Raptors return to flight

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

CHICAGO -- When the only criticism on the night is your dance moves, you know you've done well.

Having missed 11 of the past 12 games, Jose Calderon's return turned out to be everything the Raptors needed.

Bad third quarters? Not last night.

Inability to close out a win? Not last night.

Not with Calderon operating at peak efficiency finishing with a team high 23 points, 10 assists and nary a turnover in 291/2 minutes.

And probably best of all, not a twinge in the strained hamstring that has kept him off the court for the better part of the past three weeks.

It all added up to a 114-94 win over the Chicago Bulls, snapping a season-high seven game losing streak.

The only blemish on Calderon's night, if you want to call it that, was an out-of-character celebratory dance -- Jason Kapono called it a Spanish Mambo, another member of the Raptors chose the Spanish Fly -- after a three-pointer with a minute and a half remaining that extended the Raptors lead to 18.

Calderon was not about to apologize for his celebration. "It just came out," he said. "Don't worry. You will never see it again."

But having watched his team sink lower and lower in the standings while he worked tirelessly to stay ready for that moment when the hamstring no longer was a concern, Calderon knew a win last night was pivotal and he delivered when it mattered most.

The three-pointer was part of a 20-2 run that sealed the game. The Bulls had closed to within two with 5:23 remaining but were held to just a pair of Derrick Rose free throws the rest of the night while Calderon methodically found the open teammate or scored the basketball himself.

"We needed to win," said Calderon, who had nine of those final 20 points. "We played for 48 minutes and that's the first time we have done that in a long time."

Anthony Parker, who had the unenviable task of moving over from his starting shooting guard spot to fill in for Calderon the past four games, sounded like the baseball player who finally got his ace closer back.

CLUTCH LATE

"At the end of these games we have always have been talking about how unsuccessful we are at closing things out," Parker said. "We've had leads going into those last two or three minutes and I think everybody saw the difference tonight and it was Jose. We have been in this type of situation in something like seven of the past nine games but he was the difference. He made plays, he made shots, he made the right play every time down the stretch."

And unlike nine days ago when the Bulls waltzed into the Air Canada Centre and rode a red-hot point guard of their own by the name of Derrick Rose down the fourth quarter for a come-from-behind win, the Raptors defence kept Rose in check this time around.

"We applauded our bigs in the locker room. They did a great job," head coach Jay Triano said. "They were there with their bodies in their (defensive) stance and we just showed him as many bodies as we possibly could. We had Jose and our guards run over top and our bigs showing as much body as we could."

MIKE.GANTER@SUNMEDIA.CA

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I just think Jose means a lot to our team. I remember the feeling when we realized he would be out an extended amount of time. It was like 'What do we do now.' You kind of forget all the things he does but it was pretty glaring out there tonight," Parker said.

Basketball is basketball. There are some changes for sure. I'm still not used to this three-point line. Every three I try is still an adventure. It's just so far. But the game is still the game. I know this stuff. I don't think that much anymore about it. I still need some time."

I am pretty satisfied with the mechanics of my shot, but it's very hard playing limited minutes - OK last month I've played more - but I have never been a great shooter. I could hit a couple of shots but I was never the guy going four-for=four from the corner. I was more like the guy they didn't know what to expect from. But my mid-range jumper is progressing very well. My mechanics are all right now. I just need to get the consistency and you only get that shooting every day.

We'll just have to monitor his minutes and fatigue level. He was good yesterday though. He showed no signs of fatigue in practice.

We talked this morning in our coaches meeting about how we can be flexible with managing the minutes at the point guard spot.

The reason they hurt us last time is becuase they went small. They put all perimeter guys out there and let Rose get in those screen and roll situations and that was what was tough for us.

The thing we have to remember is when we played these guys last, we had just come off two tough emotional games in which we played well agaisnt the Boston Celtics. I think we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. You can't not play with 100% intensity against everybody. You have to play hard. I don't know if it was our schemes or what but we were half a step slower that game. We got off to a poor start, we came back, and then we couldn't finish off the game because we couldn't find a way to stop Rose after he had so many good things going for him.

That I have seen so far yes, but I'm a little biased because I coached him last summer (with the US selects team). I saw some of the things he could do then.

If they go small, we might have to go big. When we go big we're goign to have to go inside but it's not our nature for some of our bigs so we sometimes play into their hands."

They'll go positional to start, but when they go small, that's when we have to adjust.

For a third point guard he's getting more minutes than he normally would.

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REPLAY

RECORD PACE

Jose Calderon moved into second place in the career list for consecutive free throws made last night. Calderon, now at 83, moved past former Denver Nuggets Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and needs 14 more to tie Michael Williams of Minnesota who had 97 in a row back in '93.

POOR ANDREA

The public address announcer at the United Center last night pronounced Andrea Bargnani's name the entire evening like his parents had a daughter.


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