It started out as a display of Raptors athletics.
From Rudy Gay, to DeMar DeRozan, down to Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, the Raptors brought together a string of highlight reel plays during last night's game. From dunks, to alley oops, to defensive plays, the Raptors showed just how much more athletic they are since the trade a couple weeks ago.
DeRozan, though, completely posterized Timofey Mozgov:
DeMar DeRozan posterizes Mozgov! (via NBA)
Of note is how Jonas Valanciunas and Rudy Gay seem to be developing great chemistry with each other. Jonas managed to make several hustle plays, saving the ball from going out of bounds after making an off-balance block and grabbing a few offensive rebounds.
However, the Nuggets are not a team that can be taken lightly. With weapons at every position, the Nuggets would not go away and ended strong every quarter. With 13 steals and causing the Raptors to cough up the ball 10 times by the half, the Nuggets were aggressive on defense and hounded Kyle Lowry throughout the game. Ty Lawson in particular seemed to hound the Raptors throughout the game.
In the second half, the Nuggets turned turnovers into dunks and the Raptors were on the receiving end of another team's dunk fest.
And so, in this game, you sort of saw the best and worst of the Raptors.
When they're aggressive on defense, and moving the ball well, the Raptors are able to make the game exciting. When they fall back into half court sets, isolation plays, and get careless with the ball, the team seems to fall apart.
Part of that is the Raptors bench hasn't been very consistent since the trade happened. Terrence Ross hit a couple big shots early, but just seems to have hit that rookie wall. He made quite a few careless mistakes such as fouling Lawson on a 3 point shot. But the Raptors had to rely on John Lucas and Alan Anderson to carry much of the offensive load from the bench; something that I don't see as a recipe for success in the future.
For tonight though, they were the two guys who held the offense together when the chips were down and the fourth quarter was ticking down. Hitting 3 pointer after 3 pointer, both players kept the Nuggets at bay while the game played into the Nuggets pace.
Then, the Raptors' hired gun took over.
Hitting the final shot and then guarding Ty Lawson as he tried to go for the go ahead basket, Rudy Gay once again was the center of attention. The Raptors brought him in for the big plays, and so far, he's delivered them in spades.
If you want evidence here it is:
|Last 3 MIN <= 5 PTS||As a Grizzly (January)|
|Last 3 MIN <= 5 PTS||As a Raptor|
|Last 3 MIN | +/- 5 PTS||As a Grizzly (January)|
|Last 3 MIN | +/- 5 PTS||As a Raptor|
It's not just a huge jump on the offensive end. His defensive rating has more than doubled in close games, and more than quadrupled when the Raptors are behind, which isn't positive, but explains why a couple of the Raptors games went right down to the wire. Rebounding is up, and his true shooting percentage is much higher as well. Of course, since the Raptors have fewer options, his usage rate is also higher.
I don't think I would have imagined that Rudy Gay would turn things around so fast. Whether he can sustain it on the offensive end is another question. However, it's not just Gay himself that is benefiting. Overall, team stats are mostly the same in the post-trade era, with field goals and 3pt stats within a couple points of each other.
|Pre Rudy Gay (January)|
|Post Rudy Gay|
Where Gay has had the most impact (besides wins) is in the free throw column along with steals and blocks. With the more athletic Rudy Gay at the 3/4 spot, you're seeing the Raptors more aggressive on the defensive end. And while turnovers are slightly up, they do not offset the positive possessions gained in the steals and blocks columns.
Most importantly though, is that Rudy Gay has brought the athletic style back into Raptors basketball. Sure, there are still going to be growing pains, but for now, all's right in Raptorland.
And that just makes it fun to watch games again.