The Toronto Raptors are off to the best start in franchise history and but for some minor slippage, they could be undefeated at this point – not that anyone had reasonable expectations of being undefeated at this point in the season before it began. 15 missed free throws in Miami and one bad quarter against the Bulls is all that has prevented Toronto from perfection.
The Raptors have won big and won ugly and their bench has saved more than one game already this season. Third string center Chuck Hayes saved Toronto from the seemingly unstoppable Jared Sullinger in Boston. Lou Williams has already put up some key second half numbers in short minutes. But, it has been the Raptors backup forwards Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and James Johnson that have been coming through on a routine basis for Toronto at this point.
“We have a great bench that come in and bring another level of energy,” Amir Johnson told Pro Bball Report after a recent game. “They won the game for us, Pat (Patterson), Tyler (Hansbrough), James Johnson finished the fourth quarter out and had a hell of a game. That is what makes us so effective.”
Confidence is high in Toronto after last season as the team pulled out game after game in a franchise record setting season. The current feeling of being (almost) unstoppable comes from a continuing string of very strong fourth quarters this year. There has been some rough starts and suspect effort in parts of most of the team’s games, but the players believe they are never out of it.
“Once we all get on the same page, I think we’ll be unstoppable,” Johnson said. “Right now we got guys that are lifting other guys and that is definitely helping us out. There are going to be days where our second unit comes in gives us a lift and finishes the game for us.”
That feeling of being unstoppable wasn’t anywhere to be found in Toronto until very recently. The Raptors were considered soft and easy pickings on most nights until after the effects of the Rudy Gay trade had sunk in around the Association. That trade brought effective depth to the Raptors lineup and Johnson is already having trouble remembering the bad old days before the four players from Sacramento arrived when poor starts usually ended in a loss.
“It would, it would (end in a win),” Johnson insisted. “Last year we usually ended up in close games with a (win). There are going to be some games where our first group doesn’t have it and some games where our second unit has it and we put it altogether, we’ll be unstoppable.”
Who can blame Johnson for a short memory? No one in Toronto really wants to remember their five year stint in the lottery. It’s a lot more pleasant to think this team could be unstoppable once everyone gets on the same page and compared to their not so distant past, they are.
“For me, pretty much everything I do is for her now,” Johnson said. “I can’t look for myself now. I have a kid now and I just have to be the father-type and set examples. Every day my perspective just changes once you have a kid and I got that as soon as she was born.”
“Ten years in, I should be (a veteran),” Johnson said. “I definitely have a lot of say-so, especially for the younger guys – a lot of experience to tell them right from wrong. Definitely, I feel like a vet, at the same time I still feel young and energized.”
“We had a lot of changes in this room. I am happy right now,” Valanciunas said. “I am happy with where we are. Everybody is doing a good job. It is a different locker room, different faces, but I am happy with where we are now and I hope we are going to keep doing the same thing.”