Chris Bosh thought he was open. Remember? Game Six, first round of the playoffs. A warm Friday evening in New Jersey, May 4th, if we want to get all specific.
After playing some of worst basketball of his career in his first trip to the playoffs Bosh came out in a must-win game and shot 3-of-15 through three quarters. But then he found something and popped off for 13 points in the fourth, including a clutch bank shot with 49 seconds left. He did miss a straight-up 15 footer on the next possession that would have iced it, and failed to stop Richard Jefferson from scoring an admittedly tough, twisting lay-up to put the Nets up with eight-seconds left. But even now Bosh was sure that he was going to fix that when the Raptors came out of their timeout with the ball and a chance to win and push the series to a seventh game.
"We didn't call it a name," said Bosh of the play that was drawn up for the occasion when I asked him about it at this morning's shoot-around prior to tonight's game here in the swamplands. "I went to set a down screen and for some reason Richard Jefferson switched it, but he jumped on top of me. I was above the dotted circle, really. My thing was to kind of ride him up and release and try to get a lay-up. It's basic, fundamental basketball, but he made a good defensive play and Jose didn't throw it quite high enough.
No he didn't, did he? Some credit has to go to Jason Kidd who did a nice job contesting the pass, and to Jefferson, who made a great play on the ball, but the chance was there.
"Initially my eyes were big as they've ever been," said Bosh as he recalled how the play unfolded. "I rode him up, and I thought 'this is it right here'. Everything happened so fast, by the time I realized what happened, the buzzer was going off."
The Raptors were trying to downplay tonight's game: "It's just one out of 82" was Sam Mitchell's mantra this morning. But I'm not buying it. The Raptors were a bad road team last year and they generally got smoked in this building - both games in the regular season and three in the playoffs. The game six loss was the only one that was even close.
"It would be a nice one to get," said Bosh. "Any road game is a nice one to get, especially in this building. I'm just trying to win the game; do whatever it takes to win. I'm not trying to get off. I don't have any personal goals. I know I'm not in shape right now and I don't have my legs under me. If I do, that will be great, if I don't I'm just going to move the ball and make sure I'm a threat in some other way.
Professional athletes don't play what if. Or at least they never admit it. They are, as we know, supposed to be in the moment. But sportswriters play what if all the time. We have to, deadlines demand it. For Game Six, for example. I had an entire column written based on the Raptors winning and forcing a seventh game back in Toronto. So what the heck, give it a read and pretend the Raptors came back, won Game Seven; squeezed past Cleveland and Detroit and were defending their Eastern Conference title this season. The imagination is a beautiful thing.
East Rutherford, New Jersey - And for the seventh game, they'll play on Sunday.
And the city that has worshipped hockey for so long will congregate in appreciation of something even more compelling: a rising underdog.
Which itself says everything about how the Toronto Raptors first round series with the New Jersey Nets has flipped, flopped, turned and twisted.
The Raptors are the No.3 seed, which is why they have home court advantage for the seventh and deciding game against the No.6 seeded Nets.
But that advantage was earned a long time ago, during the regular season when the Raptors were healthy, young and unscarred. It might as well be a different age.
Last night in New Jersey the Raptors rose more unexpectedly than any horror movie monster from any swamp.
They did it rallying through injury and overcoming doubts and by using a raft of new plays and sets dusted off by head coach Sam Mitchell. They did it thanks to a giant and defining 13-point fourth quarter by Chris Bosh, who shook of his playoff struggles by calming draining a bank shot from the low post out of a timeout to give the Raptors a one-point lead with less than a minute to play that held up.
Underdogs? Let's count the ways: The Raptors came in not only winless in four tries this season at Continental Airlines, but gutless, having not once shown up with vigour, most egregiously during the two spankings they took during Games Three and Four last weekend that put Toronto in a 3-1 hole that only eight teams had ever recovered from in NBA history.
And then there were the health issues. Jose Calderon was the Raptors best player in their gritty Game Five win on Tuesday, until he had to leave the game with a sprained ankle bad enough that after about 15 bouts of treatment since he was still shooting jump shots off one foot during the pre-game warm-up. Raptors coach Sam Mitchell started him anyway.
Why? Because starting point guard T.J Ford spent the last three days dealing with the after effects of a stinger - a spinal cord injury which causes tingling and burning sensations across the neck, shoulders and arms - thanks to a rugged collision with Vince Carter. Scary stuff, but even scarier for a five-foot-10, 160 pound gnat that gets knocked over for a living and had surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck three years ago, nearly ending his career.
What does Ford do? He takes it straight to the rim for his first two baskets on his way to a first-half line of six-of-seven shooting for 13 points.
And then there were the wounded psyches. Chris Bosh began the playoffs with expectations - internal and external - of picking up where he left off following a regular season in which he led the Raptors to 47 wins and the Atlantic Division title.
Instead after Game Five, another sub-par showing by the 23-year-old making his first post-season experience, Mitchell laid it out for his all-star: "Chris has to play better."
He didn't. Shooting just 40 per cent coming into Game Six, he was shooting just three-of-15 through three quarterz, which isn't what anyone but Nets coach Lawrence Frank had in mind. But thanks to his own gut check he'll get to make everyone forget what had come before come Sunday.
It was a night full of the unexpected.
Juan Dixon has been in a free fall for about a month, inexplicably unable to dribble, shoot or catch. In the second quarter last night he travelled twice, making two unforced turnovers. Next trip he drilled his first triple since Jimmy Hoffa was in shorts. He scoots back and picks Jason Kidd's pocket, setting up a basket by Andrea Bargnani and the Raptors enjoy their biggest lead of the half. Hands up who saw that coming?
There were lots of chances to quit. The Raptors might have quit quite sensibly after a 10-0 third quarter run that gave the Nets the lead and the momentum and the crowd. Or when Continental Arena exploded after a vintage Carter jam gave them a four-point lead midway through the fourth.
But the Raptors haven't shown much if any quit this season. They didn't quit when they were 2-8 coming of their early season west coast road trip riding a six-game losing streak. They didn't quite when they were losers of four straight and seven games under .500 in December and Bosh was out a month with a knee injury. And they surged in March and April after they lost Jorge Garbajosa for the season and Andrea Bargnani for a month.
Quitting is a bad habit the Raptors don't have. So Bosh didn't get shy with his game betraying him early on as he stuck with it and scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help his team do what any good Texas football fan - and Bosh is a big one -- craves to do.
Play on Sunday.