If you weren’t paying close attention to the broadcast of the Toronto Raptors game last night, then you may have missed the fact that the Toronto Raptors had won 14 straight home games against Minnesota. They only mentioned it about 57 times! The streak continued with a 112-105 win that really could’ve been a lot more lopsided than that.
Time to Give Serge the Props
Serge Ibaka certainly had a lot to live up to after signing his big contract two summers ago, and last year, he fell pretty far short.
This year? So far so good! Nick Nurse is playing Ibaka exclusively at the centre position, and he’s been great. He flashed all the things you want out of Serge Ibaka last night; offensive rebounding, solid D, quick cuts to the hoop on pick-and-rolls, shot-making.
One of the things I like seeing the most, is that he’s making decisions more quickly. Last year it seemed he’d get the ball and spend a lot of time thinking about what to do (giving me Chris Bosh 2008 flashbacks); this year, he’s getting the ball and making his move right away.
He finished with 15 points on 10 shots, and is averaging 15.2 ppg on the season with a 58% true shooting percentage, along with 7.4 rebounds per game. And defensively, he’s holding his own against more mobile opponents; his work on Karl-Anthony Towns last night may be his finest of the year.
It’s funny to think about; when Ibaka arrived, we all wondered how he’d look next to Jonas Valanciunas and if they could play together. Dwane Casey started them together the entire 2017-18 season, and the team won 59 games. And if it ain’t broke, right? Nurse, though, wanted to try something different, playing Ibaka and Valanciunas both at the 5, alternating their starts based on matchups. Through five games, it’s been a perfect mix.
This play! Be still my heart
In the first quarter last night, one play encapsulated all the great offensive potential this Toronto Raptors team has:
Think about that: That’s the power forward taking the ball up court; the centre being enough of a threat that the defense has to tilt towards him at the three-point line; the small forward and best player on the team being unselfish and passing up a good look for a better one; and the shooting guard doing the same. And for all of that movement, the point guard didn’t even touch the ball!
Pump it into my veins, as the kids say.
The Raptors Mixed up Lowry and Leonard’s Minutes
Kawhi Leonard came out of the game a little bit earlier last night than he has so far (about the 4-minute mark of the first); he also came back sooner (start of the second quarter). That gave a Lowry+bench lineup a short stretch the first, and then a Leonard+bench unit a few minutes in the second.
I like this, and I think it has great potential so I hope we see it a bit more. The all-bench units have struggled to score, and playing Lowry and Leonard with four subs should help alleviate that problem (and who can forget how awesome Lowry+bench units were in 2015-16 and 2016-17?).
It also makes sense to stagger your two best players (Lowry and Leonard) as well; they’re playing extremely well together, and still developing chemistry, but there’s room for them to play 4-5 minutes apart each night as well.
Hoo Boy, We Saw a Lot of Derrick Rose Last Night
In the first half last night, Derrick Rose had 11 shots, three more than any other Minnesota player. (The second-most? Rookie Josh Okogie.)
This is a team with an all-around force in Jimmy Butler, and one of the most offensively talented big men in the league in Karl-Anthony Towns. And most of their shots are going to a washed up Derrick Rose and a rookie? (Towns did take 11 shots in the second half.)
Obviously a lot of the credit has to go to Toronto; Leonard was bodying Butler, and Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby both did a solid job on switches. Meanwhile Ibaka was doing a good job sticking to Towns, even when he went outside, and Lowry and Green were making things difficult for Jeff Teague.
But this isn’t a new thing for Minnesota. Towns is fourth on the team in FG attempts; Rose is tied for second. Rose is shooting three 3-pointers a game, and shooting a mere 16.7%; Towns is shooting 3.8 but hitting them at a 53% clip.
As long as the T-Wolves continue to play like this, opponents will be smiling.
About all that Minnesota Drama...
I don’t have a side to pick here; the whole thing is a mess. But I feel bad for the Minnesota fans. That team struggled for a decade before drafting two promising young stars and then acquiring Butler and finally making it back to the playoffs... and now it’s on the verge of falling apart.
Certainly I can’t help but feel a kinship, as a long-suffering Raptors fan. We’ve been through this ourselves; the summer of 2003 featured drama between Vince Carter and the front office, with Carter campaigning for Julius Erving to join the team as GM (not to mention rumours of drama between Carter’s mother and the organization), then beefing with Sam Mitchell and finally making a trade demand.
It sucks. And for all the success the Raptors have had the last five years, and the joy we’re experiencing now watching Kawhi Leonard take a wrecking ball to opponents, let’s not forget where we came from. It can all change and go the other way—quickly. Let’s make sure we enjoy this season while it’s here!
I predicted a slow start for the Raptors before the season started, and boy was I wrong. They’re 5-0! I thought Leonard would ease his way back—wrong (28 ppg, 60.6% true shooting, 31.4% usage). I thought Kyle Lowry would need time to adjust—wrong (19.8 ppg, 10 apg, 74% true shooting).
Sometimes it feels pretty damn good to be wrong.