If you stayed awake after what was an eye-glazing, insult to the sport of a first half, the Raptors rewarded you.
The effort level and intensity picked up and the team was able to do enough to knock off a tired, undermanned group of Sixers.
Toronto now is only a game back of the Sixers for ninth and 5 and 5.5 back of 8th and 7th (Boston and Milwaukee).
As always, some thoughts:
Dwane Casey told me post-game the other night he was not contemplating swapping Mickael Pietrus out of the starting lineup (he technically said not for Alan Anderson or Terrence Ross, which he did not do). Casey, of course, brought in Landry Fields for Pietrus, something this corner had been advocating and the move worked. Fields was one of the few Raptors with a pulse in the first half and continued to play decently in the second half. His rebounding gives the club a big boost and while he’s not a great shooter, Pietrus isn’t either and Fields runs the floor better, defends as well and moves without the ball and has a higher basketball IQ.
I also advocate putting Kyle Lowry back in for Jose Calderon as the starter, and it will happen, eventually, but on this night, sticking with Calderon was the right call. Lowry didn’t play a lot, because Calderon had it going. In fact, After playing what felt like the entire third quarter, Calderon was spelled for Lowry, and Lowry was brutal, part of the unit that let Philly get back into the game. It wasn’t Lowry’s night, simple as that. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the starter going forward. The luxury of having two solid point guards is you can ride the hot hand.
Credit to Calderon. After getting eaten alive by Jrue Holiday earlier this season (remember Holiday doing whatever he wanted, getting into the defence and constantly finding open teammates?) Calderon did a much better job and was Toronto’s second-best player on the night.
The best player? Amir Johnson, for the second game in a row (seems he enjoys starting). Johnson was a force. He was everywhere, he scored efficiently, rebounded, provided his usual strong defence and even added a new wrinkle. Johnson might have had two of his top five best-ever passes in this one game. He constantly found Ed Davis with nifty looks. It was kind of stunning to see him throw the passes, because two or three of them had a pretty high level of difficulty. “Just finding my big man,” Johnson said afterwards. Johnson has played a lot with Davis over the past three seasons and clearly the pair has some chemistry. If the big to big passing keeps up, that will help out the offence.
Toronto needs to run more and needs to attack the basket more. Few Raptors seemed interested in doing either. The ball movement has also been a lot worse over the past few games. The ball is getting stuck too often. Casey wants the Raptors to move it around quickly to get better looks or driving lanes, but it isn’t happening at the moment.
Lowry needs to play more like his old self. The aggressiveness that defines his game has been absent.
Some thoughts on the Rudy Gay rumours that I didn’t cover here: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/01/09/toronto-raptors-colangelo-eager-to-reel-in-rudy-gay
Bryan Colangelo has pursued Rudy Gay many times. In 2006, only Andrea Bargnani and Gay had full, clean bills of health out of the prospects the team was considering taking No. 1 overall. He took a swing at Gay and Andre Iguodala last year but was rebuffed and now, with Memphis figuring out what they could get for Gay, is trying to land him again.
Gay’s a quality player who makes a ton of money and is having the worst season of his career. Those are two pretty big warning bells, but I think he’ll bounce back and the money isn’t a huge concern if Ed Davis and his future extension ($6-8 million a year) head the other way and Linas Kleiza gets the amnesty, which likely will happen. (Of course Andrea Bargnani would have to be moved to shed some more cash, because Lowry’s going to need an extension after next season).
Davis is a good prospect, but is he the long-term answer as a starting power forward? I’m not sure, given his frame and limited offensive arsenal. He’s an excellent rebounder, the best on the team, and has taken a major step forward this season and still has a couple more steps to go. If he’s simply a great reserve, well, Amir Johnson is still around for two more seasons and is a more effective player at this point. If he becomes a solid starter, well, you have to give something to get something and there are far fewer quality small forwards around these days than quality power forwards.
My concern is Gay and DeRozan wouldn’t be an ideal combo. Neither shoot the ball very well, though Gay has more range and is a better shooter. More importantly, neither creates his own shot. If Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III are the only guys on your team that can create their own shot, you’re going to be in trouble. However, the Raptors could always deal DeRozan down the line if Terrence Ross develops his one-on-0ne game and emerges as a fit beside Gay.
Toronto needs high-end talent. Badly. Gay is a solid player. Giving up more than Davis, Calderon and a second or two would be a mistake – you can’t give away too many assets for one non-all-star level piece – but that package as is seems like a fair one. At some point, the roster needs to be built with above-average players, not below-average ones. Gay would be a step in the right direction.
Of course, Memphis isn’t going to give him away. The team is seeing what other teams are willing to pay, and, most likely, leaking out information, some of it false, some of it true surely, in order to drive up the price.
We’ll see where this goes.