For the first time in what seems like a long damn time, the Toronto Raptors showed us — and a U.S national TV audience — just how good they are, and how deep they are, by taking down the Philadelphia 76ers in Philly. Joel Embiid was a monster, Serge Ibaka was hamstrung by whistles, and there were cold stretches, but the Raptors never lost their cool and weathered every Sixers counterattack. A few quick thoughts on a signature win:
Superstar Calls? I think Kawhi Earned ‘Em.
Kawhi Leonard scored 26 points last night, but shot only 3-for-11 from the field. He made up the difference by going 16-for-17 from the foul line.
Naturally, this drew the ire of the Philly fans who, despite being on the friendlier end of the whistle all night, clearly thought Kawhi was getting the superstar treatment. To this I say A) did you see the calls Joel Embiid was getting? Take about superstar calls! And B) to me, Leonard earned those calls.
He was constantly fighting through double teams. He wasn’t settling — he was taking it hard to the hoop. He was getting defenders in the air and forcing them to slap down on his fakes.
I know not everyone is gonna get those calls. Furkan Korkmaz is not getting those calls, and neither is Norman Powell. But that’s how you draw them, by staying aggressive, and if you’re Kawhi Leonard or Joel Embiid, you’ll get the whistle.
(Is this entire thought invalidated because of my Raptors bias? You decide!)
Sometimes, You Need a Few Friendly Bounces
Every great team gets little bit of luck from time-to-time (heck, sometimes they get a lot of luck) and there were a few plays last night that went Toronto’s way that caught my eye.
First, in the first quarter Ben Simmons threw what I can only guess was a lob pass from beyond half court to Jimmy Butler. It was, um, off just a bit, careening wildly off the edge of the backboard — right to Kyle Lowry, who, grabbed it and sped past everyone else on the floor the other way for a floater. That pass could have connected, or bounced to Philly, or bounced to Serge Ibaka or Danny Green, who weren’t running the floor with it. The ball finding Lowry was serendipity.
Next, in the second quarter, Fred VanVleet stole another long Simmons pass that was off-target and streaked the other way. Two Sixers beat him back though, and he got in trouble in the lane and nearly threw it away. Delon Wright had to tip toe in the corner and extend every millimetre of his long arms to reel it in, but couldn’t keep his balance. He threw it back toward the hoop... where it found Serge Ibaka for a layup. That pass could have easily gone askew, but Ibaka was in the right place at the right time.
Finally, a literal friendly bounce — late in the second, the Sixers had cut a 21-point lead down to 15, and Pascal Siakam buried a three. After a stop, Leonard found Lowry, who launched a three of his own... that touched pretty much every part of the iron before bouncing through the net.
An occasional touch of divine intervention from the basketball gods is just fine with me.
Delon Wright, Doing Delon Wright Things
Since his DNP-CD against Houston, Delon Wright has been doing great things on the floor — on both ends. Funnily enough, his shooting last night was so awful (1-of-7) that it tanked his overall numbers over the past four games (he was shooting 50% over the past three coming in; now, he’s down to 40%!) but besides shooting his energy and activity level has been super-high and we saw that again last night, as he had two steals, two deflections, five assists and four boards in 18 minutes. He also hit all six free throws he took.
His lone bucket was a great one, too, beating Embiid — and the first quarter clock — on a drive, coming up on the far side of the rim to stave of Embiid and spin it home.
I don’t want to say the DNP-CD sparked something in him — that’s too easy — but I’m glad he’s playing like his old self.
Let’s Give Greg Monroe a Hand (Come on, I mean it)
Greg Monroe has faced the ire of Raptors fans many a time over the past two months as he’s attempted to fill in for the injured Jonas Valanciunas. At times he’s looked competent, at times he’s looked overmatched, at times he’s looked like he’s never met anyone on this team before and they just pulled him out of the stands.
But! What did we really expect? The team signed him as short-term injury or foul trouble insurance, a role in which he’s well-suited. Long-term injury insurance? I think we can all agree we didn’t see Monroe as the team’s primary backup centre, but you make do with what you have. Overall, he’s been... fine. Since December 5 he’s averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 12.4 minutes a night.
Last night, with Ibaka in foul trouble, he gave the team solid minutes, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven boards while doing everything he could to slow down Embiid. He certainly wasn’t successful at that — he was a -14 on the night and Embiid finished with 37 points — but again, he did as good a job as you’d expect your third-string centre making a minimum salary to do against an all-world player like Embiid.
All of this is to say, with Valanciunas’ return imminent, we’ll certainly be seeing less of Monroe, so let’s give him a golf clap for holding it down.
A Prediction for the Next 30-Odd Hours
The trade deadline is tomorrow! It has been a crazy few weeks in the NBA, and there’s a good chance tomorrow — or even later today — or maybe even while I write this — it’s gonna be at it’s craziest level yet. I mean, did you hear what happened after the Raptors game last night!?
So it’s been a whirlwind already... but, that doesn’t mean the actual deadline day will be crazy. It might be! It’s just as possible that the day is a dud and nothing happens. Could go either way.
For the Raptors, I think it’s the same thing. Either we get a universe-shattering Anthony Davis trade, or we get nothing. I’m not sure there are minor moves out there to be made. Sure, I’d like a knock-down three-point gunner off the bench but who’s out there that makes sense from both a contract and a trade value standpoint? I’m not sure that player exists.
Also: I don’t expect the Raptors will be players in the buyout market. We’ve seen cost-savings moves from them over the past two years (cutting Bruno Caboclo, cutting Lorenzo Brown) that tell me they aren’t willing to spend any more money. I would be shocked to see any movement from the team post-deadline.
So the Raptors came out of this tough six-game stretch at 3-3. I suppose it could have been worse, especially given the injuries. Now how about one more piece of good news: The Raptors have easiest schedule remaining in the NBA. The Bucks also have an easy schedule remaining, so catching them might be too much to ask, but it’s not impossible, and the #2 seed is still very much in play (Boston has the seventh-toughest schedule remaining). Toronto’s schedule is spaced out a bit more as well, which should help with health and chemistry.
And now: On to the deadline!