The Raptors were being run out of the gym by the Clippers early in this one. The starting five had not shown up to compete and trailed by 15. All of a sudden, Patrick Patterson nailed a three and then, soon after, drilled another from deep. With Clippers star Blake Griffin headed to the rim for an uncontested dunk, Patterson stepped in from the weak side and challenged him in the air with a hard foul, with both men hitting the floor. Then he took a charge and it was a five-point deficit.
By halftime, the bench had outscored the starters 30-27 and changed the momentum of the contest. That’s been the value of the Raptors’ second unit all season, with Patterson, Lou Williams and James Johnson rejoining the ranks of the active, keying the huge comeback from 20 down.
In fact, he doesn’t really have any desire to start at the current time. Patterson likes the way he and starter Amir Johnson complement each other. When they’re in a game together, there’s chemistry. Amir averages 26.6 minutes, 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Patterson’s comparable numbers are 26.5 minutes, 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Patterson feels he learns from his teammate’s strengths.
“Me and Amir are almost the same as far as on the defensive end, as far as talking and communicating, trying to protect the rim (with height and strength) and an occasional block here or there,” Patterson said. “As far as energy on the defensive end, (it’s about) communication, talking amongst ourselves and teammates and just trying to be a vocal leader and an energetic leader out there.”
The Raptors believe they have it figured out, spreading the talent and utilizing two similar players to the max, getting the best out of both. When they are on the floor together, for what amounts to about seven or eight minutes per game, there is a cohesion that is obvious.
“Both have different skill sets,” coach Dwane Casey said.. “Patrick has developed his three-point game to where he’s one of the top three-point shooters in the league. Amir is just adept as far as his moves around the bucket. But they really complement each other, play off each other. Defensively, they really work well together as far as the rotations and stuff.”
Some considered Patterson merely a throw-in to the Rudy Gay deal — quantity over quality — with Sacramento, but he worked hard with his new coaching staff to upgrade his skills, especially defensively where he learned the principle of verticality and how playing straight up and down defensively, instead of leaning or reaching in, can key results and keep him out of foul trouble.
“It’s still a work in progress, because it’s not perfect, but when I got here (coaches) Jesse (Mermuys) and (Jama Mahlalela) were just teaching me it,” Patterson explained. “I used to try to always block shots. Sometimes that would result in defensive fouls, so talking with them (helped), working with them last year with my verticality, just jumping vertical up here with my hands up, just trying to carry it over into this year. As long as I alter the offensive player, as long as I cause him to miss — whether it’s a block or a vertical — as long as I do my job at protecting the rim, either one is fine.”
That belief is shared by Johnson. Casey appreciates the weapon he has in the two-headed monster at the power forward position and the fact they both learn from each other.
“Pat kind of sets the tone himself as far as how hard he plays every possession,” Casey said. “But again, it’s good that he is watching Amir. He’s a young/old vet that’s been around and knows the game, but he’s a good guy for Pat to watch as far as playing.
“Pat’s one of our best guys at going vertical, not turning. That’s one thing (Jonas Valanciunas) has got to learn, is not to turn. Pat is one of the best in the league at it. Amir’s one of the best in the league at it, going up. His timing’s impeccable as far as him going up, going vertical, not coming forward. It’s something he worked on after practice every day and really has gotten good at.”
For a 25-year-old in the NBA, Patterson carries himself like a more seasoned veteran. He’s comfortable in the spotlight and with leadership. He was one of five teammates at the University of Kentucky to be selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, along with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, currently playing overseas. He played a year of high school with O.J. Mayo of the Bucks and has been with the Rockets, Kings and now the Raptors.
“I feel like I’m at the stage of my career where I can offer insight,” Patterson said, “offer an opinion and helpful information, whether it’s even a veteran or if it’s for Bruno (Caboclo), Bebe (Lucas Nogueira), guys who are young and just came into the league. So, I feel like I am at that stage in my career where I can offer advice and people can actually listen and pay attention.”
Blake Griffin was forced to pay attention, as were the rest of the Clippers.