If there is a mantra for this Toronto Raptors team through 18 games, it must be “find a way to win.” For most of last night’s game, almost nothing was working for Toronto; open three-pointers weren’t falling, Pascal Siakam was way off his game, the bench energy waned, and even free throws were a challenge. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic were protecting the paint like maniacs.
But with another gritty defensive effort (expected) and a third-quarter spark from Norman Powell (completely out of the blue) Toronto found a way to dispatch the Orlando Magic, 90-83.
Let’s quickly run through the thoughts, then forget this game ever happened:
Terence Davis can Jump, Man
It was fitting that Terence Davis II wore Air Jordan 1s to the game last night, because he showed he can fly like Mike. In the first quarter, he turned on the jets and soared to the hoop past Jonathan Isaac for a layup, and snatched a defensive rebound away by outjumping Mo Bamba two plays later. In the fourth, he took an alley-pop from Norman Powell and got way up to throw it down.
I know that most NBA teams look for more than just pure athleticism in the draft these days, but even if you throw out all the skill Davis his shown, it’s amazing no one was willing to take a chance on a guy that’s built like Davis, has huge hands and shoulders, and who can jump out of the gym. Add in his offensive skill and defensive motor, and it’s unfathomable.
Time for a Bench Energy Recharge?
Even with Davis showing the hops, the bench had its worst game in a while last night. With Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher on the floor bridging the second and third quarters, the Raptors were outscored 12-2 and found themselves down by seven. And when foul trouble forced Nick Nurse go deeper into his bench, Malcolm Miller was given a shot... and the Raptors were suddenly down 11.
The Raptors cut the Magic lead back to seven by halftime, but coach Nurse decided to stick with his starters longer in the third. He didn’t make his first substitution until there was 1:18 left in the frame; sparked by Powell’s 19(!) points, Toronto’s starters outscored the Magic 24-10 in that 10:42 stretch.
I suppose it was inevitable that the bench would come back down to earth a bit. As usual, Nick Nurse deserves the credit here for seeing something working — Powell scoring everything, basically — and letting the team ride it.
Pascal’s Rough Night
While I think I speak for every Raptors fan when I say “thank goodness we’re done with the Magic for 4.5 months”, I bet no one is happier to hear that than Pascal Siakam.
Pascal Siakam, regular season vs ORL over the last 2 years: 7 games, 12.4 points, 35% FG.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 30, 2019
Pascal Siakam, playoffs vs ORL: 5 games, 22.6 points, 53% FG.
As usual, Siakam had great difficulty creating anything around the length of Jonathan Isaac. It was rather disappointing though, to see Siakam settle for long jumpers and fadeaways even when Isaac wasn’t guarding him.
Pascal, why on Earth would you settle for the step back with Gordon on you?— Daniel Hackett (@dhackett1565) November 30, 2019
Overall his decision-making just seemed off last night. He was tentative with the ball, and even his timing on his shots and spins seemed off.
I'm way more frustrated with what Pascal is doing tonight than I have been in most games when he's shot poorly.— Anthony Doyle (@Anthonysmdoyle) November 30, 2019
Perhaps Pascal was still recovering from the Thanksgiving dinner Kyle Lowry apparently arranged for the team Thursday night?
I’ve written about how much I enjoy the Raptors “dig in” on opposing players on the perimeter, just getting their hands in and disrupting things for opposing wings, and it was on display again last night, especially in the second half. Markelle Fultz, D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross and even Aaron Gordon were constantly pestered by the hands of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and Terence Davis. Fred VanVleet in particular got his hands dirty, picking up seven steals on the night.
Leo Ruatins talked about this on the broadcast, and I agree wholeheartedly: The Raptors just make other teams uncomfortable out there. Beyond taking away your superstar, which the Raptors have done extremely well, they’re making it incredibly tough for other teams to even get into their offensive sets, and set up the things they want to do. I’ll admit I’m surprised at this; while I expected the Raptors would be solid defensively, I thought their lack of size on the perimeter might be a problem. But Toronto’s making up for height with quick hands and feet.
Time to Give the “Disrespect” Angle a Rest
Normally, I enjoy the Raptors broadcast. They may not give us much in the way of Xs and Os, but they seem personable and folksy and they’re generally fine to listen to.
But I am getting tired of hearing about them talking about the “disrespect” the Raptors and their players and coaches get, whether it be from the media, other teams or officials.
Last night, Leo made that great point about how uncomfortable the Raptors make things for opposing offenses... and then proceeded to talk about how Nick Nurse isn’t getting the respect or recognition he deserves for the job he’s doing. And he went on about it for about two minutes.
That’s not even true (The Jump spoke about Nurse and the Raptors defense at length following the Philly win) but even if no one was talking about it, who cares at this point? We won the title! Why does it matter if The Jump or Get Up or First Take pays any attention to the Raptors? This “the officials/NBA/media/TV partners are against the Raptors” thing should be dead, now. It’s over! We WON THE TITLE. No one is trying to hold the Raptors back or keep them out of the spotlight, there’s no conspiracy at play.
Now: do these media partners talk about, and show the games of, the big market teams and players more? Yep. But that’s the business! That’s where the clicks and viewers are coming from, and the ad revenue that follows. It has nothing to do with disrespect.
And you know who is talking about, and respecting the hell out of, Toronto’s D? Other teams and coaches, when they have to play the Raptors.
Maybe if the broadcast crew was willing to deliver more Xs and Os talk, they wouldn’t have to fill airtime with played-out disrespect narratives?
All right, that’s my rant for the week. Now, let’s forget about the Magic, and move on to some real competition!