January 9, 2012
Raptors defence mauls Timberwolves
By Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency
TORONTO - It might not be the prettiest basketball to watch, but Dwane Casey has the Raptors playing a style of basketball that is getting results.
The team is doing it with defence, namely relentless, aggressive play inside. It led to a lot of fouls, but it worked on Monday, resulting in a 97-87 win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani again were the best Raptors. Bargnani led all scorers with 31 points and added nine rebounds, while Johnson, his frontcourt mate, harassed superstar Kevin Love into a brutal night while excelling himself.
Johnson scored a season-high 19 points, added 11 rebounds and bothered Love into a 3-for-16 shooting night.
Toronto held the Wolves to 34% shooting from the field.
Love refused to credit the Raptors for his “off-night” and while that was true of his 5-for-10 shooting from the line, Love was deceiving himself if he truly believed Johnson didn’t help keep him in check.
“A cap on the rim, had nothing to do with them, just had to do with me,” Love maintained.
“A lot of it was just easy little bunnies.”
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman agreed that Love just wasn’t himself, but admitted the obvious: “(Amir) Johnson hurt us on the boards.”
Johnson knew what he was up against and came in inspired, despite recovering from the flu and an injury to his thumb.
“I’ve watched a couple of his games and he is crazy on the glass so I just wanted to play aggressive and get him off the boards,” Johnson said.
Now 4-5 with a chance to get to .500 on Tuesday against the 0-8 Wizards. Despite shooting 3-for-19 from three two days after a 1-for-12 performance, Toronto’s secret in 2011-12 has been hard work.
In this one, the Raptors started the game well and finished the first half on a high as well.
The home side took a 55-49 advantage into the break.
Meanwhile, Love whined for foul calls and generally missed the mark.
In a key moment, with the game squared at 80, Johnson made another good defensive stand on Love and followed a Bargnani miss with a jam at the other end.
When Johnson stole the ball with 1:18 left and was hammered by Love, the crowd roared its approval and the game was all but over.
Toronto completely locked Minnesota down for the latter half of the fourth quarter, allowing only a single field goal.
SMALL FORWARD BATTLE
A battle could be brewing for the starting small forward spot. Struggling Rasual Butler had another ugly game on offence 1-for-8 shooting after coming in 8-for-31 in his previous five games. He showed well on defence, picking up a couple of blocks and a steal, but James Johnson was everywhere defensively and 2-of-3 from the field. While Butler missed a number of open threes that could have opened a gap for the Raptors when the game was tight.
TEACHER BESTS STUDENT
Jose Calderon matched up with countryman Ricky Rubio for the first time in the NBA on Monday night. Beforehand, Rubio said Calderon was someone he leaned on heavily as he made the transition to the NBA. Calderon bought the rookie dinner on Sunday night. How did Rubio plan to repay him? “With lots of assists.” Instead, Calderon bested Rubio with 14 points and six assists to the youngsters’ 10 and six on 2-for-9 shooting. Rubio came in and changed the game. Toronto was cruising when he entered, but Minnesota turned the tables before Toronto recovered to take the lead into the half.
At the end, Rubio gave his mentor his props. “It’s hard to guard him because he’s smart, he knows how to play and he shows one more time that he is a great point guard in the NBA,” Rubio said.
“He controlled the tempo of the game and he scored three shots in the end of the game to kill us.”
Toronto blocked 10 shots against New Jersey to zero by the Nets on Friday and again were human erasers, sending away nine shots, four by James Johnson. Ed Davis and Bargnani also had impressive swats … The Raptors were able to get into the passing lanes effectively in the first half. Meanwhile, Bargnani continued to defend switches and pick-and-rolls surprisingly well … Bargnani has not only been more active during plays this season, he has also been far more animated following plays.
Finally some clarity on centre Aaron Gray’s condition: The big man underwent an ablation procedure on Monday to fix his recurring episodes of a rapid heart rate. The team expects him to be ready to play within two weeks. Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson had to have three heart ablation procedures to get his condition in check … Point guard Jerryd Bayless was a no-go again and Casey said he is only now again able to put full weight on his injured ankle. Bayless is doubtful until Friday or Saturday’s games … Forward Linas Kleiza was in Colorado awaiting final approval from his doctors on a return to action following last winter’s knee surgery. Kleiza could play as soon as Wednesday against Sacramento.