Raptors getting it right

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani gets by New Jersey Nets Mikki Moore.  (Dave Thomas, Toronto...

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani gets by New Jersey Nets Mikki Moore. (Dave Thomas, Toronto Sun)

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 6:40 PM ET

Two years on, you might think the Raptors, and especially their fans, would have moved on.

Closure? Not a chance.

There's no more incendiary combination than a full house and a visit from the New Jersey Nets and ol' pal Vince Carter.

Once again last night there was plenty of energy in the Air Canada Centre, and the Raptors fed off it all night long on their way to a satisfying 90-78 victory over the Nets.

In this goofy season in the NBA's Titanic Division, this wasn't just a win over a rival. It also keeps Toronto in touch with the division-leading Celtics, despite their modest 9-14 record. In this, the weakest division in pro sports, anything can happen.

And last night, it did. Since he left here, Carter had lit up the Raptors for an average of 27 points a game, but not this time. The Raptors' defence, primarily Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa, did an outstanding job on Carter. Carter, who had gone off for a total of 73 points in his past two games and came in averaging 28 a game, was limited to a season-low 12 points, including just four in the first half.

On the night, Carter shot just 4-of-17. And the crowd loved it.

"I could care less," said Carter, speaking about the crowd reaction. "It doesn't bother me at all.

"I don't hear it."

Perhaps, but how's this for emphatic punctuation? After resting for eight minutes at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, a time when the Nets closed to tie the game briefly, Carter came off the bench and Toronto went on a 7-0 run to take the lead for good.

All five Toronto starters scored in double-figures, led by T.J. Ford with 17 and Parker and Joey Graham each with 15 points.

"I caught a good rhythm out there," said Ford, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. "They kept giving me the shots and I kept taking them."

The big story of this game was, most assuredly, the smothering defence the Raps threw at Carter and Jason Kidd. Carter was kept on ice most of the evening.

"We just wanted to make him take tough shots," said Parker, of Carter. "We knew it was going to be a sellout and that they were going to be hard on him. I guess they're always hard on him. But there was a lot of energy in the building and we just fed off it."

Carter saw a variety of defenders all night. Parker and Jorge Garbajosa were on him early and effectively, but he saw a lot of Joey Graham and Mo Peterson as well. In the absence once again of Chris Bosh, the Raptors knew they had to step up.

"Everybody knows they have to step in and fill that void," Parker said. "Nobody really can, but we have to do our best.

"The biggest thing is the help. You can't play (Carter) with one guy. You got to throw him a lot of bodies and make him take tough shots. If he hits it, tip your hat."

There wasn't much tipping of hats last night for the second game in a row, having smothered Orlando on Wednesday.

"To hold Orlando to 40% and this team to under 40, I thought our guys gave an unbelievable effort on defence," coach Sam Mitchell said. "Rasho's (Nesterovic) play at the back kept them from punishing us. All the guys who played, played well."

Another key element was that, unlike so many games this year, the Raptors jumped out to an early lead. They were up by 10 after a quarter and held that same advantage at the half. New Jersey cut into that advantage in the third quarter but could not sustain it.

"If you look at a lot of our games where we start off slow then try to play catch-up, by the time we get back into the game, we've used up all our energy," Peterson said. "Then down the stretch, that's when we get beat."

Not this night and perhaps this game, more than any others so far this year, shows the young Raptors are learning faster than everybody expected them to. They've played a brutal schedule to this point and there isn't much let-up until the new year.

After tomorrow's game at home against Golden State, Toronto heads west for four in a row. If they can survive this trip better than the last one (0-for-5), they may be able to start making some hay with a predominant home schedule starting in January, when 10 of their 15 games are at the ACC.

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REPORT CARD

B Offence: Moved the ball well, recording 21 assists, compared to Jersey's 12, including only six by Jason Kidd. Shot 45% from the floor.

B+ Defence: Kept New Jersey to 39% from the field and 3-for-18 from three-point range. Contained Vince Carter. Vinsanity went 4-for-17 from the floor.


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