On the heels of that thorough beatdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors showed much greater attention to detail on the defensive side of the court to start the game. While the Nuggets game was obviously just a freak occurrence, this was an important game for the Raps to prevent things from snowballing.
The Raptors actually had a 53-48 lead late in the first half before a late flurry by the Jazz gave Utah a one-point lead at the break. Kyle Lowry continued to look like he was finding his shot with 10 and 6 through 12 minutes, and 2-4 from 3. With CJ Miles out, the Raptors played an ultra-big bench lineup with OG Anunoby playing SF and Pascal Siakam sliding into PF. The Raptors had some trouble with Rudy Gobert, who had 4 offensive rebounds and 12 points in the first half alone to bail out the Jazz on several occasions.
The two teams traded runs in the third quarter, with both the Jazz and the Raptors going through spells of 8 unanswered points. DeRozan at one point had 7 straight points on a 4-point play and a 3-pointer. I know it’s Friday night, but I promise you I was sober as shit and that really happened. The quarter ended 89-82 after a jump-shooting contest broke out between DeMar DeRozan and Donovan Mitchell. I don’t know man, I’m confused too.
The 4th quarter defence by the Raptors was reminiscent of that 2nd quarter against the Blazers. Through the first 6 minutes, the all-bench unit really put the clamps on the Jazz and gave the Raps a 96-86 lead as the starters came in. There was a bit of a scare at that point when Lowry got absolutely clocked on a drive and had to come out of the game for a concussion check. From that point on though, DeRozan put the team on his back on his way to 37 points on 20 shots. He was unstoppable from midrange and baited the Jazz into fouls over and over again. Mix in the 3 3-pointers he made, and it was a complete performance from him.
The Raptors closed the game out with little fuss as they held the Jazz to 18 points in the final quarter and took this one 109-100.
- The dribble penetration defense has never been the Raptors’ strong suit, and I can accept Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio getting into the paint, but even Joe Ingles was getting absolutely anything he wanted. For the Raptors to contend with that weakness, rotations have to be extremely sharp and mobility from bigs is key. Valanciunas was especially poor at making his presence felt.
- Speaking of Mitchell — that kid is a killer. He’s so damn dynamic off the bounce, so when he starts hitting shots when teams go under on screens like he did today, he looks damn near unstoppable. He had 25 points on 9-20 shooting, many of them absolute moonballs.
- Jakob Poeltl got jobbed on calls all year last season, and today felt like a bit of a flashback in that regard. Poeltl averted a Rodney Hood screen, who took exception to it, and Hood proceeded to elbow Jakob in the gut. The refs called a tech on Jak and a flagrant on Hood. Imagine if they called ticky tack shit like that on the likes of Draymond Green.
- Pascal Siakam’s defence has come a long way. He was hyper-energetic last year, but didn’t really know where to be positionally. This year, he looks to have ironed out those kinks, and when you mix in some of his improvement on the offensive end of the court, he has been a pleasant surprise in this early season period.
- #CultureWatch: 11-30 from 3 (36.7%) and 20 assists on 38 FGs. That’ll do.
- DeRozan is very good.
- Lowry’s shot is on its way back. He only took 11 shots and it looks like he’s still finding his way around this offence but he had 15 points, and shot 3 of 6 from 3.
While the road trip could’ve gone better — the loss to the Nuggets and almost wins against the Spurs and the Warriors come to mind — it’s important to keep in mind the Raptors won’t have a trip like this for the remainder of the year. With the hardest part of the schedule out of the way, the Raptors head home, sitting pretty ready to take on the Washington Wizards.