Sunday’s game against Detroit should’ve been a victory. Despite missing Kawhi Leonard (the team was 13-3 without him before that game), the score was tied 100 apiece after regulation, and Kyle Lowry powered the Raptors to a 107-102 lead just minutes into the overtime period. But those would be the last points they scored, as Detroit would rip off a 10-0 run to take the ball game.
Lowry played 42 minutes, which at his age is ludicrous, while newly acquired Marc Gasol played 37 of his own (to Serge Ibaka’s 17). That last total is particularly of note — many folks anticipated a split-time situation between Gasol and Ibaka, however in the two most recent games, Gasol has tallied 64 minutes to Ibaka’s 36.
This all means something because, well, the Raptors will get no rest tonight in Toronto. The visiting Houston Rockets come into Tuesday’s contest having won five straight games, although the famous 30-point game streak for James Harden has officially ended. They’ve secured (temporarily at least) a top-four seed in the West and there’s no reason to doubt they won’t continue to rise in the standings now that everyone is healthy.
Now, on to tonight’s details for the game:
Where to Watch:
8:00 p.m., TSN/TNT
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Houston — Chris Paul, James Harden, P.J. Tucker, Kenneth Faried, Clint Capela
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (thumb) — OUT
Houston — Kenneth Faried (Hip) — Questionable; Iman Shumpert (Calf) — Doubtful
Key Matchup: Kyle Lowry vs Chris Paul
Last week, Kyle Lowry dominated two marquee point guards in Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, and it showcased the quality of which Lowry can still play on a nightly basis — when needed.
Now, you could attribute the success to Nick Nurse’s game plan, taking them out of the game with aggressive trapping (aside from the trademark “Dame Time” in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Portland game), but the point remains — Kyle Lowry relishes quality matchups. Kyrie Irving scored a grand total of seven points, and before the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, Lillard scored just nine through three quarters.
Enter Chris Paul. He’s been on a tear of late, but so has Lowry’s defense. Since returning, Paul is posting similar numbers to Lowry — 17.0 points, 8.9 assists, 1.9 steals and .362 from 3 — however he’s doing it in fewer minutes. I fully expect Lowry to step up to the occasion and take over for a quarter or two and make Paul earn those gaudy numbers.
Lowry’s New Year—New Play
Kyle Lowry provided flashes of his old self against Detroit, posting 35 (a season high) points with six 3’s, but it simply wasn’t enough in the end. Without a star scorer next to him, he struggles toward the end of games when his he runs out of gas. But the point is — he still has that mentality that’s made him a five-time all-star. Sunday’s play gave me hope that if he’s needed to take over a game, he’s ready to step up.
Since returning from the back injury — including all of January where he was finding his rhythm — Lowry is averaging 15.4 points, 8.1 assists and most importantly, shooting .365 from beyond the arc.
In the last 10 games of that sample, those numbers have increased to 17.9 points, 8.5 assists and .427 from 3, including 1.6 steals — in 36 minutes per game. Now, much of the increase in minutes is due to Fred VanVleet being out of the lineup do to injury, but his efficiency has been incredibly better than earlier this season. If this is the player we can expect heading into the playoffs, it bodes well for Toronto.
The Ibaka/Gasol Frontcourt
These are just my two cents, but Sunday would’ve been a perfect opportunity to try Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol next to each other for long stretches to combat the huge front-court of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond for Detroit.
It should be noted — and speculate all you want — that Ibaka has almost zero rapport with any player not in the starting lineup. He’s not happy when he’s not starting, that much is clear. Why he’s not happy is a serious point of contention. In the last two games, he’s put up a combined minus-23 in the +/- department after being one of the most useful Raptors on the team through the season.
Houston comes in with a similar front-court, touting newly signed Kenneth Faried (who is averaging around 14 points and 10 rebounds) and — back from injury — Clint Capela. The two of them create a rebounding machine who, if nothing changes on the Raptors’ end, will dominate offensive rebounds in this match-up.
Again, this would be a perfect opportunity to test out the two bigs next to one another. Given that most of Toronto’s potential first round opponents tout big front lines such as this, it’s a look Nick Nurse should really consider.