Well, that went exactly as we all thought it was gonna go, didn’t it? The Toronto Raptors came out with little energy or hustle and fell behind in the first quarter; tried hard for a few minutes in the second quarter; and then cruised the rest of the way against the struggling New York Knicks.
I attended last night’s game as a member of the media, and at this point, I’m not sure if HQ manager Daniel Reynolds was doing me a favour by giving me the opportunity... or punishing me, by making me watch the Knicks. Alas, I endured, and now bring you these five in-person thoughts:
The Glass, it’s Been Crashed
While I’m not ready to suggest the Raptors’ rebounding woes are completely behind them, it was fun to see them hit the glass so hard last night. Yes, it’s only the Knicks, but one thing the Knicks do have is size, so it was a positive to see Toronto end up a +7 on the glass. Chris Boucher told us post-game that Nick Nurse had stressed rebounding as a key to last night’s game, and that “everybody came in with a lot of energy, and tried to give as much to defensive rebounding as we could.”
On the other end, the bench unit of Boucher, Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were once again chaos-providers on the offensive boards. On a fun sequence at the end of the first quarter, Boucher hauled in an offensive rebound off an OG Anunoby miss, but missed his tip-in attempt — only for Hollis-Jefferson to secure it, and kick it out to Terence Davis for three. Davis missed his three-point attempt, but followed his own shot, collected the rebound and laid it in.
After the game, Nurse indicated he’d like to see that aggressiveness continue on the offensive glass — he’s a fan of the extra possession. So am I, coach!
OG Showing the All-Around Game
Last night, the bench unit wasn’t the only one hitting the glass; they were also joined by OG Anunoby, who pulled down a career high 12 boards, three of them offensive. Nurse spoke about Anunoby’s rebounding post-game, saying that’s something they’ve been working on this season, especially since their offensive rebounding rate has been particularly low — indicating that thanks to Anunoby’s size and speed, “he can fly in there and use his athleticism to keep some alive.”
Which is exactly what he did on Toronto’s first bucket, crashing the offensive glass and following a Pascal Siakam miss with a putback. He collected another offensive rebound a minute later, then drained a triple — one of three on the night — and spent all night harassing RJ Barrett, former Raptor Killer Wayne Ellington, and even the bigger Marcus Morris. He’s bringing a little bit of everything to the team right now, and it’s great to see.
Terence Davis is Making Noise on Both Ends Too
Pre-game, Coach Nurse mentioned that Terence Davis has provided a spark with his offense, and he did so again last night, with 15 points and five assists. Post-game, Fred VanVleet was asked about Davis, and he noted the rookie is doing better with his decision making; I spotted a third-quarter play where, after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson slipped a screen, Davis found a seam and split the two defenders, soaring in for a finger roll. You might expect a rookie to settle for a jumper or force a pass there, but Davis made the right read.
I was also impressed with Davis’ defense; he was hyper-aggressive guarding RJ Barrett on the perimeter, and helped force the Canadian into a 5-for-17 night with four turnovers. After the game, Barrett mentioned how tough the Raptors are on defense: “first unit, second unit, third unit, they all play the same way. They play tough, they play with grit.” I would indeed say that those words sum up what Davis is bringing to the table.
Marc Gasol Post Passes Are Things of Beauty
Marc Gasol only ended up with three assists last night, but what he did dish out was pretty as a picture.
The first was a simple kick-out off of a post-up, after Frank Ntilikina inexplicably doubled down off of Fred VanVleet.
A classic case of not reading the scouting report, there — Gasol is 2-for-12 inside the three-point line in his last five games, so there’s absolutely no need to double and leave Fred VanVleet open. Yet, that’s exactly what Ntilikina did, and Gasol easily found VanVleet for the open triple.
Gasol’s second assist was a needle-threading, one-handed baseline bullet from the right side of the basket, all the way out to OG Anunoby in the left corner.
Coming out of a pick-and-roll with VanVleet, the weak side was open, and once again, Gasol exploited it.
Finally, again from a post-op on the right block, Gasol found Norman Powell cutting on the baseline from the opposite corner.
Once again, I must ask: what the heck is Ntilikina doing there? Yikes.
I really do think the Raptors could benefit from running more of the offense through Gasol in the post.
Basketball, Community and Art
The Raptors debuted their new City Edition jerseys last night on the first “Welcome Toronto” night of the year, complete with black and gold imagery all around the arena and of course, the special Welcome Toronto court, with the chevrons across it.
Before the game, hostess Kat Stefankiewicz spoke to the crowd about how the City Edition jerseys and Welcome Toronto nights represented “Basketball, Community and Art” in Toronto, and although a cool introductory video followed — with lots of neighbourhood, outdoor courts, community centres, kids of different backgrounds playing ball, and the tagline “All courts lead to home” — there really wasn’t much else on the night that showed off the theme, and it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. Hopefully the team can bring the theme to life further in the five remaining Welcome Toronto nights.
Also — even though I really love the Welcome Toronto court — it doesn’t really make sense this season, does it? The team doesn’t have chevrons on the Welcome Toronto jerseys, or any jerseys, for that matter.
The Raptors are now 13-4, 8-0 at home, and have won five straight. I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t think they’d start off this well, even before the injury bug hit them; and with those injuries? It’s a really damn impressive record. But after a quick trip to Orlando on Friday, a tough test awaits: A four-game stretch against Utah, Houston, Miami and a revenge-seeking Philadelphia squad.