Some of the lustre was taken out of last night’s matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers when it was announced Kawhi Leonard would sit with a sore ankle. The showdown between Leonard and LeBron James would have to wait, but the Raptors did just fine without their LeBron-stopper.
Kyle Lowry Taking Everything Personally Over Everything
Oh, you traded our “best player”? Nah.
Oh, Kawhi Leonard is sitting out, Raptors are trash without him? Nah.
Kyle Lowry is here to show everyone who makes the Raptors go.
Dude assisted on the Raptors’ first four buckets, had nine at the end of the first quarter, and 12 by halftime. (He also added nine points and five boards in the half, and finished with 21 points, 15 assists, six rebounds and only one turnover.)
Obviously I don’t really know if Kyle’s taking anything personally; it could be that the Raptors are just a deeper, more complete team, and it also seems that Nick Nurse has put the ball in Lowry’s hands a little more. Regardless—it’s been incredible to watch. And of course, his lefty finger role at the end was the perfect capper:
Cherry on top. pic.twitter.com/crmP0rL5KW— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 5, 2018
How Were your Stress Levels in that Fourth Quarter?
Look, I don’t know that the game was ever truly in doubt. And yet... there certainly was a terrifying sense of deja vu as the lead dwindled in the fourth. After all, LeBron James has ripped our hearts out before. The flashbacks to Game 1 from last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals were definitely bubbling up below the surface.
But this Raptors team is better—even without Kawhi Leonard. And this Lakers team is, amazingly, not as good as that Cavs team—or at least, it’s not built to take advantage of James’ gifts as that Cavs team was.
Case in point:
Lakers with LeBron on the court tonight: -16. Lakers without LeBron tonight: +4. Lakers with LeBron this season: -30. Lakers without LeBron this season: +21 #FireLeBron— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 5, 2018
Perhaps that’s why LeBron sat the entire fourth, and spared us the fear of him walking to the scorer’s table to ostensibly snatch the game—and our souls—away.
Who Need Slow Starts When you Have Sloppy Finishes?
The other day I expressed (very) mild (like really very mild) concern about the Raptors taking bad teams lightly and getting off to slow starts.
Uh, slow starts? What slow starts?
Just an insane quarter for the Raptors (made slightly less insane by a late run from the Lakers bench). Toronto shot 15-for-22. They assisted on 12 of those buckets, with Lowry recording 9 himself. They lead 42-17. Not bad.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 5, 2018
Not bad, indeed.
On the other hand, this is not the first time this season we’ve seen the bench unit choke away a second-half lead. And the bench last night was bad. All five second-unit players were negative plus-minus, and C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell combined to shoot 0-for-14, scoring a mere three points from the line.
I would venture to say that last night was the worst I’ve seen VanVleet play since his rookie season; in addition to his 0-for-6 shooting, he had four turnovers (to only two assists) and four fouls.
I know I shouldn’t be complaining, the team is 9-1 and has only been at full strength for only one game, but I would like to see them play a complete 48 minutes at some point.
Which Team is Supposed to be Playing Fast, Again?
All the buzz around the Lakers heading into the season was about them playing fast; taking advantage of their youngsters’ athleticism and LeBron James’ high IQ to get out and run and score easy buckets. And coming in they were third in the league in both scoring and pace, and first in fast break points.
And yet, it was Toronto getting out and running last night, to the tune of 18 first-half fast break points, and 16 off of turnovers—and even those numbers seem low. They were taking advantage of the Lakers’ misses (19 defensive rebounds off of 24 Laker misses in the half) and getting into the offense quickly; it led to multiple easy buckets, especially for Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
Things slowed down for the Raptors in the second half—only six fast-break points—but it was fun to see the script flipped in this one.
Ibaka and Siakam Making the Big-to-Big Connection
With the Serge-at-the-five switch the Raptors made this year, I admit I wasn’t sure how well he and Pascal Siakam would play together. They’d only played about 60 minutes together last year, and Siakam had his best success with Jakob Poeltl, a more traditional five.
I think it’s time to stop worrying.
Serge, of course, had a career-high 34 points on 15-for-17 shooting, and 10 rebounds; Siakam had 16 and 13.
Even more impressive? The big-to-big action on the break!
In the first half it was Ibaka to Siakam...
Showtimeeeeee pic.twitter.com/0zWsUsQ8Vt— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 5, 2018
... and then Siakam returned the favour on the break in the third quarter:
High percentage shot@sergeibaka - 30p | 13/13 pic.twitter.com/4rp3ksVTDq— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 5, 2018
So we’re more than a 10th of the way through the season and the Raptors are 9-1 (and 2-1 without Kawhi Leonard and 8-1 overall when missing one or more of their key guys). That’s put them on pace to go 73-9.
Pretty good start, right?