The Toronto Raptors are 17-4. Seventeen wins! In 21 games! That’s pretty damn good. Last night, the Miami Heat put up a decent fight, clawing back a good chunk of a 26-point Raptors lead, but in the end, the Raptors just had too many weapons. Here a few things we saw (and one thing we almost didn’t see):
The Strength of Kawhi Leonard
One of the things I really enjoy about watching Kawhi Leonard drive is when he just gets a slight edge on the front shoulder — and then uses his superior strength to just move guys out of his way and protect the ball with his upper body.
Here he is putting it to Rodney McGruder in the first quarter last night:
Here is doing against Aaron Gordon in Orlando last week, and getting the foul call:
I think you could easily argue Leonard deserved the and-1 on last night’s as well; perhaps that strength is what fools officials into thinking there isn’t any contact going on?
Yes, Raptors Bloggers, Kawhi Can and Does Pass the Ball
Lots of talk during and after Friday’s game, including yours truly right here, about Kawhi being a black hole on offense. And while I don’t think anyone was seriously suggesting Leonard is not a team player or that he can’t play within the offense, allow me to present a few examples of Leonard sharing the rock.
First, a simple dish off a drive to a waiting Jonas Valanciunas:
Then, a quick swing pass to Kyle Lowry for a wide open three-pointer.
And finally, this two-man game with Pascal Siakam, where Leonard finishes from deep:
The fact is, Leonard is good enough that he can play doing pretty much whatever he wants on offense, and still be successful. As I said the other night, I’d still like to see Leonard get his teammates a little more involved, like we see in those plays above, but who can argue with the results so far?
How About a Little Transition Offense?
A huge part of the Raptors building their big lead last night came in transition, and a big part of that was Miami’s incredibly poor effort in getting back. The Heat didn’t have a single turnover in the first half, and yet somehow still gave up 11 fast break points!
Here’s a perfect example of their lack of effort:
A pick-and-roll between Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside gets Whiteside open for the dunk, but Whiteside’s man — Jonas Valanciunas — beats everyone back down court for the layup.
It’s not like JV sprinted out of the defensive end, either — he actually hangs his head for a minute, before composing himself! I’d love to pick on Whiteside here, because, well, low-hanging fruit and all, but this one’s Wade’s responsibility; Valanciunas was hung up and essentially matched up with Wade in transition. Wade simply lost him getting back.
Of course, that’s about the only mistake Wade made on the night...
I Won’t Miss Dwyane Wade, Raptor Killer
Early in the broadcast, Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins mentioned that Wade was tied for the third-most 30+ point games against the Raptors. It was hard to imagine 36-year-old DWade getting another 30-spot, right?
Nah. Wade came off the bench spitting fire against Toronto, and almost single-handedly kept his team in the game in the first half. He had 16 at the break, on nine shots, along with three boards and two assists. In the third quarter, the Raptors starters blew the game open, and then Wade and the Heat bench almost swung it all the way back the other way.
Most notably, as he’s done in the past (remember the 2016 playoffs, when he shot 50% from deep?), Wade immediately transformed into a three-point threat against the Raptors; he had 15 total three-point makes on the season coming in to the game, and somehow went 4-for-7 on the night. He’d finish with a cool 35 points (on 22 shots) and six assists.
Goodbye, farewell, don’t wanna see you around no more, Wade.
This One Thing NBA Broadcasts Do Drives Fans Crazy
Can I just say how much I haaaaate hate hate when the broadcast cuts away from game action in the middle of a play?
When a player scores, it’s not uncommon to get him on camera going back the other way to see a reaction. That closeness and familiarity with players is part of what makes the NBA so great.
But broadcasts have to understand when and where to do it. If the team now on offense is walking the ball up, cool. If the team is getting out on the break, do not cut away! To wit:
Wayne Ellington scores, we see Kyle Lowry clearly pushing the ball and passing it ahead... and then we see James Johnson’s head. And then we catch the end of a Kawhi Leonard dunk.
There’s no good reason for this, especially in this case, because Johnson wasn’t even the one who scored, and this is the home broadcast. Why are you cutting away from the home team on a fast break?
And just in case you think every broadcast does it, here’s the Miami broadcast:
So, please, Sportsnet andTSN — keep the focus on action on the floor.
Well, at 17-4, that’s about as successful a first-quarter to the season as we could possibly have hoped for. But it’s gonna get tougher:
The Raptors have now played 11 games against teams currently under .500. They've won all 11. Their average margin of victory in those games: +15.0. Impressive stuff, but they'll only see 2 sub-.500 teams over the next 12 games. Tough stretch coming.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 26, 2018
These next 12 games will be a great test for the team now that it’s (almost) fully healthy, and I for one can’t wait to see it.