The Raptors beat the Celtics! On national TV in the United States! Since everyone had already declared the Celtics the Eastern Conference champs, this victory must mean the Raptors are the champs now, right? Isn’t that how it works, we get a free pass to the Finals?
While that might not be the case, there was a lot to be happy about from last night, including the following:
How About That Fourth Quarter Hammer Drop
One of the most exciting things in basketball the past two years has been watching Golden State Warriors third quarters. The Warriors have developed the habit of coming out lackadaisically in first halves, getting serious at halftime and obliterating opponents in the third.
I’m not saying that Raptors’ fourth quarter was like that, but for four minutes, I had that same feeling: That the Raptors just said “OK, enough is enough” and simply slammed the door.
And nothing could be more emblematic of slamming the door than the Kawhi Leonard-Danny Green double-block on Jason Tatum.
That was part of a 12-2 run to close the game that also included triples from Green and Kyle Lowry and a tip-in dunk from Serge Ibaka. It was a trip.
RIP, Bench Mob
OK, this definitely wasn’t something to be happy about. The Raps ran out a bench lineup of Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet at the end of the first, and the results were... hoo boy. Not pretty.
On offense, there was just no movement, and it led to forced three-pointers from Anunoby and Miles, and VanVleet and Powell challenging Aron Baynes at the rim and that, predictably, did not go well.
On the other end, the lineup fared no batter; where the starting unit was comfortable switching everything, this line up seemed confused on what was expected of them—and there was no communication to sort it out. A 14-4 Celtics run ensued.
That same group played marginally better in the second half, and held even with the Celtics, but those minutes were still shaky. The “these guys are just getting used to each other” excuse hasn’t expired yet, but it will at some point.
(My one suggestion: Swap Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. You lose a bit of bench shooting with OG, but you get Siakam running, and VanVleet and Siakam have shown great chemistry; I’d try and take advantage of it.)
On the other hand, the starters were dominant last night, including these next three guys...
Kyle Lowry is a Living Fire Emoji Right Now
The surly one went 5-for-8 from the field last night, and has shot 15-for-20 on the season—including 8-for-11 from downtown.
The efficiency of his shots is incredible; his true shooting percentage is sitting at 91% and he’s taken exactly one non-paint, non-three-point shot: a dagger 15-footer from the left side that all but sealed last night’s game.
It’s only two games, yada yada, but for all the concerns about Lowry’s attitude, if this is how he’s channeling it, I’ll take it!
Kawhi Leonard Does it From Everywhere
Kawhi Leonard’s shot chart is quite different from Lowry’s—he’s taken 13 mid-range jumpers over the first two games. And that might seem like cause for complaint, especially since we all got pretty darn frustrated with DeMar DeRozan over the past few years with his penchant for mid-range Js.
But the difference is that Leonard doesn’t need to take those shots; his game is not defined or limited by the mid-range. It’s simply part of it. He can score from anywhere on the floor, and he can use his strength and surprising quickness to get to the rim on anyone, which means his defender can’t lock in on any one thing.
Now, Kawhi is still rusty—he didn’t even really get going to the second half, and shot only 10-for-25—but it’s an incredible feeling to have a player out there who is a constant threat for the opponent. I don’t think I’ve felt that since Vince Carter’s 2000-2001 season.
Danny Green Is a Calming Presence
Ah, bet you thought I was going to call out Serge Ibaka here, since he was incredible in his first start of the year, right? Well no disrespect to Serge but I’ve seen that one-terrible-game-followed-by-one-great-game movie before. I still want a little more consistency.
But Danny Green has been solid both games, and I’m impressed. At one point last night, Leo Rautins described Green as “poised,” and that’s a good description; he’s always calm and collected. “Patient” would be another good descriptor for Green: he doesn’t rush anything, he waits for things to develop—like screens, both on the ball and away from the ball—before taking action. Even on inbounds passes, he’ll take his time and wait for his target to get set before sending the ball in.
And of course, there’s the shooting. That quick, high release is deadly. There was one play in the third quarter where Lowry dumped a pass to a cutting Ibaka, who spun and swung it to Green in the corner—but Kyrie Irving tipped the pass. Green didn’t lose a beat though, readjusted, grabbed it out of the air and went right into his shooting motion. Money.
Overall, those three players—Green, Leonard and Lowry—have played 54 minutes on the court with a net rating of 27.8. Those three with Ibaka? 34 minutes, NetRTG of 29.5. Yes, it’s way too early and too small a sample size to declare anything, but you have to like what you’re seeing so far.
The game wasn’t always pretty; there were a lot of fouls, the Raptors gave up way too many offensive rebounds, and the bench really needs to find a groove. But as an early season statement goes, you couldn’t ask for more.
Maybe it’ll put a pause on everyone handing the Celtics the Eastern Conference crown?
... nah. But we can dream!