I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that the Raptors were overdue for a blowout win, one which would see the starters get significant rest in the fourth quarter. I suspect many of us thought it’d come on Tuesday, against the terrible Hawks, rather than against the not-bad-at-all Nets. But with a dominating effort across the second and third quarters last night, the rout was on and the starters got their rest.
On to the thoughts!
Flipping the Switch is So Bad, Yet So Good
There have been teams that try to “flip the switch” pretty much as long as there’ve been sports — those teams that are so good, or think they are, that they can coast when they want and turn it on when they want and still win. It’s a pretty terrible habit for a team to get into — especially a team like Toronto that hasn’t actually won anything yet.
And yet it’s also damn fun to watch.
The Raptors looked borderline uninterested last night in the first quarter, especially on defense, allowing the Nets to rack up 35 points and 6-of-10 shooting from downtown. D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Shabazz Napier were forcing the ball down the Raptors’ throats, and the Raptors were constantly retreating, leaving plenty of space for Brooklyn’s shooters to operate. The Raptors found themselves down seven and it looked like we were in for another close game like Tuesday’s against Atlanta.
Then the switch flipped, the defense clamped down, the Raptors were picking up every rebound and loose ball and running the other way, and the route was on. Toronto outscored Brooklyn 36-18 in the second, shot 58% and held the Nets to just 5-of-22 shooting.
The Bad Boys Pistons were the first NBA team I rooted for, and it was always cool to see Vinnie Johnson come out of nowhere and score seven points before the other team even realized he’d checked into the game. That’s what earned him the all-time great nickname of “The Microwave”.
Fred VanVleet was channeling Vinnie last night, coming into the game and immediately knocking down a catch-and-shoot triple, then knocking down an almost identical one two plays later.
I’m not sure what the 2019 equivalent to a microwave is, though. Fred “The Instant Pot” VanVleet? I don’t think that one’s gonna stick...
Speaking of channelling, do you think former Spur Kawhi Leonard was channelling former Spur George “Iceman” Gervin with this first-quarter finger-roll?
For all y’all young’uns out there, Gervin was considered a master of the finger-roll layup.
Of course, Kawhi can also do this:
He had another 20 point game, his 18th in a row, and only played 27 minutes.
Joe Harris Gonna be seeing Danny Green in his Nightmares
Danny Green is one of the best shot-blocking guards in the NBA, ranking third in blocks-per-game among guards behind John Wall and Kent Bazemore. Last night he sure showed Joe Harris a thing or two, with two wicked rejections in the second half.
On the first Harris might have thought he had the baseline, but Green gave him the thumbs-down and the Raptors went the other way on the fast break:
(Wonderful look there from Kawhi Leonard to Pascal Siakam.)
Green’s second block on Harris was even more emphatic:
It’s possible the only reason that Hawks game was close at all was that Danny Green was out of the lineup.
Signs of Life from the Bench Mob?
They’re not all-the-way back yet, especially after their first quarter last night, but we’ve been seeing positive signs from the bench the last three games. They dominated the Pacers, OG Anunoby was making clutch plays down the stretch against Atlanta, and — again, after a sloppy start — the subs helped put the Nets away with a strong stretch bridging the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth last night.
Up 12 when VanVleet became the first sub in the second half, the Raptors rattled off a 13-3 run to close the third quarter, a stretch that included this spectacular sequence from Freddie and Delon Wright:
The Raptors led 111-85 with 7:32 to go, when Chris Boucher subbed in for Greg Monroe. That may have been a tad early for Boucher — the Nets went on an immediate 13-0 run and it almost looked like the starters were going to have to come back in and save the game. But a simple Monroe-for-Boucher swap settled the bench unit down and they were able to put it away.
Ultimately, getting the extended minutes for Wright, Anunoby and Norman Powell can only be a good thing; hopefully now that the team is (almost) healthy, everyone is settling into their roles and we’ll see some more consistency from the second unit going forward.
With their fourth straight win, and a Bucks loss, the Raptors reclaimed sole possession of first place in the league, at 32-12. It was a complete performance — but two excellent quarters were all the Raptors needed to put away a feisty Nets team. If the Raptors can start channeling that action over 48 minutes, without flipping a switch (and if they can stay healthy), look out.