That was a little more like it. The 2018-29 Toronto Raptors, Playoff Version — the version that we all expected to see on Saturday — made its first appearance on Tuesday night, stomping the Magic into oblivion behind an all-time performance from Kawhi Leonard. Here’s what I thought of the proceedings:
Best Raptors Playoff Performance Ever?
Kawhi Leonard’s 37 points (on 22 shots!), four rebound, four assist and two steal performance was just incredible. It seemed effortless, it seemed like every time he put the ball up it was going in, that there was nothing the Magic could do to slow him down.
It was everything we wanted when we heard the Raptors had acquired him.
I wonder where it fits on the pantheon of all-time great performances though. I don’t think it’s better than Vince Carter’s 50 against Philadelphia in 2001; that was in the second round, so the stakes were higher, and you know, it’s 50 freakin’ points.
Is it ahead of Lowry’s Game 7 against Miami in 2016? Lowry finished that game with 35-7-9-4, on 20 shots, and again, the stakes in that game were much, much higher.
Third-best Raptors playoff performance of all time? Sounds right to me.
One of my biggest complaints about Toronto’s Game 1 performance was the lack of intensity they showed, like they expected it to be easy. No such issue last night! Right from the opening tip, Toronto was everywhere, trapping Magic ballhandlers, cutting off driving angles, knocking balls away and intercepting passes.
Individually, the Raptors continue to take away the Magic’s lone All-Star, Nikola Vucevic, with solid 1:1 play from Marc Gasol and smart, aggressive and timely doubles. And the guy that killed them last game? Pascal Siakam was switched onto D.J. Augustin several times in the first half and just completely wiped him off the map. Augustin didn’t score until the third quarter, where he dropped in all (ahem) four of his points.
Toronto held the Magic to a true shooting percentage of 44% and their defensive rating was 87.2. They forced 17 turnovers, deflected 16 passes, recovered nine loose balls and drew two charges. It was one of, if not the best, sustained defensive efforts I’ve seen from the team all year.
Everybody’s Favourite Show? It’s the Ref Show!
Boy, there were a lot of fouls called in that game, weren’t there? I think we all expected a poorly officiated game when we saw Marc Davis was on the crew!
But individual calls aside, I was really disappointed in the tight whistle right at the start. The Raptors were rolling, beating the Magic 9-0, and the whistle kept blowing — on some pretty ticky-tack fouls. These are the sorts of moments that I think give fans pause; it’s a fast, free-flowing game, where you wouldn’t normally see a lot of fouls, and yet the whistle keeps blowing? It makes you think the officials are trying to keep things close, to prevent one team from getting too far ahead too early.
I don’t actually think that’s the case; incompetence is the much more likely explanation. But it absolutely stinks from a fan’s perspective.
One other thing — sometimes Kyle Lowry’s foul-hunting is a little too much, even for a huge Lowry fan like me. Last night in the second, after the officials
ignored missed a goaltending call on a Norman Powell layup, the Raptors were barking, the crowd was ready to riot, and on the ensuing possession... Lowry tried to bait the refs into a foul by taking an obvious “please call this foul, look at me flailing” three-pointer.
There’s no way they were going to call anything there. Lowry has to know that! The refs are getting roasted, the whistle isn’t going your way, there’s no way they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Thumbs up for Lineup Distribution
After only playing Kawhi Leonard for 33 minutes in Game 1, Nick Nurse indicated he’d have Leonard out there for longer in Game 2. Leonard ended up with... 33 minutes last night!
But that was a product of A) some bad calls, which sent Leonard to the bench early with foul trouble and B) the blowout, which meant Leonard only needed a few minutes in the fourth.
Those foul calls also meant that the first quarter finished with a Siakam+bench group, which has been generally terrible, and I don’t think should see floor time anymore — but I think Nurse was planning on that being a Leonard-Siakam+bench group, as that’s what we saw at the end of the third. Instead we got a Lowry-Leonard+bench group to start the second, which feels just fine. And to start the fourth we had Lowry and Siakam with the bench, which is also just fine.
If the Raptors can manage to keep two of Lowry, Gasol, Siakam and Leonard on the floor together at all times, then I really think they should be able to end this series quickly.
So... Raptors in Five?
With these two games out of the way, I’m unsure how to feel about this series. What we saw last night was what I originally expected, but since we didn’t get that in Game 1, I’m not confident we’ll see it in Game 3 or beyond.
I remain convinced the Raptors will win this series, even if they don’t play at the same high level again. The talent disparity just leans so heavily in Toronto’s favour. Game 1 still feels mostly like an annoyance, rather than a harbinger of any real issues against Orlando.
But still... there’s that little crack of doubt back there in the dark corners of my mind, thanks to that lacklustre performance on Saturday. Could it happen again? Three more times? Probably not! But it happened once, so it’s not impossible...
I think this is why I’m so annoyed by Game 1. I don’t want to have any doubts, regardless of how small they are. That dumb game meant we had to endure all of this — the doubts but also the jokes, the bad tweets, the smug Paul Pierce faces — all over again, and I'm tired of it. I’m mad at the Raptors for making me have to endure it! Which is ridiculous, but... that’s being a fan I guess.
It’ll probably take three more games like last night to get it out of my system, and I sure hope the Raptors have it in them.
That was definitely one of the most enjoyable Raptors playoff games I’ve ever experienced, both for the win, but also the sheer professionalism of it. They came out strong and handled their business for 48 straight minutes. That’s not something we’re used to around here! More, please — lots more!