It was a rare “basketball night in Canada” as the Toronto Raptors hosted the Memphis Grizzlies last night (obligatory Naismith Cup reference goes here), and if any hockey fans tuned into the third quarter, they got their eyeballs singed by Danny Green who was on fire from downtown.
And then... those hockey fans got treated to an entire fourth quarter of garbage time. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all!
On to the the thoughts:
Hooray for Blowouts
For a team with the best record in the league, it sure seems like we Raptors fans haven’t been treated to very many blowout wins this season. Heading into last night, the Raptors had only four wins of 20 or more points, and with a point differential of +5.6 the Raptors are playing in close games more often than not.
By comparison, the Celtics and Bucks each have nine wins of 20 or more points this season; last season, the Raptors won 12 games by 20 or more.
Part of this can certainly can be chalked up to chemistry (although the Celtics and Bucks have also been integrating new pieces), part of it can be attributed to health (by my count, the Raptors have still only had one game with their full roster healthy), and part of it can be attributed to schedule (the Raptors have had the 10th-toughest schedule to date... and have the easiest schedule remaining).
Blowout wins don’t necessarily equate to greatness, but they are useful in getting your end of bench guys some run and most importantly, get your starters some extra rest. Of course, close games are also useful in getting more crunch time reps, which are just slightly more important for a contending team!
Selfishly, the occasional blowout also feels like a bit of a break for your weary bloggers as well, ‘cause those close ones? Man, they do not do the heart very much good. So I appreciate the Raps winning one for the bloggers last night.
Offensive Rebounds Going Our Way? Yes Please
I’ve lamented time and again how back-breaking it is when the Raptors give up offensive rebounds after good defensive possessions. But sometimes they go the other way too!
Last night, with about 9:30 to go in the third, the Grizzlies — trying desperately to stay in the game, trailing 62-48 — locked in, and forced Serge Ibaka into a long, awkward three. He missed everything, but Pascal Siakam snagged it and got it to Kyle Lowry... who also missed from long range.
But Fred VanVleet was there for the long board, and he quickly skipped it to Danny Green in the corner; you already know it was money.
That capped a 10-0 run and the Grizzlies were done for. It was also Green’s first three-pointer of the quarter, and you know what happened next.
Can DG’s Third Quarter Reverse the Three-Point Shooting Struggles?
Another reason the Raptors aren’t blowing teams out might very well be their three-point shooting. Heading in to last night’s game, the Raptors were 24th in three-point shooting percentage and 14th in three-pointers made per game. Last season they were 18th and 4th, respectively.
What’s most concerning about this is that the Raptors, on paper, should have greatly improved their three-point shooting over the summer, shipping out two non-three-point shooters (DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl) for two historically good ones (Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green). Instead it’s gone the other way! While Leonard and Green have shot the three-ball well (36.8% and 40.8% respectively), the rest of the team has dropped off. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby are all shooting worse from downtown than last year.
How do the Raptors reverse the trend? Apparently, just get it to Danny:
That’s seven for Green in the quarter, eight for the game, four shy of Donyell Marshall’s franchise-high.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) January 20, 2019
That’s a team-record seven threes in the quarter, by the way.
The Raptors outside of Green shot 9-for-24 from downtown in the game, which is not bad; let’s hope that Green’s en fuego shooting turns out to be contagious and we see the Raptors move up the three-point rankings.
Imagine if Norman Powell and C.J. Miles Were Both Back?
Norman Powell has had a solid season so far, which, if you saw him fall off the cliff last year, makes it feel like he’s actually having an All-Star season. C.J. Miles, of course, has gone the other way; if Norm fell off a cliff last year, this year C.J. fell off a cliff, landed in a river, got washed downstream, went over a waterfall, climbed out and fell off another cliff.
But Miles has looked better the last two games, and last night against Memphis marked the first time all season both Powell and Miles scored in doube-digits in the same game.
I’m not ready to declare Miles back yet — as Powell can attest, the GoDaddy Curse is a hard one to shake — but we’ve been given a glimpse here of that extra level of depth the Raptors have on paper, that we haven’t seen in reality yet. If both those guys are playing well — being aggressive but under control, getting open and knocking down shots without hesitation, playing good team D — there probably aren’t two better 10th (or 11th) men in the league.
If the Raptors get Good Norm and Good C.J. back: pic.twitter.com/QNiTaI8xot— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) January 20, 2019
Let’s Talk Load Management...
Last night was the first time this season Kawhi Leonard has taken a non-back-to-back game off for “load management” reasons.
It’s also the first time Kawhi Leonard sitting out has bothered me.
I’m fine with Leonard sitting out back-to-backs, and obviously the games he missed with the jammed ankle. This season is all about getting ready for the post-season, and as the saying goes, there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.
But now Leonard is missing a non-back-to-back game on a Saturday... when the team’s next game isn’t until Tuesday? That makes me a touch bit more concerned that Leonard could miss playoff games.
I also found it... amusing? How quickly the Raptors got the word out that the decision was that of the medical staff, to take any heat off of Leonard for missing the game. (Though I do respect their effort in protecting their guy from any slander!)
I’m sure I’m overreacting and it’s not a big deal. I don’t really foresee Leonard taking games off in the postseason. But it does put that little nagging concern in the back of my brain.
The Raptors gave us a nice easy one on a Saturday night, and don’t play again until Tuesday. Now we can settle in and huddle up for warmth on this Sunday afternoon. Stay warm folks!