The Hornets, coming off of two big wins, came in to last night’s game with the reputation of a team that tries hard and never quits. The Raptors also developed the same sort of reputation on the West coast, and it looked like Charlotte’s level of try-hard-ness was better than Toronto’s in the first half last night.
Then Toronto decided to actually play hard in the second half, and the game became a laugher.
It’s Raining Threes
I think we can finally put all the preseason concerns about Toronto’s shooting to bed.
Yes, they lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. No, OG Anunoby and Terence Davis II aren’t going to shoot a combined 8-for-12 from downtown every night, and the Raptors probably won’t continue to lead the league in three-point percentage for the whole season.
But Davis and Anunoby are both good enough shooters that they’re going to knock down the open looks the other players on the floor get them. And when you add in Matt Thomas (56.5%), Fred VanVleet (39.5%), Kyle Lowry (42.6%) and Marc Gasol (41%) to the mix — not to mention Pascal Siakam who, while only shooting 36% currently, has shown that “just leave him at the three-point line” isn’t a sound defensive strategy against him — it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Toronto can shoot the long ball.
Freddy Goes Left
Twice last week I made notes about this, but then other, more important things happened and those notes never turned into thoughts. With last night’s blowout, I figure I can focus on the little things!
Against the Clippers and Blazers, Fred VanVleet found himself with a lane, having beaten his man (or a switched defender). But both times VanVleet was on the left side of the hoop, and both times tried to finish with his right hand — allowing the defender to block his shot from behind. If he’d finished with his left, his body would have protected his attempt and prevented the block (or drawn a foul).
Which is exactly what he did with six minutes to go in the first half last night. After going the other way after a screen from Marc Gasol, VanVleet had a lane to the hoop with Terry Rozier behind him and Marvin Williams coming over to help. Fred went up and finished with the left, using his body to keep Williams from reaching the shot.
It’s not like I actually doubted Fred could finish with his left hand. But habits can be hard to break, so I’m glad to see he’s got this in the repertoire.
House of Highlights
It’s hard to pick out just one play to highlight from that second half. And then I was gonna write about this play, but our guy Mike Prada did it for me:
You won't find many better sequences of basketball this season.— Mike Prada. I have spoken (@MikePradaSBN) November 19, 2019
-Marc's board and immediate outlet
-Fred's pitch ahead
-And I don't know how Pascal saw Norm
This is :chefkiss: defined pic.twitter.com/Kzqmdtw3iW
So, since I kinda slandered Norman Powell the other day, let’s look at two other plays he was involved in. First, here’s Norm throwing a soft-touch alley-oop to Pascal, who threw it down with some authority:
And then there was this beauty:
The dime— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 19, 2019
The scoop! George Gervin-esque! (Google it, kids.) But how about that pass from Freddy?
All Rondae, All Day
The home crowd got its first real taste of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson last night, and I think it’s safe to say he’ll be a crowd favourite. He does all those things Toronto crowds love: constant hustle, chasing loose balls, sneaking in for offensive rebounds and so on. This was especially evident in the first half last night; when the rest of the team seemed fairly lethargic, Hollis-Jefferson was everywhere. He finished the half with 15 points (on seven shots) and four boards (three of them offensive).
One of the things he did last night is one of my favourite things to see in an NBA game (and one of the reasons why watching Pascal Siakam is so much fun): when NBA players, especially non-point guards, grab a defensive rebound, and turn and take the ball the other way. RHJ did it last night, and he showed some speed, too! Unfortunately he got a little out of control at the other end, and got bailed out with a foul call. But again — you have to love the hustle.
Dig, Dig, Dig
One of the things I really enjoy about this Raptors team is how often they simply get their hands on the ball on the defensive end. I don’t know if this is part of Nick Nurse’s scheme, or something the team picked up from Kawhi Leonard (who of course is the master of this), but when they trap, they dig, and dig, until the ball is knocked loose:
OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the leaders in this, but Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis have proven adept at it.
The Raptors are now 5-0 at home, and 10 of their next 14 games are at Scotiabank Arena. If Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka can get back on the court soon, the Raptors could be poised to make a big run before Christmas.