The Toronto Raptors are proving they deserve to be judged by a new standard based on how they have played since the Rudy Gay trade. They honestly are doing the things that playoff teams do on a nightly basis. The Raptors looked pretty awful by any standards starting out against the league worst Milwaukee Bucks. It didn’t take long for them to break out of that funk. After a slow start they were dominating by the end of the first quarter. They would also slow down in the third only to see them storm back and in the end destroy the less talented opposition.
Much is made about how the Raptors offensive attack has improved since the trade. It is obvious to even the most casual fan how they have done it. Based on improved ball movement and passing up on the good shot to get the great shot. It has been amazing to watch how truly lethal this offensive attack has become. It is even more evident when they play teams that have a lesser talent level than they have.
What is far harder to figure out is how exactly the exit of Rudy Gay has improved their play on the defensive end of the floor. I would not class any of the players they acquired as great defenders. They did not come from a team that is known for a defensive mentality in the Kings either. What they have done is given the Raptors a much more talented second unit. This is helpful and does give Dwane Casey some realistic options if he feels his starters are not getting the job done defensively.
Ross who started this season as a defensive liability in far less minutes has become a better defender with more minutes coming his way as a starter. That doesn’t seem to make much sense on the surface. It does seem that Ross has more confidence to take chances and not fear it will get him yanked off the floor. He has been able to do a better than average job against some top players on opposing sides. While his offensive game has been on a role it is his improvement on the defensive end that affords the Raptors the ability to leave him out there.
This dramatic transformation can not be just pinned on one player though. It has been a team effort that has been able to transform things. The Raptors have done a great job rebounding has a team from pretty much ever position on the floor. The one thing the Raptors had struggled with since the arrival of Dwane Casey is closing out possessions. There are far fewer examples of the Raptors playing well on the defensive end and not finishing it off with a defensive rebound. The Raptors also seem to be gambling more on the defensive end with a ton of confidence that if they do that the rotation and fellow player will be there to have their back. Close outs have been far better on team’s that rely on the three pointer.
It isn’t one thing it is a bunch of little things that are getting the job done. Another one of those little things is people challenging shots. It sometimes doesn’t result in blocks but you do notice the Raptors big men making more attempts to strongly contest shots in the paint.
Before a re-match with the Bucks the Raptors get another divisional opponent to face tonight in the Celtics. This will be the second and final visit for Boston to Toronto on the season. Raptors did a solid job getting the win on opening night with a very different team. As the Raptors have been trending up the Boston Celtics who once looked like they might be a surprise are looking more like many expected. They are 1-9 in their last 10 and after leading the Atlantic Division now sit fourth with a 13-26 record only percentage points out of last currently held down by Philadelphia.
These are games in the past you would be concerned for the Raptors. Playing a team that everyone expects them to beat has never been a guarantee of success in the past. This Raptors team seems to thrive on beating down the lesser competition. After having to fight and survive a brutal schedule to close out 2013 they now see a lot of teams that are not on their level. To this point with few exceptions that Raptors are thriving on that chance to create some distance from the pack in both the Division and the Conference. The Raptors are now sitting in third in the East with an 8-2 record in their last 10 games.
This team is doing some things that even the best Raptors teams have struggled to do. While their record is still suffering from their brutal start to the season they are starting to make some ground from being considered just a five hundred team. They are playing far better than that. They are still not making the Pacers or Heat sweat about being knocked off by them in the playoffs. They are however establishing themselves as the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Something heading into this season seemed pretty unimaginable to say the least.