This year’s Toronto Raptors team was supposed to be different. It is different! It has Kawhi Leonard! Three of the four mainstays in the “The Raptors are shaky in the playoffs” narrative are gone!
But it was same old, same old yesterday. Everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed.
Not a Bad Gameplan, But...
So it looked like the Raptors made a concerted effort to contain Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Terrence Ross yesterday, and in that, they were successful. The Magic’s three leading scorers were held to just 31 points on 9-of-35 shooting yesterday; Marc Gasol bodied Vucevic successfully, and the Raptors doubled often, while Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Norman Powell did a great job denying Gordon and Ross and preventing them from getting good shots.
That meant the Magic needed big games from their backcourt players... and D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Fournier came through. The Raptors had no answer for Augustin in the first half, where he got anywhere he wanted on the court and racked up 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting. That meant Nick Nurse had to switch Danny Green on to D.J. Augustin in the second half, and although that seemed to work, Augustin still came through in the game’s biggest moments.
He, Carter-Williams and Fournier combined for 51, well above their season average of 32 combined.
Did the Final Minute Expose the Chemistry Issue?
All season long, as the Raptors struggled with injuries, and Kawhi Leonard managed his load, and the team traded away a third of the roster, we all wondered — would the Raptors get enough time playing together to develop the type of chemistry needed to make a postseason run?
I don’t know how much you can blame chemistry but the Raptors made two mistakes in the final minute last night that good teams — championship teams — just don’t make.
First, the Raptors waited too long to make their move on their second-last offensive possession. They did all the right things — Kyle Lowry screened for Leonard, Leonard used the screen properly (a pet peeve of mine — Raptors ballhandlers frequently either go before a screen is set or take a bad angle, rendering it ineffective), got into space, and found a wide-open Marc Gasol for a three that rimmed out. But they should have executed this five or six seconds earlier to maintain the 2-for-1 clock situation (and get a final possession that didn’t need to be rushed).
And of course on the Magic’s final offensive possession, Leonard and Gasol got their assignments mixed up — both stuck to Vucevic, leaving Augustin open for the game-winner. Gasol throwing his arms up while looking at Leonard leaves me to believe that Leonard should have fought over and stuck to Augustin, and Marc alluded to that in his post-game comments; but the who doesn’t matter. Leonard and Gasol have only played 19 games together. That’s it! These mistakes happen when you’re not used to playing with each other.
Toronto’s Sense of Urgency Was Lacking
This isn’t something you can quantify, but the feeling I had watching the two teams — especially in the first 18 minutes — was that the Magic were trying really hard, and the Raptors were not. The way the Magic — Augustin specifically — attacked on the offensive end, and hustled to the ball on the defensive end (Jonathan Isaac certainly stood out here), were markedly more intense than the Raptors. It’s not that the Raptors were worse — they just didn’t seem to be working as hard.
This is the reverse of what I expected, to be honest. The Magic were so desperate to get in to the playoffs, and have so little playoff experience, that I thought they’d have the “just happy to be here” vibe. And I thought the Raptors, who pretty much treated their regular season as practice time, would be completely locked in. Instead the Magic played up to the moment and the Raptors acted like this was just another boring late-season game.
If the Raptors thought this was gonna be a cakewalk, then that’s... disappointing. Presumably they watched the film and studied the numbers — you know, the ones that showed the Magic were a top 10 teams since since the All-Star break, and were terrors on defense (fifth in defensive rating)?
We can only hope that this was a wake-up call, and that the “real” Raptors show up next game.
Since When is “Being Strong” a Foul?
Kawhi Leonard was called for two offensive fouls yesterday that were extremely questionable to me, both on drives where the defenders, essentially, bounced off of him. Leonard has, in the past, used his off arm to create space (and Fred VanVleet was called for a similar, legit foul yesterday) but as far as I could tell on these two, the defenders simply weren’t strong enough to stop Kawhi. Leonard didn’t do anything to create the contact; he wasn’t out of control; the defenders were not in a set defensive position.
They’re just too weak to stop him.
That shouldn’t be a foul; Leonard doesn’t deserve to be punished for being strong.
So, uh, What Did the Raptors Do Right?
Lots of things! Pascal Siakam was great, and he used the whole package — spin moves, midrange jumpers, baby hooks off the glass, hesitation moves — to keep the Magic D guessing. Jonathan Isaac was everywhere, but Siakam did a great job generating good offense. Leonard, too, was great on the offensive end, although he played too few minutes.
One thing the Raptors did well, but probably not enough of, was using the midrange game of their two centres to their advantage. The Magic swarm at the hoop, and while that gave the Raptors plenty of good looks from deep, those looks weren’t dropping. Simple pick-and-rolls with Gasol and Serge Ibaka generated good looks for the two C’s from 15-18 feet — shots that are money for them. Going to that a few more times might have opened up the lane a bit more.
As for Kyle Lowry, he of the goose egg in the points column, he was fine. Obviously the Raptors need him to hit shots, but he took good shots and his overall floor game today was pretty much exactly what I want to see from him. To be honest I would have liked to see him play another 2-3 minutes as well. Leonard and Lowry should be able to play 38 minutes a night in the postseason.
As a wise man once said, you are what your record says you are. The Raptors are now 2-14 all-time in Game 1s, and Lowry is 1-9. The Magic are good... but the Raptors are much better, and there’s really not any excuse for losing this one. They’ve earned all the scorn, all the jokes, all the disrespect that comes their way in the wake of that game.