No Kawhi Leonard, second game of a road back-to-back, Warriors looking for revenge... and it’s a Raptors blowout victory? Can’t say that I saw that one coming. A few thoughts on one of the best wins of the season, and maybe in Raptors history:
A Strong Start, Sustained
When the Raptors jumped out to an early lead last night, it was natural to be a little cautious. The Warriors missed some shots — two open Steph Curry corner threes went long, and those are shots he doesn’t miss often. The Raptors, on the second night of a back-to-back, would likely tire. But man, the signs sure were promising. The Raptors showed that they weren’t intimidated, coming into home arena of the defending champs. Nick Nurse made a concerted effort — just as he did on Tuesday — to get Kyle Lowry heavily involved as a scorer early on (Lowry finished with nine points and four assists in the first). The defensive effort was impressive, holding the Warriors to 22 points on 9-for-22 shooting in the first.
The second quarter? More of the same! But the margin for error against the Warriors is incredibly thin, and when the Raptors missed two layups (one each from VanVleet and Siakam) and three open three pointers (including a wide open Danny Green attempt coming out of a three-on-one) in the first four minutes of the third... I thought it was gonna go downhill fast. The Warriors are well known for their third-quarter explosions; they’re all but impossible to withstand if you can’t make easy ones.
Thankfully, the Raptors D was up to the task — and yes, the Warriors continued to miss open looks — and the offense kept a an even keel over the entire affair. The Warriors didn’t get within single digits after the 5:45 mark of the second quarter.
That’s a great end-to-end win.
Pascal Siakam, Knowing When Not to Shoot
Yesterday I wrote about Siakam’s three-point shooting from the corners becoming a real threat. He was 1-for-2 from there in the first half last night, and with about a minute to go in the half had an opportunity for another. But sometimes, as someone somewhere once said, it’s the shots you don’t take that count!
In this case, Fred VanVleet collected a loose ball in the backcourt, pushed the ball ahead to Siakam in the right corner, and Siakam could have taken the three — he was open, it would have been a good shot — but he kept his head up, and saw Serge Ibaka trailing and the defense backpedaling. Siakam dished it to the big man, and Ibaka dropped in the short hook.
It was just another smart play from a player who’s getting better every game.
Danny Green Post-Ups Are a Thing Against the Warriors
A couple weeks back I wrote about Danny Green breaking out the post game, a rarity for him. The Raptors’ opponent that night? The Warriors! In that game, it was Quinn Cook who was Green’s victim; last night, it was Stephen Curry, and I think Green’s play was a real difference maker.
Slowing down great players like Curry and Kevin Durant is pretty much impossible, but it’s an old adage — you at least gotta make them work on the defensive end. The Warriors often try to hide Curry on favourable matchups, and with Kyle Lowry rolling again, the Warriors put Curry on Green.
So give the Raptors credit for going at the matchup. Green isn’t Shaq or anything, but he’s smart enough and skilled enough to get his shots off over a much smaller player like Curry.
You can’t go so far as to say the effort contributed to Curry’s 3-for-12 shooting night... but I’m sure it didn’t hurt, either. Of course, we can’t mention Curry’s shooting without mentioning this guy...
The Two-Way Terror of Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet has had his struggles this season, but this is starting to look like last season — where he had a slow start but eventually found his groove. He’s averaging 11 points on 52% shooting over the past three, including an impressive 8-for-12 from downtown; he also had the masterful 14 assists on Tuesday night.
But last night it was VanVleet’s defense that shone. As above, it’s all but impossible to stop Curry, you definitely need some shots to bounce out, but VanVleet did all the right things — bump him whenever you get the chance, dig in but keep moving your feet, fight hard over screens, keep your hands active — to make Curry work for it. He even stripped Curry on one first quarter possession (leading to a Siakam one-man fast break), something you don’t often see happen to one of the best ballhandlers in the league.
Playing Lowry and VanVleet together more has done wonders for both of them. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of a concerted effort from Nick Nurse to get Lowry and Siakam out of games a bit earlier, bringing Delon Wright and OG Anunoby in to pay with the starters; then bringing Lowry and Siakam back in to play with VanVleet and the rest of the bench unit.
Let it Sink in, Enjoy it, Savour it
Yeah, yeah. It’s only the regular season. But games like last night’s can still be special. How often do you shake 14-year losing streaks? Beat the champs in their home building? On U.S. TV?
The Raptors just defeated 2 teams with a combined record of 36-18 and 21-4 at home by 44 points in a back-to-back on the road without their best player. Let that sink in.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 13, 2018
That’s also apparently the first time the Raptors have ever swept the California teams in California, and they are now 7-0 on the road against the West this season. They’re also 6-0 on the second game of back-to-backs, and 7-1 without Kawhi Leonard.
The @Raptors won at LAC last night by 24 and at GS tonight by 20.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) December 13, 2018
This is only the 3rd time in NBA history an Eastern Time Zone team played a Pacific Time Zone team on the road on back-to-back days and won both by 20+ points.
Boston did so in Jan 1969 and Miami in Dec 2010.
That three-losses-in-four-games mini-slump is the rearview. Kyle Lowry’s slump is in the rearview (fingers crossed, anyway). If you stayed up late to watch both of these games, you deserve to celebrate today.
So: will we see these two teams in the Finals? Lotta season still to go; the West is still a jumble; Boston is getting better and better; Milwaukee and Philadelphia still loom. But my eye test tells me that these are the two best teams in the league right now, and FiveThirtyEight has them as the two top bets to make the Finals.
The Bay Area in June should be really nice, guys.