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Over the past three games, the Toronto Raptors (17-32) have undergone a drastic overhaul involving the exit of two starters (Jose Calderon and Ed Davis), the return of an impact rookie (Jonas Valanciunas) and a divisive presence (Andrea Bargnani) and, of course, the arrival of the team's new star (Rudy Gay).
Why, then, do these guys feel like the same old Raptors?
After going just 3-6 over a nine-game streak of holding the lead heading into the break, Toronto held a 10-point lead (79-69) entering the fourth quarter on Wednesday night, only to see it vanish in a matter of just over three minutes along the way to a 99-95 loss. Sure, the veteran Celtics can be credited for knowing how to show up in key moments, but the home side that spread the floor and showcased a varied, dynamic offence on the way to 34 third quarter points was non-existent during the 16-point fourth.
Wednesday night also saw the return of Andrea Bargnani, who came off the bench to a vocal mixed response. Amidst trade rumours and a disenchanted fanbase, Il Mago shook off a bit of rust en route to 13 points on 5-10 shooting in 23 minutes. It was the type of performance that any player who was built up even a modicum of good will would have been praised for given the circumstances, but the much-maligned Bargnani still found himself the target of boo-birds down the stretch. At least someone stuck up for him.
Gay's Other Skills
Over his first two games as a Raptor (an extremely small sample size, admittedly), we were primarily treated to Rudy Gay, the Scorer. He poured in 20 points off the bench in his debut vs. the Clippers and 29 more against the Miami Heat. On Wednesday, in spite of his 25 points, shots simply weren't falling for the 26-year old (8-24 shooting, including 1-7 from three-point range). However, by getting on the boards (season-high 12 rebounds), attacking the basket (8-8 from the free throw line) and disrupting passing lanes (four steals for a squad that forced 14 Celtics turnovers for 28 points), Gay still managed to offer up productive minutes without shooting the lights out.
Where'd the Second Unit Go?
Anyone looking to gripe about Bargnani might want to look down the bench at the contributions of his fellow reserves, many of whom have been invisible since the roster changes. Alan Anderson, who was the bench's second-leading scorer with five points, shot 2-7 from the floor to continue a five-game stretch in which he has made just eight of 41 attempts (19.5%). Beyond that, the minutes crunch has put the squeeze on rising rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, who combined for no shot attempts over just 6:35 of floor time. Shouldn't a 17-32 team be doing a little more to develop their young talent?
- Ross might actually see more floor time in Houston over All-Star weekend, where he has been selected to take part in the Slam Dunk Contest after being shut out of the Rookie Challenge. In an event that will be short on star power but high on guys with hops (Gerald Green, Jeremy Evans, James White, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried are the opposition), I've got Ross impressing but falling before an Evans-White final showdown in which White dethrones the reigning champ.
- Regarding this Bargnani-for-Carlos Boozer rumour making the rounds: please, no. At a time when Toronto needs to be creating financial flexibility in the wake of the Gay deal, they'd be adding $32.1 million over the next two years for a player who is four years older than the guy being shipped out. As SI's Ben Golliver points out, adding Boozer would put the Raps at $55 million committed to five players (Boozer, Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Landry Fields) next season. That represents a group that still doesn't guarantee a play-off spot.
- Doug Smith, on the status of Hamed Haddadi: "Not coming, never was. Can't play a lick." Okay, then.
The Raps visit Indy on Friday night (7:00pm, TSN), where they will meet the red-hot Pacers and Paul George, who is transforming into one of the league's best perimeter defenders.
Prediction: Pacers 104, Raps 98 (33-11 this season)