The Toronto Raptors took to the Amway Center inadvertently looking to make history, and you wouldn’t know it by the way they played. Fortunately, despite falling behind to the Orlando Magic for stretches, the Raptors managed to put the game away in the fourth, winning 117-104.
The lowly Magic gave Toronto all they could handle for tonight as they pushed the top seed in the East to the brink, matching them shot for shot. The game started as most have for Toronto of late, with an inferior opponent hanging around before being delivered a combination of blows, leading to the basketball equivalent of a knockout.
The Magic — losers of their last six — were evidently not content with playing to the script. After Toronto dropped a hearty 42 in the first and jumped out to a six-point lead at the half, Orlando closed the vice grip on the hot Raptors offense in the third quarter, holding them to a measly 21 points. (For a game that started with a 42-37 quarter, and both teams shooting over 70 percent, this was quite the drop.)
It wasn’t until the second half of the fourth quarter that the Raps were able to impose their will on the game, pushing the lead into a comfortable enough zone so as to focus on the goal of making history. Yes, for a glorious moment, history looked to have been re-written. A turnover spurred a Kyle Lowry to Pascal Siakam fastbreak alley-oop which gave Toronto the 14-point lead they would need to register the best average point differential in the month of February of any team in NBA history. Unfortunately, a cheap whistle sent the Magic’s Mario Hezonja to the free throw line where his second-attempt make would rip the historic feat from the jaws of the Raptors.
Despite falling agonizingly short of this serious achievement, the Raptors should hold their heads high. The win marked Toronto’s eighth in their last nine games and ensured the East’s northern-most team hold the northern-most spot in the standings.
DeMar DeRozan led the game in scoring with a modest 21 points, shooting 6-of-13 from the field. Lowry contributed 17 points, 11 assists, and finished a team-high plus-15. Like seemingly every Raptors game this season, the bench contributed more than their fair-share to propelling the squad to victory. Fred VanVleet, Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl finished a combined plus-29 on the night and helped Toronto deliver the aforementioned knockout punch. The big Austrian Poeltl delivered perhaps the best stat line of the night with 13 points, eight boards, five assists, three blocks, and two steals; but most importantly, prompted this great GIF use from Brendan Dunlop.
Poeltl!!! pic.twitter.com/5LVWWZD193— Brendan Dunlop (@Brendan_Dunlop) March 1, 2018
Some bad news though: OG Anunoby suffered a sprained ankle which forced him to leave the game. He will be evaluated further tomorrow to determine a timetable, but he may miss some games. Despite struggling in his last few outings, OG made all three shots — including one three — he attempted on the night. Norman Powell is expected to slot in for Anunoby should he miss time. (Though, did you see Powell tonight? The rarely seen 11 million stat line. Woof.)
Hezonja led the way for Orlando with 17 points in just 19 minutes including a perfect 3-from-3 from deep. Evan Fournier also tallied 17 points in his 30-plus minutes despite struggling to help the cause defensively and finishing a minus-17 on the night. Former Raptor Bismack Biyombo led the game in rebounding with 11 boards while his ex-Toronto teammate Terrence Ross sported his best street clothes as he is still nursing a lingering knee injury.
Toronto’s next opponent will be awaiting their arrival as Washington is coming off a narrow loss to the Golden State Warriors in D.C. Toronto still sits just a half game up on the Boston Celtics for first in the conference.