by Holly MacKenzie

October 31st, 2008

Raptors 112 Warriors 108 OT

You know TNT’s slogan, “We know drama”. I feel like this is my life. If you don’t recall, I have had some ridiculous mishaps accompany my own personal NBA history. There was the lateness to the preseason game last year in Vancouver, then there was the bus ride that never ended on my way to Seattle last season (to see the Warriors, coincidentally, where the scoreboard also went up in flames), the recorder that lost 45 minutes of Gilbert Arenas goodness and of course, the snow storm that almost derailed me from going to see my Lakers.

Today was no different. After arranging a pregame meeting with my boy Stephen Jackson, I had two, yes two cabs bail on me and I had a long ass run (in heels), to the arena, just to make it at all. Before we go any further, let me tell you, having one of your favorite people in this entire league tell his pr guy “I’m not doing pregame, I’m not talking to anyone else but Holly, she’s with SLAM”, kind of makes every single late night recapping worth it ten thousand times over and makes me again praise everything that is Holy for allowing me to be a part of the biggest and best basketball magazine that has ever existed. Once again, the SLAM name comes through.

Back to the story at hand. After making it to the Air Canada Centre with blisters already forming, hair disheveled and face flushed from being out of breath, I spot my Warriors PR guy in the hallway. He immediately comes over and asks what happened. After explaining that I am just not used to the traffic in this city and that on Halloween night apparently cabs do not care about picking up their customers, he broke the devastating news that I missed SJax by about three minutes and that he could not go in to get him now, because media availability was over. I’m sure he actually heard my heart snap, because he quickly said not to worry and that I would be able to get him postgame since, “he’s good like that.”

I plastered on a brave face until I escaped to the 6th floor and found my way into an ACC bathroom. There, I am not ashamed to say, my eyes maybe, sort of, kind of got a bit watery. Only a bit, but it served as a reminder of how badly I wanted this interview with Mr. Jackson to talk about the Jack1 foundation and the charity work he had done this past offseason. If there is one thing that I love as much as basketball, it is giving back, helping out, and changing this world for the better. Stephen Jackson is doing all three.

Onto the game.

After words of confidence from both SLAM scribes, Michael Tillery and Chris O’Leary, I shook the anger at myself off and found my seat. I was entirely not prepared for the Raptors introductions. Over this past offseason the Raps sunk a whole lot of cash into a new jumbotron screen and it honestly, looks amazing. I overheard in media row that it is the best of the best in the NBA and that last year, it was Boston who was on top, but now it is Toronto. Regardless, the investment was well worth it as the HD screen makes every seat in the house feel as though you are sitting courtside. Good call, Raps.

Watching the warm up for the Raptors I notice that the intensity has been amped up considerably since preseason. If you ask the players, they will tell you that they play hard every night, but you cannot compare the hype in a regular season home opener and a preseason home opener. The guys were ready to keep these wins coming.

I don’t think words can accurately describe the energy that was reverberating throughout the arena last night. A packed house, half dressed up for Halloween, all jacked up, amped up and ready for their Raptors, they were loud and proud and raucous before it even began. After they booed the Warriors lustily, the Raptors introductions began. I am convinced they have the best ones in the league. I have only seen theirs, but I do not see how it can be topped. First, the intro video, all of the guys in a car, driving through downtown Toronto interspersed with highlight clips and set to “In the Air” is both hilarious and effective at capturing the mood and essence of Toronto as a whole. Then the intros for the starters. All lights go out, and then in the tunnel, there is smoke and lots of red. Bright, vibrant, almost hurts your eyes it is so bright red, enveloping the guys as they run out. When Bosh’s name is announced, the roof is almost blown off.

Canada loves basketball.

Starters

Toronto
Chris Bosh
Jermaine O’Neal
Jose Calderon
Anthony Parker
Jamario Moon

Warriors
Stephen Jackson
DeMarcus Nelson
Al Harrington
Andris Biedrins
Corey Maggette

Quarter One

The Raptors open the game by scoring five consecutive baskets, by five different players. Nice way to get things started. At the 10:44 mark Jermaine O’Neal scores his first basket for the Raptors inside the Air Canada Centre and as I hear the crowd cheer him on I can only imagine how great it feels not only for him to be back on the court, but to be in a position like this, playing for an organization like Toronto. I think it’s safe to say that he is overjoyed.

Offensively, Toronto is smooth, hitting almost everything and moving the ball around with ease. Jose Calderon sets the tone by looking for Bosh early and often, but everyone is contributing and the easy passes combined with the unselfish play of the guys allows them to establish a rhythm early, unlike in Philadelphia when it took them until the second quarter. They’ve got a good mix of inside and outside game, lots of jumpers, but also a lot of guys being aggressive and taking it to the hoop. Calderon looks great and he will be an All-Star this season, count on that.

On the other side of things, the Warriors look a little confused offensively, with Biedrins going inside and the rest of their team settling for jump shots. Lots of them. It’s easy to tell they are looking for their identity and we certainly can’t fault them for trying. Guys are hustling, defending and trying to encourage one another when the shots don’t fall. Still, it looks like the Raptors are the superior team this far in.

At the end of the first quarter, Toronto leads 28-22. They shoot 54.4% for the quarter as compared to 45.5% for the Warriors. Bosh has 9 points while Biedrins has 10.

Quarter Two

Raptors continue to roll, going up by as many as 12 points midway through the quarter. Play of the game (or perhaps, only my personal favorite), is when JO blocks Brandan Wright, falls to the ground and while he is still down, starts wagging his finger like Dikembe as the crowd goes wild. Just as they look as though they may be unraveling, Golden State turns it around to finish out the half. Jack throws a beautiful pass to DeMarcus Nelson who gets the layup and is fouled by Kapono. With the Raptors starting to settle for outside jumpers, the Warriors go inside and Ronny Turiaf who was put in from off of the bench to provide some energy does just that. A dunk, offensive board and lay-up in consecutive trips down the floor. The Raptors call for time, but Turiaf is still in the game, making things happen with a block on Bosh. A three from Harrington and the Warriors are suddenly down only two, thanks to a 10-0 run.

The tides have turned in this quarter, with the Warriors now holding the 55.0% shooting percentage while Toronto’s has dipped down to 43.3%, thanks in large part to all of the jumpers they started settling for, moving away from the inside game that was working so well for them. Can’t help but love the difference Turiaf makes for GS inside. He fits in very well on this squad.

At the half, the Raptors lead 51-50, despite both teams shooting 50.0% for the half and the Warriors out-rebounding them 23-14. Biedrins leads all scorers with 12 points while Stephen Jackson has 8. Bosh is still at 9 while Andrea Bargnani has come off of the bench and has 10.

Quarter Three

It looks like both teams have been given a stern talking to at halftime, because the intensity has been taken up a few more notches, the crowd is into it and the game is close. Back and forth, with Anthony Parker and Bosh both heating up for the Raps. Jose drops in four assists in the first four minutes of the quarter. After a three from Harrington to put the Warriors up one, Bosh glares at the scoreboard and it is easy to tell that he wants this one badly. On the next possession he drains a long jumper. The two teams go back and forth trading baskets and it looks as though neither will pull away. Defense really isn’t a concern here and that style of play favors the Warriors who are used to helter-skelter, transition basketball.

Replacing JO’s block as play of the game was Anthony Parker who takes the contact, spins in the air, manages to somehow toss the ball up behind his head and then has time to land, turn back around and then watch the ball sail through the net. That just fires the crowd up even more and with a game as tight as this, the homecourt advantage might be the difference.

Golden State’s offense is a bit scattered, with Turiaf at the top of the key with the ball. Not sure what that is about, but he needs to get inside and stay there. Kelenna Azubuike has come into the game and brought a whole bunch of energy along with him. I still can’t believe that this guy had to spend time in the NBADL after going undrafted. Speaks to the success of the D-League though. Buike is all over the place, tipping a shot in, getting an offensive rebound and put back, steals, hustle, he has found a home in Golden State and like Ronny, it is a good fit.

At the end of three, the Raptors are up 75-73. AP scored 9 in the quarter while Al Harrington was the guy for GS, adding 10.

Quarter Four

Sam Mitchell opens up the quarter with his bench and Roko Ukic feeds Bargnani for the jumper. I cannot stress enough the improvement Bargnani has shown. I saw it during preseason, but this is another level still. He is looking confident and strong (partially due to his added size, I’m sure), and is asking for the ball and making strong moves when he gets it.

The Raptors begin to get a little out of control, fouling, turning the ball over and starting to rush things. In comparison, the Warriors are hitting their shots and getting to the line. Golden State is slowly threatening to pull away as they go up by as many as five before Toronto puts a stop to it.

Down the stretch it is entirely clear that Bosh is the go-to guy. Even on plays that he doesn’t finish, the guys look for him first and often create things from the attention he receives when he has the ball. The luxury of having an all-star and recent gold medalist on your roster is clear. For whatever reason, you can feel the uncertainty in the Warriors. They start settling for long jumpers, off balanced jumpers, and the ball is not moving as it is supposed to. Bosh does not disappoint as the clock ticked down, and he gave the Raptors the 94-93 lead on a thundering dunk with 29.4 seconds remaining. After two more missed shots from GS, the refs call a foul on Jackson that is tough to take as a Jackson fan. Bosh is good, but that is a tough break at this juncture of the game. The foul puts Bosh at the line with 14.5 seconds left in the game and the Raps down two. He calmly steps up and knocks down both as the arena loses its collective mind. Tie game, 20 second time out for the Warriors and then we get overtime as Corey Maggette inexplicably holds the ball beyond the three-point line until the clock runs down to five seconds and then slips in the lane, losing the ball.

Overtime

After opening the overtime with a turnover, the Warriors cannot seem to get it right. While the Raptors look confident, strong and comfortable in this position, Golden State looks a bit unsure about how to turn the tide. Thinking back to how it was always Baron who kept things calm and played so lose it only makes sense that it is going to take some time before they get it right.

The chemistry of the Raptors is evident, a luxury of being able to return your core and bring in an all-star caliber player in JO. While the Warriors are rushing, Toronto is patient, thorough and taking what the offense gives them. They are also lucky that Golden State is missing their threes because they are giving up offensive rebounds left and right. After the ref calls a foul on Jackson that he didn’t agree with, and had the Raptors up 104-96 with 59.1 remaining, Jackson intentionally fouls Calderon and has fouled out of the game. While Buike and Harrington cut the lead down to five, the Raptors are just too solid at the line down the stretch, going 10-10 in the final 59 seconds of the game. Harrington hits a three at the end of the game, but Toronto has already won the game, final score 112-108.

Post Game

Nellie was addressing the media when I got out of the media room from picking up my final stats and media guides. For the record, the Raptors media guide is pretty great this year, with a comic book-inspired cover and actual cartoons of the players scattered throughout. Because the scrum was so tightly crowded around him, I was unable to catch much of anything being said, so I made my way to the presser room to see if Coach Mitchell was talking, and he was.

He spoke of the strong play of Bargnani and stressed that when he gets the ball in the right spots and chooses to be aggressive he can score. When asked about the rebounding woes of the Raptors in their first two games, he said that while they need to improve as a rebounding team, their first two opponents were tough because of the size, speed and athleticism on their rosters and that in the end, his team got the rebounds when they needed to.

I’m not entirely sure that I agree with that last part of his statement, but I can understand and appreciate his being happy with the outcome. His team was solid in the overtime and have started this year off with two impressive performances.

Because I had missed Jax pregame, I made it my mission to grab him postgame, if for nothing else than to explain and apologize for my absence and thank him for his trying to accommodate me. I wasn’t expecting him to be in any sort of mood to talk to me but knew I had to at least make things right for being a no-show.

The Warrior locker room had a decidedly somber feel to it and was empty for the first few minutes as guys took their time attempting to wash off the sting of dropping to 0-2 in another game they could have (and should have), had.  While waiting for the guys to be ready for media I talked to one of my producers from The Score about a piece he had filmed with Jax earlier that morning about Al Harrington’s Protégé shoe line.

In case you were wondering, I took a peek at Jax’s shoes sitting in his locker, but I was unable to tell if this specific pair had the white segment made of gator, but really, how is one to know this? I didn’t.

Ronny is sitting in the corner playing with his phone. He lets one of the Warriors road guys know that he likes to have a stat sheet after the game. Corey Maggette looks as frustrated as I was while watching his play in the final minutes of regulation and then overtime. He’s sitting down with a stat sheet in hand, towel on and a tired look on his face. He looks like he is trying to convince himself to get up and get showered so he can get out of Toronto, but for whatever reason he remains seated.

Al Harrington comes out of the shower area talking about the effort needed to get a W. He says that they need to get adjusted to playing big minutes and playing with the intensity of the regular season as opposed to preseason where you get to rest. Although it’s been a long, tough night, Al is great with the media and gives his time freely.

Finally, after what feels like forever, Jax emerges from the shower and goes to his locker to get changed. Before this can happen, he needs to address the media and their questions. While obviously frustrated when the game ended, he is the epitome of cool, saying firmly that he needs to play better and he takes pride in his ability to put the team on his back and be their leader. That in order for them to be successful, he needs to be better now, because he does not have 30 games to lose. He also heaps the praise on Chris Bosh which is sure to make him popular here in Toronto.

Noticing that the locker room is clearing out to get onto the team bus, I give him a few minutes, go over and apologize for being unable to make it to speak with him pregame and let him know how much his graciousness to fit me into his schedule was appreciated. He is, of course, ridiculously cool about it all and tells me not to worry, then asks me what I need from him. I explain that there is no way we will have the time to talk about what I wanted to discuss, so he gives me his number and we make an arrangement to talk soon.

If all goes as planned, I’ll have a Stack Jack exclusive for you guys on here very soon. I’m pretty excited to speak about some of the stuff he has going on, so be on the lookout for that. I know everyone is aware of how much I love his game, but I feel the need to also explain how much I respect the man himself. He’s got the gift of being able to give of himself honestly and openly and you know when you are talking to him, he is talking to you and not just churning out answers to be done with you. Stephen Jackson does not take his blessings for granted and he is making a difference every day. If you haven’t checked out the Stephen Jackson Academy of Arts, Science and Technology, please do so. If there is anyone out there who still wants to let a few life experiences define a whole man, please I challenge you to open your eyes, open your ears, close your mouth and think deeper.

So, after starting my day out at 6:45am with the Post Up, spending my morning at the Raptors shootaround gathering info for my preview over at The Score, spending the better part of the afternoon writing that preview so it could go up before the game,watching the game (which was absolutely amazing for an opener, the ACC has got to be one of the best arenas in the NBA), waiting for guys postgame and finally making it home just before 12am, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I ordered pizza, sat down, and finished off my halloween night in exactly the right way as I let the events of my day sink in. I started taking down some notes on things to watch for in the Raptors next home game.

The NBA season is here and I am going to be able to watch this Raptors team grow and change, improve and develop. Having never lived in a city with an NBA franchise, I cannot express how amazing it all feels. The energy in the Air Canada Centre was incredible, the love for the team overwhelming, the respect for the game, absolutely beautiful.

People may think that Canadians don’t know the history of the game, but one thing they can’t ever dispute is their love for it. It’s easy to see why Chris Bosh loves being the man of this city. I’m thankful to be a new resident and also thankful I get to root for these Raptors.