Sometimes the fact that I don’t cover every game has its advantages. You get to see changes in the time you are away. The changes with Raptors since Rudy Gay has arrived have been noticeable to anyone watching regardless of if you are around this team or not. But the changes are noticeable in that room as well.
Gay is in the locker that once was that of Ed Davis who was traded to Memphis in the deal that landed him here. On the other side is the vacant locker that once belonged to Jose Calderon. The presence of Gay in that room might deserve two lockers.
Tonight was a night where DeMar DeRozan really was the story most of the night. He had a dunk that perhaps will be better than anything you will see at All-Star Saturday Night. DeRozan will be watching the dunk contest from his home in L.A and he likely can say nothing he will see will be as good as what he did tonight at the ACC. He says he will be watching though rooting on Terrence Ross.
As for his new team mate in Rudy Gay, DeMar had this to say pre-game before Gay had put on his cape to save the Raptors once again like he did in Indiana.
“It does a lot, it frees me up a lot of teams can’t double team or focus in on me. We got another great player on this team.” DeRozan when asked if it makes life easier for him and takes away some of the pressure on his shoulders. “I don’t mind, I love the challenge, but this is what it is all about to have as much help as we can to help win more games.”
Win more games is what Rudy Gay is doing, twice closing wins out first in Indiana and last night at the ACC.
Amir Johnson talks about what it means for the team to have a true closer in Gay as part of the mix:
“We have a legit closer. He is not scared to make those tough shots or those end of the shot clock shots. Give him the ball and he gets it in the bucket. We haven’t had that in awhile.”
I would go as far to say as the Raptors haven’t had that since Vince Carter was in the building. When the Raptors played back in those days, you always felt they had a chance to beat anyone. Raptor fans have been so use to this team giving away leads and finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in more recent times.
Tonight, like many nights, the Raptors stormed out to an advantage and took control against an undermanned Nuggets squad. Nuggets had no Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallanari or Wilson Chandler. They would also lose Javale McGee along the way during the game.
But as so often is the case, the Raptors could not make things easy and let the Nuggets hang around to the very end. What is different is the Raptors would not give up the lead entirely and fold. They gave themselves a chance to win and Rudy Gay who struggled most of the night and had 5 fouls would come in and hit the shot to give them a 109-108 lead. A defensive stand and another win would follow to make that the final score.
This was a game in the season in November that Raptors lose.
The addition of Gay has had an impact on this team’s whole approach to close games. He believes he can make the shot and the guys that he shares that locker room with believe it too.
While Gay is the hero, Andrea Bargnani has become yesterday’s news for a lot of folks. Some fans showed little sympathy for the fact Bargnani was playing with the flu. It didn’t stop some from booing once again when he checked into the game. He played like someone who was not 100% and fans would let him hear it on occasion.
Six games into the Rudy Gay era the Raptors are 4-2 and he has hit the game winner in two of those 4 wins. The losses came at the hands of the Miami Heat and a Boston team that at the time was on a big role. While Gay may not save the Raptors playoff goals this season he makes the prospects of the playoffs for next year and years to follow much more realistic.
Rudy Gay is far from Superman and you do see on nights like tonight he can be far from perfect. That said, it makes what he did tonight even more impressive. He had a rough night at the office but he pushed it all to the side and when it mattered the most he made the big shot.
He seems to fit in well with this group and has been very comfortable with stepping in and saying follow him. To this point the Raptors have willingly done so. You really could not script things much better for his arrival in Toronto.
What the Raptors do to build on this moving forward will ultimately to determine how successful he can truly be. Will the organization put the money behind him to make up for some pretty awful contracts they need to contend with including Gay’s own deal.
Chris Bosh left this franchise frustrated that this organization ultimately lacked the faith in him to spend beyond the tax threshold. Vince Carter left frustrated as well with management. Can Rudy Gay get the kind of backing that Bosh never got and can this new ownership lead the Raptors in a direction that would take them places that Vince Carter wanted to go.
Only time will tell on these questions. But for the here and now Rudy Gay is taking over the Toronto Raptors by storm and giving them a true centrepiece to build around. He is a true leader that embraces the role and does not shy away from it. Something that you can argue Bosh or Carter never did?
Rudy Gay has got people talking about the Raptors and it isn’t in the form of jokes. He has restored something that seemed on the verge of death in the beginning of December. It is a simple word but the most important one for any sports franchise. Hope is back and Rudy Gay is the major reason it is.