Last night’s game in Utah looked like a likely loss even before we knew Kawhi Leonard wasn’t going to play, and for a few minutes in the first quarter, it sure seemed like the inevitable was going to happen. Then the Raptors woke up, turned on the Jets and put the Jazz away.
Turnovers were the Focus Early
The Raptors came out with a case of butterfingers, giving the ball way on four of their first seven possessions, and seven times in the first quarter; that helped the Jazz run out to an early 18-10 lead. It was sloppy and messy and a weaker team might have thrown their hands up and said “well, it’s just not our night.”
But the Raptors didn’t let it get to them. They didn’t press or rush things, they ran their sets—and eventually things swung the other way and the Raps pulled even before the quarter ended.
The second unit had a few of their own turnovers to start the second, and fell behind 42-35. But OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam came back in, and things completely flipped—by the time we were two minutes into the second half, the Raptors had gone on a 36-13 run to make it 71-55.
Ramping up the Defensive Intensity
The biggest reason for that run, other than cleaning up the turnovers, was the defense. Around the time the starters filtered back in in the second quarter, the Raptors busted out a zone that packed the paint and made it increasingly difficult for the Jazz guards to feed the ball into Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. And without much shooting outside of Joe Ingles (Royce O’Neale, Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder were a combined 0-for-11 from downtown; and Ingles himself had an off-night, shooting 3-for-13 overall) the zone was the perfect choice.
Credit also to the Raptors for their efforts on the boards last night; the Jazz are a great rebounding team (7th in the league in rebounding percentage) but the Raptors ended up a +3 on the boards—even though no one on the team had more than seven. That’s a solid group effort.
Pascal Siakam Putting ‘em in the Spin Cycle
This column is in danger of becoming all-Pascal, all-the-time, but the kid is killing it lately. Last night, in addition to the usual array of rebounds and run outs, Siakam broke out his spin move multiple times.
This is obviously something Siakam has been working on, and he’s all but perfected it. In years’ past, he would have traveled, or gotten out of control before getting to the hoop and ended up too far away for a decent shot; now, he drives in, drops the shoulder briefly to the put defender on his heels, rolls right off the defender going the other way, while maintaining enough control to get right to the rim. With his length and leaping ability, it’s the perfect move for him to avoid charges and get past bigger players.
VanVleet, Wright and OG, Looking Like Their Old Selves
Fred VanVleet had an awful showing on Sunday night, and both Delon Wright and OG Anunoby haven’t looked themselves so far this season either. VanVleet and Wright are coming off of injuries, and Anunoby missed time for personal reasons, and it’s taking time to shake the rust off.
Last night was a step in the right direction for all three. VanVleet hit two three-pointers and had six assists to two turnovers; Wright had several of his patented probing drives in the second half; and Anunoby was 3-of-5 from downtown, and had two nice post-ups—a part of his game we haven’t really seen before.
He also had a really nice sequence in the third quarter: first, he picked up an errant pass from Danny Green, and laid it in while avoiding Gobert. He then stole a lazy Derrick Favors pass, took it the other way, bobbled it, waited for Siakam to catch up... then took it himself anyway, drawing the and-1 on Joe Ingles.
Norman Powell left this one in the second with a shoulder injury, so continued improvement from these three is critical.
The 41-14 Free Throw Disparity was, uh...
I hate complaining about officials, but last night’s game was definitely not called both ways. It’s not even that there were egregiously bad or missed calls; there’s really only one play, a VanVleet drive, that I thought absolutely deserved a call.
No, this had more to do with the officials calling especially soft fouls on the Raptors around the perimeter, and not calling those same fouls on the Jazz on the other end.
Officials could call those fouls every time down the floor. When they do, but then only call them on one end, it’s problematic.
(If there’s any silver lining to the fouls, it’s that we got a Moose sighting! Mr. Big Man Insurance himself, Greg Monroe, finally got some meaningful minutes last night—about 12.5 of them, and he shot 4-for-5 and had three boards.)
So far, it’s been a successful road trip for Toronto; sure, the opponents haven’t been top-notch—even the Jazz have had a rough start to the year—but winning three straight on the West coast is never easy.
Now if only they could get fully healthy!