Sometimes the shots go your way — like when the opposing team shoots 50% from the free-throw line in a game that goes to OT. Sometimes, things don’t go your way: like when you have a 13-point lead and the opposing team shoots 12-for-21 from three-point range over the next 20 minutes.
Such was the tale of this home-and-home series between the Raptors and the Thunder.
Did the Raptors Lose This, or Did The Thunder Win it?
The Thunder came into the game 24th in the league in three-point shooting, at 34.5%. So for them to shoot 20-of-43 (20-of-37 at one point!) is an aberration, and if you’re the Raptors, well, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Still: the Raptors didn’t help themselves, turning the ball over 21 times. The Raptors also went away from their ball movement in the third quarter (only two assists in the frame) and — in a recurring problem — couldn’t stop penetration from the guard position, as Dennis Schroeder tore them up the entire second half.
What also shouldn’t be discounted: The Thunder needed this game a heck of a lot more than the Raptors did. So, let’s acknowledge that it wasn’t Toronto’s finest effort, but we’ll the Thunder have it.
Gotta Get Just a Little More From the Bench
After letting his starters run long on Wednesday — in an OT game of course — Nick Nurse Nurse stuck with what is essentially a playoff-like rotation again, not running a five-man bench unit and staggering Leonard and Siakam all night. However, he did let the bench players eat up a few more minutes; unfortunately, it didn’t work out, as Jeremy Lin looked shaky, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby combined to shoot 1-for-7, and Serge Ibaka — who shot the ball well — ended up a game-low -14 in his 20 minutes.
That’s a tough look for this unit, who, will be called upon to play strong defense and hold leads in the postseason. Granted, that unit will be run by Fred VanVleet as Kyle Lowry comes back and Lin’s role is reduced, so that will steady things significantly. But a little more consistency from Powell and Anunoby would go a long way.
Kawhi Leonard, Attracting Superstar Attention
Leonard, naturally, is the focal point of the Raptors’ offense, which means he’s also the focal point of the opposing team’s defense — and that’s going to mean double-teams from the more agressive teams, including the Thunder.
While Kawhi is often strong enough to just shrug off doubles and work his way to the hoop, sometimes, it’s just not possible, and that leads to an area that I think Leonard needs to improve upon: passing out of the double team.
Leonard often seems a step slow in kicking the ball out when the defense is drawn into his orbit. Last night, for example, in the second, Leonard posted up the smaller Terrance Ferguson just outside the right block; Steven Adams came across the lane to double. Kawhi then dribbled out to the three-point line... then held the ball... then passed it out. By the time he did, the Thunder D had fully rotated back to cover for Adams, and any advantage for the Raptors was lost.
Moving the ball quickly is critical.
Have You Heard The News About Pascal?
No, not that Pascal Siakam won the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for February. The news that he’s is an Excellent Three-Point Shooter From The Corners!
I find out both hilarious and monotonous that Matt Devlin reminds us of this every. single. game. Sometimes multiple times per game! Leonard or VanVleet or Gasol will find Siakam in the corner, and Devlin’s statement is almost automatic; he’s firing them at probably a 70% clip, so, you know, even higher than Siakam’s excellent three-point shooting from the corner.
Early in the season, with Siakam coming off a brutal sophomore year from downtown, we were all pleasantly surprised at the improvement in his three-point shooting. I think we’ve all got it now, Matt!
Thumbs Up for the Thumbs Down
I don’t talk about Serge Ibaka’s shot blocking enough.
The Raptors are a bit undersized as a team, and it’s easy to discount their rim protection; even when the 7-footers Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were here, I’m not sure anyone was scared of them at the rim. Now we’ve got Marc Gasol — a super-smart defender can barely jump, and Serge Ibaka, listed at 6’10”.
Ibaka is having a great season, playing exclusively to the centre spot, but he doesn’t seem as intimidating as a Rudy Gobert or even a Steven Adams.
Not on Ma Fuzzy's watch pic.twitter.com/j1WJcl6jQq— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 23, 2019
Ibaka’s shot-blocking is one of the most exciting things to see in a Raptors game. He’s averaging 1.4 per game, which seems low, but it’s good for 18th in the league (and is actually a good deal better than Adams’ 0.9).
Obviously there’s more to rim protection than just the blocks; Adams alters far more shots than he actually blocks. But credit to Serge for backing his guys up, and giving us consistent highlight fodder.
It’s easy to walk away from this game feeling a sense of disappointment, as it seemed the Raptors had it in hand in the third quarter. But, again, remember that the Raptors are playing just to stay healthy and maintain consistency, while the Thunder are fighting for playing positioning. Also remember: The Raptors face only one opponent over .500 (Brooklyn) the rest of the way. It should be an easy ride from here on out.