That was a fun one, wasn’t it? Joe Harris shot the lights out early, Kyle Lowry did Kyle Lowry things, D’Angelo Russell took over for a stretch, Marc Gasol took over for a stretch, and both teams hit big shots in the clutch... the Raptors just hit a couple more. Who knew the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets would be one of the season’s most fun rivalries? And we get to do it once more on April 3!
For now, a few thoughts on Toronto’s win:
A Tale of Contrasting Styles
The Raptors one again came out completely flat against an inferior opponent, marking three straight games they’ve spotted the opposing team an early lead (and an early boost of confidence).
What I found interesting about this start was that, looking at the two teams, you saw a real contrast between them on offense.
The Nets zing the ball all over the floor. They pass, pass, probe, pass some more until they get an open look. They shoot a ton of threes, and they were hitting them against Toronto, because they were keeping the ball moving na getting open.
You just don’t see the same movement from the Raptors. It’s a lot more dribbling, and even when the ball moves from player to player, it’s often the result of a dribble hand-offs.
But look no further than the second-last play to see what a difference a couple of perimeter swings can make. The Raptors passed it back and forth from one side to the next, keeping the defense moving their feet, and eventually Danny Green got enough space to shoot. Bingo.
The Tireless Work of Pascal Siakam
Siakam had his second off game in a row after his stellar performance in Atlanta. He’s just 9-for-26 in the last two, and 0-for-4 from three-point range. His touch just is just a tiny bit off at the rim — he’s just not laying it off the glass as well as he usually does.
One might suggest that NBA defenses are catching up to him, but his opponents were the Knicks and Nets, not exactly defensive powerhouses. So I’ll just chalk it up to off nights from Siakam, and suggest he’s probably looking forward to the break.
In any event — what I liked from him the past two, and frankly all season, is that even when he’s not hitting his usual array of spins and bankers, he’s still going strong to the hoop, still playing his game. It’s another notch in his evolution; younger Pascal would have put his head down a bit and deferred to others, this Pascal just keeps the motor going.
So How About that Marc Gasol?
That fourth quarter sequence was, in a word, awesome. I’ll just let Twitter take it away here:
Gasol owns the city for a minute.— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) February 12, 2019
Hook, spin move, wonderful assist for a McCaw dunk and a 3-pt FG
Sky hook, up and under layup, ridiculous pass, 3-pointer. Marc Gasol’s last 2 minutes. He’s a Toronto Raptor, by the way.— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) February 12, 2019
Marc Gasol taking over: Makes a hook look easy; dunks; sweet pass to Patrick McCaw for a dunk; nails a three. All of a sudden Raptors up 101-94 on Nets.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 12, 2019
A sky hook, a beauty of a dime, solid screens, and a triple - full Gasol experience here. Aside from the odd look of confusion, some nice defensive stands as well— Joseph Casciaro (@JosephCasciaro) February 12, 2019
Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, soon to be Jeremy Lin. Who ever would have guessed?
Did the Raptors Find a Gem in Patrick McCaw?
Patrick McCaw saw first extended minutes last night, essentially playing point in the absence of Fred VanVleet, and he acquitted himself well. He was aggressive, flashed great end-to-end speed, and bodied up well on defense. McCaw flashed his limitations as well — there were a couple of occasions on both ends of the floor where he just kinda lingered in no-man’s land — but he finished with season-highs in minutes, field goal attempts, and points, though he did manage only one assist in his PG role.
The sequence of events that led to the McCaw signing remain beyond weird, but it looks like the Raptors got a good one here. If we assume the Raptors’ top nine going into the postseason are Lowry, Leonard, Green, Siakam, Gasol, Ibaka, VanVleet, Powell and Lin, he and OG Anunoby are on the outside looking in. McCaw probably won’t supplant OG Anunoby in the rotation, although Anunoby certainly hasn’t done much to earn his spot lately, but either way, as an 11th man and short-term injury replacement McCaw seems to be a great fit. The fact that he’s got playoff experience doesn’t hurt either
Should the Raptors be Worried About the Nets?
That’s two down-to-the-wire finishes against Brooklyn, with each team winning once (and the Raptors winning a second one a little more easily in between). The Nets are currently in sixth place, just ahead of the Charlotte Hornets; Toronto is in second place, meaning a first-round matchup is a possibility.
I have to be honest, despite how hard they’ve played the Raptors, I’m not worried about the Nets in the postseason. First, for all their talk of being “good,” they’re still just 29-29 in a weak conference. Second, all those three-pointers they like to shoot don’t generally translate to victories the postseason, and third, their try-hard-ness doesn’t matter because every team plays harder in the post-season. Fourth, as awesome as D’Angelo Russell has been, he remains their only real scorer-creator, and teams will be able to take that away in a seven-game series. And finally, the team has virtually no playoff experience and that definitely matters.
The Nets are a nice story, they’ve got some excellent pieces and they’re moving in the right direction. But I don’t think the Raptors or any of the top teams in the East need to worry about them come April.
As nice as this five-game win streak has been, the Raptors still have a lot to work on. Integrating Gasol and soon Jeremy Lin are big areas of focus of course, and Kawhi Leonard still doesn’t seem like he’s part of the offense either. Defending the three-point line is an area of concern too, not to mention containing aggressive scoring guards. Let’s see if Wednesday’s matchup against Bradley Beal and the Wizards tilts any of these areas in the right direction.