It was noted a couple of times during tonight’s broadcast that the Raptors could very well be 4-0 now instead of 2-2. It’s an inspiring sentiment, even if reality doesn’t quite work that way. (For what it’s worth: I, Daniel Reynolds, would love to live in the 4-0 Raptors alternate dimension.)
Moving on from the previous two debacles is a good thing though — even if only to a point. Toronto’s squad faced the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night and at times they played as though they believed they were undefeated and not in the midst of a slide.
Fortunately, the Lakers are still young enough to lose focus and allow the suddenly very much alive Raptors to get back in the win column, 101-92.
It was the wily veterans who undid L.A. in the end, as Kyle Lowry notched his eighth triple-double in a Raptors uniform, with 11 points, ten rebounds, and 12 assists. DeMar DeRozan, after nearly nothing in the first half, finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
After four games where the bench seemed to be the only thing working for the Raptors, it was the grown man starters who showed up. Serge Ibaka was a +21, Lowry and DeRozan were +14 each. So much for a youth movement, right?
First Half, by Daniel Reynolds
Ibaka and Pascal Siakam, the frontcourt starters again for Toronto, carried the Raptors in the early going. The veteran big man opened his scoring with a massive dunk off a sweet pass from Kyle Lowry, and mixed in some jumpers on his way to 12 points. It was nice to see, even if Ibaka’s energy (on both ends of the court) appeared to wan as the minutes went on.
Siakam, meanwhile, picked up where he left off on Wednesday and continues to fly around the court as if powered by the boundless energy of the sun. He put down nine points before half of us even got out of bed, and it was a moving sight — it seemed like only yesterday Siakam was the forgotten man in the Raptors’ new rotation. (And it wasn’t so long ago when we were cursing the heavens to see Siakam in the starting lineup at all.)
But that is where the good times largely came to an end. Despite the Raptors’ strong frontcourt play, the Lakers began pushing the team around to end the first quarter, and the trend continued in the second. Brook Lopez had his way, Julius Randle bullied around the court, Kyle Kuzma soared, and Brandon Ingram swooped. A run by as much as 17-6 in favour of the Lakers pushed the game away from Toronto. And to add to the indignity: DeRozan and Lowry (particularly DeRozan) looked consistently out of it while the Lakers sped off in the other direction. All told, it was the kind of half where Norman Powell (also MIA) could miss a lay-up, only to watch Serge and DeRozan knock it out of bounds as they both tried for the put-back.
Still, as disheartening as it got at times, the first half was made bearable by a strong run to end it. With the Raptors down 17 with four minutes to go, a Lowry three-pointer kicked off a 12-1 run, which eventually tilted the score to a manageable 51-45 by the end of the frame. Were the Raptors about to wake up and make this a serious challenge? Or was this all a false hope — a fruitless push to even the score, before tumbling back down the hill into defeat?
As Raptors fans, we know it wouldn’t be the first time for the latter scenario to play out. We waited, and watched.
Second Half, by John Gaudes
As they say: the win was never in doubt. After barely scoring in the first half, DeRozan came out spiriting a 7-2 run with a three-point play in the early moments. The starters played with a ton of energy, and the Raptors had their first lead since early on by the middle of the third quarter.
Much love to Siakam for this. The man outran the Lakers not once, but twice, in transition for easy buckets in the second half — he’s just flying out there right now. The man they call “Skills” finished with 18 points, five rebounds, and an assist on 8-for-10 shooting. Can we get this guy a rotation spot when Jonas Valanciunas comes back?
Down the stretch, though, it was tried and true. DeMar DeRozan, lofting shots over the hapless hands of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Kyle Lowry, burning unsuspecting Baby Lakers with back door passes and lobs in transition.
The icing on the cake was a 9-0 run late in the fourth, with six of those coming from DeRozan alone. Even when nobody else can make a three (the team struggled again, finishing 7-for-29), DeRozan can get his.
Toronto now moves on to Portland, where they’ll play the fourth game of their six-game trip on Monday night.
A few other observations from the second half, which I’ll refer to as The Good Place — this game looked great from my 50% of the perspective!
- Watching Powell right now is a bit of an exasperated sigh. It’s worrying enough to see him miss gimme lay-ups, but even more so when he’s over-thinking his moves. A couple downhill drives in the second half got his teammates involved, but Powell needs to get his.
- Lots of Fred VanVleet in the second half, as he played one more minute than Delon Wright. That’s not how I’d play it personally, as Wright is a bit more dynamic as the second point guard on the floor next to Lowry. Again, though, it was the Lakers and it’s a long road trip.
- Jakob Poeltl came down to earth in the stat sheet, but it’s still lovely to see his energy on the floor. He was the only Raptors player to present a challenge to Julius Randle tonight, even blocking him on a second half drive.
- Despite the triple-double, Lowry isn’t back... yet. He was 4-for-14 from the field and is still spraying shots everywhere. That he turned up the intangible metre shows just how damn good he is.