The Toronto Raptors closed out their road trip by beating the Atlanta Hawks — the NBA’s second-worst — team fairly easily last night... but not easily enough that we didn’t get a little fourth quarter drama. Let’s jump in to the thoughts:
The Return of JV, 50% three-point shooter
Last game, I made a note to talk about Jonas Valanciunas’ three-point shooting, but then that game went in a dozen different directions and I had to scrap it. After Valanciunas missed his first three-point attempt last night, I wrote it down again; the point was that, after becoming a respectable threat from deep last year, even on limited attempts, Valanciunas’ percentage was down this year and the shot wasn’t much of a danger to opponents.
Then JV went and drained his second attempt and blew up my whole point.
Overall Valanciunas had a great first half, notching a double-double (17 points, 10 boards) and being active on defense. I really liked his contest of this Dewayne Dedmon shot...
And also, his contest of this Dewayne Dedmon shot...
And check out this dish to Pascal Siakam!
JV would go on to finish the game with 24 points (on 12 shots) and 13 rebounds... and yes, 50% from downtown. (He’s now at 30.4% on the season.) However, I have to ask — did JV forget his hair product on this road trip? What’s going on with this?
Why Not go Big When the Wings are Down?
On Tuesday night we (finally!) saw the return of the Valanciunas/Serge Ibaka front court combo, if only for a few minutes (an effective few minutes!). It was back again last night! Again, just a few minutes, but again, the combo was effective, especially on the boards (five in three minutes). We also saw Greg Monroe get some non-garbage time minutes, this time alongside Ibaka, for another (slightly shorter, somewhat-non-traditional) two-big-man lineup.
I really like these two looks from Nurse, not leastways because, with all of the wing injuries, I would much rather see the Raptors go big and take advantage of their size, than force-feed Lorenzo Brown into a wing position as part of a three-point-guard lineup that doesn’t include Kyle Lowry. Given the lack of depth on the wing it makes sense to just play your best players, and Monroe is a better NBA player than Brown or Malachi Richardson at this point in their careers.
Now, the Moose-Ibaka combo was, uh, less than successful in the third quarter (-4 in less than two minutes). But again, Nurse ran the two of them out there with the three (non-Lowry) point guards. Normally I’d suggest that Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright were good enough playmakers to put the two bigs in position to succeed... but neither has played to their potential this season (although last night may have been Wright’s best outing to date). I wouldn’t mind that lineup so much if Lowry were in the VanVleet spot, and if VanVleet were given more minutes with Siakam.
In any event, the Raptors were able to leverage their size into a +21 advantage on the boards last night, and a 26-8 advantage in second-chance points.
Busting it Open, Thanks to Serge and Danny
Heading into the fourth, it was a 13-point Raptors lead with an all-bench unit out there to hold it. The teams traded buckets for three minutes, but then Delon Wright found Serge Ibaka at the three-point line:
Ibaka then had back-to-back layups, the second off of a beautiful dish from Pascal Siakam:
And then this Danny Green triple made it a 20-point Raptors lead:
All of that happened in 90 seconds, and it was the sort of pull-away sequence we hadn’t seen from Toronto in more than a week — exactly what the team needed. And that was all she wrote, right? Well....
About Those Late Kyle Lowry Minutes
Raptors Twitter lit up with ire for Nick Nurse after he put Kyle Lowry back in the game with five minutes to go, and the Raptors up by 15; Lowry promptly got elbowed in the face, bled all over the court, got his nose plugged up... and stayed in the game. He was fine, clearly, but knowing Lowry’s importance to the team, the whole thing felt... questionable, at best.
Here’s the thing. If you’re not going to trust your second unit to hold a 15-point lead, with five minutes left, against the second-worst team in the league... when are you going to trust them? The team is missing bodies, yes. Fred VanVleet has not played well. I’ve been hard as hell on Lorenzo Brown. But what message are you sending to those guys with that move? Especially the night after you let Brown play seven minutes in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Do you trust them or not? How can you preach the message of “this team is playing for May and June” to Kyle Lowry, who’s all in for the Gold Ball, if you tell him you need him to hold a 15-point lead against the freakin’ Hawks?
Hopefully we can chalk this up to a rookie mistake by a rookie coach.
Worlds Collide: Past vs. Future Edition
Although this night really belonged to JV and Kyle, we were treated to a wonderful battle between the Raptors’ past — one Mr. Vince Carter — and future, in the form of Pascal Siakam.
OK, so battle probably isn’t the right word. Siakam definitely got the better of the league’s elder statesman, scoring 22 points on 13 shots, and notching the win (Siakam is now averaging 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds on the year, and has topped 20 points five times); Carter, meanwhile, finished with 14 on 15 shots and his team lost by double-digits.
And yet it was definitely Carter’s night, as he — after a rather farcical three-minute stretch of the Hawks force-feeding him — finally notched the bucket that put him up over 25,000 career points. That it came on a dunk, against his former team, was... poetry? Irony? Well... let’s just go with apropos, shall we?
Seriously, congrats to Vince for the milestone. But, you know... have fun watching Pascal spin dudes outta their socks into May and beyond.
All in all, that was a quality win and a decent showing on the road trip for Toronto, going 3-1 despite several injuries (with the lone loss coming in OT on a spectacular scoring night from Kyrie Irving). I still don’t think the Raptors have played great ball for a complete game, with the possible exception of the blowout against the Bulls, but, considering how many players have been in and out of the lineup, 15-4, with an 8-2 record on the road, is nevertheless impressive.