December 12, 2007

A Beat Up Ford

If you were watching the tilt between the Toronto Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks on the tube last night you saw T.J. Ford hit the deck. If you were in Atlanta at the Philips Arena, you heard T.J. Ford hit the deck.

The Toronto point guard was enjoying a fine evening - 26 points on 11 of 15 shooting from the floor, eight assists, two rebounds and only two turnovers in an efficient 29 minutes - before his night was cut short by Hawks rookie Al Horford.

While going to the bucket for what I thought was going to be an easy basket, Ford was tomahawk-slapped by Horford on the face. Ford lost control, landed hard on his back, and his head bounced off the court with some serious authority. It wasn't pretty. Neither was the replay, which the good folks at The Score gave me the privilege of viewing about nine times.

He's definitely got a concussion. If that's all he's got, he's a very, very lucky man today. Ford lay on the ground motionless for 10 minutes before he was taken off in a neck brace on a stretcher. The Raptors won the ball game, 100-88, but the outcome became secondary after the flagrant-2 foul by Horford, who was ejected.

Now I know the Toronto Raptors are a team chalk full of "nice guys," but where was the outrage? Why didn't anyone get up in Horford's grill? No one even verbally abused the Atlanta rookie after the foul. Sam Mitchell, the Raptors coach, was the most disturbed by the incident. It seemed to bring the former NBA player in him back to life, and he ran all the way from the Raptors bench to the scene of the crime, visibly upset, and shouting obscenities at Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. Mitchell had to be physically restrained by the referees. I think I saw steam physically spewing out of his ears. It was another example of why I love Sam Mitchell. He's ready to go to war with, and more importantly, for his players.

My beef is that it shouldn't be Sam Mitchell running on the court and being restrained by the referees. It should be one of Ford's teammates. If the Raptors are such a close knit team why weren't they upset that their talented point guard was lying on the ground in obvious trauma? The Raptors were up 92-84 at the time of the foul, with only 90 seconds left on the clock. The game was over. Horford didn't need to commit a hard foul. Regardless of the intentions, it was completely uncalled for. Yet no teammate came to T.J.'s defense. It was almost pathetic.

Don't get me wrong, I know Horford didn't mean to hurt T.J. Ford. The look on his face after he saw Ford hit the floor made that clear. He was visibly concerned, and remorseful after the game, but there's a code in sports. If you mess with one member of a team, you mess with everyone else wearing the same uniform. I'm not saying someone should have clocked Horford upside his head like he did to Ford, but someone should have at least got in his face and given him a tongue-lashing.

If the Raptors want to be an elite team and want to contend in this league they need to get tougher. They need to get meaner. They need to channel the spirit of one Charles Oakley. Oak will diss your mother if he has to. Just ask Vince Carter. The Raptors need to develop a swagger. A demeanor. One that translates into: "do not fuck with us." Antics like Horford's should not, and cannot, be tolerated under any circumstances. Toronto must rid themselves of this "nice guy" label. Until that happens the Raptors will not be able to take the next step.

T.J. Ford, only 24 years old, already has a history with devastating injuries. His health is, of course, the number one priority to the organization, his teammates and even to fans like me. Doug Smith at The Star reported at 11:30 pm last night that Ford had feeling and movement in his arms and legs, but would be kept in an Atlanta hospital overnight. He'll obviously not be in the lineup when the Dallas Mavericks visit the ACC tonight.

The Raptors welcomed back Chris Bosh on Sunday, and Andrea Bargnani last night, but the injuries continue to mount. Ford wasn't the only casualty last night. Jason Kapono was lost in the second quarter with a sprained left wrist, and he's day-to-day. Garbo also had his second surgery on his leg and ankle, and he's gone, likely for the year. The Raptors do have a deep bench, but the injuries are getting ridiculous. The well can only run so deep.

The truth is, I'm disappointed in the Raptors today. Ford's health is of utmost concern to me, as it is I'm sure to all the Raptors, but someone should have stepped up in the Little Engine's defense last night. After the game, Anthony Parker asked why Horford had to swipe so hard at Ford's head on a play with the game pretty much decided. That's a mighty good question, AP, so why the hell didn't you ask Horford yourself?

Some words, maybe even a little shove. Anything. Here's hoping the Toronto Raptors grow some balls and go to bat for their teammates the next time a rookie, or anyone for that matter, takes a run at one of their own.