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Five thoughts on yesterday afternoon: Raptors 125, Heat 104

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Who needs Kawhi? The Raptors caught fire from downtown and routed the Heat on another Load Management Sunday. 

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 125, Miami Heat 104, Pascal Siakam Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors haven’t exactly been sharp on Sunday afternoons recently, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them come out fired up, put the pedal down early and play one of their most complete games yesterday — the afternoon after an off-day in Miami, no less! Guess the sunshine agrees with them.

What did we think of the results? Let’s get right into it:

Was Starting Pat McCaw the Right Decision?

When the news came down on Twitter that Patrick McCaw would be starting in place of Kawhi Leonard, I definitely made the Nick Young Face.

McCaw? Instead of OG Anunoby? Or even Norman Powell or Jeremy Lin? Where was the logic in this one? I know the old “don’t wanna mess up the bench rotation” thinking, a favourite of Dwane Casey’s, but, uh, what bench rotation? If your whole thing is “being flexible” and keeping things fluid depending on matchups... and you’re still missing a key rotation piece in Fred VanVleet... why do you feel the need to ensure it stays together?

Or, maybe that wasn’t the thinking at all, and it was more a matter of thinking that Powell, Lin and OG haven’t played well with the starters (I’d disagree on OG) and that it was McCaw’s turn.

Now, I’m on record as saying I’m not a fan of this mad scientist approach at this stage of the season — I think it’s time to make decisions and find a solid rotation — but, sometimes, it’s hard to argue with results. And in this case...

Uh, yeah, Seems Pretty Smart!

McCaw was perfect in Leonard’s spot. He made his open shots, he got into passing lanes, he made smart decisions (like when Danny Green collected a tipped rebound, dished it to McCaw, and McCaw dished it right back to Green — who was on fire early — for another triple) and the starters jumped out to an early lead and the Heat never led after the first minute. It was the team’s best start in a while, with everything going right — the transition game, moving the ball and generating (and hitting) open three-pointers, players helping and recovering on D... it was great! How much you can realistically attribute to McCaw, who knows, but he did his part.

The bench group didn’t seem to miss him, either. Nurse made the decision to run a Kyle Lowry + bench group (Marc Gasol, OG Anunoby, Powell and Lin) extended minutes in the fourth, and they basically put the game away.

The only thing you might question is starting Serge Ibaka over Gasol. Yes, Gasol was part of the group that closed out the game, so no complaints, but... giving Gasol the bench role meant he was matched up with Hassan Whiteside (Whiteside is coming off the bench now), and Gasol looked completely overmatched at times. Whiteside is much more athletic than Gasol; he’s not as skilled or savvy, but he can jump, and Gasol, um... can’t. It would seem Ibaka would be the more natural fit. But again: Who can argue with the overall results?

The Gasol Effect

I don’t mean to suggest that Gasol’s physical decline is any sort of real issue; he more than makes up for his lack of hops in other ways. His defensive awareness is well known, but let’s look at the improvements in Toronto’s team passing and shooting numbers since he arrived.

Before the trade: 24.4 assists per game, 57.8% assist rate; 34.5% shooting from three-point range, 57.2% true shooting percentage.

Since the trade: 28 assists per game, 66.2% assist rate; 39.6% shooting from three-point rage, 58.1% true shooting percentage.

The team moves the ball better with Gasol, and better ball movement typically leads to better shots.

All Hail the Transition Three-Pointer

Speaking of better shots, Raptors fans are well used to transition threes, as Kyle Lowry is all-timer at the PU3IT, but it’s time to give Danny Green some love.

We tend to think of the Raptors’ transition game as Lowry throwing incredible outlet passes to Siakam and Siakam contorting his body in magical ways to get to the rim and score. But the transition three-pointer is almost as much a part of the Raptors’ 18.7 fast break points-per-game (fourth best in the league).

Take it away, Danny:

Having another transition-three-ball threat is a huge part of why Siakam has so many openings at the rim. Take a look at this play; Lowry’s pushing, both Siakam and Green are to his right, and when Siakam dives, Kelly Olynyk and Josh Richardson are both stuck — knowing they can’t leave Lowry and Green, but leaving the lane to Siakam:

Kawhi Konspiracy Korner: Is Kawhi Leonard a... You Know...

Yesterday marked the third straight Sunday afternoon game that Kawhi Leonard sat out, and you have to admit, it’s a little suspicious. Does Kawhi not like the daytime? Is he weak and tired during afternoon games? Is he, perhaps, “allergic” to sunshine?

You know what I’m getting at here: Kawhi Leonard may, in fact, be a vampire.

You may scoff; after all, he’s been at the day games, not sleeping in a coffin or anything. But he’s been indoors. Has anyone seen him outside, in the sun? He may not need to sleep all day, but he’s probably extra-weak during daylight hours, hence the need to take day games off.

You may also say, “but Kawhi is from sunny Southern California! He can’t be a vampire!” But remember, Kawhi spent the last several years in San Antonio... in an arena with a notorious bat problem.

Kawhi also missed most of last season with a mysterious injury; though it’s commonly associated with his quad, isn’t it possible — possible! — Kawhi was bitten by a bat and turned into a vampire, and that’s why he needed all that time off? And that’s why he wanted out of San Antonio so badly, but did it so quietly — he blames them for the bat issue, and his being transformed into a vampire, but he doesn’t want anyone to know. Maybe that’s even why he doesn’t talk much, he’s trying to hide his fangs.

It may sound crazy, but just look at the facts. They all fit.

Now, does this impact Kawhi’s free agency? Perhaps. He may want to stay away from California altogether, so, too bad for the Clippers. The real question is, have we made the City of Toronto vampire-friendly enough for him? Only time will tell.

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The Raptors are right back at it tonight in Cleveland, before heading home to face LeBron James (maybe) and the Lakers. These are two very winnable games, and it would be great for the team to roll back into Detroit next weekend on a four-game win streak.