February 3, 2012
Raptors bounce back against 'Zards
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Asked about his recent skid after practice on Thursday, Amir Johnson looked and sounded almost apologetic.
“I have to do it for my teammates,” he said.
The personal issues that were contributing to his struggles were in his own words not an excuse.
Whether it was admitting the off-court issues or the one-on-one talk he had with Dwane Casey on Thursday morning, Johnson put that whatever issues were behind him for the 21/2 hours it took to play Friday’s game and looked exactly like the Amir Johnson that Raptors fans were starting to get concerned they would never see again.
On Friday night, Johnson was as active as ever at the rim and a big reason the Raps snapped a two-game skid with a 106-89 win over the Washington Wizards.
Well, that and Ed Davis guaranteeing a win at the morning shootaround.
Even without Andrea Bargnani in the lineup, another factor that contributed to Johnson’s ineffectiveness over the last couple of weeks, Johnson made himself a factor at both ends of the court.
Offensively he was tipping in misses at the rim and finishing off lobs from Jose Calderon like the two had been doing it all season and not just for those first few weeks.
He admitted after the game it was driving the lane and throwing down a monster jam in the second quarter that had everyone in the ACC on their feet as the moment he felt like he was fully back.
“Amir was a monster,” Casey said. “I thought he did a good job rolling to the basket and cleaning up the offensive boards. He was very, very active. He did a good job of bouncing back and having a good night.”
Johnson had 13 rebounds, seven on the offensive to go with his 18 points. He had not hit double digits in either points or rebounds in a game since Jan. 16 in a loss to Atlanta when he did it in both.
Johnson was by no means the only reason the Raptors won the game. There were contributions from every corner of the Raptors roster in this one, but in terms of moving forward and getting a key aspect of their team going, Friday night was huge for Johnson and the Raptors.
Owning the boards
Rebounding is normally an issue the Raptors have, but not Friday against the Wizards. The Raptors pulled down a franchise high (for a regulation game) 61 rebounds breaking the old mark of 60 that had stood since Nov. 7, 2001 when the Golden State Warriors were victimized by the Raps. The record for any game is 65 which the Raptors got in an overtime game with the New York Knocks back in March of 1999.
Casey singled out the work Johnson, Davis, Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire did on the boards after the game. The four combined for 29 of the 61 rebounds and limited JaVale McGee, who is averaging nine a night, to just six.
“When you lose by 20-plus points (like the Raps did the previous two games) it’s always embarrassing,” Davis said.
“You look up and you’re down 25 or 30, it’s like: ‘Man, I can’t wait to get this one over with.’ ”
So clearly there was incentive on the Raptors side.
Clearly someone has told Gray that setting good screens and being a large presence in the paint is all fine and well but not good enough. Gray until just recently seemed almost reluctant to shoot the ball. But starting with Wednesday in Boston and certainly Friday night against the Wizards, Gray has not shied away when given the opportunity. He had eight points in back-to-back games after having a total of 12 for the rest of the season ... Linas Kleiza did not play in the first half, partly because James Johnson was doing such a good job and partly because Casey had mentioned he was concerned he was maybe pushing the Lithuanian forward a little too much following microfracture surgery that kept him out almost a full year. Kleiza got off the bench in the second half and struck for 15 points including a perfect 3-for-3 night from three-point land. He was one of three bench players — Amir Johnson and Lenadro Barbosa were the others to get into double digits .