Noting that Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor feels like an appropriate way to start off because he was spectacular in Game 2. Against the Magic, he scored 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting, to go along with four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He was awesome, playing with a verve that went above all his other Raptors’ performances, especially given its post-season context.
Still, this isn’t a Leonard appreciation post — at least not entirely. In the Raptors 1-1 week, some things were “Hot,” like Pascal Siakam’s athleticism and Kyle Lowry’s bounce back performance, and some things were “Not,” like Fred VanVleet’s play and Orlando’s Game 1 three-point outbreak.
That’s right, it’s time to take the Toronto Temperature.
Kyle Lowry Bounce Back
Lowry’s Game 1 performance has been well documented. He was good around the edges — playing to a +11 — but was both passive and ineffective shooting the ball, finishing the game with zero points on 0-of-7 shooting from the field.
A poor shooting night can happen to any player, of course, but Lowry’s lack of volume was unusual. In the regular season, he only attempted seven shots or less in six games. Six games! So while Lowry’s Game 1 performance was typical in terms of his defense, passing, and gritty play, there was still an element of unusual reluctance. It’s not like any other Raptors’ player was especially hot either. The team needed Lowry to turn up his scoring mentality in Game 2. That’s where all of the eyes were. And the result? Umm... very good!
Lowry had 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and +30 mark for the game. He was the second best player on the court, right next to Kawhi Leonard. One play in particular stuck out from the game. In the third quarter, after an Orlando made basket, Lowry got the inbounds pass at half court, and with two Magic defenders just to his right and two just ahead. Lowry zoomed past all of them for the lefty layup. It was vintage Lowry, running like a madman down the court.
Pascal Siakam’s Athleticism
It’s always encouraging to see up-and-coming players raise their game in the playoffs. And boy did Pascal Siakam turn the energy up a notch in Game 1. He made a couple of plays I didn’t even know he was capable of.
In the first quarter, only one minute into the game, Siakam found himself in the corner attacking a Jonathan Isaac closeout. He drove right towards the rim, with Isaac closing in right beside him. Siakam stretched out his arm, throwing in a tough, awkward hook shot overtop the body of Isaac — no easy feat. Most people couldn’t even make that shot alone in a gym.
Siakam’s remarkable play continued in the fourth quarter. Even when he missed, like for example his lay-up attempt with Evan Fournier on his hip, Siakam knew what to do. In that instance, after the shot rimmed out, Siakam bounced right back up for the lefty tip-in. He missed a shot and made a shot within the blink of the eye. Crazy.
Kawhi Leonard’s Game 2 Performance
What a game from Kawhi Leonard. He canned a midrange jumper on the first possession of the game just like in Game 1. And although the Raptors lost that contest, I think it is a good sign that he is canning midrange jumpers on the first possessions of games. It speaks to Kawhi’s surgical offensive style, which was on display in the third quarter. In that frame, Kawhi went off for 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He was free and easy with the dribble, getting to all of the spots he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Before the playoffs, many fans were anxious to see playoff Kawhi Leonard. It had been two full years since he last played a playoff game, so no one could be certain what level he would reach. If tonight was any indication, Leonard is still a very fluid athlete and has more left in the tank for this Raptors’ playoff run.
Magic Three Pointers
Maybe the biggest driver of success for the Magic in Game 1 was their three-point shooting. They were hot, getting contributions from a variety of offensive role players. Michael Carter-Williams was 2-for-3 from deep, D.J. Augustin was 4-of-5, Wesley Iwundu was 1-for-2, Aaron Gordon was 2-of-2, and Jonathan Isaac was 1-for-4. The team as a whole was 14-for-29 from beyond the arc.
As the series progresses the player that stands out as the biggest potential threat is Jonathan Isaac. He made the second most important shot of the Game 1, canning a triple from the corner to put the Magic up 97-96 with two minutes to go. He has evolved dramatically as a shooter since the start of the season. Before the All-Star break, Isaac attempted 3.1 threes per game at a 28.7 percent clip. After the break, he attempted 4.8 threes per game at a 38.2 percent clip. He is capable. The Raptors didn’t believe it, though.
In Game 2, the Raptors still made a deliberate attempt to leave Isaac open for threes. It turned out to be smart decision as Isaac was 0-for-6 from deep. It will be interesting to see what extremes the Raptors take that defense to in Game 3 because the Magic’s three-point shooting is a key to this series.
Danny Green, Quiet
I have become so accustomed to Danny Green making wide open threes that it made me irrationally nervous to see Green go 0-for-3 from deep in Game 2. Is he okay? He jammed his left hand, right? I was being silly. Danny Green is fine, but he did turn down some shots.
Orlando’s defense stayed tight to him all game and forced him to drive. It’s a strategy that never really worked in the regular season because Green was so good at finding open spaces, but give the Magic defense credit, Green was just trying to keep the offense moving all night.
On one possession in the third quarter, he got the ball in the corner, and did his usual pump fake with a defender closing out. This time though, instead of doing one pump fake and taking the shot, he pumped faked two times and skipped a pass to Marc Gasol. Most nights I think he takes that shot. His regular season average for three-point attempts was 5.4. Heading into Game 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had two attempts or eight attempts from deep. He is a wild card. We shall see.
Fred VanVleet’s Pace
This has not been the best series for Fred VanVleet. Defensively, it’s tough. He doesn’t have the the length to guard anyone other than D.J. Augustin. He has been left to guard Evan Fournier, Micheal Carter-Williams, and Terrence Ross — all of whom can shoot over VanVleet. In Game 2, Carter-Williams, on one possession, methodically drove to the rim, using his strength to push away VanVleet for the easy layup. Similarly, Terrence Ross was able to hoist up over VanVleet for three-pointers en route to his 15 point night.
Offensively, I’m not sure VanVleet is playing to the pace the Raptors want. He seems a little slow organizing sets, and if you have Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry on the floor with you, the first action you take — a VanVleet and Serge Ibaka pick-and-roll in the second quarter — does not seem wise. Although, certainly some of the play calling can be attributed to Raptors coach Nick Nurse.
The Raptors team, in general, needed Game 1 to adjust to playoff intensity. It’s possible that VanVleet is right behind them, needing a few games to get back on track. He’s never had an extended playoff run with the Raptors before, on account of being hurt last season, and playing limited minutes his rookie season. So it may take some time for VanVleet to adjust. Game 3 will be a big one.