Last night was a tough one to say the least if you're a Raptors fan because they actually deserved a win in Boston over the defending champs. As young a season as it may be, Toronto is proving its worth as a team to be taken seriously. With some consistent outputs they will be feared across the Association.
While it can be chalked up as a learning experience it has to be a bit deflating. My only hope is that this serves as motivation instead of a moment of defeat as they head into a crucial rematch against Philly tomorrow night at home. The Raptors have now proven they can play with the best, but now they just need that consistent execution to prove they can beat the best.
A 16 point lead, 3 and a half quarters of domination, are definitely positives to take away. Last night the bench answered many doubters as well picking up their play, finally outscoring their opponents. This time beating the Boston bench by a tune of 28-12, another positive. Joey Graham (8 pts, 5 reb) made his presence felt on both ends of the floor more than he ever had in his history with the team, and Jason Kapono (14 pts, 6 asst) proved why he is such a threat when he gets himself open. And finally Jermaine O'Neal (23 pts, 11 rebs) turned it up a notch with a double-double that gave the notion that it really will only take some time before his game returns.
As well something else that doesn't happen in Raptorland...well, ever, took place, and it was great to see! Firstly Jermaine O'Neal was pushed around by Kendrick Perkins in the first half and O'Neal did NOT back off, he didn't budge, it was a stare down! Then Jose Calderon also got it going with Kevin Garnett, it's been deadspinned already but it does show that on the whole, the nature of this team has really gone up a notch! I for one am glad to see it, it's about time the Raps cranked it up to 11! It's sad to say that the 'Red Rocket' Matt Bonner and his hard fouls from time to time, such as one hard foul against KG (oddly enough), was the most memorable physical moment before last night. But even then Bonner didn't have the intensity that O'Neal brought in a stare down. J.O. has spoken about turning the Raps from a team that would instantly help others up to a team of players that will just step over a fallen player, and last night was a great example of how he brings that fire to the team. I was on the edge of my chair when I saw that, smile from one side of my face to the other - intensity, fire, love it!
But end of the day Boston pulled out a win they didn't deserve, but then again that is what the best teams do. Paul Pierce took over - yeah, that guy from the Finals last season. But even with the adjustments on defence that the Celtics implemented at the half, and Pierce busting out for 22 of his 36 points in the final frame, the game was still in Toronto's hands. It came down to costly turnovers, and possibly a questionable decoy strategy with Chris Bosh down the stretch, that sealed the Raptors fate.
They can beat Boston, they can beat Detroit, this team can be a top flight contender and Toronto fans can only hope they find their bearing and turn it up a notch. Last night was hard to take but this early in the season, it could be the kick in the pants the team needs. When they find a bit more consistency Boston takes the loss at home. For now, onwards and upwards. Let's watch the positives from last night and see where they can go from here. One thing I have been convinced of after a relatively difficult schedule to start the season, the Raptors can ball with the best!