Winning The Right Way

Some fans love high scoring games with lots of fast breaks and tons of threes. Me? The Raptors win against Dallas, last night, is the type of game I love: a scrappy, defensive battle where an inferior team wins because they played harder and played better.

A lot of Raptor fans were certainly not expecting a win against Dallas last night. Sure, Dirk wasn’t playing for Dallas, but the Raptors leading scorer, starting PG and sometimes starting SF were out with injuries. And arguably the team’s most productive player, Amir Johnson, was nursing a back that made him walk like a 70 year old former professional wrestler.

Although the Raptors frontline hasn’t played well without Bargnani in the 3 previous games he’s missed this season, those games were against Chicago, the Lakers and Memphis- three teams with very big and very strong front lines. A frontline rotation of Amir Johnson, Joey Dorsey and Ed Davis have the ability to play very good team defense, but are too undersized (height and weight-wise) to be able to bang with the big boys. Amir and Davis weigh barely more than I do, despite being a foot taller, and while Dorsey has bulk, he’s woefully short to defend against 7 footers.

Yes, Dallas has Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, but Chandler is like a taller Ed Davis and Haywood has been mostly a non-factor this year. And outside of them, they don’t really have a true PF without Dirk. With Dallas not having a Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol or Zach Randolph-type guy who can bully the Raptors “big” men, Toronto’s frontline dominated. They outrebounded Dallas 42-35 and Amir and Davis protected the paint with Davis getting credited for 3 blocks, but altering at least twice that.

Speaking of Davis, this was by far the best game of his young career. He got career highs in scoring (17), rebounding (12), blocks (3) and steals (3), as well as free throws attemtped (8) and made (5). While his struggles against the bigger, stronger players shows how much he needs to add bulk and strength, a game like this shows how good he can be and what kind of impact he can have on the game.

A quick look at Amir’s stats won’t impress, but if anyone who has had back spasms can tell you, going out and playing the way he did, and playing a game and season high 42 minutes, is truly impressive. The guy hustled, defended and did everything he needed to do for the Raptors to win. It’s games like this that highlight why I believe that Amir is the most important player on the Raptors, and the only player on the roster, currently, who I can see starting on a Championship team. More on that in a future post.

DeMar DeRozan has gotten a lot of criticism lately, with a lot of people questioning his future, but in the the last ten games he’s averaged 14.5 ppg on 47% shooting, while getting to the line 5 times a game. Not spectacular, but numbers more in line with what was expected of him at the beginning of the year. And best of all, his jumper actually is starting to fall with some consistency. Against Dallas, he hit 6-10 from outside 10 feet, including a 23 foot jumper with about a minute left that pretty much sealed the game for the Raptors. It seems as though he’s starting to turn the corner, which is nice to see. He still needs to improve his defense, but he’s shown flashes of ability in that area which makes me think he’s still got the potential to be a good defender.

Jerryd Bayless had a much better game against Dallas than he did in his last start against Chicago, even though he scored 16 fewer points and shot 2-10 from the field. Why? Because he actually did his job as a PG against Dallas. Against Chicago, he might have scored well and played good defense against Derrick Rose, but his inability to run the offense killed the Raptors’ chances. In Dallas, Bayless still played excellent defense, but dished out 8 assists while helping the Raptors offense run much more smoothly. When he went out, I thought the Raptors would be in trouble.

On a side note, I can’t tell you how much I related to what happened with Bayless. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I turned my ankle badly during a pickup game, but stayed on the court against my better judgement (and those of the other players) only to land on someone’s foot several minutes later after a jumpshot and rolling the same ankle. This time, though, I had to be helped off the floor and was out for nearly a month. Playing hurt while risking further injury in completely meaningless games has been a theme in my basketball life. One of these days I’m going to list the number of injuries of had playing a sport my body wishes I never took up. And this is exactly why, when people ask whether my daughters will ever take up the sport, I laugh and shake my head. Not in a million years. Not after seeing how their father comes home on some nights.

Anyway, I really hope Bayless isn’t out for too long, but he strikes me as the type of player who is not going to be kept down for long, whether he’s hurting or not. I’m not convinced Bayless will ever be a starting PG in the NBA, but the more I see how competitive and driven he is, the more I like the guy and think he’s the type of guy I’d want on my team.

Now, Linus Kleiza should definitely be ashamed of being thrown out of a game his scoring was so desperately needed in, but while he was on the court, he was the Raptor’s best scorer. And I do love his toughness and willingness to piss people off, something the Raptors have not had much of lately. While Reggie Evans and Joey Dorsey are certainly physically more impressive, Kleiza is the Raptor I’d probably want to piss off the least. He’s had more altercations with opposing players than any other Raptor this season, and seems like he’d think nothing of clocking his opponent if he could get away with it. I don’t know how much he’d play on a better team, but I like him for right now.

Lastly, Julian Wright missed both of his field goal attempts and didn’t score a point in 26 points, but that goes to show you how little stats can matter (except for the final score). He played his ass off, defended as well as anyone on the court and was the second best passer on the Raptors. Him launching himself after that loose ball he had no real hope of getting should earn him more minutes, if nothing else. If I were Sonny Weems, I’d be incredibly worried seeing what Kleiza and Wright have done with more playing time.

Raptor fans had better savour this win because it might be the last in a while.

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I didn’t actually watch the Spurs-Lakers game, but a quick look at the box score highlighted something that I will discuss in a later post. Tim Duncan scored just 2 points (shooting 1-7), grabbed just 4 rebounds and blocked 0 shots in 27 minutes last night. What’s more important is that the Spurs won by 15, the Lakers shot just 35% and Duncan had the best +/- number on the floor (+18). Again, more on that in another post.

One thought on “Winning The Right Way

  1. Pingback: Toronto Raptors Morning Coffee Dec 29 | Raptors Republic | ESPN TrueHoop's Toronto Raptors Blog

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