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Minus some sloppy ball handling, Friday night's game was a Dwane Casey special. The Toronto Raptors (26-40) demonstrated a defensive commitment, upped their intensity heading into the final 12 minutes and, while the didn't always execute offensively, they played aggressively in looking to get to the rim.
The Bobcats shot just 32.5% (26-80) on the night, underscored by an abysmal 7.7% (1-13) shooting in the fourth quarter, which turned what was a one-point lead heading into the fourth into a 92-78 final that was never in doubt after a 15-4 run. Among the worst shooting efforts from Charlotte, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shot 2-12 and missed his two free throw attempts, Kemba Walker shot 5-17 including 2-8 shooting from three-point range and Ben Gordon made just four of his 16 shot attempts.
Toronto's effort was anchored by an efficient performance by Rudy Gay and a career rebounding performance by Amir Johnson. Gay paced the team with 28 points on 11-16 shooting, while Johnson single-handledly secured a rebounding edge for the home team, grabbing 21 boards and blocking three shots.
Amir's Career Night
Johnson's 21 rebounds, the first 20+ effort by a Raptor since Joey Dorsey (!!!) pulled down 20 on April 11, 2011, represented over a quarter of the over-all available boards to be grabbed by either team. He was a constant presence in the paint, helping the Raps own a 40-26 PIP advantage and disrupting any potential rhythm that the Bobcats could ever hope to get into. Friday night's effort offered a taste of what Amir is capable of when he doesn't get into early foul trouble (he only committed two on the night despite playing nearly 44 minutes.
Starting the Fourth Right
Obviously I don't know what Casey said to his charges heading into the final frame, but I would imagine it was something along the lines of 'don't stop what you're doing, keep challenging shots and look for the right opportunity at the other end of the court'. In reality, Toronto wasn't significantly tighter defensively in the fourth than they had been the rest of the game, but their earlier efforts begat a visiting team that lacked collective confidence and didn't boast a single hot shooter. Offensively, Gay sparked the club with six of their 15 points during that early pullaway run.
Coughing It Up
How could it be that the Raptors entered the fourth leading by just one despite having outshot Charlotte by nearly 10% (46.9 to 37.3%) through three quarters? In a word, turnovers. Gay and Johnson's big nights covered up some sloppy ball protection that saw each man commit six turnovers. Those cough-ups enabled Charlotte to hold a commanding 15-3 edge in fast break points (really, their biggest offensive weapon on the night).
- So, let me get this straight ... these guys actually beat Boston, the same team that posted a 24-point beatdown on the Raps on Wednesday??
Can the Raps be the team to finally stop the streaking, 21-0 Miami Heat (1:00pm, TSN2)? Well, no, probably not.
Prediction: Heat 99, Raps 95 (43-16 this season)