The Toronto Raptors did Marc Cohn a disservice in the first quarter of tonight’s game; they walked into Memphis and weren’t prepared to feel the way I feel, AT ALL.
Shooting just 37% in the first quarter (and allowing the Griz to put up 74% on the other end), Toronto was lucky to be trailing by nine heading into the second frame. It didn’t get better immediately; Memphis opened the second on a 13-5 run, pushing their lead to 47-30, as Toronto’s five-man bench unit uncharacteristically struggled. It looked like our man Joel Stephens might have been on to something when he suggested the potential of a trap game in his excellent preview.
Kyle Lowry, though, doesn’t care about Joel Stephens’ feelings or credibility. He wasn’t having any of the Grizzlies persnickety nonsense. The Raptors point guard re-entered the game and changed the tempo of the contest on the offensive end with a pair of transition threes and his general havoc-wreaking play. On defense, the Raptors woke up and began to effectively swarm a hot Marc Gasol with whoever was nearest to him in the post, a tactic that continued for the rest of the game. Toronto closed the quarter on a 27-15 run and cut the lead to just five at halftime.
Memphis took their best swing to open the third quarter, pushing the lead back to ten early, but Toronto responded with team-wide vigour — even the Jonas Valanciunas / Serge Ibaka pairing, listless to start the game, played with fire and intensity on both ends. Toronto cut the lead to just one at the end of the third.
The fourth began with the five-man bench unit getting a second shot at things, and they delivered in spades. Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl stormed the Grizzlies with energy, passing and fervent defense. VanVleet, for his part, checked in with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter and never exited. Memphis scored just 14 points in the quarter and the Raptors wound up cruising to victory.
A positive result will overshadow some negatives in this one — Ibaka’s shot-making ability continues to be a real asset, and he does looked more engaged on defense, but he continues to be a weird fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, as well as a surprisingly ineffective rebounder.
OG Anunoby continues to be a joy on both sides of the ball — he made 3-5 from three point range tonight and even though he finally looked like a rookie when he bit on a couple of Tyreke Evans pump-fakes, he finished second on the team as a +13 in 34 minutes, a new career high. Fans and media continue to talk about his ‘hustle’ on defense but to me, he doesn’t ‘hustle’ in the traditional sense. He moves like a house-cat. That is, he generally looks disinterested, but he’ll rip your stupid face off at a moments notice, with a casual yet singular fury. I love him.
Another interesting note was that C.J. Miles got just 8 minutes tonight and was held scoreless. It seemed to be match-up driven, as Anunoby and DeRozan ate up the majority of wing minutes and Powell played well in 15 minutes on the floor.
Still, the (happy) rotation problems persist for Dwane Casey — what this team will look like come playoff time is still anyone’s guess.
Here’s to good wins after crappy starts.