Besides the fact that this was the team’s fifth win in a row, this was a huge win because this game was a grudge match. Why would a game against Houston be considered a grudge match? Dictionary.com defines a grudge match as, “any contest or competition that is based on antipathy or grudges held by participants” and this fits the description of tonight’s game perfectly.
Houston arrived in Toronto today with Raptors fans fuming about some stupid comments made by Rafer Alston to the media. Alston whined about his time in Toronto last year and to complained to the Houston Chronicle yesterday that, “I knew in Toronto we didn’t prepare to have what it takes to win the game. We didn’t know what the other team was doing. We didn’t have a clue how we were going to defend. That frustrated me. We were going out there cold to try to win games.”
Another ex-Raptor who left Toronto on a bitter note is Tracy McGrady but he’s wise enough to keep his mouth shut when reporters ask him questions about Toronto. McGrady bolted Toronto because he felt he would always be in Vince Carter’s shadow a la Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan. Throw in the fact that McGrady hated Butch Carter for comments he made about T-Mac during his rookie season and the bad blood lingers. Personally, I don’t blame McGrady for his hard feelings towards Toronto. He left because he wanted a bigger role on a team and because Butch Carter berated him during his rookie season. Would you want to play for a coach like Carter that tells the media that he doubts you’ll sign a second NBA contract? Following the game McGrady told reporters that, “Boo’s? Naw, I pretty much got over it. I just treat it like another away game. As far as boo’s that **** is pretty much played out.”
The bad blood spilled onto the court in the second quarter when James drove the lane and was fouled by Juwan Howard. Howard then took exception to the fact that James was talking smack on his way to the free throw line and decided to slam the ball into the mug of James. James and Howard both had to be restrained by teammates as Sam Mitchell sprinted onto the court looking like he wanted to get into a fight. Can you imagine Mitchell throwing haymakers? I guarantee the first punch Mitchell would have landed would have been to the face of Alston!
Following the game James told reporters that, “we were just going to the basket, exchanging words and he said something to me and I said something back. It escalated and then he threw the ball at me. Tempers were flaring.”
As Howard was being escorted from the court after his ejection he was shown trying to spark some passion into Stromile Swift, but it was the Raptors that were able to get a jump start from the scuffle. Toronto finished the half on fire and went into halftime with a 48 to 44 edge.
Toronto came out gunning in the third quarter and jumped out to a 15 point lead. Seeing the Raptors go for an opponent’s jugular is a great change from earlier in the season where they would come out flat in the third and teams would jump all over them. Instead of playing with fear now they come out of the half with a cocky swagger due to the belief that they will take care of business. I remember writing a report a couple weeks ago about how Toronto would hang in games into the half and then opposing coaches would make the necessary changes to allow their team to pull away for the win – it’s great to see Sam Mitchell be the coach making those changes to give the Raptors the edge they need to pull away in the third quarter.
Another thing that’s nice to see is Sam Mitchell playing the vets more. During the past week Mitchell has given Eric Williams playing time and Jalen Rose extended minutes. This has come at the expense of Rafael Araujo and Joey Graham but I feel this is a good experience for the younger players to have to earn their minutes. Instead of just handing the young guys minutes I think it’s a good thing for them to have to fight the vets for playing time.
Mike James stole the show tonight with his near triple-double of 30 Points, 8 Dimes and 7 boards. He was a cold blooded assassin tonight ripping Alston apart without mercy. Alston finished the game with a meager two points and seven dimes and didn’t score his first points until the six minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Speaking with Norma Wick following the game James refused to say this game was special because it came against his former team. Instead the classy vet told Norma that, “the main thing was keeping the winning streak alive. What hurt us was the month of November. We dug such a hole for ourselves in the month and no we’re starting to gain some leeway. We are starting to dig out of this hole. Every win is very valuable. No game is more important than any other. Even though this is my old team and all that hoopla I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about making history with the Toronto Raptors.”
In his post game media scrum Mitchell gushed to reporters that, “I am proud of my guys. They are playing hard. The thing for me that is good is when I called Hoffa in and told him why we are going to start Matt and he gave me a big smile and said ‘coach, you know what? Whatever we have to do to try to win the game I want to do.’ That’s the attitude that all our guys have had. Everybody’s making sacrifices. That’s why I keep telling you guys that even when we were 1 and 13 or whatever I enjoyed couching these guys because they were trying and at the end of the day that’s all you can the guys to do.”
It’s fun to watch how winning a couple games can change the attitude of the players and coaching staff. Sam Mitchell resembled a grizzly bear when the team was losing games and now that the team’s winning he sounds more like a big teddy bear.