As 2008 came to a close, the Raptors struggled losing their last 3 games of the year to the Trail Blazers, the Warriors and the Nuggets. With a 12 – 20 record, they were looking for a new year that could offer hope that indeed had a team that could be competitive every game. As the year began, they picked up a huge win over the Rockets which brought them into this past week and games with teams they felt were beatable. Here is how I saw the past week in Raptorsland.
Sunday, January 4th, 2009 Raptors vs. Magic
On a day where Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon were both out with injuries, the Raptors were lead from inspired back court play by Will Solomon and Roko Ukic who were both needing and wanting the opportunity to show they can play well at this level. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 39 points while Andrea Bargnani started at Center for the third straight game. With 18 points and 5 rebounds, he played a solid game and looked very comfortable with his new role in the low post as he was still able to stretch Howard out to a place he was unable to be effective defensively and as a result of the extra room, Chris Bosh was able to collect 23 points and 11 rebounds in the game. Rashard Lewis scored 20 on 6 for 6 from 3 point range while adding 9 assists. The big step up of the game was Anthony Parker who has struggled all season with not only his defense, but his shot has been very suspect as his confidence has waned. Sunday, he scored 26 points on 13 – 16 shooting taking 0 3 point shots with many coming off drives as the interior defense of the Magic was stretched. Ending the game +6 on points in the paint against a tough Magic team was a large part of why they were able to carry the play down the stretch. Back to our point guards who both played excellent games. Will Solomon scored 11 points and added 4 assists, but committed only 2 turnovers in the game. Roko Ukic scored 12 points and had 7 assists while committing 2 turnovers as well. 23 points and 11 assists from the guards who both showed that they belong in this league and should allow Jose Calderon to take the time he needs to heal his ailing hamstring. Jamario Moon added 9 assists as the Raptors shot 53.5% from the field and were +8 for total rebounds while committing only 10 turnovers.
Monday, January 5th, 2009 Raptors @ Bucks
The Bucks were lead by Michael Redd and Charlie Villanueva who scored 35 and 25 points in a game they needed to win coming off of losses to the Bobcats and the Rockets, this team looked to extend it’s lead on the Raptors who are still in the race for that 8th playoff spot in the east, so any chance they can get to extend that is welcomed, and they took advantage of a Raptors team that has struggled in close games this season. Down the stretch, the Raptors went 0 – 5 while the Bucks hit shot after shot lead by Luke Ridnour who hit a huge 3 point shot over Chris Bosh after the Raptors had extended the lead to 4 at 95 – 91 with 2:52 left in the 4th. Ridnour added 2 more before Charlie Bell tied the game at 97. The Raptors then missed their next 5 shots while the Bucks pulled away. The game was a tough loss on the road but the signs are there that this Raptors team is moving the right way. The Bucks played without Andrew Bogut and Malik Allen while the Raptors were still without Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon. Ramon Sessions added 11 points off the bench for the Bucks. The Raptors were led by Chris Bosh with 31 points and 11 rebounds, Andrea Bargnani with 21 points and 8 rebounds and Will Solomon matched his career high 11 assists with 4 points and only 2 turnovers starting again. Roko Ukic added 11 points and only 1 assist. 16 turnovers turned into 23 points as the Bucks were +9 in that category and were +5 in offensive rebounds. Jason Kapono looked and played bad with 5 turnovers which seemed to occur at critical points of the game.
Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 Raptors @ WizardsRaptors 99
After dealing Hassan Adams to the Clippers in the afternoon, the Raptors faced the Wizards with only 9 players as both Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon were both at home trying to find a TSN2 feed to watch the game and Jamario Moon was in Alabama awaiting the birth of his daughter. The Wizards came into the game with a 7 – 26 record and last in the Eastern conference, but coming off a week in which they beat the high-flying Cavaliers and the Rockets. With no Gilbert Arenas, this team has struggled all year and like the Raptors, have had an early season coaching change. Led by Antawn Jamison with 32 points and 7 rebounds and Caron Butler with 15 points, the Wizards had trouble controlling the Raptors shooters as they ended the game shooting 54.5% for the game while the Wizards could not find many answers. Though the Wizards were able to be +4 on second chance points and +3 on the offensive glass, the Raptors were hot from outside ending the game 8 – 16 from 3 point range and +9 on the game. This was a game we were supposed to win, and a much better effort from the team as our very short bench contributed 22 points. Mike James and Andray Blatche were solid for the Wizards while Andrea Bargnani poured in 25 points and gathered 4 rebounds in one of his best games this season as Chris Bosh struggled with 18 points but added 8 rebounds and 6 assists to his solid game. Anthony Parker added another solid game with 15 points and 7 rebounds and 2 assists while Will Solomon starting again for Jose chipped in 14 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Jason Kapono had a strong game off the bench with 12 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist. Jake Voskuhl added 5 rebounds and 1 assist to the mix.
Friday, January 9th, 2009 Raptors vs. Grizzlies
The Raptors ran out to an early 13 point lead only to once again give it all back in the third quarter as Rudy Gay scored 22 points in the game but was shut down in the 4th quarter. Memphis came into the game having lost 11 of 12, but did pick up a win last week against the Mavericks while losing to the Nets and Timberwolves. Hakim Warrick scored 18 off the bench while O.J. Mayo, a leading contender for Rookie of the Year, scored 11 on a tough shooting day as he went 4 – 14 on the night. Marc Gasol added 9 points and 5 rebounds for the struggling Grizzlies who are now 2 – 15 on the road. Chris Bosh scored his 10th 30+ game of the season finishing with a double double with 32 points and 10 rebounds on the night. Andrea Bargnani continued his inspired play with 21 points and 8 rebounds as he out played the smaller front line the Grizzlies threw at him. With 64 points from our front line of Bosh, Bargnani and Jason Kapono who added 11 off the bench, the Grizzlies were only able to answer with 31 from their front of Gasol, Warrick and Darrell Arthur. Will Solomon had a steady game with 10 points and 9 assists and 3 turnovers. The first half had the bad Raptors show up with 8 rebounds which allowed the Grizzlies to keep the game close after closing the score in the second quarter. With only 5 in the second, they were able to pull away and put this team away and were able to sit both Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani with about 4 minutes left in the game giving the bench some valuable minutes to put the game away. They responded with 31 points as a group and were a huge reason why this game ended early for the Grizzlies. With 10 points from Jake Voskuhl and Kris Humphries and 6 assists for Kapono, these guys pulled away in the 4th and were instrumental in maintaining the lead the team rebuilt in the 3rd.
Players of the Week –
Chris Bosh – with Jermaine O’Neal missing the entire week, Chris recorded 2 30+ games and 2 double double and averaged 26 points and 10 rebounds and 3.75 assists. He lead this team at both ends of the floor and shot nearly 60% from the floor on the week as he spent a lot of time attacking the rim and working the boards.
Andrea Bargnani – As he continues to make starts as this teams Center, he continues to flourish with his solid inside play combined with excellent outside shooting making him a very tough player to matchup with for most opponents. Making 14 3points shots over the week, he opened up the interior all week so Bosh could make use of the open floor.
Will Solomon – Starting for Jose Calderon, Will was able to use the opportunity to have consistent minutes to elevate his game to a level most expected him to perform at. His week ended with him averaging 9.75 points, 7.25 assists on 2.25 turnovers and 1.5 rebounds per week. Combined with Roko Ukic, the two gave us 16.75 points and 10.25 assists per game. Solid play by both, but Will was the leader as he played the bulk of the minutes and controlled the floor and got the ball where it needed to be and was able to push the tempo when he could. This was his best week as a Raptors player by far and very a timely display of the skill we were waiting to see.
Honorable mentions – Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono all played solid this week and at times were stellar performers. Parkers 14 points per game were critical as were Moon’s nearly 7 rebounds per game. He isn’t scoring as we would like, but his defense has picked up and I am sure his offense will return. Jason had a couple of good games and a couple of bad games, but he is working hard and it will pay itself off soon as he finds his stroke again.
With a back to back with the Celtics followed by games against the Bulls and the Pacers with the Suns and the Hawks early next week, this was a much needed week for the Raptors and, who knows, the Celtics look vulnerable right now and an inspired game by the Raptors could bring some positive results for this team.