The coach talked about regaining an underdog's perspective and temperament. About the Toronto Raptors re-acquainting themselves with the role of the hunter, not the hunted. "We start two second-year guys," Dwane Casey intoned Friday night. Just in case anybody forgot.
In some ways the Minnesota Timberwolves were tailor-made to help the Raptors regain their sense of self after an 88-83 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday that was the first clunker of the post-Rudy Gay area. A team that scores a lot and doesn't defend all that much, with two beastly big men in Nikol Pekovic and Kevin Love that figured to get the Raptors attention right away. "I made it my goal to stick with him (Love) like ... like white on rice," said Amir Johnson. Yes, he really said that. Yes, he really did it. The Raptors did just enough offensively for a 94-89 win on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre and threw up more than enough defensively against a high-scoring unit.
"We did what we were supposed to do," Casey said, after the Raptors received a 24-point effort from Kyle Lowry - including a 5-for-9 night from three-point range - en route to their fifth consecutive home win. "We commanded the paint. You are talking about two of the best offensive rebounders in the league and we gave up four to Love and three to Pekovic. Amir did a workman's job inside; Jonas (Valanciunas) battled Pekovic, who is a handful. Patrick Patterson came in ... Chuck Hayes gave us nine rebounds. Our big guys stepped up and did what they were supposed to do."
This was a night to win a basketball game, a night to erase the after-effects from a loss in which the Raptors missed free throws and had no taste for the greasy work near the basket. Brownie points didn't matter - and the Raptors played like they knew it, extending a home winning streak that is their longest since rattling off eight wins on the trot from Jan. 17-Feb. 10, 2010. It all needs to be viewed through the prism of the lousy conference in which they play, of course, but say this for the Raptors: they have grown into the role of one of the NBA's surprise packages, doing all the things that leads a person to think there will be meaningful hoops in this city in the spring. They can stink and lose; they can stink and still win, shooting just 43.6 per-cent against a team that doesn't ever play defence but especially so on the road, where the Timberwolves had allowed 105.1 points in their last 16 games away from home.
They understand how to craft the narrative. Johnson scores six points in an 88-83 loss to the Celtics, fouling out for the third time this season, and rebounds with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting on Friday, scoring nine third-quarter points. With John Salmons, the Raptors leading scorer off the bench for the past two games, on the shelf with back spasms from the second quarter on this was a game in which the starters had to carry the load. True, Patterson - logging minutes again with Tyler Hansbrough out for the 10th game with a sprained ankle - had 11 points off the bench, but when the Raptors needed a spurt it was the starters that came through. Lowry, in particular, nailed two of his three-pointers in the third quarter including a long shot from well in front of the key over 6-10 Kevin Love and Lowry and Greivis Vasquez worked smoothly in a two-guard set Casey employed in the absence of Salmons. Lowry brandished the dagger with a corner trey to make the score 90-83 with 25 seconds left. Later, Casey pushed Lowry's case for the All-Star team, along with that of DeMar DeRozan, who found himself doing more of what Casey referred to as "quarterbacking" than he is usually accustomed to. "This is the highest level he's played," Casey said of Lowry, and Timberwolves head coach Rick Adleman concurred.
"He's always played at a high level, but he's shooting the ball really well, a lot better than any other time," Adelman said. "From the three-point line, from the floor, from the free-throw line. That's a big difference."
Lowry says maturity is a significant factor. "I'm just growing up," said the free-agent eligible point-guard. "I have a son, a wife and a family and you hit that moment where you have to grow up. It was a big summer for me. I got a chance to work as hard as I wanted and relax my mind and clear it, it seems to be working."
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