When watching preseason basketball, you have to remember two things. One, it doesn’t matter. Two, sometimes it does.
The top line reads that the Raptors had a dispiriting 105-90 loss to the Jazz in Utah. Toronto lost three out of four quarters, and rarely found any offensive flow against one of last year’s best defensive teams, shooting a horrific 35/18/71 for the evening.
Overall, it was a choppy game throughout as the two teams combined for 42 turnovers, and an extraordinary number of travel calls — especially in the first half. Both teams took turns putting up big runs, but a brutal start to the third quarter, where the Raps went with a modified Bench Mob unit that gave up a 25-5 run, and a Toronto capitulation in the fourth, caused by a combination of a deep-reserve line-up, a lack of touch, and unfocused play saw Toronto fall behind by as many as 20.
Again, though, it’s preseason. The Raptors started Kyle Collinsworth for goodness sake.
Still, what can you as a Raptors fan take from this one?
Kawhi Leonard is Getting More Comfortable
After a slightly uneven debut, day two of the “Kawhi Leonard-in-meaningless-games” era showed off a lot more of what Leonard brings to the table.
The slick forward scored 17 points on 12 shots, and showed he’s up to the task of taking over DeMar DeRozan’s bucket-getting role. He was a terror on the right block and wing all night, including an absolutely mean blow-by on Jae Crowder.
Leonard also dug in defensively, and while he was credited with only one steal, in the Raptors dominant second quarter, he had several deflections and was part of a terrifying unit.
Which leads to...
The Raptors are Going to be Able to Bring the Pain
In the second quarter, which was as dominant as any you’ll see, Toronto absolutely locked up, and threw away the key on the Jazz’s offense. Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka combined for a long stretch of vicious defending. Until Joe Ingles exploded for ten points in 32 seconds, the Raps had held the Jazz to eight points over the first thirteen and a half minutes of the quarter. The key was aggressive perimeter defense and a swarming mentality that seemingly saw the Raps rotating to Jazz shooters before the ball even got there.
It all added up to a 33-18 frame that saw Toronto erase a six point first quarter deficit, and head into the break up 58-49 (and remember Joe Ingles saved the Jazz by averaging a point every three seconds to end the frame.)
The Raps also used a Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, Danny Green, Delon Wright and Norman Powell combo to dig in at the end of the third quarter to spark a 15-5 run that brought the Dinos back within five after Utah had opened the third quarter on a 25-5 run.
Overall, it was impressive that so many different, and frankly unfamiliar units, were able to provide such stiff defensive resistance.
The Raptors are Going to Need Wright and Fred VanVleet to Stay Aggressive
Toronto’s brutal start to the third quarter underscored the fact that for all the team’s depth, the team isn’t overly blessed with players who can create their own shot consistently. With Lowry and Leonard done for the night at half, the Raps needed VanVleet and Wright to keep the Jazz on their heels, but a combination of Rudy Gobert’s length and an odd passivity saw Toronto end up with a bunch of mediocre looks from three — on which they went 0-for-7.
Pascal Siakam, Point Forward, is Still a Work in Progress
Siakam was aggressive all night, sometimes to a fault as the lanky forward almost finished with a double double (10 pts, 9 reb), but also had four turnovers as he didn’t always make the smartest decisions. Siakam has talked about not going full throttle on every play, but tonight he didn’t find any real change of pace to his game, and the canny Jazz used that against him. Pascal still out-ran the Jazz on more than one occasion:
Spicy-Savage connection. pic.twitter.com/FZ1sfTTlWp— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 3, 2018
But it was an uneven performance from a player still trying to figure out what he can do.
Kyle Lowry is a Surly National Treasure
Lowry was in mid-season form, even on an off-shooting night (2-of-8 overall, 1-of-4 from three). The pugnacious guard absolutely owned Grayson Allen. While the boxscore didn’t credit Lowry with a steal, he knocked the ball away from the Duke rookie on what my notes said was four consecutive possessions. Lowry worked the officials all night, almost snapped his head off looking to the roof of the Vivint Smart Home Arena (what?) after a brutal Ibaka turnover, and suckered Jae Crowder into a silly foul after the two had been given double technicals just moments earlier. Suffice to say, whatever Kyle’s internal monologue is regarding the DeRozan trade, it hasn’t sapped his competitiveness.
Jonas Valancuinas is Gonna Be a Prooooblem (For Other Teams)
About half-way through last season I wondered to myself what might happen to the league as JV began to develop the “old man game” so many basket-punishing greats have. Through two games the answer has been: he’ll be nigh unstoppable. With his combo of size, strength, soft hands, and now, advanced post moves, the ‘Lithuanian Lightning’ (it’s a thing!) is looking to be a handful for everyone. While Rudy Gobert had a nice defensive sequence or two on the Raps big man, Jonas didn’t shy away from attacking the basket and bulldozed a series of defenders on route to an 18 point, 9 rebound performance in just 21 minutes.
Odds and Sods
Grayson Allen came across shockingly humble, genuine and relatable in a pre-game interview. While he struggled against Lowry’s defense, he also had a nice two minute run in the fourth quarter where he banged down a three and crushed an alley-oop that shows his potential as an interesting bench piece.
Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles are both masters at manipulating the defense. While Rubio can hit the jets, he rarely does as he patiently awaits the play to come to him. Meanwhile Ingles has no jets, but leverages his shooting into a series of canny drives that flummoxed the Raps defense, and led to a number of easy shots for teammates.
Ekpe Udoh is an interesting back-up option to Gobert. Seemingly finally healthy, Udoh is a perfect fit for the Jazz offense as his length and rolls to the rim seem almost identical to the Stifle Tower’s, making it easy for the Jazz to run the exact same pick and roll plays no matter who’s in the middle.