So, I guess the Raptors are for real. An easy early schedule had glossed over many of the team’s warts, but beating the Grizzlies – even a version depleted by the flu bug – is a major accomplishment.
- Colleague Mike Ganter covered Chuck Hayes here. What a bonus it is for Dwane Casey to have heady, effective vets like Hayes to call on when needed most. Sure, at some point, Jonas Valanciunas needs to be trusted late in games, but there is a balance and he wouldn’t have given the team a shot to win on Wednesday. Hayes did that by making life tough for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph after they had treated the other Raptors like small children trying to compete against grown men. “That’s a true professional,” Greivis Vasquez said after giving Hayes a hug before leaving the Raptors locker room. Can’t argue with that. Assistant trainer Ray Chow, a Raptors lifer, yelled out “Chuck Hayes for mayor” drawing laughs and a lively discussion about Rob Ford.
- Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson were having horrid nights. Ross was basically invisible, Johnson was getting lit up by Gasol and Randolph down low and particularly on the boards, where Memphis ended up with a massive 15 rebound edge, including 15 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s seven). But to their credit, the two starters helped win the game for the Raptors in the end. Johnson played better defence, grabbed four rebounds in the fourth (Toronto actually outrebounded Memphis in the quarter after getting worked 40-24 through three quarters) and only committed one foul. It saved what could have been an awful night for Johnson. Meanwhile, Ross had two points through the first 36 minutes, then went supernova, hitting 5-of-7 shots for 14 points, including all three of his three-point attempts. Ross was the difference, carrying the Raptors all the way back (with help from Lowry), especially since DeMar DeRozan was struggling, going 1-for-5 in the final frame. The Raptors would love to see more consistency from the third-year swingman, but, for now, they’ll take his hot streaks.
- Lowry is not about to get carried way by the 9-2 start: “It’s not about the start, it’s about the finish,” Lowry said.
- Clearly the rebounding needs to improve and it would be nice if the assists started piling up again, but 9-2 is still 9-2. Last year, the Raptors finished 21st in the NBA in assists-per-game. By finally turning in a 20+ assist night on Wednesday (24 on 38 made baskets) the Raptors finally once again resembled last year’s unselfish group.
“That was huge, too, it made up a little bit for our lack of rebounding,” Casey said of the better assist numbers. “We’ve got to help each other whether it’s passing the ball, screening, spacing, all those things are very important.”
- Vasquez wasn’t aware the assist numbers had slipped, but wasn’t overly concerned, but recognizes moving the ball better would go a long way. “That’s our best game when we start playing together, start doing things together and that’s what we did tonight. Guys made shots at the right time and we were finding the open guy. That’s really how we identify our team, playing team basketball, whether it’s defensively or offensively,” Vasquez said.
“It’s something, it’s a concern right now, but it’s not like our main concern, we’ve just got to keep playing. We’re 9-2, so why would we change everything? We’ll get better, at the right time. Right now it’s working for us, so we’ve got to keep doing what we do.”
- The Vince Carter tribute was a nice moment and hopefully will provide some closure. It is long since time the franchise moved past all of this and embraced the fact that the future is probably brighter now than it has been at any point since Tracy McGrady fled (anything seemed possible when both Carter and McGrady were on the team).
- With all of the Carter hoopla fresh, I asked Amir if Carter had anything to do with his choosing No. 15 when he joined the Raptors. “Yeah, a little. It’s my birthday I guess. I don’t know, I was always 15,” Johnson said. So, no. “When I got the number here, I wasn’t really thinking about: ‘Vince Carter had this number,’ it was just my number, I had it through high school.” Johnson said he expected a mixed reaction for the Carter tribute, so was happy to see the positive response from the fans. “I mean, around the world, Half Man, Half Amazing. Seeing the guy just doing unbelievable stuff nobody’s seen before, definitely everybody knew who Vince was, Johnson said. “One of the most memorable dunks is probably the USA one where he jumped over (poor Fred Weiss). That went viral. He’s one of the greats.” Johnson quietly admitted that he’d give up his number one day if the Raptors wanted to retire it for Carter.
- Dwane Casey moved past Lenny Wilkens for second in all-time coaching wins with the Raptors.