The situation became rather four-boding for the Philadelphia 76ers when Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell put Andrea Bargnani back into last night's game with 5:47 to play.
The Raptors, who led by as much as 22 points in the third quarter, found themselves holding on to just a one-point advantage when the team's new starting centre was sent back out.
Just more than a minute later, Bargnani nailed a three-point jump shot from 29 feet out while being knocked to the ground by Canadian team standout Samuel Dalembert. The big Italian then walked to the free throw line and calmly completed the four-point play to give Toronto a 94-89 lead and knock the wind out of the surging 76ers.
The play was huge, obviously, but it was Bargnani's overall play that made the biggest difference in the Raptors' 106-97 opening night victory, their third consecutive home-opening win.
Bargnani played only 22 minutes, the result of some early foul trouble, but made the most of his time on the court, scoring a team-leading 20 points, with five rebounds and two blocked shots. He shot 6-for-11 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point range.
Bargnani said it was difficult at times for him to get back into the game after playing less than five minutes in the first half.
"I took two stupid fouls at the beginning of the game so I have to be more focused," he said. "I can't get in foul trouble so early. I have to work on that."
Bargnani was particularly big in the fourth, scoring eight points as Chris Bosh, who missed three pre-season games with a sore left knee, struggled with his energy level and finished with 16 points.
"C.B. got tired (in the fourth quarter) and ran out of gas," Mitchell said. "Andrea had to come back in the game and anchor our defence and score some baskets for us."
The Raptors finished last season at 47-35, a 20-game improvement from the year before, and won the Atlantic Division. But they will hard-pressed to match that output with the Eastern Conference much stronger than before. Wins over supposed inferior teams such as the 76ers are crucial this season and Mitchell was breathing a sign of relief afterwards, as the rebuilding Philadelphia side played hard to the very end.
Andre Iguodala hit a three-pointer with 5:25 left to bring the 76ers to within one, then scored a layup after two Bosh frees to make it 90-89.
A few minutes after that, newcomer Jason Kapono nailed a 19-foot jump shot to put Toronto up by nine and that was all she ran.
Starting point guard T.J. Ford picked up a double-double, 14 points and 12 assists, as well as two steals, while his understudy, Jose Calderon, had 13 points and four assists.
The Raptors forced Philadelphia into 18 turnovers while Toronto managed only two fast-break points.
However, the Raptors' old bugaboo, a lack of success on the boards, reared its ugly head again as Philadelphia out-rebounded Toronto, 47-35, including 16 on the offensive boards.
Iguodala led all 76ers scorers with 23, while picking up eight rebounds. Philly sharpshooter Kyle Korver came off the bench to score 20. Philadelphia forward Reggie Evans had 15 rebounds.