Jay Triano, the basketball player, was a portrait of tenacity: A veritable coachís dream.
You asked and he did. He rarely took nights off. He rarely took possessions off. He pushed himself to the limits he was capable of pushing. And he lost hard, personal, like he never wanted to experience it again.
Which begs the question: Why canít the Raptors be more like their coach? And more questions: Why donít they have more of his dogged personality? Why donít they engage in every game the way they engaged last night, an impressive end, a needed victory, a win as much about coaching and tenacity as anything the Raptors have done through this debilitating and potentially crushing streak of woe?
Triano needs the Raptors to be more like him, more involved, more intense. On Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, the Raptorsí season was almost entirely on display against the very strong Atlanta Hawks. They were horrible early, strong through the middle of the game, troubled for much of the second half and absolutely composed in the final electric seconds in which they snatched an on-your-feet victory, putting an end to this horrendous streak of nine losses in 10 games.
All this on a night where fans booed in the second minute of play, in the third quarter, and an ACC with too many empty seats had a sense of trepidation until the final minutes.
But this win, more than anything, was a victory for a coach in need of a positive. This is still his first full season in the NBA. This is his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is still building whatever reputation will come his way.
All Triano asked before the game was for the Raptors to compete. That was the message. He wanted them to play some defence. He wanted them to rebound with more diligence. He said the problem, too often, is that when they play defence, they donít rebound, and when they rebound they donít play defence.
Toronto trailed by four with just over a minute to play. The game wasnít going its way. Al Horford seemed like a puzzle that Andrea Bargnani couldnít solve. And then, a blink of an eye later, a perfectly drawn-up play that isolated Chris Bosh, led to a game-winning jumpshot. Jubilation at the ACC: Everyone on their feet.
How many nights has that been possible in this up-and-down season? How many wins over real contenders have their been, this close, this demanding, this necessary?
Trianoís Raptors are back to .500. That may not seem like much in the big picture, but it can mean the difference between the playoffs or not. The rest of this month isnít easy for the Raps. They have Oklahoma City here on Friday. Thatís another game the bookies will say they canít win. But the win over Atlanta bought the Raps a little breathing room and their coach some much-needed credibility.
Jack Donohue, the old coach, used to say that having Triano on the floor was like having another coach on the team. He didnít have to tell him what to do, Triano just had an instinct for it. He understood what was necessary, even if he knew he didnít have the starís ability to make a difference. And maybe thatís part of the problem coaching in the NBA. For some, the game comes too easily. They donít have to listen. They donít have to push themselves. Theyíre already set for life no matter how many games they win.
Even in the victory Wednesday, the Raps still gave up too many easy buckets, too many uncontested shots ó and at one point the Hawks were shooting 73% from three-point land, which borders on the absurd.
But on a night that mattered for coach, for team, for city, they pulled a Triano. They didnít stop until the clock did. A one-night portrait of tenacity.