After a string of lacklustre performances, with two key guys still missing and a drama-filled matchup coming Thursday, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Raptors and Jazz play a boring, grind-it-out game on Tuesday — and for the Raptors to let it slip away.
Instead we got an entertaining contest featuring career scoring nights from Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, and better yet, a Raptors win!
Can We get Through One Game Without Injury?
I hate to be the guy that complains about injury, since it’s part of the game and the Raptors have great depth to help offset exactly this issue. But my goodness, is this getting frustrating. Jonas Valanciunas is still weeks away. Yesterday we heard Kyle Lowry is getting injections in his sore back. Then last night Fred VanVleet went down hard (again) and although he played through it, he was later reported to have a “left thigh contusion” (again, he stayed in the game). All you can do is shake your head and say, “give us a break, basketball gods!”
Is this our punishment for dumping our all-time winningest coach? For trading the only guy who ever really wanted to be here?
I don’t know. But it sucks. And I want it to step.
Dear Fred, You Know You Don’t Have to Fall Down, Right?
Speaking of Fred VanVleet, the way he dives towards the rim on so many layups constantly leaves him sprawled on the floor — and occasionally (all too often) wincing in pain. Last night he got whacked in the face on a drive in the third quarter that had me experiencing that familiar sinking feeling (and that was before he was reported to have suffered that aforementioned thigh contusion).
You can understand why he does it. At his size he needs that little extra boost to get to the rim before the long arms of the defense can catch him. But his body isn’t going to be able to take all that punishment — some of those falls are damn hard. (And not only that — they can leave the Raptors at a momentary disadvantage if a team decides to run the other way.
Now, three minutes into last night’s game he made one — with Rudy Gobert looming! — on which he stayed on his feet. So we know he CAN do it. Let’s just see it more often, please, Freddy!
This Team Definitely Needs Jonas Valanciunas
There are, obviously, certain teams against which Valanciunas’ absence is more notable, and the Jazz surely fit the bill. But just beyond the size matchup, Valanciunas has grown into such a good player — who is well aware of what he can and can’t do — that his absence is really felt far more than just in matchups against other 7-footers. He’s by far the team’s best screener, and their best roll man, and he’s perfectly capable of popping out too. His passing and playmaking have improved, as has his overall decision-making. He’s a great complement to everything the Raptors do on offence.
And of course, his presence does help prevent opposing bigs from going off. Last night the Jazz big lineup of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert scored 37 points (on 14-for-19 shooting) and hauled in 18 boards. I feel like JV could have helped hold those numbers in check just a little bit.
So, again, I must ask... can we please get healthy? Soon?
You Know Who Does Look healthy: NORM
I am so happy for Norman Powell, and so pleased to see him contributing to this team again. It’s been a long road back, but Powell finally looks like the Powell we expected to see last season. Sure, it sucks to have essentially lost a full year of his development — especially at his age — but Powell works hard and goes about his business the right way so he’s easy to root for.
He started off another fine night with a great drive on Mitchell out of a busted play in the first quarter, and followed it up with a triple on the next play. In the second he beat Mitchell again and lofted a nice floater off the glass over Favors; two plays later he deflected a Mitchell drive, saved the loose ball and got it to Pascal Siakam (who then ran a, er, less than graceful give-and-go break with Greg Monroe, but was able to finish). He also had what sounded like a nice block in the third... but the broadcast missed it. [eyeroll]
Leo Rautins mentioned it on the broadcast — Powell’s confidence just seems sky-high right now. But more importantly, he’s not letting overconfidence force him into bad shots. He’s playing well within his means.
He finished with 14 on 11 shots. It’s not all sunshine and roses, as they say — his three-point shooting overall has been streaky since his return from the shoulder injury — so he’s still got work to do. But seeing Norm trending in the right direction just leaves me feeling insanely happy.
Also looking OK: Kawhi Leonard
I think “OK” might be just a little bit of an understatement.
We’ve heard of revenge games — I wrote about them back in the summer, and we’ll be seeing some kind of revenge game or two tomorrow night — but how about a revenge quarter?
Because Kawhi Leonard meted out some vengeance on official Tony Brothers in the third last night.
Leonard spent the second quarter using his strength to get into the paint and found himself bodied up constantly by the Jazz, with very few calls going his way. The Jazz enjoyed a 19-5 free-throw advantage at the half, despite Nick Nurse worked the refs all quarter; you probably had a sense it was going to shift in the third.
Leonard proceeded to force the issue.
He attacked — constantly throughout the third, putting the pressure on Brothers and the rest of the crew to blow the whistle. My favourite had to be the fast-break drive where Brothers clearly didn’t want to blow the whistle, but saw that the Kawhi killer stare down was coming and wanted no part of it — and called a very late foul.
Leonard finished with eight free throws in the frame, and the Raptors were on the better end of a 12-4 FT advantage. Oh, and check out Leonard’s shot chart from the frame:
OK, so that one’s out of the way. You know what that means: It’s (almost) time for the Showdown in San Antonio. I’m on the ground here in SA so Friday morning’s Five Thoughts will be coming to you direct from the arena! It should be quite the experience.