With all-star Chris Bosh on the bench because of a knee injury, the Toronto Raptors have given Jason Kapono the green light from the perimeter.
From the looks of it, the sweet-shooting swingman is poised for another three-point title. The two-time defending three-point contest champion scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting as a reserve to rally the Toronto Raptors to a 110-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
“I come in the game and I automatically just try to make an impact and try to find my shot,” Kapono said. “I’m not trying to force shots, but I’m definitely looking for my shot. I think guys sense that and we’re just a much better team when everyone has that mindset.”
Randy Foye had a career-high 33 points and eight rebounds for the Wolves, who played the first game of the rest of the season without centre Al Jefferson. And that future looks grim.
Jermaine O’Neal had 22 points and eight rebounds and Joey Graham scored 24 for the Raptors, who rallied from 13 down in the third quarter in their third straight game without Bosh.
In the past, this twice-a-year matchup meant a meeting between two of the best young big men in the NBA in Jefferson and Bosh.
But the smattering of fans that did show up to Target Center on Tuesday night were left wanting in that department. Jefferson will have surgery in the next week to 10 days to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.
“It was different because when I was driving the ball, usually like he’s right there to hand it off,” Foye said.
It’s a crushing blow to a team that was showing some signs of turning the corner following a 4-23 start. Minnesota’s game – particularly on the offensive end – begins and ends with Jefferson’s considerable presence in the paint.
“Usually we’re always looking for him,” Foye said. “Usually he’s our bail-out.”
His bulk was sorely missed against Toronto. Raptors centre O’Neal had his way down low with smaller rookie Kevin Love. O’Neal scored 10 points in the final four minutes, mostly on power moves over Love, to put away the game.
“Kevin Love is going to be a great player, but I didn’t know how he was going to be able to handle Jermaine,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “And we were going to try to look at putting it inside against him.”
The Raptors know all too well what it’s like to play without their leading scorer and rebounder. Bosh has missed the last three games with a sprained right knee, robbing the team of 22.7 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
Triano said before the game that Bosh, who decided Tuesday to skip the all-star game in Phoenix on Sunday, should be ready when play resumes Feb. 18 against the Cavaliers.
After falling behind by 10 points early thanks to a fast start from Graham, the Timberwolves closed the second quarter with a 15-0 run to take a seven-point lead into halftime.
Minnesota led by as many as 13 points midway through the third period before Kapono, who will defend his title at All-Star weekend, got going. He hit two threes in the final minutes of the third period and then opened the fourth quarter with a four-point play that put Toronto on its way to the win.
“Jason’s looking to score a lot more right now,” Triano said. “He’s one of the best shooters in the NBA and he’s proven that the last couple of years at all-star weekend.”
Notes: Timberwolves G Rashad McCants missed the game with an illness. … The Raptors finish the unofficial first half of the season with a game against Sacramento on Wednesday night. … Love finished with 15 points and 11 boards.