Ford in the fast lane

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

At Ford, the slogan says, quality is job one.

That statement also appears to hold true for T.J. Ford.

With Raptors star Chris Bosh out for his 10th consecutive game last night, the point guard continued his all-star calibre play, leading Toronto to a dramatic 100-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre.

Ford, who scored a game- and season-high 28 points, made the biggest shot of the night to put the Raptors up 95-91 with 29.9 seconds left. The Atlantic Division-leading team did everything in its power to throw it away after that, missing three consecutive foul shots and giving ex-Raptors point guard Mike James a chance to win it at the free-throw line with three freebies.

But the Raptors held on for dear life to improve to 6-4 without Bosh.

"I can't say enough about how (Ford) has played, the last two weeks, especially," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "He's either making a pass or making a shot. We want to have the ball in his hands."

Ford, who made a career-high 12 field goals on 18 attempts, has improved his shot, his perceived weakness, dramatically in recent games. He has nailed 32 of 57 shots in the past three games, good for a 56.1% clip.

"With Chris being out, I think the team really depends on me and they're looking for that out of me," Ford said. "They're looking for me to put up points and take the shots and continue to put pressure on the defence. Right now, I'm just in a groove."

So are the Raptors, who have won three of their past four (the wins are by a combined six points) and improved to 8-3 at home with the latest triumph.

But it became a real nail-biter after Ford's big shot. Anthony Parker missed two free throws, opening the door for the Wolves, who cut the lead to two before Jose Calderon missed one of two to make it a three-point game. Then, the Raptors failed to foul early in a Timberwolves possession -- Mitchell blamed it on himself for not being clear in a timeout -- and James was fouled by Ford while trying to get off a three-point shot, giving him three foul shots. He made Nos. 1 and 3, but clanked it off the front rim on the second.

"I brushed that second free throw," said James, who scored 20 points. "I'm disappointed in myself. We're still supposed to be playing right now."

Parker then regrouped to nail two free throws, leading to a frantic finish with Kevin Garnett missing a potential game-tying three as the Raptors failed to foul early again.

"I thought I had maybe a chance to ice the game at that point (the free throws after Ford's clutch shot) and I was a little mad at myself," said Parker, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. "Going back to the huddle, I told myself maybe I'll get another chance to redeem myself and fortunately it came around."

Raptors centre Rasho Nesterovic, who did an admirable job against Garnett (24 points), put the Raptors up for good -- 93-91 -- after converting a no-look pass from Andrea Bargnani.

The Raptors play host to the Chicago Bulls tomorrow before concluding 2006 with a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.


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