TORONTO – It’s no coincidence that the Toronto Raptors are playing some of their best basketball of the season at a time when Jose Calderon is healthy for one of the first times this year.
Calderon scored 22 points and tied a franchise record with 19 assists as the Raptors survived a late scare to defeat the Chicago Bulls 134-129 in a thrilling overtime game Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.
“Can you play much better?” Raptors coach Jay Triano asked after the game. “He had a nice mixture of sharing the basketball, distributing to his teammates and eight of eleven shooting. He played very, very well.”
The Raptors (28-45), who led by 17 points midway through the fourth quarter, saw that lead quickly evaporate thanks to the hot shooting of Ben Gordon. The Bulls’ shooting guard scored 17 of Chicago’s season-high 42 fourth-quarter points to key a late comeback.
Chicago (36-39) outscored the Raptors 22-9 in the final 3:41 of the fourth quarter, which gave Gordon an opportunity to send the game to overtime. With his team trailing by two and the clock winding down, Gordon squared up against Bosh at top of the three point line. A few quick dribbles to his right and the 25-year-old hit a fade away jumper over Bosh’s outstretched arms to tie the game just as time expired.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Gordon said. “My intentions were to go all the way to the basket but Bosh did a pretty good job of not letting me turn the corner, so I had to pull up and I was able to connect.”
The Bulls’ momentum was abruptly stopped in the overtime period, though, as the Raptors were able to get things back on track. Bargnani helped turn things around with a key three-pointer but then it was Bosh who put the Raptors ahead for good.
During a timeout with just 28 seconds remaining in overtime, Triano called a play for Bosh to go one-on-one against Bulls big man Joakim Noah. It was a nearly identical situation to the one Bosh faced in the dying seconds of a 102-98 loss to Chicago on Jan. 14. Bosh missed the shot then, and he missed again on Sunday afternoon, but the difference this time was that he stuck with it and was able to tip the ball in for the game-winning basket.
“I was thinking about it right when the situation occurred,” said Bosh, who is averaging 20.8 and 13.8 rebounds over his past four games. “I was like this is the exact situation except on the other side of the court I got to the hole, missed the shot but I was able to tip it in.”
The Raptors recorded a franchise high in points and have now won four games in a row for the first time since Dec. 9-14, 2007. The record high point tally comes on the same day Calderon tied Damon Staudamire for the most assists dished out in a game by a Raptor.
“I think this kind of record is something you can look back at when you finished playing,” Calderon said afterwards. “To be right there with Staudamire, he was a great player for the Raptors, so I am happy.”
It’s a refreshing change of pace for Calderon who has suffered through a season filled with bad news. The 27-year old has battled a sore hamstring for almost the entire season and recently dislocated his right ring finger but he now appears to be back to full strength.
“He’s a lot closer to 100 per cent than he has been all year and I think it shows,” Bosh said.
Notes: Buffalo Bills’ Terrell Owens sat courtside for the game. During a timeout in the second quarter the controversial wide receiver autographed a pair of footballs and tossed them into the crowd. . . . Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn also sat courtside for the game. … Toronto’s 79 points in the second half and overtime are a franchise high. … The Raptors have scored 100 points in each of the past four games for an average score of 115.3. … Attendance for Sunday’s game at the Air Canada Centre was 18,949.