Raptors star shines bright
By FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun
ORLANDO -- No matter who starts in Kevin O'Neill's suddenly secret rotation or who is on the floor in crunch time, there's no mistaking who will be asked to take most of the shots and who will be asked to win or lose the game for the Raptors. O'Neill was ridiculed earlier when he said Vince Carter was among the top-five talents in the NBA -- when healthy.
Having watched Carter almost single-handedly beat the Hawks in Atlanta in an overtime thriller on Wednesday by stepping up at both ends of the floor, it's hard for anyone to disagree with O'Neill now.
Consistency has been an issue with Carter, who was settling for too many jump shots prior to the team's visit to Dixie.
But against Atlanta, Carter went 18-for-28 from the field, including a sizzling 11-for-14 during the second half.
During the fourth quarter, when the Raptors forced an extra period by outscoring the Hawks 27-19, Carter made seven of eight shots and scored 16 points.
In the six previous games, Carter went a combined 38-for-109 shooting from the field and seldom got to the foul line with any regularity.
No wonder he called Wednesday's game a "breakout" performance.
In the big picture, Carter may have saved the Raptors' season. At the very least he injected life into a listless team that has yet to handle adversity in the form of back-to-back games, trade rumours and new roles under the demanding rookie coach.
"Tough times show true character and that's what we're going to find out," co-captain Michael Curry said of the Raptors, whose four-game trip takes them to Florida for back-to-back games against Orlando tonight and Miami tomorrow. "We're going to see what we're made of.''
It was Curry who called the play that led to Carter's game-winning jumper with 1.2 seconds left.
The small forward was replaced by Lamond Murray in the starting lineup. The other change made by O'Neill was to give rookie Chris Bosh his second start of the season.
"Every team wins because of their stars,'' O'Neill said of the league's landscape. "You can't expect Vince to score 40 a night. But we had guys step up. Antonio (Davis) stepped up and I think he'll step up more.
"We put ourselves in a position where we had a chance to win. Vince is going to get his touches (down the stretch)."
The Raptors came back from a 16-point deficit in Atlanta. In their season-opening win over New Jersey, the Raptors trailed by as many as 13.
They trailed again in a home win over Washington.
In each of Toronto's seven wins, the one constant has been Carter and O'Neill making sure the ball is in his superstar's hands so he can make plays or create for his teammates when the game is on the line.
"It's all about confidence,'' Carter said.
And O'Neill is confident Carter will make the necessary play.