That's more like it, Bargnani!
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried goes to the basket against Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 28, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
TORONTO - It doesn’t always have to be pretty to be effective and the Raptors were proof of that Wednesday night.
Playing a makeshift five of newcomers Alan Anderson, Ben Uzoh, Gary Forbes, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson through a large part of the fourth quarter wouldn’t seem to be the recipe for success, but it worked out for the Raps.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey had that group playing a zone defence almost the entire time it was on the floor together and while the zone it played may not have completely resembled the one Casey had in mind, it was effective in that it managed to confound the opposition.
“With that new group in there, you can call it a zone if you want but they’re learning it,” Casey said. “We were confused but they were confused. But when you work hard at anything, even if you’re making a mistake, it works out well and that’s what those guys — Uzoh, Anderson and that group were doing. They were all out of place but they did it hard. That made a big difference.”
While that group didn’t play the entire fourth quarter, it was every bit as responsible for the 11-point final frame from the Nuggets that was crucial in getting Toronto its first win against Denver in its last 10 tries.
The 105-96 final was the first Toronto win against Denver since a 121-94 win at the ACC back on March 23, 2007.
It was just the second win against Denver since the 2004/05 season.
Offensively, the load was carried by Andrea Bargnani, who had that “pep in his step” back from before he was injured according to Casey.
Bargnani, who had hit just five three-pointers in 31 attempts since returning to the lineup a dozen games ago, went 2-for-4 from beyond the arc in this game, both successful threes coming late in the fourth quarter and neither one of them the easy, wide open variety.
“It was fun because in this stretch I have missed so many wide open threes and then I hit the two hardest I have had maybe,” said Bargnani who wound up with 26 on the night.
The Nuggets have flat-out owned the Eastern Conference this season, winning 13 of the 14 times they have crossed over to play their Eastern counterparts, until Wednesday’s win by the Raptors.
They were without two key pieces in the game with Danilo Gallinari sidelined with a fractured left thumb and perennial Raptors-killer Rudy Fernandez done for the season with back problems.
The Raptors had some injury problems of their own with Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson both out.
In the pivotal fourth quarter Denver was a combined 3-for-20 from the field.
James Johnson missed shootaround on Monday with the flu but loaded up with fluids during the afternoon and was ready for tipoff Monday night.
Asked after the game how he was feeling it, Johnson just shook his head.
Wednesday night Johnson was ruled out of the game with an upper respiratory infection.
Without Johnson, head coach Casey chose to go with Linas Kleiza, who hasn’t started a game since the last time these two teams squared off back in late January.
Casey was asked if it was a matchup decision that made him go with Kleiza. “Not really, he’s just one of the few warm bodies we have left.”
The final minute of the first half is the kind of play that makes even the most positive coaches like Casey unable to hide their disgust. Casey turned his back on the game and put his head in his hands unable to watch any more as the Raps allowed the Nuggets to score six points in the final 32 seconds on some sloppy play that undid a rather solid first half. It would have been even tougher to swallow for the Raps had Kleiza not sunk a 35-foot three-ball at the buzzer to maintain a two-point lead ... Casey has done a masterful job of maintaining his composure even in the face of some questionable calls going against his team this season. Until last night the only technical he had received came for straying too far over centre. But when referee Scott Wall got questioned by Casey about a foul against Bargnani that appeared to happen in the act of shooting but not according to Wall, the veteran ref responded with technical on the Raps head coach. Casey said after the game he was surprised by the call, pointing out all he did was ask why it wasn’t considered a foul in the act of shooting ... Former Denver guard Gary Forbes had a solid night against his old mates with 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.