TORONTO – SPORTS – Last night’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies saw the dinos grab a key win to keep pace with the surging Chicago Bulls, fresh off a blow-out win over the Houston Rockets. The Raptors needed a victory to maintain their game and a half hold on third place in the Eastern Conference and they managed to pull it off against a very punishing Memphis squad that had won 8 of its last ten coming into last night’s game.
An interesting fact about these two teams is that if the Grizzlies were in the Eastern Conference, they would be ahead of the Raptors in the standings, but only sit at 8th in the West. If the Raptors were in the Western Conference, they would find themselves in 10th place, out of a playoff spot, even though they currently hold 3rd in the East. It’s important to keep that Conference miss-match in mind whenever an Eastern Conference squad squares off with one from the West.
Also, interesting of note is that the Grizzlies were once located in Vancouver. From 1995 to 2001 the Vancouver Grizzlies joined the Toronto Raptors as the other Canadian team in the NBA.
Even though it’s been over a decade, longtime Canadian hoops fans can’t help but remember that history. Now onto the ten thoughts.
1) Jonas Valanciunas: The second year Lithuanian big man was outstanding against the Grizzlies. What looked like a mismatch against the notorious Zach Randolph, a man with a history of punishing young bigs, quickly became a mismatch in the other direction. As Jonas relied on footwork and positioning to overcome Randolph on the way to pouring in 23 points on 11 of 15 shooting and adding nine boards which was impressive since he was battling with Randolph and Marc Gasol for boards most the night. Most importantly, Jonas looked tough. He’d taken some criticism after the Raptors recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets for not being tough enough in the paint. Jonas more than answered those critics last night, going toe-to-toe with two of the best big men in the game.
2) Zach Randolph: Z-Bo looked impressive last night for the Grizzlies. Battling with Jonas and Amir Johnson in the paint and exhibiting some excellent mid-range shooting for Memphis. His 16 points and 8 boards were good enough to lead the team in scoring. What impressed me most about Z-Bo was his stature. I’d never seen him in person before, standing at 6’9” and weighing in at 260 lbs, it’s easy to see what Randolph is one of the most feared big men in the league. He plays a physical game and it was fun to watch him matched up with JV last night.
3) Greivis Vasquez: Vasquez was the catalyst for the Raptors putting the Grizzlies away last night. He managed to score 17 off the bench, but his most impressive run came in the 4th quarter when he put in five straight in just 20 seconds to help pull the Raptors ahead of the Grizzlies for good. Vasquez has added so much value to the team since being acquired this past December and continues to play well off the bench as a back-up point guard but also is invaluable in the Raptors’ small-ball sets either playing a two guard back court with Kyle Lowry or a three guard set with Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He was also pesky on defence as he came up with three keys steals.
4) Speed Kills: The Raptors pulled away from the Grizzlies in the 4th featuring a three guard line-up. Vasquez, Lowry and DeRozan played alongside John Salmons and Jonas Valanciunas and the result was a dynamic offensive that ran the floor quicker than Memphis could keep up. Casey has been tinkering with different sets throughout the season and I hope to see more of this one down the stretch.
5) Marc Gasol: One of the best parts of living in a city with an NBA team is being able to see legendary NBA players and the hottest stars in the game come to town. One of the players I was most excited to see this season was Marc Gasol. Even though he was still suffering from the effects of a left knee sprain that’s put him on the shelf for most of the season, Gasol’s skill-set was still on display. Watching how mobile he is for a 7’1”, 265 pound man was impressive, particularly his footwork under the basket. It’s also rare to see a big man who can move the ball as well as Gasol can. His positional and spatial awareness are rare for bigs in the league. It’s easy to see why Memphis has been a contender for as long as it has with the perennial all-star in the middle.
6) 4th quarter time: Everytime a Raptors game has been close this season, the team always seems to pull out the win in the 4th more often than not. This is borne out statistically as the Raptors have the best 4th quarter differential in the entire NBA. They outscored Memphis 28-19 in the final frame en route to their 99-86 victory.
7) Kyle Lowry: Another game, another incredible performance by the Raptors leader. How this guy was not an all-star is beyond me. As offensively gifted as DeMar DeRozan is, there is no question in my mind that Kyle Lowry is the team’s MVP this season. He proved it again last night going just three rebounds shy of a triple double with 7 boards, 12 dimes and 22 points. Just another day at the office for the Raptors starting point guard. Lowry was also on point defensively getting back and making some key stops. There’s no question that Lowry is going to get PAID next season. I just hope it’s by the Raptors.
8) The lack of Patrick Patterson: Conspicuous by his absence remains Patrick Patterson, the Raptors best big man off the bench. At some points this season, he’s been their best big man period. A masterful performance by Jonas Valanciunas tonight took some of the sting away, but being without Patterson worries me. We saw a lot of Steve Novak, Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes (coming to us straight out of 1986). I like all these guys as role players but I don’t see any of them either as a platoon or individually being able to replace Patterson. Hopefully he’s back sooner rather than later down the stretch. If the rumours of a possible surgery are true, this could hurt the Raptors come playoff time.
9) The Grizzlies point guards: I’ve often heard that Mike Conley was one of the most unappreciated point guards in the NBA and after seeing him last night I’d have to agree. His ball handling and speed are up there with the leagues elite. He displayed some pretty impressive defensive tendencies as well. However, I was even more surprised by his back up Nick Calathes who was an absolute pest in his eighteen minutes on the floor. Drawing fouls, coming up with steals and snagging defensive boards. The notoriously tough Grizzlies defence is in a good place going forward with these two playing the point.
10) The Raptors fans: As the Raptors keep winning it’s good to see interest once again building in the team. There’s more and more Raptors fans turning up to games and since the team hasn’t been good in a while, they often have some old school jerseys. I don’t mean the Vince Carter or Tracey McGrady jerseys that everyone should be proud to wear. No. I mean I saw two Jamario Moon jerseys in my section last night. Jamario Moon! I love this city sometimes. The Raptors are back in action on Sunday to take on the Phoenix Suns while the Grizzlies take on the lowly Philadelphia 76ers tonight.