Gamble paid off for Raps

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

It seemed like a logical question, but Raptors coach Sam Mitchell reacted as if a cannon had been pointed at him.

Mitchell had just spent 10 minutes extolling the virtues of a makeshift Raptors lineup that played the final nine minutes on Wednesday in a stunning 104-95 victory against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.

The fab fivesome featured starters Chris Bosh, Loren Woods and Rafer Alston, as well as bench players Morris Peterson and Lamond Murray.

Most notably, starters Vince Carter and Jalen Rose were relegated to cheerleading roles down the stretch.

Mitchell lately has spoken often about the questionable shot selection and sporadic defensive intensity of his starting unit, as compared to the generally hard-nosed appoach of his second unit.

Thus, Mitchell was asked a straight-forward question:

"Are you the type of coach whose starters are written in stone?"

Mitchell immediately became irritated.

"I don't even think that's a fair question to ask," Mitchell said, although exactly what was unfair about it is a mystery.

There is a difference between a question that someone doesn't want to answer and a question that is unfair.

"We are five games into the season. You're trying to go down a road that we don't need to even think about.

"That's not something I've even thought about," Mitchell said, refusing to let the questioner get in another word. "No, I haven't thought about it."

Well, you can read a little, or a lot, into Mitchell's exasperated reply. Either way, the manner in which the Raptors won on Wednesday probably will be good for both the starters and the bench players in the long run, as long as egos don't begin to get bruised if it happens again.

For Carter and Rose, that game will serve as a message that the Raptors have some depth this season and court time is not guaranteed any more.

And for bench players like Peterson and Murray, the game will serve as a message that their positive actions are going to be noticed and rewarded.

To many observers, having Carter sit for most of the fourth quarter was a gutsy, risky move on Mitchell's part. But to those in the arena who were caught up in the ebb and flow of the game, it actually was quite logical at the time.

Mitchell said it was not his specific intention to bench Carter and Rose, and that's completely believeable.

As luck would have it, the players Mitchell had on the floor simply got stronger and stronger as the fourth quarter ticked away.

They never let down their guard long enough to make a substitution justified.

And then, suddenly, there were only a couple of minutes to go and the Raptors were in control.

Carter, predictably, said all the right things.

"It's a nice luxury, because at any point now the opposing coaching staff has to say, 'Well, this five could be in or that five could be in,' and they have to prepare for it," Carter said.

Carter had suggested on Tuesday after a blowout loss in Sacramento that the Raptors' starters had yet to jell.

"(Wednesday) was a step in the right direction," said Carter, noting that the Raptors surged to a 7-0 lead, although they were trailing by the end of the first quarter.

OLD ADAGE

"What's important now is for good play to be contagious for 10 or 11 guys, whoever steps on the floor."

Mitchell has been known to repeat the old coaching adage that you should read the team name on the front of a jersey, not the player's name on the back.

On Wednesday, his actions backed up his words.

It remains to be seen if this is a one-time lightning strike or the start of a trend.

Just don't ask Mitchell about the possibility of ever changing his starting five.

Apparently it's a raw nerve.


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