Jay Triano knew he had to shake things up.
With 12 games to go and his charges showing the kind of effort they did against the Utah Jazz two nights earlier, the status quo just wasn’t going to fly.
Hedo Turkoglu took care of part of the job when his stomach virus kept him out of uniform with Triano opting for Sonny Weems.
At any other point in the season, that would have been enough for Triano. But these are desperate times for the Raptors and the time for minor tweaks and changes is over.
So, Triano went ahead and, for the first time this season with rookie DeMar DeRozan healthy, opted to put the former USC standout on the bench to start the game in favour of defensive specialist Antoine Wright.
Those moves coincided with the kind of desperate talk a team in the Raptors situation is most likely to be sending out. But based on their play last night, this time it wasn’t just talk.
The combination of the lineup changes and the kind of tenacity in their game that has been mostly missing since before the all-star game, the Raptors were in this one to the very end against the visiting Denver Nuggets, but couldn’t finish it off.
Carmelo Anthony did.
The Nuggets star missed his first attempt to win the game with a few seconds left on the clock but, getting a second chance when the Raptors were unable to secure the rebound, he didn’t miss a second time, draining the jumper from 18 feet as the final horn sounded for a 97-96 Denver win.
It was a definite improvement from where the Raps were only two nights ago, but still a loss and, with just 11 games remaining, there was little solace in the improved effort.
Where there was give-up and indifference a few nights ago against Utah, this Raptors team Friday night showed passion and determination.
It wasn’t flawless by any means. They had a two-point lead, and the ball, coming out of a timeout with less than two minutes to go and failed to get a decent shot on back-to-back possessions while allowing Anthony, the one guy on the floor who should have been blanketed, a wide open shot to tie from 13 feet out.
But next time down, Andrea Bargnani drove the lane hard and got the hoop and the harm, converting the extra for a three-point Toronto lead with 42 seconds to go.
Sure, there was still plenty of sloppiness to contend with. The 19 turnovers spelled that out pretty clearly. But in an effort category such as rebounds, the Raptors were all over the Nuggets, trouncing them on the boards by a 58-38 count. The team’s previous high for the season was 53.
Defensively, particularly in the first half, the Raptors weren’t much to write home about. But, in the second, they buckled down and with some help from some uncharacteristically poor shooting by the Nuggets, particularly Chauncey Billups who was just 4-for-18 from the field, got the lead up to 12 points.
Offensively, the biggest improvement came from the Raptors youngsters DeRozan and Weems.
DeRozan took the loss of his starting spot the way the Raptors had to be hoping and came out as motivated as he’s been in weeks. DeRozan went 7-for-8 from the floor for 15 points on the night in just over 20 minutes.
Weems though was the big revelation. Playing against the only other NBA team he has ever known, he took poured in 14 points, pulled down five rebounds and even chipped in with a couple of assists.