The Raptors defeated the Grizzlies 101-86 on Sunday, in what could go down as the strangest 48 minutes the Raptors have played all season. After almost letting the game go in the third quarter, the bench unit — led by the two best bench guards in the league — saved the game in the fourth quarter en route to a 15-point victory.
Toronto opened up the day treading water against the Grizzlies, volleying a lead to and fro as the team tried to find a higher gear. OG Anunoby began the game looking great on both ends, providing a sleepy ACC crowd with three dunks early on.
Anunoby’s ability to make plays from the corner is becoming a huge strength for him. Just in the first quarter alone, he twice dunked the ball off a cut from the deep corner, and made a great pass to Jonas Valanciunas who had position in the post.
The Raptors found themselves stuck two points before the bench unit entered (led by DeRozan), and after a few possessions on the court, the Raptors’ rhythm flipped dramatically — as they have been wont.
Early in the second quarter, Toronto would cap off an 8-0 run that extended the lead to nine, as Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright found success pushing the ball in transition, applying heavy defensive pressure in the back court and continually making the open pass to keep ball movement crisp.
Memphis began to fray on defense thanks to the aggressive play of the Raptors’ young bench guards and this essentially allowed Toronto to open the game up midway through the 2nd quarter. The lead grew to as many as 17 at its peak, however Toronto’s offense eventually cooled down as the Grizzlies started to aggressively trap DeRozan late in the second quarter, forcing him into a couple of ugly air balls toward the end of the half. Toronto would enter halftime holding a 12-point lead and general control of the game.
This wouldn’t last long.
The Raptors found themselves struggling to replicate the blistering shooting performance of Friday’s game, when they broke the franchise-record for 3-pointers made with 19, as they shot just 3-of-16 from deep in the first half. C.J. Miles was active and on the bench, but he did not enter the game at his usual juncture in the first quarter. Casey instead elected to go to Norman Powell for the 4th time this week.
Overall, the bench was incredibly productive, scoring 52 total points, and hands down the reason the Raptors won today. Delon Wright led all players with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and a +36, getting help from Fred VanVleet who had 13 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
The second half opened up with more of the same defensive pressure from Memphis, and it was clearly working. The Raptors played as if their shoelaces were tied together as the fluidity of the 2nd quarter ground to a halt, allowing the Grizzlies to get right back in the game. Toronto’s shots stopped falling, defensive lapses became frequent and the Grizzlies found themselves back in the game midway through the 3rd quarter, momentarily taking away a lead that was once 17 points.
The three-point shot simply would not fall for anyone. Toronto finished 6-of-35, and they did everything short of getting on their knees to beg the ball to go through the hoop. It was a stark difference from just two nights ago versus Portland, when they couldn’t miss a shot if they tried.
For the first time all season, Casey seemed generally shook — he was throwing anyone on the court who might be able to stop the bleeding. Even though the rotation went back to normal following a late third quarter timeout, his lineup of Lowry, VanVleet, DeRozan, Siakam, and Poeltl in the third was something I don’t think we’ve seen all year.
The all-bench unit that was on the court to finish the third and open the fourth immediately changed the rhythm of the game; the defense picked up, players were leaking out on the fast break and the team looked in sync once again. I’m not sure what the hell happened with the starting group in the beginning of the third quarter, but it was legitimately some of the strangest (in a bad way) basketball they’ve played all season.
The importance of the bench in this game cannot be overstated — without their balance and leadership, the game would have spiralled out of control. After a few minutes of Toronto struggling to take the lead back, the Raptors found their stride following a couple of back to back threes by Miles and Wright.
Thanks to the steady play of the all-bench group, the lead grew back to 15 midway through the fourth quarter and Casey had seen enough to let them close the game.