In what was probably their best game of the young season, the Toronto Raptors got outstanding performances from the top down on Tuesday to beat the Houston Rockets, 129-113. Toronto’s win snaps a six-game win streak by the Rockets, the third-longest in the Association.
We’ll get to the usual suspects with the Raptors, but this game was personified — on both ends — by the hustle of rookie OG Anunoby. Earning his first career start with Norman Powell sitting with a hip pointer, Anunoby got the lofty task of guarding James Harden, who was averaging over 38 points and 11 assists during Houston’s win streak.
Anunoby was outstanding. On offence, he poured in a career-high 16 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 3PT), adding two steals and a block. On defence, he was able to shadow Harden and challenge jump shots. He was low, calm, and in control — barely falling for fakes, jab steps, and other trickery to earn fouls.
Still, OG couldn’t guard Harden the whole time (and the MVP candidate is just too good) so the man still put up 38 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. Harden was frustrated too, though, jawing with referees through the entire second half, and picking up his fifth foul halfway through the fourth. By the end of the game, he was completely dogging it — and the Raptors thoroughly wrecked him. Each one of their sets down the stretch was run to attack Harden’s statuesque defence. On the other end, Anunoby stifled his airspace and forced tough shots. Toronto went on an 8-0 run and sealed the win.
It was the fulcrum of a huge night for most of the Raptors. Kyle Lowry was alive again and pushing the bench unit to new heights, anchoring a second quarter push that gave the Raptors the lead for good. He finished with 19 points and ten assists. DeMar DeRozan, as he is wanton to do, led the Raptors with 27 points on 16 shots — adding six assists, five of those coming in the first quarter alone.
That start for the Raptors was everything the finish on Sunday against the Celtics wasn’t. The ball was zipping around, and Houston’s early strategy was to double DeRozan in the post or trap him up top. DeMar made all the right decisions, finding Jonas Valanciunas on the roll three times in five minutes to keep the Raptors in it. Once Harden and the Rockets’ best gunners went to the bench, Toronto was able to win minutes with Lowry and CJ Miles out there; Miles put in his bi-weekly Mo Peterson night with six(!) triples for 19 points.
Holding a double-digit lead was more difficult late in the game. The Rockets grew frustrated with the whistle, PJ Tucker was ejected, and the Toyota Centre (oddly empty) came alive. In turn, the referees were a bit more forgiving of Houston’s usual foul-drawing shenanigans, and a parade to the free throw line narrowed the Raptors’ lead to as low as six.
That was when Anunoby’s hustle, and the 8-0 run, sealed the Raptors win. Even those not mentioned above — Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl — helped sufficiently in the win. Apart from the continuing frustration around Serge Ibaka (just 2-for-5 with five rebounds in 25 minutes) and some Fred VanVleet gaffes, there’s not much negativity to take from this one.
And all will be forgotten quickly, anyway. The 8-5 Raptors continue their first back-to-back tomorrow in New Orleans, where they’ll once again play the Pelicans.