Everyone’s back, and everything’s coming together. In each of their previous preseason games the Raptors sat key players: Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry against the Rockets in Japan and, well, basically everyone against the Bulls in Toronto. That resulted in some guys stepping outside of their roles, as well as some pretty significant lineup experimentation. There were some positive signs, but many of the Raptors’ new additions failed to make an impact, and the back end of the rotation looked up in the air.
Tonight, the Raptors had their top eight guys, including Lowry for the first time this preseason, and for the majority of the game they kept their rotation to those top eight guys. The result was a tightly orchestrated dismantling of the new-look Brooklyn Nets, with those eight pieces coming together seamlessly to produce a 123-107 win.
The Raptors leaned heavily on Pascal Siakam for offense in their Tokyo contests against the Rockets. Siakam had some struggles early on tonight, turning the ball over out of the post, and missing some finishes he normally makes. However, with the return of Lowry and Gasol to the starting five, tonight their offense proved much more egalitarian, especially early on.
Lowry struggled to score, as he occasionally does, ending with just 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Nonetheless, his game management skills were on full-display. The offense simplified dramatically with him in the game, Lowry pushed the ball aggressively, creating semi-transition opportunities where the Nets defense fell to pieces after a single drive, resulting in opportunities for spot-up shooters and cutters.
Lowry only ended with 5 assists to 3 turnovers, but he had hockey assists to spare, and his penetrate and kick game was a big reason the Raptors were able to shoot over 50% from deep on the game.
OG Anunoby proved the biggest beneficiary of this, cutting intelligently and making the Nets pay when they left him open on the perimeter. OG ended with a team high 18 points, including 4-of-8 from the perimeter. The Nets were judicious in helping off of Anunoby, but his stroke looks cleaner and quicker than it was in last year, giving hope that he’ll be able to be a viable floor spacer, as he was in his rookie year, once again.
Fred VanVleet looked elite in the secondary handler role that he’s best suited to, attacking switches and punishing Nets defenders when they went under screens. VanVleet was 4-of-6 on threes for the night, with most of his makes coming off the dribble, and finished with a game-high 8 assists, despite only occasionally operating in an initiator capacity.
With VanVleet and Anunoby thriving, the Raptors starting five were able to play the Nets to a draw in the first despite Lowry’s and Siakam’s scoring woes. However, things got blown open when the Raptors’ top three off the bench checked in. All three guys, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, and the undrafted neophyte Terence Davis, had standout performances. Ibaka paired relentless energy with a smooth outside touch, he beasted the offensive glass and still found time to step outside and bang a couple catch-and-shoot jumpers.
Powell continues to shoot the lights out from the perimeter, but he also pushed the ball well in transition and cut well off of Gasol. Davis slid into his natural role as an off-guard with Lowry’s return. He kept all the confidence he showed in earlier preseason contests, but this time was actually able to translate that confidence into efficiency, canning corner 3s in transition and off of movement, and aggressively driving to the rim against close-outs.
With the bench leading the way the Raptors scored 46 points in the second quarter, and carried a 74-53 lead into the half.
The Raptors offense stalled out intially to begin the third as they focused on getting Siakam going to mixed results. However, the 3-point barrage would resume shortly there after to stabilize things, this time with Gasol leading the way, canning a pair of triples to go along with threes from Lowry, VanVleet and Anunoby. By the time the Raptors began emptying the bench late in the third they were 19-of-34 from deep. That’s a highly unsustainable mark, but there’s no question the shot quality was consistently excellent.
Lowry stayed in the with the deep bench towards the end of the third, ultimately finishing with 26 minutes on the night. He looked in decent shape for someone who apparently took the whole summer off, playing with pace, getting separation on drives, and chasing Joe Harris around screens on defense. He didn’t have the most lift around the rim, but then, when has he ever. Basically, what I’m saying is Lowry looked really good for his first game in months, and hopefully he’ll be back at 100% in few weeks.
The lategoings of the game (read as: garbage time) were highlighted by the confident play of Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher. Boucher remains indignant that fellow bigs won’t get out to guard him on the perimeter, and he trebuchet’d in a couple catch-and-shoots courtesy of Lowry.
Thomas, with his clean, hair-trigger shot can get it up whether he’s being guarded tightly or not. He made a movement three above the break, and hit a couple open corner bombs for good measure as well. Stanley Johnson continues to struggle, and the rest of the Raptors’ deep bench was largely un-impactful, but as a result of Boucher and Thomas’ efforts garbage time was played to a draw as well.
So, a top eight where everyone elevates everyone? Underdog stories from top to bottom? An enormous, Larry O’Brien Trophy shaped chip on the team’s shoulder? Yeah, with the preseason ending on a high note, I am absolutely restless not just to see that banner go up, but to get the NBA season underway.