By Frank McLean
Much to the relief of Raptors management and of course the always in panic mode Raptors Nation, DeMarre Carroll returned to the Raptors line-up Thursday night against his old teammates with the Atlanta Hawks.
It didn’t matter that the Hawks won the game 95-87. The Raptors are using this last five game stretch that started Thursday night to get the team focused and ready for the playoffs. A goal in which the franchise is looking at the second round or better.
The Raptors Junk-Yard-Dog 2.0, Carroll has been out of the line-up since January 3rd after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee and last night he played 14 minutes, scored five points with one rebound and was a plus two. It was the most important 14 minutes any Raptor has played on the court this year.
“He gave us energy,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “He was on a minute limitation. He gave it to us defensively, he made a big shot but it’s just going to take time. We don’t expect him to come out and change the world right off the bat.”
“I just wanted to come out and play a few games before the playoffs and let myself know that even though I have a little swelling (in the knee) I can still play through it and I can still play at a high level,” Carroll said in his post game comments. “For a short stint I think I did what I had to do and that’s all I can ask for.
“The biggest thing is mental. Me going on that world tour with the doctors (a couple of weeks ago) and understanding that I can’t do no harm to it, it’s kind of gave me a relaxed sense so if I do see some swelling then I know I can play through it. That’s all I wanted, just to know that I could play through it without causing more damage.”
With only four games left, starting with Friday’s home game against Indiana, the goal is to bring Carroll along slowly Casey was saying before Thursday’s game.
“We are going to start incorporating him in a bit as we go in these last few games and try and get him some game conditioning. It’s totally different than practice and our practices have been such that they have been situational, not a lot of five-on-five so this will give him an opportunity to get some testing in with that knee.”
One thing about Carroll is that he can play with pain better than most athletes.
In last year’s playoffs he injured his left knee during the Hawks second round series against the Washington Wizards and kept playing during the rest of that series and in the conference final against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After the playoffs ended Carroll admitted to the Atlanta media that he was suffering with a turf toe injury.
The jewel in Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri’s remake of the roster, Carroll is on the first year of a four year 60-million dollar contract that he signed with the team in the off season. If the Raptors are going to have a long playoff run, Carroll’s defensive skills will be needed, it’s why he was brought in and he’s a definite upgrade over Amir Johnson.
The Raptors JYD 2.0 has but a week to get ready for the games that matter.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.