Terrence Ross stretched out in his folding chair. Around him, his Toronto Raptors teammates kept up a steady, pregame patter.
Who was going to the all-star game? Who was snubbed? What do the Boston Celtics do without injured guard Rajon Rondo?
Ross had his say, but kept alternating between the replay of the Golden State Warriors’ 109-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday and fiddling with his iPhone.
“Who’s that?” he asked quickly as a long Warriors three-pointer slipped through the netting? “Curry,” he answered, lending his voice to the chorus in response.
There are better teams in the NBA than the Warriors, but there may be none trendier with their slightly old-school unis. And, in this city, their splendid point guard, Stephen Curry, is a bit of a big deal thanks in part to the respect his father, Dell, earned as a member of the Raptors.
Curry was unavailable down the stretch Monday night, nursing an aggravated ankle injury in the locker room, as his teammates pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 114-102 win.
Seven-foot centre Andrew Bogut made his first appearance after missing 38 games recovering from ankle surgery, and that helped explain why the Warriors enjoyed a 28-point advantage in the paint. The Raptors finished short-handed, with Landry Fields unavailable for three-quarters of the game due to flu-like symptoms, Kyle Lowry missing with back tightness and Amir Johnson shut down late after hitting his head on the floor after a collision.
This was the first meeting between Ross and Harrison Barnes, who was selected one spot ahead of him in the 2012 NBA draft. Ross had 11 points off the bench in 22 minutes 30 seconds, while Barnes had 14 points in 32:55, including two points on a weak-side cut worked to perfection with David Lee that gave the Warriors a 94-85 lead.
Barnes provided the exclamation point late with a hoop-and-harm over, above and around Toronto centre Aaron Gray. However Gray, who had a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, did manage to lead the Raptors in scoring.
Ross was selected by the Raptors with the eighth choice, after Barnes went to the Warriors with the seventh pick – the result of Golden State winning a coin toss between the two 23-43 clubs. Barnes was averaging 8.8 points and 25 minutes heading into Monday’s game, while Ross has been something of a revelation for the Raptors, leading the team in scoring twice (including a 102-79 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 2, when he hit a career-high 26 points) and leading the Toronto bench in scoring nine times.
Like Ross, getting attuned to the rigours of the NBA schedule – and the defensive demands that come with it – has taken some getting used to. But Barnes has picked his spots, earning kudos from head coach of the year candidate Mark Jackson for his work on Kevin Durant in a 104-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 23, when he helped pressure Durant into four fourth-quarter turnovers.
There were brave words on the part of the Raptors after they selected Ross last June, but head coach Dwane Casey could not have been clearer. There was no talk about how the Raptors had Ross ranked higher on their board and how they couldn’t believe he was still around.
“It happens,” Casey said on draft night, acknowledging Barnes was the Raptors desire. “You have to take what’s given you. He is such a talented player that we knew the possibility was there. So, you go to Plan B.”
Ross joined the Raptors with the reputation of being a shooter, but he has blossomed as an athletic player with a nose for the glass. After a relatively quiet night Monday, it was Ross’s hang-time, bank-shot that tied the score at 75-75, part of a 10-0 run in the third quarter. He is a splendidly gifted offensive player who has also won over Casey with his willingness on defence.
“He might be the best guy on our team chasing guys down,” the Toronto coach said.
Ross has picked the brain of teammates such as Alan Anderson, who have worked with him on some of the subtler aspects of the play-for-pay game such as hand-checking.
“All refs are different,” Ross said. “It’s just a little something you need to learn to do to keep guys in front of you.”
There is a balance, to be sure, and Ross acknowledges his teammates have been on him to be less deferential on offence, too.
Plan B? So far, Terrence Ross has been A-okay for the Toronto Raptors.
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