You certainly couldn’t have asked for a better response to Thursday’s blowout loss in San Antonio than what we saw from the Toronto Raptors over the weekend. First without Kyle Lowry, they held off the Bucks on the road on Saturday, and then with Lowry back but Kawhi Leonard resting, they dispatched the Pacers on Sunday at home.
The Return of the King
If you’ll excuse the all-too-easy subheader, Kyle Lowry was everywhere in the first quarter. He hit his first shot — a three-pointer — drew a charge, dove out of bounds, hit an and-1... and that was all in the first four minutes!
In the second quarter, you really saw the value Lowry brings when he played with the bench unit. They looked better than they have in weeks, with everyone contributing and getting good shots. Greg Monroe, who Saturday night looked like he just started playing the game of basketball two weeks ago, had seven points and three boards in the half; Norman Powell, who didn’t get on the board Saturday night, was 4-for-5 in the half.
In the third, it was more of the same from Lowry — two push-ahead passes to Siakam for easy buckets, a steal and dime to Serge for three, and nailed a triple of his own. Again, all in the first few minutes. He finished with 12 points and eight assists.
In case anyone was wondering how important Kyle Lowry is to this team, well, last night provided an answer in huge, flashing neon letters.
Serge Cooking With Fire
Serge Ibaka lit the Bucks up on Saturday, and he continued the hot shooting last night, hitting Toronto’s first two shots and four straight before getting into a spot of foul trouble. But he came back with two threes in the first six minutes of the third to continue the hot streak, and finished with 18 on nine shots.
Oh, and remember the sensational block he had on Giannis Antetokounmpo Saturday night? His rejection of Domantas Sabonis in the third last night wasn’t quite as impressive, but still pretty damn sweet.
A man like BAKA— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 7, 2019
Vote Serge ⭐️ - https://t.co/mk6uvGgllv pic.twitter.com/wqjQx3OFjr
Ibaka looked downright awful in his first couple of games back after taking a handful off to rest a sore knee, so it’s great to see him finding the groove again — especially on the second night of a back-to-back. If you’re the Raptors you definitely have to be concerned about his minutes and wear-and-tear, especially with Jonas Valanciunas still out; last year Ibaka was nigh unplayable in B2B games. So hopefully the team can find him some rest, and/or hope that Valanciunas comes back quickly. But either way — as long as his games lean closer to the last two than the previous two before that, it looks like Serge will be just fine.
The Threes, They are a’Dropping
After the Spurs game I openly wondered when that “the shots will fall eventually!” line of thinking would expire, and we’d have to consider that the just Raptors weren’t a good shooting team.
Shows what I know.
The Raptors knocked down 17 three-pointers last night, on 33 attempts, after hitting 14-of-37 against Milwaukee.
But let’s be clear, it’s not just that “shots went in” or “the shots were open” — it’s the way the shots were created. 19 assists on 40 made field goals against Milwaukee; 30 assists on 44 made field goals against Indiana The ball, finally, is moving.
Let’s hope it stays that way. Having a healthy Kyle Lowry back can only help.
It’s time to Get Delon Wright on Track
The bench was sensational last night, in perhaps their best game of the year; it seems that, slowly, things are turning around for Toronto’s second unit guys. Fred VanVleet had an up-and-down start to the season, but he seems to be on the right track now. Norman Powell seems to have shaken off the GoDaddy Curse and is back to his old self. But we still need to get OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, and C.J. Miles back in the groove.
I vote for Delon to be next in line. (I think the GoDaddy Curse has rendered C.J. hopeless, and OG is young enough that we can give him more time.)
Wright was one of eight Raptors in double-figures last night, which is a hugely positive sign; it’s only the fourth time in the past 21 games he’s hit 10 or more. But perhaps more important was his activity level overall last night, with six assists and two steals, both tying season-highs. Wright is at his best when he’s jumping into passing lanes and slipping past defenders with his herky-jerky moves to make things happen. He’s also 6-for-15 on three-pointers over the last six games, which isn’t stellar, but is much better than the extended 3-for-23 streak he was on before that.
With Lowry back in the fold, and Leonard presumably healthy, hopefully VanVleet and Wright can settle into their proper roles over the next few games.
The Defense Appears Back on Track Too
After an average December and a drubbing in San Antonio, Toronto’s D this past weekend was a revelation. Sure, Giannis went off on Saturday, but I still maintain it’s even more important to hold Milwaukee’s shooters down.
Last night, the Raptors managed to do both, holding Victor Oladipo to 6-of-15 shooting and 16 points, and Indiana overall to just 4-of-17 from downtown. Indiana isn’t a high-volume, “Moreyball” three-point shooting team; they tend to work the ball inside a little more. Not having Myles Turner certainly hurt them, but I really enjoyed the way Toronto protected the paint last night, making it difficult for Indiana to get clean looks at the rim — and closing out effectively when the Pacers did launch threes. The second half proved particularly tough for Indiana, as the Raptors held the Pacers to 42 points on 19-of-51 shooting.
The steals, blocks and turnovers numbers weren’t anything out of the ordinary; it was just good, solid team defense. And without Kawhi Leonard! Let’s hope that continues as well.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty jacked up about these two wins. I was feeling pretty down in the dumps after the loss in San Antonio, but beating two conference rivals has put me in a much better mood! The Raps now have two very winnable home games coming up (against Atlanta and Brooklyn) so let’s hope they take advantage and get into a nice groove for the second half of the season.