A dull first half turned into an exhilarating second half last night in Toronto, as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby showed the Washington Wizards — and everyone else in the NBA — why Masai Ujiri has been so unwilling to trade them. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but a win is a win and the Raptors are going into the break on a high.
Let’s get to the thoughts:
How do you Have a Slow Start When the Other Team Starts 0-for-6?
I’ve been lamenting the Raptors’ slow starts a lot lately, but this was a new low. The Wizards started the game 0-for-6 with three turnovers before scoring their first field goal, and yet the Raptors somehow managed to only hold a 16-14 lead after seven minutes of action. That prompted a Marc Gasol substitution, along with OG Anunoby, and the Raptors outscored the Wizards 12-6 over the next four minutes before the Wizards went on a 10-0 run.
The start of the third wasn’t much better, with the Wizards using a 21-9 run that bridged the half to open up a 12-point lead.
You know where this is going, right?
Coming back from the All-Star break, I think Marc Gasol needs to start. It sucks for Serge Ibaka, who has done nothing to deserve a demotion and in has in fact done everything asked of him and more... but I think the starting unit needs a little more juice to it. I don’t think it’s good long-term for the starters to constantly be digging a hole that the team then has to dig itself out of. They’re good enough to do it, obviously, but that’s not a good winning strategy for the postseason.
Move That Basketball
For years under Dwane Casey, the Raptors’ mantra was “pound the rock,” and although that mantra referred more to hard work and respecting the day-to-day grind of the NBA, it has ironically at times this season under Nick Nurse seemed like a game plan. The Raptors have a habit of overdribbling or staying stationary, much to their detriment; I pointed this out the other day, that even when they do move the ball, it often comes off of dribble handoffs and straight line drives that defenses don’t need to move as much to respond to.
So it was with great delight that I watched Marc Gasol take a pass on the secondary break at the top of the circle last night, look left, see no one was open, look right, fire a pass to Jeremy Lin who in turn fired it to Pascal Siakam in the corner for three. I loved the speed of those passes! Simple basketball that gets the D moving their feet and playing catch-up and gets an open look.
If that’s what the Raptors’ latest acquisitions bring to the table, I am all for it.
Owning Bradley Beal Is The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift
I like Bradley Beal’s game a heck of a lot. He’s tough and can score from everywhere. And there’s every chance he’s a super-great guy as well. But for whatever reason — likely the playoff sweep, the Raptor-killing performances, the constant mean-mugging and constant complaining, general Wizards distaste — he rubs me the wrong way. I just don’t like the guy.
So I have to admit I took great delight in four particular plays last night in which the Raptors got the better of Beal:
- With 2:40 to go in the third, Pascal Siakam drove the lane against Beal, muscled his way through Beal (probably a foul) to get a shot off at the rim. It missed, but Beal went sprawling and Siakam calmly laid his own rebound back in as Beal watched from the deck.
- With 1:40 to go in the third Beal took the ball strong to the rack, only to find Marc Gasol waiting for him. He barely left his feet but stuffed Beal’s shot back in his face, and Beal ended up on his keister as the Raps went the other way.
- With 4:30 to go into the game, OG Anunoby picked up Beal coming across half court, and as Beal tried to navigate a Bobby Portis screen, Anunoby went over the screen and stuck to Beal, forcing him into a double-dribble before he could dish out to Portis.
- With 3:43 to go in the game, Siakam took Beal into the post, backed him down, and despite Beal practically shoving him off the block, turned, rose and dropped in a soft hook in Beal’s mug.
These four plays brought me more joy than any Hallmark card, I can tell you that much!
The Moves you Don’t Make
The Raptors pulled off a coup last summer when they acquired Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green!) without moving OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam in the deal. If that wasn’t brilliant enough, Masai Ujiri managed to get Marc Gasol without moving them either!
Now, I was one of those who said last week that if there’s a chance to get Anthony Davis, you put them both in the deal. And last night’s game — where OG played his best game of the season and scored a career high 22 points, and Pascal was absolutely dominant in getting a career high 44 points himself — doesn’t totally change my mind. I mean, Davis is Davis.
But at the same, I am also extremely happy that that deal did not get made, and that the Gasol deal happened and we have these two guys locked in for next year and their contracts under team control the year after. As the saying goes, sometimes it’s the deals you don’t make that shape your team for the future.
By the way, how great was this moment:
How Good is This Team? How Good Can They Be?
While looking around at some stats this morning, I wanted to see how the Raptors were stacking up against the competition. I found this kind of shocking: Of the 45 categories on the NBA.com/stats teams page, the Raptors are top five in only three of them. Three! (Fast break points, free throw percentage and overall Plus/Minus.)
Numbers, obviously, aren’t everything, and some of those categories are goofy (points per game by first overall picks, for example). But it does go to show that, for a team with the second-best overall winning percentage in the league, they really haven’t reached their full potential yet.
Can they get there? It’s hard to say, really. They have a lot of work to do in terms of integrating new players and figuring out the best ways to maximize everyone’s strengths, and of course, staying healthy. But there is a ton of room for improvement, and if they can get even 75% of the way there before the postseason starts, I think they’ll be in good shape.
All right, so we made it to the All-Star break with the Raptors in second place despite having a ton of injuries and turning over a large part of the roster, and we acknowledge there’s room for improvement. We also know the Raptors have an easy schedule the rest of the way. All of this puts the Raptors in good position for the thing we all want and expect: A deep postseason run.
Enjoy the All-Star break everyone!