Still, let’s take a look at the issues, real and perceived, from last game and what got corrected this time around. The series is tied 1-1, but there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.
Lowry as His Best Self
So Kyle Lowry hit some shots, and that sure makes things easier, don’t it? Fresh off his 0-fer in Game 1, Lowry came out more aggressive, taking over a larger portion of the offense and converting on chances.
In Game 1, Lowry was passive, carrying a usage rate of only 13 percent, to go along with his well publicized 0.0 percent TS%. And while the rest of his offensive impact was still apparent in his 44 assists per 100 possessions rate, and Toronto’s ORTG being 20 points better with him on the court than off it, that’s hardly the production Raptors fans have come to expect, even in a year when he’s stepped back from a primary scoring role.
In Game 2, Lowry used 21 percent of the Raptors’ possessions — which is more in line with his season (19%) — and still put up solid assist numbers. Once again, Lowry also boosted the team’s ORTG by nearly 20 points. Difference is, this time his individual TS% was 72 percent, which brought his counting stats to 22 points and seven assists.
Meanwhile, Lowry’s defensive impact was still dramatic. The Raptors were 25 points better per 100 possessions on the defensive end with him on the court than off, compared to 43 points better in Game 1. This part of Lowry’s game continues to be overlooked.
The Raptors Without KLOE
Even with those sharp drop offs when Lowry sat, Toronto still did far better than they managed in Game 1 without him. In that contest, Lowry sat for 14 minutes and the Raptors lost those minutes by 14 points.
In Game 2, Lowry sat for only 10 minutes (that’s more like it) and the team lost those 10 minutes by a single point. That alone would have been enough to turn last game’s loss into a comfortable win, even without Lowry catching fire and powering the first line to a +30 night. Both things happen at once and that’s how the margin of victory goes from -3 to +29 for Toronto.
This one wasn’t really the issue last game, but with the disjointed offense both Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam had lesser offensive nights in Game 1 than we’re used to seeing. Too much of the Raptors’ offense was initiated by other players with those two off-ball. This was reflected in the scoring difficulties they had when the ball did eventually get to them.
In Game 1, Siakam managed only a 50 TS%, very poor by his standards, as the Raptors struggled yet again to unlock his offense against the Magic’s length. Kawhi is amazing, so in spite of the offense’s struggles, he still posted his usual 60+ TS% on 30% usage (64% on 31%). Still, Leonard’s turnover rate was 15 percent, and it was not a particularly special game to show fans who had been waiting for “Playoff Kawhi” to be unleashed.
That said, Game 2 was definitely different. With the ball running through the hands of Toronto’s stars way more often, it helped unlock some things for both Kawhi and Pascal.
Siakam played fewer minutes, saw his TS% edge up higher to 55%, and didn’t have a single turnover. Because of Lowry’s more aggressive offense, Siakam didn’t create as much in this one, but edging that efficiency up makes a big difference.
Kawhi, though. Kawhi was truly unleashed in this game. With Toronto’s offense starting more briskly, and with sets run seemingly specifically to pit him against the least capable of Orlando’s defenders, Leonard took his normal, everyday performance from Game 1 and topped it in every way. His turnover rate plummeted. His assist rate went up. He used even more possessions (33% USG). And he scored at will, to the tune of a 79% TS% — e.g. significantly higher than the suddenly scorching hot Kyle Lowry. In all, Kawhi scored 37 points in 33 minutes on only 24 used possessions, and was a team-leading +37 on the night.
All told, this was a solid win for the Raptors that showed off an explosive offensive potential for this team, and the same strong defense (to even greater effect). This is all the more impressive when you consider that key shooters on the team didn’t exactly show up. Outside of the three stars, the Raptors got supplementary scoring from Serge Ibaka (13 points, scoring off the bench being his primary role now) and Marc Gasol (9 points), but otherwise got only 7 points combined from the other three regulars (Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Danny Green). In fact, it was Green’s turn to put up a goose egg!
When you consider how significant Green has been to the Raptors’ lineups throughout the year, it’s truly impressive that they managed such an overwhelming performance when he couldn’t hit a shot (and had his minutes limited with some foul trouble). The Raptors are a lot to handle.
All stats per NBA.com