Nothing comes easy.
With a lineup change comes a change to the flow and rhythm of the Raptors’ offense. Rebuilding a team’s rhythm is never easy and always takes time. It’s rhythm that ensures that your team will be in position for rebounds, and it’s rhythm that makes sure that you shoot high percentage shots and can make them. Even though this team as a whole is largely unchanged from last year, it’s become crystal clear that making major changes to two positions of the starting lineup was going to cause bigger problems than expected. As a result, we saw Bargnani come of the bench and Rasho give us a much needed defensive balance in our starting unit. At the end of the day, 45 rebounds and 25 assists for the team told the story as the Raptors came back to their normal shooting form.
The surprise, though, was Jamario Moon’s emergence.
Somehow, Jamario Moon has managed to play himself into the rotation again, not only just coming off the IR but into the regular substitution rotation. With a 4 point lead in the first and a good rhythm, the Raptors decided to allow their “athletic project” some burn. However, this project still looked lost and scared on the court. He seldom moved, and was often caught out of rebounding position (especially since he was substituted in to play the PF position).
And then, he did that dunk.
From then on, Jamario finally figured out his intensity and his role on this team. He began to play more aggressively, using his energy and athleticism to steal the ball, intercept an alley-oop attempt, and make a nice little reverse under the basket. With Philly playing small, the concern was that Kris Humphries or Jorge Garbajosa would be unable to guard the athletes on the 76ers such as Iguodala and Andre Miller. Then, the game came down to the wire and Moon was left on the floor and came up with a huge defensive stop against Iggy at just over the 1 minute mark.
Nevertheless, this game was too close against an opponent that is not projected to be in the contention for a playoff spot. Like their opening game, the Raptors had several chances to bury the 76ers under their poor shooting, but instead lost out to them due to sloppy plays which led to easy buckets. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the 76ers had several scoring options that had found their rhythm, and their own super surprise, Lou Williams, singlehandedly kept the 76ers in the game. Lou made all kinds of shots including a possible four point play off of a phantom Anthony Parker touch foul, and scored 19 points in the final quarter to keep pace with the Raptors who had found their rhythm.
In the end, both teams had chances to challenge or put things away and neither team looked sharp down the stretch. The 76ers could not buy a bucket for most of the game, and the Raptors allowed a comfortable lead to evaporate in a matter of a couple minutes. Unlike the end of last season, the Raptors have yet to inspire confidence in their ability to fight back or protect their lead. The question that’s on many minds is just how long it will be before this team truly finds its way again. There are some signs as Chris Bosh is taking more foul shots, AP had his first big game offensively, and Rasho’s making a significant impact again as a defensive anchor, but there are still many questions especially about Garbo (a DNP last night) and Kapono (who saw limited minutes).
In the end, though, Chris Bosh was the guy who willed his team to this close victory. Sam Mitchell said before the game that he was unconcerned by Chris’ slump and that, if anything, the last game against Orlando showed a CB4 that was much more aggressive and akin to last year. It’s not going to be surprising that we may have nights where we have to ride Chris Bosh, but the problem is, it was against the 76ers, a team that is supposedly in the rebuilding phases. Until this Raptors team manages to beat a quality team, the questions will remain as to the strength and chemistry of this year’s Raptors team. Afterall, the key to their successful previous year was that the Raptors beat all the teams that the should have beat and then beat their share of the elite teams. The hope, then, is that this year’s team will do the same and then some. It’s just going to take some teamwork, a little patience, and leadership.
Next Up: Raptors @ Bulls