Raps find winning touch

Kings' Tyreke Evans (right) goes up for the jump shot with Raptors' Antoine Wright (centre) and...

Kings' Tyreke Evans (right) goes up for the jump shot with Raptors' Antoine Wright (centre) and Andrea Bargnani defending on Sunday. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

Kings coach Paul Westphal hit the nail on the head.

"We blinked," he said. "We missed, they didn't."

It's a scenario that is playing out late in games more and more frequently where these Raptors are concerned, Sunday's 115-104 win over the Sacramento Kings was just the latest.

For the better part of three quarters, the Raptors do enough good things and just enough bad things to keep a game close. But with the game on the line, these Raptors find a way to close things out and that more than any reason is why they have won nine of their past 12 and are openly talking about a playoff push and even home court advantage for the early going.

Sunday’s fourth quarter magic was the perfect combination of improved defence and a stellar offence that involved just about every single Raptor on the floor.

Down three to start the fourth and behind by as many as seven less than a minute later, there was no panic on the Raptor bench. These Raptors are past that point.

Since that now mythical meeting back in early December in Washington, the Raptors have followed a set script with the odd tweak where their late-game philosophy is concerned. They play their traditional defence for the first three quarters and then depending on the score and what bodies are still available make an adjustment that has rarely failed them.

Coach Jay Triano isn’t about to spell out exactly what they are doing, but it has been hard to argue with the results.

“We don’t want to show it too soon,” Triano cautioned.

Offensively the Raps have enough scoring threats that Triano barely concerns himself with that end of things. It starts with Chris Bosh but when teams start trapping Bosh like they did Sunday and he gets the ball either swinging side to side or finding cutters, this team really is tough to stop.

“I give our guys credit because for a change we didn’t just stand on the perimeter,” Triano said of his team’s fourth quarter play. “We had guys cutting and diving and Chris found them. And when we didn’t find those guys we swung it and found somebody else moving. Everybody gets credit when the ball goes in.”

And if there was a guy enjoying that sharing of the ball and moving the ball more than Jose Calderon, he was doing a better job of hiding it than the Raptor point guard.

As the team left he court for one time out during the fourth quarter, Calderon was downright giddy at the pretty passing play he had just witnessed that saw the ball go around the horn and wind up with a nine-foot jumper by Andrea Bargnani. Every player on the floor touched the ball and for Calderon that is basketball at its best.

“We know each other, we have confidence in each other,” Calderon said. “It doesn’t matter who gets the basket or who gets the assist. We have to do this together,” he said. “We don’t have the LeBron James who can score 50 points every night. We have CB but we need to help him too. When we are good, we are together.”

And right now this Raptors’ team is together. Bosh, who had a monster game — that’s almost become a cliche this season — Sunday with 36 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, is at the peak of his own basketball brilliance these days. As humble as any all-star in the game, Bosh even admitted he’s at his best right now, but he’s not sure why.

“I don’t know why,” Bosh said. “I just feel good. Everything feels great. My body feels good. I feel good. The team is playing better.”

Bosh, who was the Raptor talking about making that playoff push after the game, isn’t hesitating anymore when he’s got multiple defenders running at him. He’s finding an open teammate and that teammate is either making the opponent pay for overplaying Bosh or sending it to someone else who will.

“You look at all the good teams, they always move the ball well and find the open guy and expect him to take a good shot,” Hedo Turkoglu said. “And a good shot is going to be the open shot.”

And now it's the opposition which is doing all the blinking.


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