If anything is apparent through the first two weeks of November, it’s that the Raptors aren’t a fully formed basketball killing machine. Not yet, at least.
A three-game losing streak humanized this roster a bit, as a great start fell back to earth and started to raise questions. Can the Raptors be consistent and have ever-fluid lineups? Can the bench settle into their new roles? Will the wings make shots at a high enough clip?
Tonight’s game against the Orlando Magic wasn’t one of those games where you settle lingering questions. It was, however, a win — which is better than the results the Raptors were getting last week. In a stretch of games that included Chicago last Saturday and Atlanta and New York upcoming, you’d hope for more “wins with answers”. But heck, we take what we can get.
Anyway, Toronto beat Orlando 93-91 on the road thanks to a last-second shot by Danny Green, who otherwise struggled mightily. It was pretty cool.
DANNY GREEN CALLS GAME! #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/o8jZ3dm14N— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) November 21, 2018
Green’s winner came at the end of a 5-for-13 night — 3-for-9 from deep — where he also struggled defensively with Evan Fournier, who went off for 27 points on 20 shots to lead all scorers.
Green wasn’t alone in his struggles, though. The Raptors got up by as many as 18 in the first half thanks to some incredible defence, but couldn’t make a shot to save their lives — finishing 9-for-34 on three-pointers for just 26.5%. Kyle Lowry, who finished with nine points and seven assists, went 3-for-8 from distance. Kawhi Leonard, who had a team-high 18 points, went 1-for-3.
Early on, this was offset by the play of Toronto’s frontcourt. Serge Ibaka had four early points, adding some strong defensive play against the red hot Nikola Vucevic. The Magic centre came in averaging upwards of 30 points in the last seven days, good for Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours. Still, Ibaka at centre was up to the task — Orlando desperately looked for their big guy early, but the Raptors responded well by attacking him on the other end. Vucevic would finish with just 14 points, but did have a solid 17 rebounds.
With Serge’s intensity spreading to the other positions, the Raptors built a ten-point lead in the first quarter. With a full bench unit coming in late, Toronto also got some good minutes from Lorenzo Brown. The guard doubled his three-point output coming into the game — making two to bring his season total to four — which bolstered the Raptors bench to extend the lead to 14.
The starters would come back to get it to 18, but a short Magic run made the score 47-37 at the half.
In the third, the Raptors’ defensive intensity fell apart. The Magic used some deft ball movement to get open looks for Fournier, as they rode him, Aaron Gordon, and Vucevic heavy minutes to offset a struggling bench. The strategy worked out, as the Raptors bench failed to replicate their first half success. Orlando would have the lead back before the third quarter was up.
It was mostly even from there. The Raptors looked great on one play, hapless on the next. Pascal Siakam picking up his fifth foul just over two minutes into the fourth didn’t help things, although a rare look for the Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas frontcourt yielded some solid rebounding minutes.
Toronto craved offensive creation early in the fourth, though. With both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry sitting down for almost the first seven minutes, there just wasn’t a lot of dribble penetration or creativity in the Raptors’ sets. With about 3:30 left, Nick Nurse finally got the Raptors’ starting five back on the floor, and things normalized.
Thanks to two Serge jumpers and a Kawhi Leonard mid-ranger, the Raptors kept the game tied 91-91 with 2.5 seconds left. From there, Danny did the rest — benefiting from a gorgeous out-of-timeout play from Nick Nurse.
The win is Toronto’s second straight, as they improve to an NBA-best 14-4. Orlando, certified feisty, fall to 9-9.