Three words to describe this game: HOLY FRICKEN JESUS. It was almost unbelievable considering the Raptors track record as of late. Tonight's match-up between the Denver Nuggets and the beloved Toronto Raptors was a chance for both teams to get back on track. The last time these two clubs met this season, Denver took the contest with a 130 - 112 score back in November. So Denver was not really concerned about Toronto going into tonight's game and or the fact that Hedo was off sick. Boy, were they ever wrong. If the Raptors continue to play like they did tonight, a play-off spot is in their future for sure. I would like to say that the Nuggets look better on paper since they haven't lost 4 in a row since February 2007 but really, I tried to be positive. I know Denver came out on top but I just felt the Raptors couldn't continue down this path forever and needed a win tonight to get out of this funky-monkey-funk of theirs. Forget about the fact Toronto sits 8th in the playoff race, and having "issues" with defence (Ask James to describe the Raptors defence and you will probably get a more colourful description). The final score could have been 97-96 for Raptors but it wasn't. Here's how it all went down.
First Quarter - No consistency
The Raptors were little shaky off the start with a game of greasy ball between Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh. With only a few minutes into the game, things didn't look too hot for the Raptors with 2 turnovers, taking too many 3's and not connecting. But Jose Calderon hits a three and little light seems to shine through. I think the major thing the Raptors proved tonight is the depth of their second string is still there and they definitely poured it on tonight. DeMar DeRozen came in with guns blazing at about 6:30 left in the first quarter and I am telling you, this boy brought some real energy off the bench and turned the momentum of the game around. He shows some aggression on a two - point attempt, misses and is tipped in by Bosh and I could swear I saw CB4's furled brow flatten with evidence of his teammates starting to help out. I think if the Raptors were a little more consistent starting in the first quarter, the game may have turned out in their favour.
Second Quarter - Bellisimo Belinelli
The Raptors have been trailing up to this point but with a fantastic drive off a turnover steal, PLUS drawing the foul, DeMar "don't doubt me" DeRozen makes the free throw and pulls the Raptors to within 5. But Marco Belinelli had some hot hands coming off the bench and all of a sudden there's hope for the first time in a while the Raptors might actually gain the advantage. Hope is a beautiful thing especially when you are a club trying regain the trust of fans. I think Jay Triano did a good job of taking advantage of the strengths of the bench in this quarter. The Raptors gain their first lead of the game and it came with about 6 minutes left to the half when "Bellismo Belinelli" makes it 37-36. He really capitalized on the energy DeRozen injected into the first quarter and really made you invest your own energy into the game. It was so refreshing to see them have a mini celebration on the floor after a DeRozen tip in since it seems like they were starting to relax and focus. At this point, they had 17 breakaways and 7 turnover rebounds, so they were making a great effort off the glass.
Third/Fourth Quarter - Weems makes us Dream but our hearts are still broken
As you know, when the score is so close and you've been working so hard to gain control, it's important not to let the other team get on a roll. Denver is number one in the NBA at the free throw line, so the Raptors needed to stay focused in this half and not make any silly mistakes. At one point Sonny Weems makes a huge play with a drive to the basket and draws the foul, making it 64-62 with 2 made free throws. This is the part of the game when I think Bosh really becomes engaged. Not like he didn't want to win before, but now he's enjoying not starring in tonight's version of "Hustle 'n' Flow" and having the supporting cast step it up a little. With less than 6 minutes left in the third, Bosh hammers not one, but two within 30 seconds of each other, making it 68-66 at this point for the Raptors and really gaining some leverage.
In my opinion, Sonny Weems was a huge factor in the second half. He was really confident from behind the arc hitting multiple 3s, having so much fun - you could see it in his face. Weems and Belinelli were playing both ends tonight and really stepping it up. They really helped the Raptors go nose to nose with a good team. They forced Denver to make some costly errors - one of them sent Bosh to the line with about 3 minutes left in the game. Bosh drains one and it's 90-86 for the Raptors. But then our hearts get ripped in the other direction when the game is tied at 92 with over a minute left in the game. Anyone tuning in at this point not knowing what time of the year it was, would've have thought this was a freakin play-off game. Bargnani makes a huge play penetrating deep to the basket and drawing the foul. Then Jay Triano sends in DeRozen with thirty seconds left maybe thinking DeRozen's early-quarter hot hands might come in handy? Quite possible. At this point you want to do 2 things: contain those looking to penetrate deep and what I like to call the "buzzer snipers". And unfortunately for the Raptors, Carmelo Anthony was one of those sneaky snipers making it 97-96 for Denver at the buzzer. I was hoping against hope when officials reviewed Carmelo's shot they would somehow recall the basket, but alas it wasn't. Man, what a hard game to swallow.