It’s officially “I’m tired of pre-season, can the games start already” season. Raptors fans have gotten enough of a taste of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to be collectively salivating at the mouth. Now all we need is for the games to matter so that Kyle Lowry doesn’t have an excuse to be apathetic and unprepared. Alas, the Raptors still have one preseason contest remaining even after tonight’s 118-91 drubbing of the Brooklyn Nets at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The fanbase will need to attempt to contain its ever mounting horniness for real, actual NBA basketball just a little bit longer.
Fortunately, this matchup against the Nets was decidedly more regular season-ish than the past few preseason games have been, at least in terms of the rotations. The Raptors deployed a starting lineup of Lowry, Green, Leonard, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka which could be a group that the Raptors actually do consistently use against smaller teams such as the Nets. The first possession of the game helped illustrate why, as the Raptors defenders switched seamlessly, containing the Nets ballhandlers and eventually forcing D’Angelo Russell into a tough, contested shot.
Things quickly spiralled downhill from there however, due in large part to some predictable pre-season blemishes. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka looked out of sorts offensively, Ibaka fumbled easy passes and highjacked the offence to take early clock jumpers, Lowry missed every shot he took and seemed to make half his passes to no one in particular. The result was a bevy of transition opportunities for the Nets as the Raptors turned the ball over repeatedly, opportunities that the Nets capitalized on to the tune of an eight point lead at the end of the first quarter.
In spite of all this the two newest Raptors were extremely impressive in their early run. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard connected multiple times in transition, with Leonard pushing ball and hitting Green for a pair of open 3s that Green was able to drain.
Leonard collapsed the defence on drives in the halfcourt, completing some strong finishes and making smart passes to open perimeter players. He also, at one point, peeled off a set of screens and informed Jared Dudley that it is, in fact, time to retire.
In the second quarter the Raptors went to a variation of their bench mob unit featuring Jonas Valanciunas at centre. While Valanciunas missed a few easy finishes, the rest of the bench group was on point, Delon Wright made crafty cuts without the ball, Pascal Siakam took the ball the length of the court faster than any big man should reasonably be able to, and Fred VanVleet nailed his three pointers both off the catch and the dribble.
The starters re-entered and continued to make up ground with Green leading the way, he hit his jumpers and was able to make some plays off the dribble as well, getting to the line and finding Serge Ibaka for an open three pointer. The Raps would go into the break stuck just three points.
The starting lineup was re-arranged at the half as Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas replaced Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby to create another plausible regular season starting unit. Notably, this marked the first time that either Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard saw any second half run in the preseason.
This unit came out energized to start the half, with Green again being the pacesetter. The mobile group swarmed the Nets defensively. Green clogged the lane, digging in and ripping the ball from driving Nets, Leonard disrupted any ball movement at the top of the key, Siakam wreaked havoc with full court pressure, Lowry got on the floor for a loose ball and Valanciunas changed shots at the rim with some impressive displays of verticality. Everyone got out in transition off of these misses: Lowry and Leonard pushed the ball, resulting in Siakam getting easy dunks and Green nailing trailer threes. Even Valanciunas got in on the act, hitting a wide open three off a Lowry drive.
Kyle Lowry was so energized he went and got thrown out. After Lowry was called for an offensive foul pushing the ball in transition he started talking up a storm, getting on the refs to the extent that he was awarded a pair of technical fouls in rapid succession. The ejection ended an especially rough night for Lowry who would finish with 6 turnovers and just 5 points on 1/6 shooting.
Lowry’s ejection did nothing to dull the Raptors’ onslaught, as the Raptors wing defenders continued to abuse the Nets, limiting them to just 11 points in the 3rd quarter. Green and Leonard would end up combining for 9 steals, with Green benefiting more than anyone from the Raptors’ ability to turn defence into offence. He would end the game with 22 points on 7/9 shooting, with most of his points coming on run-outs.
The Raptors’ domination of the Nets in the 3rd would give them a 21 point lead entering the final frame, but they continued to play their rotation players for much of the 4th, likely to help with their game readiness. Leonard saw some 4th quarter action and capped his night with a nice feed to a cutting OG Anunoby for a reverse slam.
Kawhi to OG. A thing of beauty. pic.twitter.com/FyqUl1ph9g— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 11, 2018
That final note would be emblematic of Leonard’s night, as he ended with only 11 points, but added 7 assists, proving adept at collapsing the D and finding the open man.
The Raptors insistence on playing their regulars late into the game did have some downsides, however, as Delon Wright came up limping after a drive late in the 3rd quarter and had to be removed from the game with a strained left thigh.
Delon Wright has a strained left thigh and will not return.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 11, 2018
Mercifully though, garbage time would arrive midway through the fourth, allowing hometown kid Chris Boucher to get on the Bell Centre floor. Boucher quickly collected a block and a pair of made threes, much to the crowd’s delight.
The rest of garbage time remained uneventful, and so the Raptors move to 3-1 in the preseason, and us fans grow ever more anxious for basketball that actually matters. The Raptors have one more preseason tilt, tomorrow night in New Orleans. Then it’s just a few short days of waiting, and real, honest to goodness, Raptors basketball is finally back on October 17th.