Thank goodness for Norman Powell, who has un-cursed me. For those unaware, the Raptors (that’s the NBA Champion Raptors, who are now 14-and-4 to start the year) had, until tonight, not won a single game with me on the recap since last year’s playoffs began. Of course, tonight’s game against the Orlando Magic was plenty cursed in it’s own way, offering up some of the least aesthetically pleasing basketball I’ve seen in a Raptors’ game in a long time. The Magic were missing Nikola Vucevic, their offensive fulcrum, and punted the ball all over the court. Meanwhile, most of the Raptors were cold enough from the field that they would have let the Magic get away with it, but, on the back of a career night from Powell, they snuck away with a 90-83 victory.
Things started poorly for the Raptors, with the offense stalling out for the first three minutes. Those minutes featured many bricked catch-and-shoot threes before Powell finally broke the ice by making a floater off of a Pascal Siakam drive and dish. The starters continued to struggle even after Powell’s make however, they would end the first quarter 1-of-10 from deep, with their only three-point make coming when Pascal Siakam caught a Fred VanVleet layup that was volleyball spiked by Khem Birch out past the arc. Speaking of VanVleet, he was near the center of the Raptors’ early struggles, finishing the first quarter 1-of-7 from the field, struggling inside and out.
Towards the end of the frame though, the Raptors got a small boost from their bench, which allowed them to undo their early deficit.
Terence Davis turned on the jets to take it coast-to-coast for a lay-in, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson crashed the offensive glass hard, and made a spectacular no-look pass to Siakam for the easy basket.
However, the bench’s surge would be undermined by a last second foul call on Davis to end the frame, which sent Evan Fournier to the line for three shots. Fournier sunk each free throw, giving the Magic a 23-20 lead as the first came to an end.
The second quarter saw the Raptors once again in a rut. They once again wouldn’t scratch in the quarter until nearly 3 minutes had passed, with the offense producing shot clock violations and missed jumpers until Chris Boucher attacked a closeout for a pair of free throws that he split at the line. Speaking of free throws, the Raptors, who have been an excellent free throw shooting team on the year, went just 5-of-13 at the line in the first half, with their inexplicable foul shooting troubles costing them a potential halftime lead.
The Raptors’ offense continued to stall until VanVleet re-entered, at which point it went from totally stuck in the mud to merely inconsistent and frustrating. VanVleet forced turnovers on the defensive end and sunk opportunistic threes, ending the half with 14 points despite his rough first quarter. However, he was also often too aggressive in transition and was blocked multiple times at the rim trying to take it all the way himself.
Meanwhile, every Raptor except VanVleet remained cold from the perimeter and the line, with Siakam, Marc Gasol and Malcolm Miller, who received some rare run in an effort to give a spark the struggling group, all bricking multiple three-point shots towards the end of the first half. In the half’s dying seconds Miller responded to his perimeter struggles by attacking the basket for a trip to the line, but he somehow missed both. However, OG Anunoby pulled down an offensive board off his second miss, and dished to VanVleet for a 3 that would be the quarter’s last basket. Following that make the score entering the break was 47-40 in favour of the Magic. Despite all the Raptors’ struggles, their ability to force turnovers and their aggression crashing the offensive glass kept them in striking distance.
Those first half struggles would have persisted in the third were it not for Norman Powell. Powell would score the Raptors first 10 points of the quarter, wracking up a triplicate of triples, sinking a technical free throw, and then setting up Marc Gasol on the roll for a pair of free throws that would represent the Raptors’ 11th and 12th points of the frame. He’d then pick off a Jonathan Isaac pass, and take it all the way by himself in transition for an and-one which would give the Raptors the lead.
The half-court offense remained stalled, with VanVleet and Siakam looking inept in the pick and roll and isolation, but Powell’s prowess in transition and the Raptors’ ability to force turnovers against Orlando’s short-staffed offense opened the door back up. Ultimately Powell would outscore the Magic by himself in the third, scoring 19 points to the Magic’s 12, and despite the struggles of literally every other Raptor, the score was 66-59 in favour of the dinos at the end of the third.
The Raptors opened the 4th quarter playing a small-ball lineup with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at center which quickly kicked away the lead they’d seized in the 3rd. Hollis-Jefferson committed a trio of turnovers as a roll man, while Mo Bamba feasted on the inside, cutting the Raptors’ lead quickly to one. The re-entry of Chris Boucher then happened to coincide with a Raptors’ resurgence, as Powell scored once again in transition, while RHJ and Boucher got going on the interior. Powell then recorded his first assist of the night, finding Terence Davis on a transition lob play, before he drained a three pointer to set a new career-high in points at 31 (he’d ultimately add a pair of free throws to push that career high to 33).
If it feels like I’m basically only talking about Norm, that’s because among the rest of the team there were very few performances worth mentioning (in a positive light). The Raptors’ bench, which has been extremely productive over the past few weeks produced no double-digit scorers. Pascal Siakam pitched in in ways outside of scoring, giving the Raptors 13 rebounds and 5 assists, but he shot a dreadful 4-of-22 from the field for just 10 points. Fred VanVleet also struggled from the field going 7-of-20 for 22 points, but he picked up 7 steals, in part due to some opportunistic defense and in part due to the offensive ineptitude of the Magic. When the buzzer sounded with the score at 90-83 in favour of the Raptors, it felt like every Raptor except Powell was good and ready to forget tonight’s game.
The positive takeaways here are that this game counts in the win column, and that Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are one game closer to being back. The defense was good, but much of that felt like the short-handed Magic shooting themselves in the foot. Still, given my recap history, I’m happy to just take the win, burn the tapes and move on to the Jazz on Sunday.