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News » Clutch defence snaps slide

Clutch defence snaps slide

Clutch defence snaps slideHeading into overtime on Friday night, the Raptors faced a difficult question.

Could the worst defensive team in the NBA, though they've repeatedly shown their inability to stop opponents over 48 minutes, play credible D for five? Could the Raptors snap their five-game losing streak by locking up the Washington Wizards during the decisive extra frame?

The answer, it turned out, was a relief-producing yes. Toronto's swarming defence on a driving Gilbert Arenas was pesky enough for Arenas to miss a layup that could have tied the game with a tick or two left on the clock. The visitors were lucky enough that Andray Blatche's tip-in missed at the buzzer. And the Raptors - buoyed by a pair overtime steals and a Hedo Turkoglu 20-footer from the corner that gave the visitors the lead for good with eight seconds left in the extra frame - finally got a win, 109-107. For one night, at least, a team in crisis could put celebrating ahead of self-immolation.

"We needed a win, no matter what," said Turkoglu, who finished with 20 points. "We really showed we can play defence ... we can get stops and rebounds. We just have to do it every night."

The Raptors had other chances to win. They had the ball with the game tied at 96-96 with 13 seconds to go in regulation. But a broken play led to Turkoglu jacking up a 26-footer at the buzzer - a long three-pointer when a two or a single free-throw would have won it - and the shot missed.

Turkoglu redeemed himself in the extra frame, scoring six of Toronto's 13 points and, perhaps more inspiringly, hitting the floor to tie up a loose ball before winning the ensuing jump ball. That effort was endemic of the Raptors' late-game performance. Jarrett Jack, the backup point guard, made a diving steal late in overtime. Andrea Bargnani, coming off a rebound-less game in an ugly loss in Atlanta, had a key offensive rebound that led to an early overtime score. Chris Bosh, the team's captain, racked up 31 points and 16 rebounds all told.

Amir Johnson provided vital help defence on Arenas in the game's biggest moment. Said Johnson: "I fooled (Arenas). ... He came up with his knee, ready to draw the contact, and at the last moment, I just moved away, and he overthrew the layup. He was looking for the foul, and even if I blocked his shot, they would have probably called a foul. So I came with my hands up and I dodged him. I faked him out."

Said Arenas, "He outthought me."

If the post-game atmosphere was unusually festive - Bryan Colangelo, the GM, cracked a beer while the athletes gorged on pizza and chicken wings - perhaps it's because the day began with the Raptors holding an hour-long team meeting to address a list of issues. One of the topics: An apparent failure to communicate between players from the United States and their cohorts from Europe.

"A lot of times we let the simple things - a guy being from Italy - make the decision on whether you want to talk to that guy, or to the next guy," Antoine Wright, the California-born swingman, said.

Bosh, the Texas-bred all-star, said the problem stemmed from players "just not knowing how to relate to certain guys." Rather than engaging in a healthy, frank discussion, Bosh said the recent tendency has been toward internal quiet.

"The more quiet you are," said Bosh, "sometimes things get divided."

Not everybody in the room sees it the same way. Jack, a product of Maryland, pointed out that he has a fine relationship with Marco Belinelli, the Italian guard. It helps that they share the same agent.

"I say some things in Italian now that I didn't know before. My number 1 thing for him, because he's got, like, 8 per cent or 9 per cent body fat, so I call him ciccione - it means fatboy, in Italian. (Bargnani) taught me (to say) hoodie, that's a capuccio. I'm getting there."

Jack is getting there, the steps are small, and the Raptors can hope the remaining 61 games bind them tighter. But losing is rarely a recipe for great chemistry. So Friday's victory might have been as good for intra-squad relationships as a dozen team meetings. "Tonight we established what Toronto Raptors Basketball is, and what it should be," said Jack.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: December 5, 2009


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