The Raptors tenuous hold on third place in the Eastern Conference looked to be in doubt at the start of last week. At 42-31, Toronto faced the HEAT, Rockets, Pacers and Bucks while the 41-32 Bulls were about to chow down on the Celtics, Hawks, Bucks and Wizards. To make matters worse, Kyle Lowry would be injured in Miami and Amir Johnson would go out in the first quarter of the game against Houston. Next man up was about to take a whole new meaning for the Raptors.
Toronto did get Patrick Patterson back after three weeks away with an elbow injury in time for the Miami game and they would need him. The Raptors had no intention of letting the Bulls take third place away from them.
“I’ll be satisfied once we get third spot,” Patterson said. “I am happy knowing we are going to the playoffs, but I’m not satisfied yet.”
The first game back was tough for Patterson. He didn’t have his wind and his shot wasn’t falling, however, he really couldn’t have asked for a better week of competition to help him get back into game shape and prepare for the coming playoff run.
“First game (back) was against Miami, so that was a positive start, (then) playing Houston at home – a team that likes to run up and down the court in transition – was another game and then this physicality game against Indiana was another way for me to get prepared,” Patterson said. “It takes two or three games for me to get back (after being off), it’s all about getting my wind, getting my lungs back, getting my legs underneath me and getting the speed of the game back. There is only so much you can do outside of playing real basketball – running on the court, running on the treadmill, banging against teammates in practice, but it’s nothing compared to the actual game.”
Without Lowry or Johnson, the surprisingly resilient Raptors have won their last three games in a row to remain tied with Chicago for third place and because Toronto leads the Atlantic Division, they hold the tie breaker. Patterson and the Raptors continue to show the ability to win games with the next man up in the lineup.
“We all have our roles and certain rotation that we play,” Patterson explained. “Every time I come off the bench, I am backing up Amir (Johnson), certain times we play together and certain times we don’t, so I know my role and if I have to start, it is pretty much the same thing, the same opportunities, setting screens, popping, running in transition, rebounding shooting open shots, so it is pretty much the same thing. We all play alongside each other over the course of a game, so whenever one of our numbers is called, everyone is comfortable and everyone believes in one another.”
It only made things easier for Patterson to work himself back into the rotation starting beside Greivis Vasquez. After playing with Vasquez in Sacramento and playing with him on the second unit in Toronto, the Raptors starters didn’t lose much chemistry without Lowry and Johnson.
“Just because me and Greivis (Vasquez) played alongside each other for so long in Sacramento and now here in Toronto, so we have a good feel for one another,” Patterson said. “People just step up, no matter who is out, no matter who is playing, we have guys on this team that can fill in the position, step up and rise to the occasion.”
The battle for third place is going down to the wire between the Bulls and the Raptors over the next week. Toronto’s toughest opponent is likely the two remaining games against the Knicks who could still be in the race for eighth. Chicago has one left against the Knicks and play their final game in Charlotte against a team that could be fighting for sixth. Neither team can afford any slip ups.
Raptors Bench Is No Longer A Bunch Of Young Guys
“I think the trade was really good for us,” Steve Novak said. “The one thing that it really brought us was guys like Greivis (Vasquez) who have starting experience and now they are coming off the bench, Chuck Hayes and John (Salmons) and Pat (Patterson), our bench got so much better from that trade.”