No one was happier to see Charlotte pop up on the schedule this week than Bobcats bopper Chris Bosh.
Add the excellent timing of a Joey Graham breakout game and the Raptors are a lot better off this morning.
With the team showing some troubling symptoms in a three-game losing streak amid doubts about defence and their bench in the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's injury, they needed traction in a hurry, walking over the Bobcats 93-86 last night.
"There was a little bit of tension in here," Graham said after getting 17 points in mostly crowd-pleasing fashion and gutting out some big rebounds along with Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. "There were some big question marks; 'what's going on, what are the missing links?' We saw things we had to work on and did it."
Raptors coach Sam Mitchell admitted it will be hard to keep Graham from starting ahead of Jamario Moon here tomorrow against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bobcats aren't the NBA's worst team, but they've been very kind to Bosh over the years. The game barely was half over when he'd exceeded his 12-game average of 24.5 points against them, en route to a game-high 39. He also topped his average rebounds with 11 and was 15 of 20 from the floor.
"Everybody is saying that," Bosh said of his regular carnage against Charlotte, including a 30-point game there earlier this month that prevented an upset loss. "I don't pay attention. I play my same game every night, come out aggressive, try to have a certain intensity. If they get the worst of it, then that's what it is."
Mitchell was in awe of his captain, who rested only 2:55 the whole night.
"I don't even know what to say," Mitchell gushed. "After the game I just shook his hand. The way he has been playing, it just takes your breath away.
"I used to tell Chris all the time the great ones walk on the floor every night and they feel like they're the best player on the court. It's just an air of confidence, something you have to have inside of you. And it's mental. We know he has the talent and it's just coming in focused and ready to go every night."
With O'Neal sitting in the trainer's room trying to get both his sore ankle and knee ready for the weekend, the Raptors went to Sunday's original plan of sliding Bargnani over as the replacement centre and Moon moving in at small forward. Moon gave way to Graham late in the first half, Graham having played just 11 minutes the past five games.
After standing around in awe of the Boston Celtics at the start of Sunday's game, the Raptors came out last night and quickly worked the ball to Bosh, who scored 24 first-half points. But it was some wonky shooting as well as more of the gaping holes in coverage that allowed the Bobcats to hang around, down just five at the half. D.J. Augustin had six consecutive points in the second quarter as Charlotte was up by four at one stage. Gerald Wallace led them with 23 points.
"When your better shooters like Adam (Morrison) and Matt (Carroll) go 2-for-12, that's going to impact us a little bit," coach Larry Brown said. "Bosh was great and Graham gave them a big lift. (Toronto point guard) Jose Calderon played about as well as you can play. He never takes a bad shot and gets everyone involved."
But it was Bosh who provided the biggest push for his team.
"We got some stops and rebounds when we needed them and it seemed like when we needed a basket he was either the guy making the shot or making the pass or getting the offensive rebound," Mitchell said.