Hustle and effort were once again Toronto’s main weapons, as the Raptors (4-9) earned their first win over a Western Conference opponent in beating the Houston Rockets 106-96.
A second unit led by Linas Kleiza absolutely dominated, outscoring the Rockets’ bench 46-11. Kleiza, Amir Johnson, Jose Calderon and David Andersen combined for a +86, compared to a Rockets’ second unit that was -51.
If Houston had come all the way back as they pared what had been an 11-point deficit down to just three down the stretch, the Raptors would have had their free throw shooting to blame. DeMar DeRozan missed three of four from the stripe in the dying minutes and the team made the same amount of free throws as the Rockets (20) despite having eight more attempts (30 to 22).
Shane Battier hit the nail on the head when he pointed to the Raptors’ “youthful exuberance”. That may not always be a good thing, but it certainly was last night, as the team eagerly defended the ball, stepped into passing lanes and crashed the boards … Johnson offered a nice taste of what he is capable of when he simply remains on the floor. With just two fouls, the big man picked up 10 points and eight rebounds (including four on the offensive glass) in less than 27 minutes played … It may seem nitpicky in light of what turned out to be a comfortable win, but the Raptors’ lack of aggression offensively early on was highlighted by a whopping zero free throws in the first half … Toronto has some of their Houston counterparts to thank, at least in part, for the win. Chase Budinger looked out of sorts during an 0-for-6 shooting night, Brad Miller and Kyle Lowry had five fouls apiece and even Kevin Martin, who scored a game-high 31 points while going 11-11 from the stripe, was charged with five turnovers … Blogger’s note: I will have my thoughts on today’s five-player deal posted later this afternoon … “Keep an eye on” fallout: 1) The Raps have the loss of Yao to thank for a 44-37 rebounding advantage and must have been thanking their lucky stars to not have to contend with Aaron Brooks’ speed, even if Lowry had a solid 12 assists. Budinger, meanwhile, was subtraction by addition for Houston; 2) Not that Luis Scola’s 19-point night was anything to scoff at, but it was hardly an efficient night for the Argentine, who shot 8-19 from the field. Most teams will happily allow Martin to get his points, since it usually means he isn’t getting teammates involved.
The new-look Raps welcome the Celtics to town for a Sunday tilt (1:00 pm, RSN).
Keep an eye on:
1) … team chemistry. All the Raptors have to do come Sunday is get Calderon re-acclimated to the starting job at the point, help a returning Leandro Barbosa re-adjust to the game and his teammates, re-establish a big man rotation with the loss of David Andersen and find a way to help newcomers Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic ease into the rotation, assuming they can play. Oh, and they’re playing the reigning Eastern champs.
2) … depth issues up front. You have to figure that Boston’s O’Neal duo – that is, back-up bigs Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal – and Glen Davis must be licking their chops at the prospect of facing a Toronto bench that features foul-prone Johnson, undersized Kleiza, inexperienced Joey Dorsey and… that’s about it. Today’s trade has left the Raptors perilously thin up front until Ed Davis comes back from injury.
The Pick: Celtics 114, Raptors 98 (4-4 on the season)