The Toronto Raptors are definitely in the “we’re gonna take it easy with our guys” stage of the season, but still managed to pull out a 93-86 win over the Orlando Magic, overcoming three sluggish quarters with a burst of fourth-quarter intensity.
Rest is Good! Even if it Makes the Games Sub-Optimal
I know the Raptors without DeMar DeRozan and Fred VanVleet are not exactly at the top of anyone’s must-see list—not even the die-hards, and no, not even the bloggers!—especially against Orlando. But, that’s when you gotta focus on the big picture! As I said the other day, the fact that the Raptors are even at this point is sensational. We’re #1! We’re resting guys for the playoffs! Let’s enjoy that—even if the games themselves are not as entertaining.
Because hopefully, the healthy and well-rested Raptors will make it up to us in the postseason.
12 Minutes of Defense
Leo Rautins said it on the broadcast, as the Raps trailed heading into the fourth: This one’s there for the taking. Just play 12 minutes of solid D.
The Raptors did just that.
Yeah, it’s Orlando, they’re tanking, yada yada. But! You can’t take away from the energy the Raps had in the fourth. They forced the Magic into several late-shot clock situations (and 1 24-second violation), Pascal Siakam had a block and a deflection, Lucas Nogueira was contesting everything and getting on the offensive boards, Lorenzo Brown and Siakam were picking up full-court, and it led to offense. The Raptors started the period on a 23-4 run and outscored Orlando 25-10 in the period.
I’m not a fan of “flip the switch when needed” teams, but, I do like it when it’s second-unit guys doing the flipping.
Give Me This Kyle Lowry in the Playoffs
How great was Kyle Lowry last night? With DeRozan out, Lowry knew it was his night, and he made the most of it. Every time the Raptors needed a bucket, Lowry delivered, especially in the fourth, where he drained two triples (including a long bomb with the shot clock erroneously running out), had two assists and two rebounds. He knew the game was in the balance, threw the team on his back and put it away.
He shot 7-of-13 from downtown on the night, and finished with 25; that follows up his 22 points on Sunday, where he 5-of-7 from 3-point range. He also had 9 rebounds and 18 assists combined in the two games.
More importantly, he looked engaged and fired up; you could tell he didn’t want to lose either of these games. And last night was essentially a throw-away game—he could have mailed it in—but he didn’t. It was a good reminder of just how damn good a basketball player he is.
That’s the Kyle we’re gonna need in the playoffs.
(On the other hand: This should have been a game where OG Anunoby made his presence felt, what with DeRozan out. But he had only two shot attempts—one a wild layup—didn’t score, had two rebounds and finished -11 in 14 minutes. We’re gonna need more than that in the playoffs.)
Delon Wright, Making Things Happen
I’ve really enjoyed Delon Wright’s play the last three games. (Well, other than that missed layup down the stretch against OKC.) He had 12 points, 5 boards and 4 assists last night, but more importantly, he once again brought the defensive energy. His one steal and one block don’t tell the story; he forced multiple turnovers just by using his length to disrupt passing lanes and force the Orlando offence to set up further out than they’d like.
He also played solid one-on-one D on Aaron Afflalo, and had an offensive rebound and a tap-out during the pivotal stretch of the fourth where the Raptors sealed it.
And let’s not discount the offense; 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting is nothing to sneer at, but it also doesn’t capture what Wright’s crafty moves do to the opposing defense. When he gets the ball, he doesn’t stand still; he’s probing, spinning, looking for angles—he’s forcing the D to react. And it leads to openings, either for himself or his teammates.
Even after 70 games, it’s still refreshing to see this Raptors team keep the offense flowing, after so many years of Lowry and DeRozan stopping the ball.
Also: Quick shout-out to Lucas Nogueira, who played the final 17 minutes and notched 4 points, 4 boards and 2 blocks, and finished a +23. This after his stellar performance in limited minutes against Oklahoma City. He’s the epitome of a “stay ready” guy right now.
Scoreboard Watching with 11 Games to Go
The Celtics won a thriller at home over Oklahoma City when Marcus Morris nailed a three with 1.2 seconds left (after Carmelo Anthony bricked two free throws). Thanks to the Raptors win, Boston is still 5 games back and the Raptors’ magic number to clinch the top seed sits at 7.
What the Raptors have done, though, is clinch homecourt advantage in the first round—they can’t fall any farther than third-place.
With a win tonight, they clinch a top-2 seed. Cleveland is technically still in the hunt for #1 or #2, but would have to finish 12-0 while the Raptors finish 0-11.
Also of note—Toronto and Golden State have identical 53-18 records, tied for 2nd-overall in the league. Hands up if you saw that one coming six months ago!
It’ll be interesting to see who, if anyone, gets the night off tonight in Cleveland; the Cavs are getting healthy (Kevin Love had a strong first game back from injury), and the Raptors are on a road back-to-back. It might be worth it to go all-out and send a message to LeBron and Co. But then again, maybe the better message is, “you’re not worth us risking any injuries.”
My guess is Serge Ibaka gets a rest. We’ll find out soon enough!