So, who else predicted the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors would stage a 3-point shootout for three quarters? (Yikes.) But, the end result is all that matters and Toronto came out of their brief Florida trip with a W.
I Just Can’t Get Over How Exciting the Bench is
There were so many fun Bench Mob plays in the first half, I can’t even decide which one was my favourite. There was Delon Wright’s offensive rebound and dish to Jakob Poeltl for a hammer dunk; Poeltl’s beautiful dish to C.J. Miles in the corner for three (that came off a nice Fred VanVleet pass in the lane); Wright’s crossover and reverse? Pascal Siakam’s spin move and finger role in the lane? VanVleet’s four-point play?
(I know which one it wasn’t: Wright’s fast break “dunk”.)
(On second thought... that is my favourite.)
Jokes aside, the Mob is just a joy to watch. And, yeah, they’re pretty damn good too. Siakam, Poeltl and VanVleet actually finished the game with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and it was that group that finally dropped the hammer and pulled away late.
Those three combined for 39 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists (and only three turnovers).
It’s true that we don’t know how they’ll do in the playoffs. But I can’t wait to find out.
Hoo boy, That Defensive Effort was... Something
Wondering just how the heck the lowly Magic scored 89 points through three quarters? They shot 12-of-25 from downtown! Just way, way too many open looks given up by Toronto behind the arc last night. Now, you certainly don’t expect Orlando to shoot that well, but hey, you still have to defend!
A “signature” play happened right at the end of the third. The Raptors looked like they might actually pull away a little, having rattled off eight straight points. Then they gave up back-to-back threes to Mario Hezonja (off an offensive rebound, naturally) and Shelvin Mack (off a turnover that the broadcast apparently missed). Both were wiiide open. A 7-point lead became one as the quarter closed, and Orlando took a lead 40 seconds into the fourth.
Jack Armstrong mentioned it several times; the Raptors are a top team and opponents will be gunning for them, and you can’t give bad teams confidence that they can beat you. After that run the crowd was back into it, the momentum was going Orlando’s way and they felt they could win it—you could see it early in the fourth, they were aggressive, chasing the Raptors off the three-point line and forcing the Raptors offense into late-clock situations. The Raptors missed their first five shots.
Thankfully, things settled down, and the Raptors pulled away and held Orlando to only 15 in the fourth (on 4-of-16 shooting) but this Raptors team, good as they are, doesn’t have a switch to turn on and off.
Cross Your Fingers for OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby played well in Monday night’s game (8 points against the Pistons), and was having another good outing tonight (7 points on 3-of-3 shooting). Then he sprained his ankle after scoring a bucket (and drawing the foul) off a great Kyle Lowry pass on a fast break.
No doubt about it: this is a bummer. OG’s play had tailed off, as is fairly typical of rookies at this point of the year (have a gander at Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma’s stats) and he was being targeted as a potential weak link for the Raptors in the playoffs.
It looked like the All-Star break might’ve helped, so let’s hope this injury isn’t serious. If it just needs a few days’ rest that might not even be a bad thing.
I Might Like “Rested Kyle” Even More than “Ornery Kyle”
I professed my love for “Ornery Kyle” last game, but seeing the bounce in his step last night made me realize that a fully-rested Kyle Lowry is the best Kyle Lowry.
Granted, it might be too early to say for sure; but the I think the energy Lowry has played with in these past three games is a testament to the shorter minutes he’s played (and the NBA’s stretched out schedule). We all know Kyle has tailed off at the end of seasons (and in the playoffs) before, and of course he was hurt last year. He’s got spring in his step and his legs are clearly into his shot and it’s showing on the floor.
OK, maybe not against Milwaukee; he may have been nursing an All-Star hangover and shot 4-of-12. But he’s 12-of-21 since and 10-of-18 from deep. I like it.
Also: I’m here for more appearances of “Oh, Eff This Kyle” (a close cousin of “Ornery Kyle”); after Orlando took a 1-point lead early in the third quarter, you could see Kyle was slightly exasperated when he pulled up and drained a 26-footer, like, “all right, enough of this BS.” He tried another one two plays later that missed, but I still dig it.
Some Love for the Culture
OK, this doesn’t have much to do with the game. But did you see the long line of hugs and laughs between the Raptors and former teammates Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo after the game? T-Ross didn’t even play! (He’s hurt.) That, I think, just illustrates the camaraderie and connection that Kyle, DeMar, and Jonas Valanciunas and are making with their teammates; they’re making long-lasting bonds. Heck, Bismack only played here one season (a magical season, to be sure) and he’s been gone for a season-and-a-half!
And then how about Jak and Bebe—who’s totally fallen out of the rotation—coming over and putting their arms around Kyle during his postgame interview?
Dwane Casey, Masai Ujiri and these players have built a fantastic winning culture here in Toronto. I don’t know that we’ll ever win a title or lure a big free agent superstar or whatever, but I think we’re very fortunate to be experiencing this.
All right, enough with the mushy stuff. It’s back to business Friday with a test against a playoff team that’s winning the season series 2-1 against Toronto: The Washington Wizards. Can the Raptors finally beat Washington without John Wall? We’ll see!