All these Raptors want to do is entertain you. As they exhibited once again their their 124-110 win over the Wolves on Thursday night, the Raptors are still looking for cohesion on defense. Against the league’s top squads, Toronto’s inability to lock in has resulted in some narrow, high-scoring defeats. But against an energetic, freaky-athletic and utterly inexperienced team like Minnesota, sloppy play and shaky defense tends to breed ultimately harmless entertainment.
Because the Raptors have a still-historically efficient offense capable of posting 131.2 points per 100 possessions over the course of a game, Toronto tends to come out on top in these types of uproarious shootouts.
Toronto’s defense on Thursday was a disjointed horror show at times. Andrew Wiggins slashed past DeMarre Carroll with little resistance, either darting to the cup or kicking out to waiting shooters dotting the arc. This, after Carroll started the first half of a back-to-back presumably in the interest of having a physical wing to line up across from Wiggins. He’ll almost certainly rest for tomorrow’s game against a versatile, small-ball friendly Celtics team.
After scoring just two first-half points, Karl-Anthony Towns exploited poor Pascal Siakam to open the third, single-handedly warding off the third quarter cloud that has hung over Tom Thibodeau’s team this year.
And then there was Jonas Valanciunas, whose offensive touch returned on Thursday. He dropped an efficient 20 on 15 shots, mixing in a mid-range jumper and a near Boban-ing of Gorgui Dieng off a pump fake. He remained spacey on defense though, often getting lost in the pick-and-roll as he strayed away from the basket to contend with the stretchiness of Towns.
All told, 51 percent of Minnesota’s shots found bottom.
“If we’re serious about going anywhere, or doing anything special, our defense, attention to detail, our passion for defense, our give a crap level for defense has to pick up,” said a peeved Dwane Casey after the game.
Even with the obvious criticisms, though, it’s impossible to deny the giddy entertainment this game provided. Thursday nights in December against a 6-15 team matter, of course, but it’s was imperative for the Raptors to reach peak dinosaur than it would be against a marquee opponent (for example, in Boston tomorrow night). Toronto’s baseline of good is high enough to snatch wins on nights where the Raptors are under-performing on one end of the floor.
Andrew Wiggins’ first quarter onslaught (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting), 29 silky smooth Zach LaVine points and a tweet-the-first-syllable-that-comes-to-your-mind dunk by Towns were all made possible by Toronto’s at-times laughable effort on the defensive end. Only focused, boring defenses allow an open runways to the top of Valanciunas’ head like this:
Terrence Ross has shown growth this season, but if he’s going to allow the odd blow-by, you couldn’t pick a more twitchy and exhilarating athlete than Wiggins to allow it to:
Sometimes living defense-free in low-leverage situations is a blast!
And that’s the key - when crunch time beckoned, the Raptors found a way to tighten the grip enough to shut things down - Minnesota shot just 7-of-19 in the final 12 minutes. Towns was shut out.
Swarming, keyed-in pick-and-roll defense by Patterson and Carroll helped the cause - and also generated more dunks, which is really all anyone cares about.
“We finally woke up and played in the fourth quarter, but we can’t live like that and expect to do anything special,” said Casey. “We can be a good team, but we can’t be special if we allow things to happen like that tonight.”
It was the kind of game that keeps coaches and fans up all night - coaches because of the infuriating sloppiness, fans because of the endless vine loops they can’t look away from.
“Tonight was my fear, you look out there you don’t see LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers, the hype is not there,” said Casey. “But when I look out there I see talented young kids, a talented young team waiting to come in here in attack you. My nightmare came true.”
Because the Raptors cranked up the defense late, and because their offense continues to chug along at an absurd rate, Casey’s fear didn’t manifest itself in a loss. Nope, instead the Raptors capped off a 5-1 homestand, with DeMar DeRozan providing the emphatic, hysteria-inducing cherry.
Now that's a way to close out a game. Rise up Derozan pic.twitter.com/S9npLZPGDC— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 9, 2016
So, what did you think of tonight’s 48-minute dunk contest?