Raptors coach credits French newcomer for bringing 'juice' to new team

TORONTO - His long legs stretched out in front of him, knees encased in ice bags, Mickael Pietrus relished being back in the NBA.

Especially the welcome from the Air Canada Centre crowd when he entered the game for the first time as a Raptor with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

"It feels good. It feels good," the French forward said in melodic English. "That was a great moment for me when they cheered for me.

"And they're going to see more from Pietrus. Yes."

Pietrus, with just the morning shootaround under his belt, played a surprising 31 minutes 30 seconds in the Raptors' 101-97 win over the Phoenix Suns.

He finished with six points on two-of-seven shooting. But they came on two three-pointers — he entered into the game a career .345 three-point shooter — and his threat from the arc helped stretch the Suns. He also got a few body parts in the way of some Phoenix passes.

The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Raptors (3-14).

"He came in and gave us some juice," coach Dwane Casey said of the six-foot-six 215-pounder.

"I didn't know where he was physically, I didn't know what his conditioning level was," Casey added. "I kept asking him, 'Are you OK? Are you OK?'

"He's a smart player. I'm sure a lot of adrenalin got him through tonight. I don't know what he's going to feel tomorrow."

Casey credited point guard Jose Calderon for coaching the newcomer on the floor during the game.

Pietrus arrived in Toronto on Wednesday, saying he still has "jet lag in my eyes."

Asked how many of Toronto's plays he knew going into the game, he said: "I didn't know any plays."

Still Pietrus was as cool as a cucumber sitting at his locker, his torso a virtual mural of ink.

"I felt great," he said.

But he quickly turned the topic to his new team.

"You know what I appreciate is at the end of the game we found a way to play good defence. That's something that when I was in Europe, I was looking at the Raptors and I told myself if we bring that defence, we have a better chance to win close games."

Drafted 11th overall by Golden State in the 2003 draft, Pietrus has played for the Warriors, Orlando, Phoenix and Boston. The Raptors had been interested in him last season but he had knee issues.

"I always dreamed about playing for the Raptors," said Pietrus, who maintains he is pain-free these days.

This season, the Guadeloupe-born forward was working out in France with his former club team Pau Orthez while waiting for his agent to find an NBA home.

"I just try to be a professional," he said. "I have been in the NBA for 10 years now so I'm not going to come in the NBA and be out of shape. I told Bryan (Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo) he doesn't have to worry about me. I'm going to do my work and I'm going to work hard for him and for the franchise.

"It's a new beginning. My teammates did great today and I'm very happy."

But not necessarily with his performance.

"Not quite," he said. "I've seen better from me, because you know I haven't played for seven to eight months.

"For me it's just like being traded. You don't know the plays, your teammates don't really know you. Now they get to know me, they know I can shoot the ball pretty well. So we'll see how it goes. I look forward to winning more games with the Raptors."

As the media scrum began to disintegrate and the questions ended, Pietrus offered some final words.

"Thank you," he told the reporters. "Merci beaucoup."