With the Raptors looking sluggish to start Monday night’s game against Orlando, it was fair to wonder if maybe the Magic really do have Toronto’s number. Coach Nick Nurse said as much before the game, noting that this aspirant Orlando squad has killed the Raps twice already, allowing Toronto just one ugly buzzer-beating win in November. Maybe, with their mix of youth, bounce, and length, the Magic are just a bad match-up for the Raptors. In my best Nurse cadence, let me ask: it’s possible... right?
Wrong. For all of the Magic’s exuberance, the missing link in their three previous games was a full Toronto squad bringing themselves together and to bear on solving the problem that is (was?) Orlando. Tonight, missing just OG Anunoby and Patrick McCaw, and clearly looking to ramp up their intensity and execution levels, the Raptors gradually applied the pressure on the Magic, securing a comfortable 121-109 win.
We can squint at this Magic squad and wonder what the future holds for Orlando. In the first half, it felt like they were taking turns rejecting soft shots from Toronto — Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol were swatted by Aaron Gordon, while Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka were turned away by Jonathan Isaac. The Raptors played from behind for most of the first half, with only Danny Green’s lights-out shooting — he was 7-of-9 from the field for 18 points in the half, despite jamming his non-shooting thumb — keeping Toronto in it.
But as the second quarter carried on, the Raptors decided they’d had entirely enough of that and ramped up their team defense. They outscored Orlando 33-16 in the frame, and outshot them by a margin of 50 to 30 percent. For his part, Kyle Lowry channeled some early frustration with the Magic (and the refs) to productive ends, chipping in six points, three rebounds, and a steal in the quarter, while helping turn what had been an 11-point deficit into a ten point lead at halftime. He was helped by some super-muscular plays by Kawhi (who chipped in with seven points in the quarter), and even more shooting from Green (he was up to 18 points at half). The entirety of the Raptors’ bench wasn’t especially productive, but we saw what the Fred VanVleet-Ibaka pairing looks like now (they combined for 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting), and how Toronto will float its rotation minus two of its main wing subs (McCaw and OG).
Unlike what’s happened recently with recent Raptors’ leads, the team came out in the third quarter and flat-out executed. The easy plays at the rim for the Magic dried up, the threes stopped falling, and everyone on Orlando looked flustered. In the quarter, Toronto’s lead grew as large as 24 points, powered by, yes, 11 points from Danny Green and more defensive pressure. (Orlando was outscored again in the frame, 33-22, while watching the Raptors shoot above 50 percent again.) I’d also be remiss in not mentioning Marc Gasol, who didn’t have to do much — except quarterback the defense — for his 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists in just 25 minutes. He, along with the rest of Toronto’s starters, sat the entire fourth quarter. And while, yes, the Magic may have all the high-flying, long-limbed players of the future, that doesn’t necessarily always mean everything.
Of concern, however, was the play of Pascal Siakam who, frankly, looked out of it for the entire evening. Siakam would finish the night with just six points on 2-of-9 shooting, plus three rebounds and four assists, in 27 minutes, and was clearly bothered by whoever was guarding him. If anything, this highlights one of the biggest flaws in Siakam’s game right now. He’s got an insane motor and all the athleticism in the world, but he’s still working on the subtler aspects of the game. It’s how Siakam finds himself struggling when matched up against the likes of Isaac or Gordon — e.g. players who can keep pace with him.
(We could also write a book on the final 3-4 minutes of this one, where Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks and the Raps’ three G Leaguers, Malcolm Miller, Jordan Loyd, and reigning MVP and DPOY Chris Boucher almost single-handedly let the Magic back in the game in a brutal stretch of basketball. But let’s just let them enjoy their NBA minutes. The final score may look close — but it was not actually that close.)
Fortunately for the Raptors, it didn’t really matter. Around the time Green was pulling the chair on Nikola Vucevic in the post on his way to 29 points on the night — and another night of seven 3s, even with the jammed thumb! — it was clear Toronto was winning this one easily. Sure, even with modest looking stat lines from both Lowry (12 points, six rebounds, and seven assists) and Leonard (15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists). While we still don’t know which team the Raptors will see in the first round of the playoffs, it took just one night to clear my mind on the Orlando Magic. If they manage to make it into the seventh spot, I am no longer wondering if they have the Raptors’ number. They don’t.