Just for today, the planets are aligned. The Raptors took care of business, the weather’s good, I’m sitting here drinking Peardrax…this is easy living. But it certainly wasn’t easy living for the Raptors going into the half. Tell me they didn’t look like a team with a few issues going into the half down by 4. In a strange course of events, the Raptors managed to come out and dominate in the third quarter, the quarter that has given them more problems that any specific team this year. Enemy number one for the Raptors? Rebounding. Number two? The third quarter. They usually need to avoid the third quarter like a horny dude needs to avoid a massage parlour in Markham right now.
Since he has been a lightning rod for criticism lately, let’s start with TJ Ford. The way TJ played today is exactly the kind of game the Raptors need from him. He was in control, was looking to make his teammates better players and wasn’t trying to force the issue. He brought a nice change of pace into the third quarter and was an important part of turning a 5 point game into a 12 point game for a period of time. One of his turnovers also came from him looking to pass after wanting to shoot, which may be an instance of him wondering in mid-flight whether there was another player open (there was, Kapono…one of his favourite targets). Bad play, yes. But I’ll take progress with TJ where I can get it right now. Not that impressive of a line score for him, 4 turnovers, 4 assists and 6 points, but he was controlling the game better and as usual, he played some pretty tough D. If there is one thing you can’t pin on TJ, it’s that while he has been sulking and getting greedy on offense, he hasn’t been carrying that onto his defense, as he is still right up on guys, daring them to try to beat him on the dribble.
Andrea had a rough night shooting, but here’s what I like about what I am seeing from him lately. He hasn’t been afraid to take it to hard to the rim. I thought that after getting cracked on the head a few games ago, he might be a little intimidated in the lane, but if anything, it kind of seems like he wants to prove that he is tough enough to go back there. He’s like a guy who had his first experience with a dominatrix: terrified at first, but then after all the slapping an initial shock, realized he liked it and can’t wait to go back for more. The result today? 4-4 from the line. Keep that going and he could start getting an additional 8 points per game just dropping foul shots all day. That could (and should) be an important part of his game.
We often undervalue Rasho on this team. We gloss over a lot of the good things he does, setting picks, pushing guys away from the basket (without picking up the foul), knowing where he should be on the court…those are all important things that he does on a regular basis. What you also have to appreciate about Rasho is that when there are games where the Raptors should come in and step on the other team’s throat, Rasho delivers. Today was a perfect example. Rasho played tough inside, even throwing down a dunk. A DUNK! It is almost painful to watch him try to get up and down the court, he looks like he is running with ski boots on, but the Raps don’t need him to be the guy on the break. They just need him to establish his position on both ends and use his size to his advantage. Sam Mitchell on Rasho? “Rasho is a pro…He never complains and is always ready to play. That’s something our young players need to learn from.” Um Sam…is there a certain PG you could be referring to here? Wow, that could be one of the most thinly veiled jabs at a player I’ve heard in a while. Can’t argue with it though.
Okay, nice to see the Raptors on the other end of a hard foul, but you never like to see a guy get hurt. But now that I have that cliche out of the way, I loved seeing Delfino knock a guy around for once. Personally, I’m getting sick of seeing the Raptors play so soft and get slapped around with no retribution. Anyway, it will disappear, but today, the planets were aligned.