Have we mentioned this Raptors team can be extremely fun to watch as a complete unit? I feel like we have. Tonight, against a frustratingly competitive Pacers’ team, Toronto’s gang of ten each had a part to play — in combination, solo, or any which way they could — towards a rollicking 120-115 win. If the Raptors aren’t perfect, it certainly feels like they’re moving in the right direction.
Off the top, there were the steadying performances from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The former made some superlative defensive plays — stopping a driving Darren Collison at the rim, taking a charge from Domantas Sabonis — and provided his usual timely threes to keep the Raptors moving. Lowry finished with (a mere) 11 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, but it continues to be hard to separate everything he gives this team from his final box score output. (The technical Lowry picked up felt like part of this team effort too, as he went at the refs on the squad’s behalf; Fred VanVleet, for one, appreciated it.)
DeRozan was his usual steady self — 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, 8-of-10 from the free throw line. It’s somewhat yawn-inducing now, but what else is there to say? When DeRozan is on it’s like clockwork. Here, by quarter: six points, six points, eight points, six points, exeunt. Likewise with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, both the good and bad parts. The former put up his season averages (15 and 8), and secured one of the more amazing blocks you’ll ever see (but also lots his grip on the ball more time’s than one would like). The latter acquitted himself well against the team that had embarrassed him just a week ago, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds. Yes, JV didn’t get to finish the game, but that’s because his backup had himself a game.
Hands up for Jakob Poeltl! The big Austrian made his presence felt tonight with a career-high 18 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting to go with six rebounds. He also played a part in slowing down the Pacers’ pick-and-roll attempts and forays to the rim with sharp positioning. And on offense, as he remarked afterwards, he’s developing a solid chemistry now with VanVleet. It showed tonight.
The league’s plus/minus leader VanVleet continues his torrid play. There was yet another run of crunch time minutes for Fred, who put in 11 points and six assists, and once again never looked out of place. It’ll be interesting to see where VanVleet’s minutes go when Delon Wright returns. The energy change-up when the bench crew comes in with Jak, FVV, the tireless Pascal Siakam, and the bench dad C.J. Miles is undeniable.
And so we continue down the bench. Miles was quiet on the night, hitting just 2-of-7 threes, but still acting as a capable release valve on offense. Meanwhile Siakam, who also had a quiet night offensively, was able to disrupt whatever it was Lance Stephenson was trying to do — while also once again being everywhere on the court. And finally the Pacers’ favourite, Norman Powell, came alive in the second half with a fearsome dunk, some other strong finishes, and a made three; suddenly the Pacers — new-look or not — were having nightmares again. Norm finished with 10 points, four assists, and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Not bad. (OG Anunoby was quiet on both ends tonight, but he’s a rookie and still cool as hell, so he gets a pass.)
It’s a recurring theme of the Raptors this season, and the raucous atmosphere in the locker room afterwards points to this great camaraderie: the team is having fun. Sure, we had time to panic tonight — an 14-0 run by the Pacers in the first set teeth on edge; a wobbly third quarter got us nervous — but then guys just came through anyway. In contrast to the Pacer’s one-man Victor Oladipo show, the disparity between the two teams becomes even clearer. Indiana’s new star guard had 31 points through three quarters and single-handedly kept his team in it. But then: five points in the fourth, and a game out of reach. The Raptors’ total team effort — did I mention the 29 assists? — was just too much for one man.
That’s been a part of the joy of the Raptors so far, this continuous sense of discovery. Most nights it’s DeRozan or Lowry, then another it’s the bench unit in some tandem, or a barrage from Miles, or a surprising rollback the clock performance from Serge, it goes on and on. It doesn’t (and won’t) always work, but I continue to enjoy myself anyway. I hope you do too.