Was it just me, or did it feel like the crowd was just really quiet at the beginning of the game? It was like the freezing cold, no Lebron, and no Bosh sucked the life out of our Raptors crowd. In any case, it’s been less than a week but it’ll be interesting to see if the Raptors learned something from playing this Cavs team the first time. Last year, they really showed us and everyone in the league that while we might get smacked around the first time we meet, the second time, the Raptors would come back with a vengeance.
However, in this case, it was a matter of “who can take care of business without their star player?” It should be no question really. The Raptors built their team by finding players that they can put together to make a strong team from 1 though 15. It should also be noted that while the Raptors and Cavs both lost their star players, the Raptors still had their 2nd option (Bargnani) while the Cavs were still missing theirs (Larry Hughes). Just by looking at those things alone, it should add up to a relatively easy win. However, the biggest difference to be between the Raptors now and their last meeting is the return of Rasho Nesterovic. The last game saw Ilgauskas exploit the Raptors within the paint, taking apart the Raptors rebounders and scoring all around the rim. As much as I like Bargnani’s game, he just doesn’t have the power to defend the stockier centers. It’s why Rasho is just that important to our team, as he’s our answer to guys like Ilgauskas and Dwight Howard. Definitely worth is 7 million dollar contract.
But speaking of our favourite Italian, Bargnani managed to fill in quite well for the injured Bosh. He tried to play in the post and he managed to light it up a few times from the 3 point line. Giving us his first 20 point game since the beginning of the season (also when Bosh was out), and hitting a career high (yet again when Bosh was out), Bargs even managed to draw a few fouls on the Cavs. I’m still of the opinion that if he could figure out how to use his pump fake to go into the body of the defender, he could shoot many more free throws, and make a lot more old fashioned three point plays. However, that’s perhaps something that will have to be left until next year. In addition to Bargnani, Delfino gave us a very beautiful game. He mixed up his game and still managed to draw a few fouls, while playing some intense defense on a guy who was not LeBron James.
Nevertheless, the Raptors almost gave it all away. In the third and fourth, they managed to extend their lead to 20 pts thanks to some stellar play from Jamario Moon and Jose Calderon. Almost on queue, Chuck brought out the Salami and Cheese and the Cavs started making some shots beyond the 3 point arc. Sasha Pavlovic and Daniel Gibson were left open as the Raptors began to hit a cold spell on the offensive end. It was here that the Raptors had me extremely worried. We’ve seen this team get stone cold at the beginning of the year. In fact, they managed to give away some games due to cold shooting, so it was extremely concerning that the Raptors refused to start drawing fouls. Rather, there wasn’t anyone else to draw them as Bosh was on the bench. I think it’s important that this club begins to figure out that there will be times, maybe even whole games, where people just won’t be shooting well. So how can we fight off those moments, especially with Bosh out? Because in those times, the Raptors will see their opponents double up on Bosh and dare their shooters to shoot. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be solved with one player taking more foul shots (though it’d be a start) but it’s gotta be a team mentality to try and get to the line more. On a shooting team like this, it doesn’t mean that they have to get into the paint, but use a pump fake to draw it on the player by going into their body on the shot, Reggie Miller-style.
So here’s hoping the Raptors can keep it up against a very banged up Wizards team. Both teams are playing back-to-backs, but the Raptors should have the advantage of depth. It’s three games in a row now, but the Raptors have ample opportunity to keep this streak going for the next while until Bosh comes back.
Next Game: Toronto @ Washington