Thursday afternoon marks the arrival of the NBA trade deadline, a nervous time for members of the Toronto Raptors wondering if they will be forced to make alterations to their cellphone roaming plans.
Perhaps the most pressure was being shouldered by Andrea Bargnani, the embattled Toronto power forward who has been the focus of trade rumours for most of the season, but, as usual, it was hard to tell.
The big Italian was displaying the same stoic look on the Raptors bench at the start of Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies that Toronto basketball fans have become accustomed to over the course of seven unfulfilled NBA seasons.
The feeling around the club is president and general manager Bryan Colangelo likely doesn’t have another big deal up his sleeve to rival the one he mustered at the end of January, when he plucked Rudy Gay off the Memphis roster.
But you never know, folks. Save those ticket stubs.
If Bargnani is swapped those ducats would commemorate the end of a puzzling Toronto tenure for the 27-year-old, not to mention the demise of that gosh-awful pasta commercial.
Playing against his former team for the first time served as a rude reminder to Gay of what he left behind.
Memphis (35-18) is big and fast and athletic and, despite an off-shooting night, still had more than the Raptors (22-33) could handle, holding on for a 90-82 win at an energetic Air Canada Centre.
But the Raptors didn’t exactly roll over, rallying from a 66-57 disadvantage at the end of the third quarter to knot the score at 77-77 on an Amir Johnson layup with little more than four minutes left.
Power forward Alan Anderson was key to the comeback, knocking down four three-point shots – his fourth coming while being bowled over by Zach Randolph for the foul.
Anderson made the free throw to complete the four-point play that cut the Memphis lead to two.
A Mike Conley three-pointer proved to be the difference maker in this one, falling through with just under two minutes left that provided Memphis with a 83-77 margin that the Raptors were unable overcome.
The win for Memphis was their fifth in a row while the loss snapped Toronto’s five-game winning string.
"The key is playoff type basketball," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said afterward. "That grinder type of game -- hold, grab, hit. But we didn't do that in the first half. Once we decided to do that we made the game competitive."
As far as the pending trade deadline is concerned, Casey said he has not paid it much heed. Those concerns rest more, he said, with Colangelo and Ed Stefanski, the executive vice-president of basketball operations.
But Casey admitted he had presented Colangelo with a modest wish list, just in case the boss was inclined to wheel and deal at deadline.
“I just told him we need experience, we needed toughness,” Casey said. “I thought we needed a third point guard to help out John [Lucas] and Kyle [Lowry].”
The pressure for Colangelo to perform additional roster surgery is perhaps not as great as it was several weeks ago.
The Raptors have been on a bit of a roll – for them – both with and without Gay in the lineup.
After fouling up their season with a 4-19 start the Raptors have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, going 18-13 heading into Wednesday, and, quite likely, saving Casey’s job in the process.
Gay arrived in Toronto at the end of January, part of the deal that saw the Raptors ship Jose Calderon and Ed Davis to the Grizzlies. Calderon was then flipped to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince.
Since Gay’s arrival, the Raptors have gone 6-3.
Randolph enjoyed a monster game for Memphis, leading the way with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Conley also finished with 17 points.
Anderson led the Raptors with 19 points, while Gay, who was hampered by early foul troubles, struggled to finish with 13 points and nine rebounds against his old team.
They were just a little more scrappy than us," said Gay, admitting that it was a little emotional for him facing his old team so soon.
"The first half we just wasn't there," Gay said. "I don't know if it was the schedule, travel. I don't know. But we just weren't there mentally.
"In the second half we amped it up. But against a team like that you can't pick it up in the second half and expect to win."
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