It was hard not to feel a tad disappointed by the news that Kawhi Leonard, despite a day off, would not be playing in Saturday’s contest between the Raptors and Grizzlies. Sure, it was part of Toronto’s “load management” strategy — and Leonard did indeed look a bit gimpy last Sunday while saving his team — but short of swaddling him in bubble wrap, Leonard and the Raptors have to live a little, right?
Well, yes and no. Even without Kawhi for the night, Toronto shot the Grizzlies right off the floor in an easy 119-90 win. If nothing else, someone was living on the Raptors. What’s more, the generous reading here suggests Kawhi took the night off to give C.J. Miles and his long-time teammate Danny Green a chance to really stretch their legs on the wing. After all, it was Miles’ 13 points (on, eventually, 4-of-12 shooting) and five steals that helped keep things moving in the first half for Toronto. It was in fact the second straight performance from Miles, which has some thinking the GoDaddy Curse may be broken.
For that we may have to thank Green. As has been pointed out, it was Danny who showed up a couple of days ago wearing C.J.’s PJs, which may or may not have led directly to Miles’ recent turnaround. And as it also happens, it was Green’s supernova performance tonight in the third that broke the game against Memphis wide open. In that particular frame, Toronto outscored Memphis 45-14, including 21 points from Green, who shot 7-of-10 from the field with all seven of his shots coming from beyond the arc. He’d finish with a team-high 24 points, and a career-tying eight 3s. Yes, it may have been cold as hell and snowing outside, but it was hot in the Scotiabank Arena. “That was awesome, it was fun,” said coach Nick Nurse afterwards. “We hadn’t had one like that in a while. It was good to see some of our shooters make some shots tonight.”
Taken all together, you almost have to feel bad for the Grizzlies — or at the very least, Mike Conley. Memphis’ long-time leader only put in 10 points on the night, but did what he could to keep things level for much of he first half. The Raptors were moving the ball well (14 first half assists, 31 for the game) and keeping their turnovers down (five in the first half, 10 overall), but the Grizzlies were staying with them. It was 55-48 at the half, and while it felt like the Raptors did indeed have another gear to get to, the Grizzlies’ were showing some fight.
But “some” was not enough, not when the Raptors started hitting threes at the pace they did tonight. That third quarter featured Toronto shooting 58 percent from the floor, and 62.5 percent from three (10-of-16). Beyond Green’s production, the Raptors got threes from Fred VanVleet (a quiet 4 point-7 assist night), Kyle Lowry (a light work 12-and-7), and Delon Wright (nine points in an extended garbage time run). It was a lot.
Toronto’s upfront play, meanwhile, featured some quality minutes for Serge Ibaka around the basket. The big man had 18 points and five rebounds (with four coming on the offensive end). He shot 9-of-13 from the field, and seemed to be hitting every soft hook shot he took. His front court partner Pascal Siakam also put on something of a show, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds while pulling off spin moves so fast that even PA Announcer Herbie Kuhn came in with the “Spicy P” call.
But it was the fans chanting “Danny” in the third that signalled the end of this one. The Raptors would eventually get every healthy player they have onto the floor — including the three G Leaguers, Malachi Richardson, Jordan Loyd, and Chris Boucher, who played earlier in the day. Patrick McCaw also got almost 18 minutes of burn and scored his first bucket as a Raptor. It was nice stories all around.
Now the obvious question: is good shooting like Green’s display tonight contagious? There’s already some fascinating links at work here, what with the Curse, the PJs, the sudden team-wide surge.
“I do not take any credit for that,” said Green, clearly living it up. “If it just so happens to happen that way then great. I am glad I wore them. I will keep wearing them. But I thought it was a great outfit. They are very comfortable and I always support my teammates.”
Maybe we’re all just getting a little daffy from being indoors all day with this brutal winter weather. Or maybe the Raptors have good shooters, and sometimes they all just light it up. Me personally, I’ll go with that conclusion.