John Salmons making huge impact on Raptors

SAN ANTONIO -  Prior to his arrival in Toronto, John Salmons was best known in these parts for being the guy who famously said God told him not to go to Toronto after verbally agreeing to a deal.

Two weeks into his tenure in Raptors colours, Salmons is changing many of those now 7-year-old first impressions.

In the one he’s leaving now, Salmons is a fearless scorer, defender and all-around pain in the rear to play against.

He’s the type of player Dwane Casey has been clamouring for behind closed doors when the conversation turns to what this team is lacking.

He’s a veteran of 12 years in the league who knows how to and is willing to fight through screens and whatever defensive obstacle an opponent puts in his way to get to the basket.

He does not wilt in crunch time or when the physicality gets amped up. He takes it to another level.

Anyone in Sacramento reading this might have fallen off their stool by now. For whatever reason the Salmons we are seeing in Toronto is not the one who left the California capital. Sometimes it’s just time to move on. Opportunity also plays into it. Salmons brought with him an on-court demeanour that was not in abundance on the Toronto roster and because of that has an opportunity in Toronto he didn’t have in Sacramento.

And he’s making the most of it.

Sunday night in Oklahoma City with the Thunder having wrested a first half lead the Raptors had built with a dominant third quarter, the Toronto loss was already being written.

A remarkably solid first half appeared to have been their best shot after the Thunder came out in the third and won the quarter 28-13.

Even coming off a surprising comeback win over a veteran-heavy team in Dallas two nights earlier, it was just too much to think the Raptors could do it again.
Salmons, who doesn’t know the history of the Raptors in these situations basically put the team on his back over the final 12 minutes and took them to victory.

As Kyle Lowry, who is as astute as any player on the Raptors roster when it comes to breaking down a game would say afterwards: “John Salmons?,” Lowry said. “I mean give him the game ball, offensively and defensively. Just, here, take the ball. He was a big-time player tonight.”

Salmons’ night started out rather badly as his first three touches of the night ended up in turnovers. Things got exponentially better after that.

Salmons was one of three Raptors — Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan the other two — who played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. Salmons and Johnson shared defensive duties on the current NBA scoring leader in Kevin Durant and limited him to three points on 1-of-6 shooting.

On the offensive end Salmons was a demon. Those turnover blues from the first half were out of his system and Salmons attacked the basket like it contained the answer to all his prayers.

He would score nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, masterminding the second comeback of this now unlikely 2-0 road trip.

The Raptors have now beaten the Mavs, who owned an 11-2 record at their home, and the Thunder who had not lost at home in 13 games this season.

Salmons, with his fourth-quarter brilliance on Sunday and his defensive shutdown of Monta Ellis on Friday, was pivotal in both. It’s no coincidence that Salmons was on the floor for all 12 minutes of both fourth quarters and the entire five minutes of the overtime period in Dallas.

It’s clear that Casey will lean on Salmons and his experience and his knowledge of what it takes to win in the NBA as much as he possibly can.

“He is used to it and our guys are going to learn from it,” Casey said. “You see guys like Terrence Ross over there cheering for him and he is going to learn from it. (Jonas Valanciunas) will learn from it. John is out there talking to JV and telling him what to do, how to do things, where he likes his screen and that’s huge.”

It’s quite likely that few saw the impact Salmons would have on the Raptors coming. But it’s also clear that Casey has zeroed in on it and will ride it for all its worth.

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