Raptors find way to winCoach praises play of Curry, Carter as key to victory over Clippers
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
LOS ANGELES -- The Raptors' trip has taken them from the blinding blizzards of Utah to the mudslides of Southern California. If it starts raining frogs in Denver today, NBA commissioner David Stern may pull the plug on the Raptors' season in an effort to fend off the end of the world.
But from the club's perspective, the string of disasters -- both natural and otherwise -- was halted on the court yesterday when it gutted out a 94-88 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers before a crowd of 14,311 at the Staples Center.
"That's the way I want our team to play," said Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill, who singled out Vince Carter and Michael Curry in particular for praise.
Forward Marko Jaric summed up the Clippers' perspective after his team's five-game home winning streak was snapped: "It feels like we got punched."
Stylistically, the game was not unlike the Raptors' 97-94 overtime loss at Utah on Friday. But yesterday the Raptors made more plays -- and got the benefit of more officials calls -- down the stretch than did their opponents.
Case in point: With 25.7 seconds left and the Raptors up by two points, the Clippers' Quentin Richardson had a layup waved off when he was called for a charge on Carter.
"It was kind of brave of me, I think," Carter said with a smile. "The play before that I tried to take a charge and they called it a block.
"The guy came right back in the lane so I said, 'Well, I'm going to try it again.' It's not 'live by the charge, die by the charge,' but I felt I was in position. I just said, 'I'm going to stand here and hope for the best.' "
And this time, at least, the Raptors' hopes were rewarded as they improved to 15-14. They'll practise in Denver today before completing this three-game Western junket against the Nuggets tomorrow night.
The Raptors got widespread offensive contributions yesterday from the likes of Jalen Rose (a game-high 23 points), Carter (22 points, including seven in the final 3:44), Donyell Marshall (19 points and nine rebounds despite getting into early foul trouble) and Alvin Williams (14 points and eight rebounds). But the win couldn't have occurred without Curry, a 35-year-old, 6-foot-5 swingman who spent much of the fourth quarter guarding dangerous 6-foot-8 Clippers wide-body Elton Brand.
"With Curry on Brand, the Clippers tried to go to Brand every time, which is what we wanted," O'Neill said. "Mike did a great job using his fouls in the post at the right time."
Two days earlier in Utah, Curry tried to guard the much longer Andrei Kirilenko, with decidedly mixed results. But yesterday Brand scored only four points in the fourth quarter, with Curry bumping him at every turn.
"He's a load down there," Curry said. "I just tried to be active on him."
As a team, the Raptors were more active than in recent weeks. They still got outrebounded badly, 49-33, but most of the key loose balls at crunch time wound up in purple hands.
"Mike Curry is all I'll say," O'Neill said. "He's only 6-foot-5, but his man ain't getting the rebound. So now you have to deal with one less big-man rebounder.
"We have to get Chris (Bosh) and Lonny (Baxter) and Donyell (Marshall) all in the same mindset, that your man is not getting the ball. That's what Mike does. He's going to kamikaze one guy and take him out, and that makes it a lot easier for us to rebound as a group."
The Raptors weren't perfect, but defensively they were resilient and offensively they were opportunistic.
"We're moving in the right direction," O'Neill said, "in terms of getting an identity."