The Toronto Raptors signed Hedo Turkoglu for times like yesterday, when they find themselves in the guts of the game needing to make something happen.
At 6-foot-9, he can make plays off the dribble and he's got the confidence to take and make big shots down the stretch.
Unfortunately, he didn't really get a chance yesterday as the Raptors got lit up by the Turkoglu's old team, the Orlando Magic, 125-116 in front of 18,147 at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors failed to put the ball in the hands of their new playmaker as Orlando hung on after the Raptors tried gamely to rally back from a 22-point hole they dug themselves in the second quarter.
Turkoglu was a significant factor as the Raptors surged back - he scored 12 of his 14 points after the Raptors hit rock bottom, including nine while going four-of-four in the third quarter, and he also tossed in four assists and a pair of blocked shots.
But in the game's final five minutes, with the Raptors trailing by six points, Turkoglu was nowhere, with the Raptors initiating their offence through Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon, their two-headed point guard. The results weren't pretty, as Toronto committed a pair of costly turnovers - one by Chris Bosh and the other by Jack - and Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson took control of the game with his dribble penetration into the heart of the Raptors defense. Turkoglu counted just one assist in the fourth quarter and a pair of too-late baskets when the game was out of reach.
"I'm trying to," said Turkoglu when asked if felt comfortable asserting himself down the stretch in close games with his new team yet. "[Today]was better, but like I said before we have so many weapons, I just have to take my time and when my time comes I have to be more aggressive instead of passing up shots."
Turkoglu earned his five-year, $53-million (U.S.) free-agent contract in part because he's bold enough to try and make plays down the stretch.
"The biggest thing with any of those guys who are good in those situations is they can handle missing, that's what it really comes down to," said his former coach, Stan Van Gundy. "And in this world and in this game a lot of guys can't do that, they can't put the bad thing behind them. Hedo can really stink for three quarters and be the best player on the floor in the fourth quarter; I think that's an outstanding characteristic."
The Raptors, 1-2, have yet to see it.
That Toronto had such a steep hill to climb can be traced to Orlando's mastery of their inside-outside attack where Howard punishes teams down low and their shooters take aim from beyond the three-point line. The Magic were shorthanded for the game as Vince Carter opted to rest a sore ankle he sprained on Friday; Mickael Pietrus was sent home with the flu and Rashard Lewis is serving a 10-game suspension after being found with an elevated level of testosterone in his system during the off-season.
But it didn't matter: Howard scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds; little-used J.J. Reddick scored a career-high 27 points while playing 45 minutes, including hitting five-of-eight three-pointers. Ryan Anderson, a throw-in the Magic received from New Jersey in the trade that yielded Vince Carter was also five-of-eight from the three-point line as Orlando set a Raptors record by an opponent by hitting 17 threes, using just 32 attempts to do so.
"This is what they do," said Raptors head coach Jay Triano. "They put shooters around Dwight Howard. If you take away the shooters as we tried later, then Dwight Howard goes crazy inside."
Toronto shot 10-of-17 from the three-point line and 54.1 per cent from the floor to 43.9 by the Magic, but couldn't overcome Orlando's edge in offensive rebounding, free throws and triples.
Even fouling Howard and forcing him to make free throws didn't work, as the career 60-per-cent free throw shooter made 14 of his 16 chances as Bosh chipped in with a hard foul on his friend Howard that had them exchanging words.
Toronto got strong efforts from Bosh, who finished with 35 points and 16 rebounds, while Andrea Bargnani scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half, but Orlando was able to silence any Raptors run with a three pointer, it seemed.
"They played very well, that's the thing," Van Gundy said. "It's not like they can walk into the locker room and say 'well, we just didn't have it today.' They shot the hell out of the ball, their main three guys all played great and we were still able to come out with the road win."
And the Raptors are still waiting to see what Turkoglu can really do.
Notes Most NBA teams are being particularly cautious about the possibility of the H1N1 virus spreading throughout their club. The Orlando Magic opted to send forward Mickael Pietrus back to Florida when he demonstrated a fever rather than risk him infecting the team. ... Vince Carter warmed up before the game but decided not to play when he tested his lateral movement with his sprained ankle. "He said if he didn't have to play any defence he'd be fine. I've had some guys before who don't play defence, but generally it's not something we encourage," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ... Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh said he was just making sure that Dwight Howard didn't get a three-point play when he grabbed his Team USA friend around the neck and held on in the fourth quarter. "It's hard basketball, it was a hard foul, but there are no hard feelings or anything." Said Howard, "It's over with now. We are just trying to pound the ball inside and get to the free-throw line. It was the heat of the moment, it is over with." ... Magic forward Matt Barnes got a technical foul for appearing to step on Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani in the third quarter after they got tangled up. Bosh got a technical foul in the first quarter after arguing he'd been fouled by Barnes.
Next Wednesday, Detroit Pistons at Raptors, 7 p.m. EST