The first game back after a long trip is always an adventure, and you never know what to expect from 3:00 p.m. starts. But we’re coming to expect casual dominance from the Toronto Raptors, and that’s exactly what we saw in their afternoon game against the New York Knicks yesterday.
Sloppy Starts, Nothing to Worry About... Right?
Five turnovers and 1-for-8 from the field in 6.5 minutes. That’s how the Raptors started yesterday’s game, another in a disconcerting series of slow starts.
The difference between this one and the slow start in Sacramento, is that the Knicks had very little to do with it. I give the Kings credit for flying all over the place on Wednesday, but yesterday the Raptors’ early errors were mainly unforced — trying to force passes where there was no space and rushing the offense when there was no need.
Thankfully it didn’t hurt them too much - a cold shooting start from the Knicks had them only up 10-6 during that stretch — but at some point, one of these slow starts is gonna come back and bite them.
OG Anunoby is Putting it all Together
It took OG a couple of games to get his legs back after missing a chunk of the early season, but I think it’s safe to say he’s back now, after an efficient 16-point (on 7-of-10 shooting in 25 minutes) night.
The best part is we’re seeing him do things we didn’t see last year; he’s added to his game, he’s more patient, and the team is letting him find himself within the offense more. Examples? Let’s cue ‘em up.
First, look at OG’s calm approach here, getting the ball in deep with Enes Kanter on his back:
Last year, he would have taken that ball straight up; now he has the patience and feel to put it on the floor and find a little space, and use the rim to keep Kanter away from the ball.
Similarly, on this little dump off to Jonas Valanciunas, I’m not sure that last year A) OG would have waited for JV to come through the lane or B) would have seen him at all.
Finally, look at this crossover-stepback combo:
Even if he could have made that shot last year, I suspect a quick Dwane Casey hook would have followed, for not following the script offensively.
I could also throw up GIFs of OG’s second-quarter dunk two and-1 finishes, but you get the idea. What’s even more exciting is that it feels like Anunoby’s still just scratching the surface. I expect the best is still to come.
Efficient Minutes Management FTW
Nick Nurse let the bench run a little longer in the second quarter last night. The unit didn’t get off to the greatest of starts — they turned a 25-25 tie into a 34-32 deficit — but Nurse obviously saw something, because he let them play through it, and before you knew it, the bench had the Raptors ahead 43-37 as the starters came back in.
In the second half, Nurse let the starters go a little bit longer in the third quarter — Anunoby subbed in for Leonard with three minutes left, and it was another minute until the rest of the starters filed out — but that allowed the Raptors to grow a 94-80 lead. And even in that two-minute stretch, the bench went on a mini 6-2 run to close the quarter ahead 100-82.
The bench then proceeded to manage the lead throughout the fourth, never letting it get closer than 16, and that let the starters rest the entire quarter.
Can we get a collective “finally!” on the bench playing a solid enough game to allow the starters to rest in the fourth?
All in all, nobody on the team played more than 30 minutes. That’s how you keep the legs fresh coming back from a long trip!
Don’t Mess with the Master of the 2-for-1
Tim Hardaway Jr. thought he had the 2-for-1 situation handled at the end of the first half, when he drained a triple with 31.6 seconds left.
But no one out-does Kyle Lowry in the 2-for-1.
Lowry let the ball roll past half on the inbounds to preserve the clock, picked it up, and drove straight to the hoop – and scored an and-1 with 28.6 seconds to go. Three seconds!
Lowry sunk the free throw; on the next Knicks possession, they let the clock roll down, and then Hardaway tried to drive past Danny Green, but Green was able to knock it away – right to Leonard, who was fouled by Hardaway. He hit both.
So not only did Hardaway NOT get the 2-for-1 he was trying for, he finished that 30-second stretch with a turnover and a foul as the Raptors scored five straight to go into halftime with their largest lead.
Don’t mess with the Master of the 2-for-1.
(Probably not a good idea to mess with his apprentice, either; Fred VanVleet converted a 2-for-1 at the end of the first quarter by banking in a three with 31 seconds to go, and finding C.J. Miles from downtown on the ensuring possession; Miles missed (sigh) but Delon Wright put the offensive rebound back in for another five-point swing.)
Pascal Siakam, Three-Point Threat
Siakam has made this column three straight times, so why not make it four? After all, the guy has scored in double figures in eight straight games and broken his career high twice!
Last night, the talking point was the three-point shot: Siakam went 3-for-4 from downtown. That’s really been the missing link for Pascal, his ability to score from distance; this is the first time he’s hit three in a game. While we can’t expect this to be the turning point where he becomes a sharpshooter (he was only 3-for-18 coming in), if he can consistently hit even one per game, at a 30% clip (he’s now up to 27% on the year) that will open up the offense — both his, and the team’s — significantly.
Siakam also had his best game from the free-throw line, going 8-for-9; that boosted his percentage on the year to 75.8%. Consistency from the line (he didn’t crack 70% in his first two seasons) would be a bonus as well.
All told, Siakam finished with 23 points on a mere seven shots. That’s definitely more than enough to make it in this column for a fourth straight game.
The season is only 13 games old and the Raptors already have two six-game winning streaks. It’s been a heck of a ride so far!