Raps saved by better half

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

It almost was an embarrassing loss.

Instead, it was an ugly win.

With the Charlotte Bobcats dressing just 10 players and coming off a double-overtime win Tuesday night in Carolina, the plucky second-year squad hung tough for most of the game before the Raptors took charge in the nick of time last night at the Air Canada Centre.

The Raptors (12-24), led by the always-reliable Chris Bosh, wiped out a 12-point halftime deficit and beat the Bobcats 95-86 before an announced crowd of 14,098. The Bobcats (11-24) were down to nine players after starting point guard Brevin Knight left at halftime with back spasms.

"We've got 12 wins. How are we going to play down to anyone?" said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, clearly not thrilled with his team's performance. "I would look like a knucklehead to stand here and say that. This is sports and no one is supposed to win. You've got to give the effort and the execution and do the things necessary to win."

It didn't look as if the Raptors were going to do that, but they finally stepped it up in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Trailing 85-84, the Raptors scored 11 of the game's final 12 points. The dagger was a Morris Peterson three, after an offensive rebound by Bosh, that put the Raptors up 89-85.

When asked if he wasn't happy with much of what the Raptors did last night, Mitchell said: "It's not even worth talking about. There are some things we can work on. We've just got to continue to get better.

"I just give a lot of credit to Charlotte. Those guys played a double-overtime game. They lost a lot of players and they came out and played hard and competed. They represented the Bobcats well. You've got to give those guys credit."

Bosh scored a game-high 29 points and added 10 rebounds, while Mike James scored 24. Four players reached double figures for the Bobcats, led by Jumaine Jones with 17.

The Bobcats were missing six players by the end of the game. Emeka Okafor, the NBA's 2004-05 rookie of the year re-injured his right ankle on Tuesday and did not dress last night. Others out were Melvin Ely, Kareem Rush, Sean May and Jake Voskuhl.

Once again, the Raptors beat a team missing its best player. They twice beat the Rockets without Yao Ming and topped the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat without their stars, Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal, respectively.

"This is the NBA," Peterson said. "You've still got other guys who can play. You look at their (Charlotte's) roster and you don't see any stars on there. You don't see any big names, but those are the teams you've got to watch for."

On the downside, the Raptors first-year players seem to be hitting the proverbial rookie wall. Forward Charlie Villanueva (four points) didn't play the second half last night for the second game in a row, and point guard Jose Calderon (nine minutes, two points, zero assists) hasn't been the same player in his four games since returning from a right ankle injury. The other rookie, Joey Graham, scored one point last night.


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