Coach grins and bears it

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Obviously, any coach can get Flipped.

But if Flip Saunders, who led the Minnesota Timberwolves to the best record in the NBA Western Conference last season, can get fired, does it give Raptors rookie coach Sam Mitchell cause to pause and reflect upon his chosen profession?

"That's how it is," Mitchell said with a shrug, in reference to the firing of Saunders on Saturday. "That's why you have to be thick-skinned and understand you always are open to criticism, win or lose."

The most frequently asked question in pro sports is, "What have you done for me lately?" And since the Raptors managed to beat the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 109-106 last night, at least for the moment Mitchell can provide a positive response.

Of course, there was nothing positive about what happened to the Raptors in the third quarter.

In the first half it appeared as if the craziest thing that was going to be seen at the Air Canada Centre yesterday was Shaun Livingston's hair. The Clippers rookie guard sports an afro right out of 1976.

But then the Raptors, who had a 20-point lead in the first half, opened the second half by allowing the Clippers to go on a 20-1 run. That set up a nail-biter down the stretch.

The most important play of the fourth quarter from the Raptors' perspective was an up-and-down move for a spectacular bucket by Chris Bosh with 3:24 to go. Bosh was fouled, too, and when he converted the three-point play, the Raptors were up by four.

"I didn't even see the bucket," Bosh said. "I just wanted to make sure I was going in an upward motion so I could get to the free-throw line. It just went in."

No, no, no, Chris. You're supposed to say you had it planned all along, and that all men should fear you.

"I haven't made a move like that all year," Bosh said with a laugh. "So if you haven't seen me do it (previously), it probably won't happen again."

Bosh's inadequate trash-talk notwithstanding, something quite remarkable happened as the ball rolled in.

Mitchell smiled.

It was there for just a second, before he readjusted his game face. But the coach definitely smiled.

"I called Rafer (Alston) over and I was thinking about one play, but Rafer suggested to me that we run a play for Chris," Mitchell said. "At the time, I thought Chris was tired. I asked Rafer, 'Is Chris too tired to get to the basket?' And Rafer said, 'Coach, not only is he going to get there, but he's going to get us one.' "

Well, it's nice to hear that Mitchell and Alston, the Raptors' volatile point guard, can work together on something besides getting on each other's nerves. So given the exchange of information, plus the fact that what they talked about actually worked, not to mention that Bosh made it just a heck of a thing to watch ... well, who wouldn't smile?

CONTROVERSY

True, Mitchell has not had much to smile about in the past week or so, with his team wading through controversy after controversy.

And since nothing ever is completely smooth in Raptorland, there was the matter last night of the team's leading scorer, Jalen Rose, not playing in the fourth quarter. Rose said he was happy the team won, but obviously he wasn't thrilled to be watching the final quarter from the bench.

Knowing the Raptors, something else will happen today. And as the coach, Mitchell will have to deal with it, be it good news or bad news.

Mitchell's smile lasted for only a moment yesterday.

But if you keep things in a certain perspective, then hey, Mitchell actually has more to grin about this morning than Flip Saunders.


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