LeBron James’ ghost seemed to possess the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, but the King himself couldn’t will his Los Angeles Lakers to victory on Monday, as the Toronto Raptors used every body on the roster to win 111-98.
LeBron showed flashes of all the horrible things he used to do to us, but his team is different (uh, worse) this year, and the Raptors are different (better!) this year, and that was enough on this night. On to the thoughts:
The Mad Scientist Strikes!
Nick Nurse has been referred to (often by himself!) as a mad scientist, and although he’s experimented with lineups (often to his team’s detriment, I think), I’m not sure he’d really earned the “mad” part of the moniker — until last night.
Down three key guys in Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, and with Danny Green and Jeremy Lin in foul trouble, Nurse rolled 10 deep (11, if you count Jordan Loyd’s garbage time 90 seconds) and everyone found a spot to contribute. He let a lineup of Chris Boucher, Pat McCaw, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam go for seven straight minutes bridging the first and second quarters; gave Malcolm Miller burn in the second quarter of a tie ball game; gave a six-minute run to a Miller-McCaw-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam unit in the second half; and closed with Eric Moreland. Brand new Raptor! Played the final 5:20 at centre in a moderately close game!
Obviously this all could have backfired and we’d be sitting here this morning exclaiming Nurse is a moron who doesn’t deserve to hold a clipboard, but it worked — the ridiculous energy McCaw, Norm and Siakam bring to any unit, plus the D of Anunoby and Siakam, plus the wild card nature of Miller and Boucher and Moreland all came together to confound the Lakers (who were playing some, er, questionable lineups of their own) — so instead, Nurse is a genius, right?
I won’t go that far, but I will give the mad scientist credit for his chemistry experiments on this night.
No PG, No Problem
The biggest problem the Raptors faced, lineup-wise, last night was the absence of Lowry and VanVleet. It should have been an opportunity for Lin to rebuild his confidence a bit and learn to play with his teammates a little more, but he got in early foul trouble (and didn’t look great anyway, to be honest) which meant the Raptors were, essentially, without a point guard for long stretches.
Enter Point McCaw! Patrick McCaw got some time at PG earlier this season, backing up Lowry in one game when VanVleet was out Lin had yet to arrive, and he was fine, so he got some more run there last night. But we also saw Kawhi Leonard bring the ball up. And Norman Powell. And Pascal Siakam, of course, and on one play, Marc Gasol!
Granted, these are the sorts of things you can do when you’re playing the hapless Lakers, or the lowly Hawks (the other Point McCaw game); you don’t want to have to do them in the postseason. But it does speak to the depth and player development of this Raptors team, that they have enough good all-around guys that they can throw multiple guys into multiple roles and still play solid basketball.
Know When to Pass and When to Go
With about 2:45 to go in the first half last night, Pascal Siakam posted up Reggie Bullock from the left elbow. The development of Siakam’s post game in general has been awesome, but on this play, it was his general awareness that amazed me. As he began to back Bullock down to the block, JaVale McGee dropped off of Marc Gasol to double Siakam — but he didn’t fully commit. You could tell Siakam wanted to pass out to Gasol, momentarily open, but he recognized that McGee hadn’t committed and had the patience to keep his dribble.
As he got down to the block and spun baseline, McGee finally came and Siakam quickly spun back and dished to Gasol for the wide open triple (he missed, but Danny Green kept the offensive board rebound alive and it eventually led to a Leonard three).
Nothing in the stat line will show what Siakam did there, but to me, that’s the kind of play that’s making his case for Most Improved Player.
I Really Like Seeing LeBron Miss Shots (Against the Raptors)
LeBron James scored the first bucket of the game last night, and it was enough to make you think, “oh, god, he’s not going to do it again is he?” Thankfully he missed his next shot, a long jumper, then after a couple free throws missed a long three. Those misses lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, it seemed; it wasn’t going to be a LeBron “he’s still got it!” 56-point masterpiece. The Lakers are nowhere near good enough to beat this Raptors team, and yet, with James, you never know, right?
Even in the third I felt a little discomfort as he hammered home two fast break dunks and the Lakers managed to hang around; I definitely looked to the sky and thought, “please, don’t give LeBron the chance to beat us!” That’s how far ingrained into my psyche the trauma of getting destroyed by LeBron three years in a row really is.
Thankfully Luke Walton had mercy on us, and took James out of the game for good with 2:20 to go and the Raptors up 10. Phew.
Ah, For the Glory Days of Marv Albert
I watched last night’s game with the TNT broadcast, just to hear Marv Albert’s familiar voice. Marv has lost a step (or two... or twelve); he definitely referred to Brandon Ingram as “Brian Ingram” at one point, and I’m 97% sure he called OG Anunoby “OJ Anunoby” in the second half.
But still... Albert’s voice is synonymous with the NBA for me, and for a lot of people. His play-by-play on the NBA on NBC is what I grew up with, and hearing his calls of “from downtown,” “Yes!... And, the foul!” are just as much a part of my basketball soundtrack as Roundball Rock.
It’s definitely time (probably past time) for Marv to retire. But for a last little dose of nostalgia, I enjoyed hearing him last night. And his shoutout “From Toronto... Ontario... Canada” at the end of the first quarter last night was a nice little capper.
Last night’s win moves the Raptors to 9-4 with Marc Gasol, which is pretty good — but does include those losses to Orlando, Detroit and Cleveland. Let’s hope the Raptors are getting those blips out of their system before the postseason!