Warriors-Raptors: Notes

by December 19, 2006
18

by Marcel Mutoni

Pregame:

The media room in Toronto is a fairly generic area with makeshift tables for eating and workstations set up to accommodate laptops and other devices. It also doubles into a cafeteria, and I counted up to 10 televisions mounted on the walls set to the various sports networks in this country. As soon as I walked in on Sunday afternoon, I was forced to sit through NFL Countdown, during which Michael Irvin failed to say anything stupid while I listened. Can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed.

Official SLAMonline Food Critique:

In the corner of the cafeteria, I spotted the same pizza that I had on Friday night, and as tempting as that looked, I decided against it. In an effort to combat weight gain, I opted instead for the sausages, scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. Again, very tasty. The only letdown were the eggs which were a bit runny, but overall, a very solid breakfast. Grade: B+

Watching the fallout from the Nuggets/Knicks brouhaha, I start wondering if the media would have had the same reaction had the same thing taken place say between the Sox and Yankees, or better yet, between rival Nascar drivers and their respective pit crews. The answer is no. I find this interesting.

After seeing the highlights of the Heat/Wizards game, I don’t think I’m crazy for thinking that D-Wade has quietly become the best shooter off the glass in the game. Yes, even better than Duncan.

After my meal, I head out to the court to watch warm-ups. Adonal Foyle is playing catch with an adorable little kid who is sitting behind one of the baskets. Wonder if David Stern forced Adonal to play the role of Mr. Nice-Guy-See-We’re-Not-All-Bad-In-The-NBA. Hey, you never know.

Jason Richardson, who doesn’t play today due to injury, is working on his jumpshot. An assistant coach wanders over to J-Rich, and from what I can gather, mentions something about where to catch the ball and the proper angle to cock his elbow while shooting before walking away. Richardson, after making the necessary adjustments, knocks down seven straight jumpers. That, my friends, is what we call coaching.

Before leaving the court, J-Rich and Morris Peterson show each other some love. Remember, they played together at MSU under Tom Izzo.

As I make my way to press row (much better seats today, by the way), I cross paths with the other half of the Raptors’ announcing duo, the NY bred Jack Armstrong. We exchange hellos. Chuck Swirsky, trailing Jack by a few feet, doesn’t say a thing to me. Think he read the column? Hmm…

Gametime:

Monta Ellis, who’s having a breakout season, scores the game’s first four points. There’s a dude sitting directly behind me who lets it be known early and often that he will be screaming out “Yeeeeuuuuhh” after each and every Golden State basket. Would any jury in the world convict me if I hit him?

TJ Ford gets two steals off Ellis and his running mate Baron Davis in the opening minutes. Quick hands.

The Warriors fall into a 3-2 zone to start the game. The Raptors simply move the ball around the perimeter and end up with two straight threeballs from Anthony Parker.

Nice no-look feed from TJ to a cutting Rasho Nasterovich who gets the bucket plus the foul. The ensuing free throw gives Toronto a 13-12 lead with just over 6 minutes to go in the first.

Moments later, TJ and Rasho hook up on a similar play to push the lead to 19-12. The Raptors’ offense seems to be picking up where it left off on Friday night. This is a good sign for a team playing without its best player.

Monta Ellis is one of those players who is always in attack mode. Must not be much fun trying to check him.

Mo-Pete, who again gets a nice hand from the ACC faithful as he checks into the game, makes his presence felt immediately. He dives for a looseball, and after getting it to TJ, he’s rewarded on the ensuing break as Ford finds him for a wide open three from straight away. Condensation.

Andrea Bargnani, as I mentioned in the last game report, loves shooting the three. He’s taken four of them in the opening quarter, connecting on just one.

Baron Davis is bouncing off defenders like a running back, and getting to the hole at will. After a Lil’ Dun (yes, he looks just as dopey in person as he does in those pictures) basket, the score is 27-24 in favor of Toronto.

(The biggest cheer of the first half goes to these little kids who are part of a group called Raptors Mini Dance Pak or something.)

Bargnani starts heating up before the quarter comes to an end; he hits a baseline step back jumper, and then follows that up with a (you guessed it) three. Give him 8 points and the Raptors a 6 point lead.

Second Quarter:

Today, I’m surrounded by an international media contingent. The majority are from Italy, presumably here to cover Bargnani. At one point in the second quarter, Andrea Bargnain blows a wide open dunk. This doesn’t sit well with some of his countrymen at press row. One of the dudes, a man with an impressive beard, slams his fist into the table. Interestingly enough, I’m the only person who seems to be startled by this.

(The Bearded Italian Media Dude—The B.I.M.D. from now on—then leans back in his chair and runs his fingers through his hair evidently consumed with rage. I find this absolutely hilarious, and it takes everything in me not to burst out in laughter.)

With 9 minutes to go in the first half, Peterson gives the Raptors a 40-30 lead. Timeout Warriors.

(I crossed paths with Don Nelson before the game, and the man is tall. Towering, really. I also don’t think he’s ever cracked a smile in his life.)

Know what, I think I might dedicate the rest of this game to The B.I.M.D. After another Bargnani jumper (he’s on fire right now), The B.I.M.D. leans back in his chair and does a small fist pump. I’m very entertained by this man. I wish I could be in his presence for a week straight and document his every move.

Andrea two-hand stuffs Andris Biedrins as he attempts to score on a layup, and the crowd loses it. Big hand for the rookie. He’s going to be a problem in this league for a very long time.

Jose Calderon thinks he can check Baron with his hands. The refs have a different opinion on the matter.

Jorge Garbajosa—are there any Americans on the Raptors?—isn’t scared of the Warriors’ new defensive scheme (a 2-3 zone this time; that Don Nelson, always thinking), because he knocks down two jumpers to make it 53-40 for his team.

Baron then scores twice to cut the lead to 8. One of those buckets might require Joey Graham to get some work done on his ankles at halftime. Just sayin’ is all.

Davis is the only reason the Warriors aren’t down by twenty. A three point play (the old fashioned way) makes it 63-57.

(I love how the in-house announcer reminds the fans to use their thunderstix to distract opposing players as they shoot their freebies. Wait, no I don’t.)

Third Quarter:

Baron continues his hot shooting (15 points), but the Raptors have pushed their lead to 15 (70-65). 9:25 remaining.

The Warriors’ offense, in a nutshell, is based on a strategy of “Give The Ball To Baron Or Monta and Pray They Make A Good Decision.”

Monta is having a nice game thus far; he’s scored 21 points on a series of drives and pull ups. He cuts the lead to six with three ball. 6 minutes left in the third q.

That Warrior fan that I mentioned earlier? Yeah, he’s still at it. A tick is developing just above my left eye.

There’s hardly any energy in the building or on the court. Must be a Sunday afternoon.

After a Peterson three, Monta Ellis shatters Mo-Pete’s ankles with a left-to-right crossover before dropping in a layup plus the harm. Dirty.

(The B.I.M.D. Update: After a few possessions where Bargnani doesn’t touch the rock, The B.I.M.D. is getting visibly upset. I’m transfixed by him. At one point, he gestures angrily towards the court and mutters to himself in Italian; I assume he’s pointing out just how wide open Andrea is under the hoop. I consider going over to him and telling him that everything is going to be just fine, but decide against it.)

Have I mentioned that the Raptors have some really cute dancers yet? It’s worth repeating.

Golden State runs a nice play out of a timeout as Davis finds Pietrus for an oop to cut the lead to 9. Somewhere, Doug Collins is beaming.

An Italian media member (not HIM) with long, boney fingers, informs me that Bargnani has five blocks in the game. As she tells me this, tears of patriotic joy and pride can be seen streaming down her angular face. OK, maybe not.

95-83 after three quarters.

Fourth Quarter:

Notable performances thus far: Peterson (21 pts), Andrea (16 pts), Monta (26 pts), Pietrus (18 points). Pietrus’ point total comes as a total shock to me. Where was I when he scored all of those points? I am flummoxed.

After getting his sixth block in the game, Andrea adds a nifty layup in traffic. Everyone in the building is on their feet. The Bargnani basket makes it 100-89 for the Raptors. This means free pizza for everyone in attendance. People are more than a little pleased.

(Of course, no one is more pleased than The B.I.M.D.)

A questionable call by the refs on a drive by Mo-Pete gets Don Nelson off his feet for the first time today. Glad to see you’re awake, coach.

Despite showing flashes of a comeback, it’s not meant to be for the Warriors. They miss a ton of shots down the stretch and the Raptors finish things off at the free throw line.

As the game comes to a close, the Raptors grab a rebound after yet another Golden State miss, but Jose Calderon goes down. He lays on the ground motionless for what seems like forever. Play is halted. The Spaniard then begins writhing in pain, clutching his lower back. The medical staff comes onto the court, and they place a neck brace on him.

Players from both teams gather around Calderon as play stops for a good 10 minutes, and the crowd goes from a celebratory mood to one of deathly silence. On the replays, it’s hard to tell what caused the injury. From the looks of things, Calderon took an elbow to the neck from Pietrus, but it’s not clear why he’s clutching his lower back. He’s then carted off the court on a stretcher and the crowd gives him a big hand when he does the old thumbs-up.

Scary sight.

The Raptors win their third straight game without Bosh, but everyone is understandably concerned about their injured teammate.

Postgame:

The Warriors’ locker room opens up first and everyone makes a beeline for Baron Davis. He tells the media to give him a minute. They oblige.

(One thing that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is seeing NBA players’ exposed junk after showering. It’s something that I doubt even my shrink will be able to help me get over. My psyche is forever scarred. I hate my life.)

Meanwhile, Don Nelson says he’s ready to speak, and like bees smelling honey, everyone flocks to him. Nelson doesn’t seem to be all that upset about the loss, after all, it is just a mid-December defeat that no one will remember a week from now. Don is rocking a Warriors golf shirt, to go with grey pleated pants, and black dress shoes. He’s also holding a Bud Light in his right hand as he answers questions. Don Nelson is awesome.

(When asked about Bargnani—who had his first double double of his career—Nelson responds: “Oh, I like him; he looks good.”)

Baron, finally ready to talk, tells the assembled media that his team lost because they didn’t hit shots down the stretch. He also says that the Raptors did a better job of attacking the cup and getting offensive boards.

I get a second alone with Baron just before he leaves the locker room, and I ask him about his chances of returning to the All-Star game. His face breaks into a smile and he says that he’d love to get back: “I think I’ve played well enough to deserve a second look. Definitely.” When I mention that it’ll be tough out West with names like Kobe and Nash on the ballot, he responds, “I’ll be aight. I’ll be aight.”

As soon as I walk into the Raptors’ locker room, I catch The B.I.M.D. laughing hysterically after something that Bargnani said to him. I decide to give them a bit of time to bond.

Fred Jones, who’s nursing a sore calf, is lounging in a chair all alone, so I decide to roll up on him. He tells me that he is recovering nicely from the injury, and that he should be back real soon. He had to correct me, though, because I thought it was his ankle that was hurt. Whoops.

Fred then tells me that he’s enjoying the city of Toronto, and that it hasn’t been a hard adjustment. He says that even though the Raptors have reeled off three straight wins without Bosh, they’d be more than happy to have him back.

Fred on Andrea: “He’s big; he can do a lot of things.”

(The Raptors’ locker room is much nicer than the one for the visitors. Unlike the visitors’ room, it has two big flat screen TVs on the wall, the locker space is larger, and the carpeting is even thicker. Home court advantage, baby.)

On my way in to the Raptors’ locker room, I crossed paths with Bosh (who’s wearing a ridiculously dope pin-striped suit) and asked him how he was feeling: “I’m fine, man. I’m fine.” No idea what to make of that. I had my copy of SLAM with him on the cover and wanted to talk to him about it, but no luck.

After speaking to the assembled media and pumping them with clichés, I get a couple of seconds alone with Mo-Pete. I mention how I saw him and J-Rich chatting before the game, and this brings a big smile to his face: “That’s my guy right there! I MADE him come to MSU. I took him under my wing, you know.” Peterson then told me that J-Rich’s knee is feeling much better and that he should be returning to action very soon.

Mo-Pete mentions that he doesn’t know anything about Calderon’s situation, but that he said a prayer for him.

The PR guy for the Raptors tells us that Jose was taken to the hospital and was in good spirits. Garbajosa, his countryman, accompanied him.

As I make my way out of the locker room and prepare for my trip back to Ottawa, I hear Bargnani call out to Jones across the room: “Yo Fred! Do we still have to go to that Christmas Party?” Fred shakes his head in a way that indicates that they no longer have to attend, and Bargnani’s toothy smile lights up the room.