TORONTO - Coming off one of their most lopsided defeats of the season the Raptors knew they had to rebound.
Amir Johnson took that literally.
"The ball was finding me in certain spots," Johnson said humbly after setting a new career-high with 21 boards in Toronto's 92-78 bounce-back win over the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats (14-51) at the Air Canada Centre Friday. "I was able to get in position and get the rebound."
Trailing by one early in the fourth, the Raptors (26-40) held Charlotte to one field goal on 13 attempts in the final period to seal the deal after getting off to a sluggish start.
"We were running in mud in the first half," coach Dwane Casey admitted, just two days after his team was routed by 24 points in Boston. "[It's] kind of the malaise of this time of the year and we can't let that set in."
"I was happy the way we came back," he continued, "but we can't start out games like that no matter who we play."
Johnson also scored 12 points, recording his team-leading 13th double-double of the season while Rudy Gay led the Raptors, pouring in 10 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Fast Breaking Points
- One-Man Wrecking Crew
Approaching the heart of March, 14 games under .500, there's not a whole lot keeping the Raptors season interesting at this point. If you find yourself searching for a reason to stay tuned look no further than Amir Johnson, the heart, sole and seemingly unanimous MVP of this team. Just when you think you've seen it all from Amir he leaves you wondering, what will he do next?
Early last week he shot a perfect 10-for-10 and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds as a reserve, something that's never been done in our beloved NBA. Six days later he tore down 16 boards, matching a career-high. On Friday he set a new personal best with 21 rebounds and pretty much refused to give himself any credit for doing something remarkable after yet another masterful display of raw effort.
"Not at all," he said when asked if he was aware of his accomplishment as it was unfolding. "I was just playing hard. Next thing I know I look up and I have 21 boards."
"Every rebound was his," said Gay, who gladly gave Johnson the credit he deserved. "We need that out of him and today he was on another level."
Johnson earned every single rebound and did so in a fashion that helped turn the game after his team got manhandled on the glass in the first half. The Bobcats had a 12-1 advantage on the offensive boards after 24 minutes but managed to grab just three in the second half while Johnson was responsible for seven of Toronto's nine offensive rebounds in the final two quarters.
"It's focus on the release," Casey said of the adjustment made at the break. "We talked about it at halftime, it's all about our focus when the shot is released go find a body. In the first half we weren't doing that in the second we did a much better job of limiting them to one shot."
- February Flashback
Since he first acknowledged the lingering back pain that has plagued him this month -- in the Mar. 1 loss to Indiana -- Gay has sat out two games and has been noticeably restricted in the four he has played. Even his coach admitted that the back injury -- as back injuries tend to do -- has turned Gay into a different, less aggressive player at times. However, if he was affected by the ailment on Friday he certainly didn't show it.
For the first time since February, the Raptors got a good look at the game-changing talent they believed they were paying for when acquiring the forward from Memphis. It's safe to say we haven't and likely won't see many 11-for-16-type outings from Gay -- a 38 per cent shooter since the trade -- and you can probably chalk that up to the level of competition (sorry Charlotte). With that said, those who have watched Gay play at a slower pace, gingerly get up after a couple of hard falls and shy away from contact around the rim over the last two weeks can appreciate his performance on Friday, even if it did come against the lowly Bobcats.
Once again, Gay spent most of his time in the post, where we've seen him get more looks since the injury, which has presumably limited his mobility. However, the Raptors' leading scoring mixed things up on Friday, keeping the defence guessing with some aggressive drives to the basket and an effective face-up game in addition to his work in the post, where the team has been trying to use him even more.
"He did a great job of quarterbacking out of the post [and] finding his teammates weak side," Casey said of Gay. "That's what superstars do. You accept the double team and then you become the quarterback and then make them pay for double teaming you."
"That's where I think I thrive," Gay exclaimed, expressing his level of comfort working with his back to the basket. " [I'm] just trying to [find] different ways to be effective here but at the end of the game that's where I want to be."
The Stat: Friday's game was the first in which Gay has shot at or above 50 per cent since Feb. 1, his Raptors debut against the Clippers (8-for-16).
Notables and Quotables
The Raptors have taken two of three meetings with the Bobcats this season, with each team winning at home. Charlotte will host Toronto for the fourth and final match-up on Mar. 20. ... The Raptors have won two in a row over a Bobcats team that defeated them in seven of the previous eight. ... Gerald Henderson led the Bobcats with 22 points, half of them coming in the third quarter where Charlotte went on a 22-9 run to cut its deficit to one going into the fourth. Kemba Walker had 20 points on 5-of-17 shooting. ... The Raptors' bench outscored Charlotte's reserves 26-18. Sebastian Telfair had seven of his 11 points at the free throw line while rookie Terrence Ross scored nine on 4-of-5 shooting. ... Jonas Valanciunas went 5-for-6 from the field with 10 points and six rebounds. ... Toronto's backcourt struggled, DeMar DeRozan scored nine points (1-of-5) and Kyle Lowry had just seven (3-of-10). ... The Raptors turned the ball over 20 times leading to 20 Bobcats points.
"A win's a win, we'll take it, but I still think there are things we can learn from this game and things we can correct from this game."
"We [had] 20 turnovers. If we turn it over 20 times on Sunday (against the Heat) it's going to be 40 points off our turnovers, so we've got to take care of the ball."
"We've got to remember, we're building. We don't want to build bad habits, we want to build good habits and I thought we did down the stretch. That team has pride too so we've got to come out with the same focus for 48 minutes, not 24."
"We have a great group of guys who want to play well but they're human. I mean you have this malaise but its up to us as a coaching staff to push them through this time of year."
"Be greedy. That's where I challenged the team after the game. You showed the fact that you can play defence when you get down and get grimy and dirty with them and that's the way we want to play. We can't spot a team that many possessions, that many turnovers and expect to come out on top."
From worst to first, the Raptors will play host to the league-best Miami Heat (50-14), owners of a 21-game winning streak at 1:00pm ET Sunday afternoon, live on TSN2.