Somethings stand the test of time. The Raptors have not lost to Minnesota in Toronto since 2004. That was so long ago K.G was still on the T-Wolves. However what was different was how the Raptors would beat the T-Wolves this time around. The Raptors are making you redefine what you have come to expect from this team. The poster boy for that change is Andrea Bargnani. In his 6 years prior to this one he was never good enough to live up to his selection at number one in the NBA draft in 2006. But it is not like that draft was without other failures. A draft that saw Adam Morrison go number 3 to Charlotte, Former Raptor Patrick O'Bryant was picked in lottery at number 9 by Golden State. Brandon Roy was not a bust talent wise but he now sadly is no longer around. But there is something about that tag of first overall pick that makes you either a complete bust or a franchise changing superstar. It was 6 years of trying to avoid that label of being a bust. But this year everything we thought we knew about Bargnani has changed or it seems that way. He can't defend but this year he can. He can't be consistent but this year he has been the most consistent Raptor night in night out. In a season that Demar DeRozan was suppose to take the mantel as the face of this franchise, DeRozan has been more like Bargnani than Bargnani.
The Raptors as group have with few exceptions in there history won games based on their offence and three point shooting and flashy dunks. This Raptor team can at times be challenged to score and they feature some players who clearly have nothing going for them on offence at all. Tonight James Johnson did nothing much on offence. He did make a three pointer but by and large his shooting is not good enough for most D-League teams. What he is though is the Raptors best defender. The Raptors lack the scoring and 3 point shooting that most teams get from the small forward position. But the defence part they seem to have covered. Still it is hard to watch Johnson and even harder to watch Rasaul Butler on the offensive end of the floor. In football this wouldn't be a problem but in basketball you need to play both offence and defence. It is probably the reality that the Raptors will be looking for a small forward in the draft or spend some of that cap room to find a true starter at the position. Truth is since Rob Babcock (who now works with T-Wolves) traded Vince Carter there has never been anyone close to replacing him.
Not everything has changed with the Raptors though. Amir Johnson is still the same player he just has a lot more help in terms of defence. His chemistry with Jose Calderon remains the same. But actually one thing has changed about Amir. No it isn't his bigger muscles that he bragged about here in the DNB. He has found a way to remain in the fight. In a game that was foul filled Amir Johnson managed to stay out of foul trouble and contribute. He was able to balance five fouls and play 30 minutes having a fantastic night with 19 points and 11 rebounds and 8 of those came on the offensive end extending possessions. That was the grit to go along with fantastic 31 point and 9 rebound night for Andrea Bargnani who played 45 minutes of a possible 48.
It was a scrappy night that featured a fired up Jose Calderon that was taking on his fellow countryman Ricky Rubio. Which in the end proved to be a pretty even battle in the boxscore. Claderon finished the night with 14 points 6 assists and a steal. Rubio had 10 points the same 6 assists and 3 steals. Kevin Love meanwhile did get some numbers but had a night full of struggle to get them. He had 13 points and 14 rebounds but shot 3-16 and T-Wolves as a team shot just 33. 8% on the night.
But perhaps the biggest change came in the 4th quarter. The Raptors nearing the end of the 3rd quarter had a 12 point lead and by the early stages of the 4th quarter it was gone. That is nothing new for the Raptors. However what happened next was. The Raptors had an extra gear on this night and picked up their defence and got their offence on track, in the end building back the lead they had given away. They fought through and were able to find a way to win. They had no breaks the whole night from the refs as the T-Wolves got to the line 33 times making 26 of those free throws. Dwane Casey earned one of those free throw attempts with a technical foul. However unlike in the past the Raptors did not complain about it, they did something about it. In the end they got a much needed 97-87 win to start the first game of 3 straight.
The Raptors move on to Washington to face a desperate Wizards team that is the only team yet to register a win in the 2011-12 season at 0-8. They have already had one of those famous players only meetings and Rashard Lewis missed their last game for apparently getting into a fight with assistant coach Sam Cassell prior to tip of the game. It is clear who is in charge in Raptorland his name is Dwane Casey. He has brought an accountability back to this franchise that has been lacking for a long time. Maybe not since Charles Oakley laid down the law in the locker room as a player. Casey demands maximum effort and will accept nothing less. It doesn't mean he will always get it as the last two games before this one proved. However he is always going to demand it. His demands might just have changed the reality that we have known as the Raptors. Change has come to the Raptors and it is starting to take shape.