Young Raptors step up in the absence of Bargnani, Calderon

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:20 PM ET

TORONTO - A weekend without Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon didn’t turn out to be the death spiral some would have expected for the Raptors without the team’s leading scorer and it’s primary distributor.

Not that the Raptors weren’t already mathematically done for the year, but instead of an anticipated letdown, these Raptors excelled in the absence of two key starters.

In fact, you could make the argument that in back-to-back games against Chicago and Orlando — a loss followed by a 102-98 upset on Sunday — these were the best consecutive games the Raptors have played all year.

Head coach Jay Triano seemed to be leaning that way.

“I think we’ve played 96 minutes of very good basketball the last two nights,” Triano said. “Our guys are playing hard, they are playing aggressive and they are sharing the basketball.”

Triano though was quick to refute any suggestion that perhaps the Raptors were playing well because Bargnani and Calderon weren’t on the floor.

“We’ve played well when they’ve been in the lineup,” Triano said. “Jose has had games where he has had 16, 17 and 18 assists. Andrea has had games where he’s had 30-something points at different times. We just happen to be playing a little bit of a different way right now.”

At the very least, the Raptors got a look at what life might be like should they ever choose to part ways with a guy like Bargnani who has been such a focal part of this team since he was selected first overall in 2006.

YOUNG AND RESTLESS

The Raptors starting lineup both Saturday and Sunday was the second youngest group to start a game in franchise history.

Saturday it took the favourite for league MVP honours Derrick Rose everything he had to avoid being upset by the upstart Raptors.

Sunday the co-favourite or second favourite for the same award, Dwight Howard had a monster game of his own but could not overcome this determined group.

With Howard out of the game for 4:30 early in the fourth quarter, the game went from an eight-point Orlando lead to a one-point Raptors edge.

“It’s a little ridiculous that we can’t even let Dwight get a drink of water, but that’s the way it is,” a disgusted Stan Van Gundy said. “When he leaves, we have no defence and today we have very little offence. It’s crazy.”

TAKING CARE OF THE BALL

Jerryd Bayless, starting at point guard in place of Calderon who is out with a strained hamstring, played a total of 72 minutes and 49 seconds this weekend and combined in the two games scored 49 points with 16 assists and just two turnovers.

In Rose and Jameer Nelson he was also up against two of the bigger scoring threats at the point guard position in the league. You couldn’t say Bayless shut either down — Rose had 36 points and 10 assists while Nelson had 21 and seven — but you can say he got back as much as he gave up give or take a few here or there.

Bayless seemed relieved to have something to celebrate.

“Obviously it has been a bumpy road up and down this year,” he said. “Hopefully we are ending the year on a good note and we take some of this into next year, maybe make the playoffs and do some damage.”

NO FORGIVENESS

Toronto fans have clearly neither forgotten nor forgiven Hedo Turkoglu, who is back with the Magic again, for his one lackadaisical year with the Raptors.

Perhaps the one Raptor with most to gain yesterday from a public relations perspective was James Johnson who spent most of his 31 minutes matched up against the Raptors poster boy for indifferent play.

Whether it was Johnson’s defence or more likely the hostile reception, Turkoglu looked very much like the Turkoglu that Torontonians grew to dislike like few athletes have ever been loathed in Toronto before.

He finished the night with 11 points, three assists and two rebounds going 0-for-3 from the free throw line.

The sellout crowd began the night booing him as he was introduced and continued to let him hear it every time he touched the ball during the game.

The season may be over for the Raptors, but the fans haven’t given up and there’s clearly more fight left in the team too.


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