candidate that got everybody in the Air Canada Centre up. Hopefully he can build on his last five quarters of solid play and finish the season strong.

4- From a team perspective, I liked that the Raptors out-rebounded the Hawks 46-42, but what I really liked was watching the Raptors’ bigs hammer Hawks players on a handful of very hard fouls in the paint. Aaron Gray, especially, committed a couple of mean fouls, and I can recall one hard foul Ed Davis committed on Marvin Williams where Ed got up and walked right over Williams’ sprawled out body. At the end of the day, all most of us care about with this team is eventually getting to see a perennial winner and legitimate contender, but if you ask me, I’d prefer they get there with an intimidating mean streak, and I saw some good signs toward that in this game.

5- A few words on the Hawks. Yes, I realize that they just won a game by 22 points without ever looking like they were rolling on all cylinders, and yes, I’m aware that at 36-25, they’d be on pace for a 48-win season in a regular schedule, but I haven’t come away impressed from watching the Hawks play in a while, and I honestly don’t see them being much of a factor come playoff time. They’ll probably end up fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference (which is a testament to how improved the East has become over the last couple of years) and have to play the Celtics or Pacers in the first round without home court advantage. They should make it at least competitive, but I don’t see them beating Boston or Indiana four times out of seven. Even sadder, it appears the Hawks’ decline has started without them every truly peaking. Though to be honest, I can’t feel too bad for a “fan-base” that has never really rallied around this team. This is their fifth straight season as a playoff team, and yet they’ve finished between 18th and 25th in attendance in each of those five seasons.

6- A lot of people seem to be talking about the Raptors’ impressive play of late, especially their now 5-5 record in the month of April. But they’ve actually quietly been playing pretty well for the last three or four weeks, as if you look back to their home win over the Knicks on March 23, the Raptors are basically playing .500 ball (7-8) over their last 15 games. And if you think point-differential is a good measure of how competitive a team is over a period of time, the Raps have averaged 93 points per game while allowing 93.9 points during the 15-game sample. When you consider the fact that Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza have all missed time over the course of this stretch, and that 12 of the 15 games have come against winning teams, it really does speak volumes about the job Dwane Casey and his staff are doing here. Just like the final result of this game, the Raptors’ record isn’t an indication of their effort and improvement in certain areas.

Hopefully next season, we’ll be able to see the fruits of that labour in terms of winning results over an 82-game stretch, not just in samples here and there.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 22 Pts 8-14 FG, 1-1 3PT, 5-5 FT, 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Hawks Player of the Game: Jeff Teague – 36 Min, 19 Pts, 6-11 FG, 1-3 3PT, 6-8 FT, 6 Reb, 10 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk, 1 TO (Honourable mention to Ivan Johnson’s 21 points and eight rebounds)

Game No. 60: Raptors 84, Celtics 79

As Scott pointed out in his game thread on Friday, the Raptors were as close to Dead On Arrival as you can get in the NBA. They headed into a game against the hottest team in the NBA and a surefire playoff team closing in on third place in the Eastern Conference without Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, and had Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson banged up. Not to mention the fact that they would probably need significant contributions from some D-Leaguers.

It was safe to assume that loss no. 40 was on the way.

So much for that. The Raptors somehow managed to battle through the aforementioned adversity and a hideous first half to knock off the Celtics, and beat Boston twice in a season for the first time in five years. After beating the Celts just twice in four seasons between 2007-08 and 2010-11, the Raps have beat them twice in the last two months.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- It was hard to tell whether the Raptors just worked hard enough to earn the win, or if the Celtics just laid a big enough egg to earn the loss, but I’ll say it was a little bit of both. There’s no doubt that the Raps outhustled and outfought Boston, pretty much from start to finish. But from the Celtics’ perspective, they limited Toronto to just 30 first half points and played three players that are better than anyone wearing a Raptors jersey, so this loss was as much them failing to go for the jugular as it was the Raptors playing over their heads. Midway through the fourth quarter, when the Raptors’ lead hit double-digits, you could see the Celtics flip the switch and “turn it on.” Five minutes of good basketball was nearly enough to steal the game, and if they had that switch on for the whole game, this probably would have been the blowout and dud we were all expecting.

2- A potential positional battle between Amir Johnson and Ed Davis has been the topic of debate here at RaptorBlog this week, but on Friday night, both big men turned in solid performances. Amir started at power forward and put up 10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 40 minutes. Ed came off the bench and added four points while grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. The two were particularly good when on the court together in various stretches. It’s been a rare sight to see both Johnson and Davis play well on the same night this season, and it was a welcomed sight on Friday.

3- The Raptors’ 10-day guys continue to impress. Justin Dentmon didn’t look that great in 15 minutes, but he held his own and hit a couple of big shots in the fourth quarter. Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh, on the other hand, continue to look like potential NBA-ers next season. Anderson gave the Raptors 30 solid minutes (and started again) at the three, posting 12 points, four assists, a steal and a block. Uzoh was definitely the most impressive of the three, putting up a nice looking line of eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes as Toronto’s starting point guard. I doubt any of these guys will be logging big minutes for an NBA team on a consistent basis next season, but Anderson and Uzoh have performed pretty well since joining the Raptors last month, and I wouldnt be surprised if they’re at least playing themselves into jobs for next year. Uzoh, especially, impressed me with his on-ball defence and his quickness in penetrating Boston’s defence in this one.

4- One guy who wasn’t a bright spot for the Raptors in this game was James Johnson, who continues to struggle re-establishing himself in the lineup. I really hoped that Dwane Casey’s benching of Johnson last week would light a fire under him and spark him to continue to improve his game, as he had by leaps and bounds in the last few months. Instead, James is averaging four points and five rebounds while shooting under 20 per cent (6-of-31) in 18 minutes per game since returning to the lineup on Sunday. Friday night against the Celtics had to be rock bottom, as Johnson played just six minutes, collected two points and a rebound, and missed all three of his field goal attempts. Worst of all, he looked absolutely uninspired and defeated on the court. Hopefully Johnson can show us something, but more importantly, show Dwane Casey and the coaching staff something, over the final six games of the season, because I’m starting to believe he may not have as secure a place in the future plans as we all thought he did.

5- Okay, so this is a completely unrelated to basketball thought, but just once, I’d like the Raptors’ game operations staff (or whoever is in charge of these things) to pick an entrance song for the Raptors starting lineups at the beginning of the season, and stick with that music for the duration of the season. If you recall way back in December, in my thoughts on the home opener, I pointed out the obviously positive crowd reaction to Drake’s “Headlines” when the music hit. It was definitely the most positive reaction I can remember to Raptors’ entrance music in years, and I remember thinking, maybe this year they’ll actually stick with something. Instead, I think we’re on the third or fourth different song this season, and they just continue to get worse. On Friday night, the Raptors came bouncing out to Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” a song I have no problem with, but one that doesn’t exactly scream sports pump-up tune. There was absolutely no energy in the building while the Toronto players came out, and I honestly believe minute details like the tone of the music can make a noticeable difference in that energy level. Let’s hope that for next season, the team comes up with some great entrance music, and sticks with it for 41 home games. If I remember correctly, the Raptors haven’t done that since they were coming out to this.

6-Speaking of crowd energy, I still thought the overall energy in the Air Canada Centre was impressive. Given that the season is now officially a write-off, that the upstart Blue Jays were in town for just their fourth home game of the season (and I’ll admit I was following the Jays game on my phone for stretches of this game) and that in general, people probably have a lot better things to do with a few hours on a Friday night in April, I was expecting a bit of a disappointing crowd turnout against the Celtics. Instead, 17,270 people showed up (and the price of tickets for a Celtics game is higher than most games) and actually cheered loudly for their lowly Raptors. The first half was a little dead, but once the game actually resembled something close to NBA competition in the third quarter, the large gathering woke up, and created a pretty good second half atmosphere for such a meaningless contest. I know I’ve said it countless times this season, but I honestly can’t wait until this team is playing meaningful basketball again, and the ACC faithful can reassert themselves as some of the best fans in the NBA.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 35 Min, 22 Pts, 4-14 FG, 1-3 3PT, 13-13 FT, 2 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Celtics Player of the Game: Paul Pierce – 34 Min, 18 Pts, 6-15 FG, 3-7 3PT, 3-3 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Once again, if you haven’t listened yet, check out our latest installment of RaptorBlog Radio, as we were joined by Jerryd Bayless for a quick chat about his season and his future with the Raptors.

Game No. 58: Pacers 103, Raptors 98

The Pacers are a legitimate threat to win a playoff series in the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are a surefire lottery team when healthy, so without Andrea Bargnani on the road in Indiana, no one expected much of anything from “Toronto’s other team” playing on Monday night.

Credit the Raptors for fighting to cut a 16-point deficit down to two in the fourth quarter and making the finish somewhat exciting, but did anyone feel the result was ever really in doubt?

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- With Andrea Bargnani missing his 27th game of the season with calf issues, Amir Johnson got the nod as Bargnani’s replacement in Toronto’s starting lineup. Amir responded with a solid outing of 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. By and large, Amir has been underwhelming this season, and one of the areas of his game I would have liked to see more of was his improved offence from last season. The 16 points came in a losing effort in a meaningless April game, but nonetheless, it was nice to see from him against a good opponent.

2- The Raptors’ other power forward, Ed Davis, put up some very solid numbers in very limited minutes, again. Davis posted a double-double of 11 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. As I mentioned in Friday’s recap, Davis has been quietly picking up his play of late, but hasn’t been rewarded with extended minutes yet. In his last six games, Ed’s averaged about seven points and eight rebounds in just over 20 minutes. It’s too late into the season to be convinced one way or another by a good individual stretch or a slump, but I’d still like to see Davis get some major minutes down the stretch, especially with Bargnani out.

3- One guy we know was in Dwane Casey’s temporary dog house was James Johnson, who has now played two games since his benching. Johnson was active when he hit the floor tonight in Indy, and came up with two big blocks, but he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since his return to the lineup on Sunday in Oklahoma City. I wasn’t expecting James to put up huge numbers, but I was hoping his play forced him back into the starting five over 10-day man Alan Anderson. I don’t know that he’s done that.

4-Leandro Barbosa was a factor for the Pacers in this one, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench for Indy. When the Raptors traded Leandro at the deadline, a few people discussed the possibility of Toronto bringing him back as an unrestricted free agent this off-season, which isn’t a stretch considering Bryan Colangelo’s relationship with the Brazilian Blur and how much he reportedly loved the city. As it stands right now, the Raptors have no guaranteed guard scoring punch off the bench for next season, as Jerryd Bayless isn’t certain to be back, and you can’t count on Gary Forbes for consistent production. If the Raps are still looking for that bench production in July, I’d be fine with bringing Barbosa back at a reasonable price. As frustrating as his shot selection sometimes is and as out of control as he sometimes plays, Barbosa has game-changing offensive ability off of the bench, and that’s something teams quickly realize they need when they don’t have it.

5- 11,021. That’s how many people came out to watch this game in Indiana. That’s it. In short, this is mind boggling to me. The Pacers used to have a great fan-base during their run of contention through the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and while I know the 2011-2012 edition of the team is a mere shadow of the Reggie Miller-led squad of days gone by, they are still a legitimate playoff team and one that can make some post-season noise over the next couple of years. They may not have a superstar, but they’re talented enough, they’re deep, they work hard on the court, they supposedly have one of the nicer arenas in the NBA and they currently sit third in the Eastern Conference at 35-22, winning 19 of 27 games at home. And yet the Pacers sit 29th in the Association with an average attendance of 14,209. Is ‘disappointing’ a strong enough word to describe the lack of hometown support this Pacers team is receiving?

6- One thing I mentioned on Friday night when the Raptors blew what looked to be a sure win against the Cavaliers is how quickly a would-be four game winning streak could turn into a lengthy losing streak. Losses against the Cavs, Thunder, and now Pacers have the streak at three already, and if you look at the Raps’ upcoming schedule and consider that Andrea Bargnani is currently sidelined, you can see why Tank Nation has suddenly been reinvigorated. The team’s next five games are all against playoff opponents (vs. 76ers, vs. Celtics, @ Hawks, vs. Hawks, @ Heat) and their last road game of the season is in Milwaukee, where the Bucks could be playing for their playoff lives. From a realistic standpoint, a game at Detroit and the season finale against the Nets may be Toronto’s final two opportunities for wins this season.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 33 Min, 16 Pts, 7-9 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl

Pacers Player of the Game: George Hill – 36 Min, 18 Pts, 5-9 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-7 FT, 7 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl

Game No. 56: Cavaliers 84, Raptors 80

The Raptors had a legit chance to take a four game winning streak into Oklahoma City this Sunday, but instead, they used their favourable matchup with the Cavaliers to start what could be a lengthy losing streak (check their upcoming schedule).

The Raps controlled this snooze fest for three quarters, but put together one of their worst fourth quarters of the season to throw what looked like a surefire win away. If you’re a TankNation subscriber, I guess this loss makes up for the unexpected win in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I know now that we’re more than three months and 56 games into the season, a lot of people are getting sick of all the “tank” talk. But come on, did you see the starting lineups for this game? Let me throw some names at you: Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Alan Anderson, Ben Uzoh. For various reasons, those four guys all started on Friday night. With all due respect to those players, this game could have passed for an episode of Greatest Tank Battles.

2- Aside from the low talent level in the ball game, the game itself was an absolute dud. There was no energy, no flow, an inconsistent effort, and the two teams combined to shoot an atrocious 56-of-146 from the field. Credit the 16,565 in attendance for manufacturing their own excitement the few times the Raptors gave them even an inkling to cheer for, but in all honesty, they would have been forgiven if they up and left midway through. It’s not like they were going to get their money’s worth from the game itself anyway. Byron Scott’s ejection in the second quarter was by far the most exciting couple of minutes all night.

3- I mentioned above that Alan Anderson started at small forward again, marking the second straight start for the 10-day man (Anderson and Uzoh were each given a second 10-day contract on Friday). James Johnson, on the other hand, was a DNP-Coach’s Decision for the second straight game. We know an “internal” matter caused Johnson’s benching on Wednesday, but we’ve all been led to believe the issue between James and Dwane Casey is a minor one, so it was definitely surprising to see Johnson riding the pine for 48 minutes again. Whether or not the small forward sees the floor on Sunday in OKC is now the definite storyline of that game from a Raptors’ perspective.

4- Another Raptor who seems to be in Dwane Casey’s dog house is Ed Davis. I’ve generally agreed with how Casey has allocated minutes this season, but I’m a bit puzzled by the treatment of Davis. Don’t get me wrong, Ed’s been a disappointment in his sophomore season, but in the few instances he has put a good string of games together, he doesn’t really seem to get rewarded with extra minutes. Davis pulled down an impressive 14 rebounds in just 25 minutes on Wednesday in Philly, and was one of the few players on the court bringing a consistent effort against the Cavs. Ed had six points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes on Friday, and sparked the team in the third quarter, but when Aaron Gray fouled out in the fourth quarter, Casey elected to go with Amir Johnson, who was the vastly inferior player in this game. I’m at the point where I think Casey is trying to send a message. Does anyone else see it?

5- Andrea Bargnani’s final statline of 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals seems decent at first glance, but when you consider that Bargnani had 13 points in the first quarter and hit his first six shots, then his line of 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting shows you the massive letdown that his overall game was on Friday.

6- An otherwise outstanding defensive performance was spoiled by a horrible fourth quarter for the Raptors. Toronto held Cleveland to just 51 points on 29 per cent shooting through three quarters (a combination of solid Raptors’ defence and half-assed Cavaliers’ offence), but allowed the Cavs to shoot 9-of-14 for 33 fourth quarter points to erase a 12-point deficit heading into the final frame. The tide began to turn when the Raptors left Antawn Jamison wide open behind the arc on three straight possessions. Jamison would go on to score 16 of his 25 points in the fourth.

Bonus: At 20-36, the Raptors still sit seventh from the bottom in the standings, just a half-game ahead of the fourth worst record, but also only two games behind the ninth worst record. That’s the difference right now between heading into the lottery with the guarantee of getting a top-seven pick or the uncertainty of being able to fall all the way down to 12.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 38 Min, 28 Pts, 10-16 FG, 1-2 3PT, 7-8 FT, 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk, 4 TO

Cavaliers Player of the Game: Antawn Jamison – 39 Min, 25 Pts, 8-16 FG, 3-5 3PT, 6-8 FT, 8 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 TO

Lost in the good vibes of Alan Anderson playing well in his first start as a Raptor on Wednesday and the frustration of falling in the Tank Nation standings was the fact that James Johnson, who has started 38 games for the Raptors this season and is seen as perhaps the most pleasantly surprising player on the roster, was a “DNP-coach’s decision.”

On Thursday, Doug Smith wrote that it’s an “internal matter,” adding that “the suggestion in private conversations was that it wasn’t that big a deal.” Smith goes on to praise the way Dwane Casey has handled situations like this so far in his debut season as Raptors head coach, and I’d have to agree with him. If you’ve forgotten about DeMar DeRozan’s “Straight Bulls#!+” tweet after he was benched for most of the fourth quarter in Houston, it’s because Casey diffused the potentially volatile situation quickly.

But let’s stick with the James Johnson storyline.

For my money, Johnson has been one of the most consistent and improved Raptors this season, averaging 8.9 points (on 45 per cent shooting), 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals in about 25-and-a-half minutes per game. His defence has been superb – the third year man currently leads all small forwards in blocks per game – and both his shot selection and shot making have improved on the offensive end.

From the outside looking in, it appears that Johnson has done everything that could possibly be asked of him this year, but of course, we don’t know what goes behind closed doors, and chances are we’ll never know the reason James was a DNP-CD on Wednesday in Philly.

Hopefully the sources are proven correct and whatever the issue was between Johnson and Casey “wasn’t that big a deal.”

But you have to wonder, if the Raptors get the opportunity to draft a stud small forward in June and Kleiza’s $4.6 million per year contract is deemed worth keeping, would a small internal issue like this one towards the end of the season be a deciding factor in making James Johnson the odd man out?

If it’s as minor as it sounds, considering that Johnson costs only $2.8 million next season, I would hope not, but you have to admit, this latest development might add a little bit of intrigue if the Raptors do, in fact, land that coveted small forward.