For the Raptors, their Game 3 had some eerie similarities to the opening match-up against the Orlando Magic — a struggling star, some disastrous bench minutes, a close game down the stretch. But this one had a happy ending.
Let’s take a look at what went well for Toronto, and what went wrong, as they now sit with a 2-1 series lead over the Magic in the opening round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
Another game, another short stretch of the sort of lineup that is always going to lose you a lead.
Nearing the end of the first quarter, the Raptors had leapt out to a big lead. In the process, the Magic had started their counter punch, with a solid few minutes strung together to bring the lead down from 11 to 8 with three minutes left in the quarter.
Coach Nick Nurse decided to close out the quarter with the following look: Fred VanVleet, Jodie Meeks, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka.
Frankly, it’s a pleasant surprise that the lineup only lost those couple of minutes by three points. Over a full game that projects to a 60 point loss. Here, the damage was limited. Still, having only a five point lead at the break was a little disappointing for Toronto, considering the start. Siakam’s heroics kept that bench unit afloat enough to not completely throw away the lead.
To start the second quarter, the Raptors went with the much smarter look where both Siakam and Lowry played together to carry a bench unit, and—wait, Siakam? He played the entire first quarter, and then he was out there for the first three minutes of the second?
Let’s just say, there are some kinks to be worked out with this Raptors rotation yet.
Through the first three games against the Magic, the Raptors seem to be trading off which star is crucial to the team’s success. In Game 1, in spite of his shooting troubles, that star was Lowry, without whom the team fell apart to the tune of a -50 net rating. In Game 2, it was Leonard, who had a more obvious star power game, posting a huge scoring line and a huge +57 to -28 on/off-court net rating swing.
In Game 3, it was Siakam’s turn. Posting the first 30 point-10 rebound Raptor playoff game since Chris Bosh, Pascal also powered the team to a +18 net rating in his 42 minutes. Meanwhile the six minutes he rested were a disaster (-61 net rating) for the Raptors, which is quite the feat when you consider the silly bench units Pascal was assigned to keep afloat.
In overall effect, Siakam has become quite the work horse for the Raptors in this series. With OG Anunoby missing, Siakam has played 42, 36 and 42 minutes in the first three games. And the numbers continue to suggest that Toronto needs every one of those seconds from him.
The other two stars, in the meantime, have carried a lower minutes load. Lowry has been ramping up (which is very good), going from 34 to 38 to 40 minutes. Kawhi has played only 33, 33 and 37 minutes in the first three games. That leaves Pascal with 120 minutes so far this series, to Lowry’s 111 and Kawhi’s 104. That load makes stretches like the beginning of this game where Siakam played 15 straight minutes all the more concerning.
Now, Kawhi is reported to have been sick recently, which could explain his lower minutes. But still, we should stop and appreciate the minutes sponge Pascal has developed into — especially considering the defensive effort he brings on every possession.
Kawhi is Sick
Speaking of which, Kawhi had a rough game. Now, there is plenty to be said on the officiating playing into this, but leaving that aside, Leonard definitely struggled with his offense. His explosiveness at the rim wasn’t there, he missed several of those isolation jumpers he couldn’t miss in Game 2, and turned the ball over way too much. Just a rough night overall for him.
But consider this: the offense was still better with Leonard on the court than off. And on the series, even including this game, his effect on the offense has been amazing.
We’ve touched on how Kyle Lowry has powered the defense thus far. Through three games, his on-court DRTG has been 88 points per 100 possessions, a truly stifling number. While Lowry sits, the team’s DRTG has leapt to 120. Yes, the Raptors have been allowing almost 50 percent more points per possession when Lowry sits.
On the offensive end, it’s Kawhi making that huge impact. With Kawhi on the floor in the first three games, the Raptors have a 118 ORTG. Without him? 77 points per 100 possessions.
No, that’s right. Seventy-seven. Seventy-seven.
For the record, in the regular season, the lowest on-court ORTG of any one player (minimum 15 MPG, 393 players total) was 93 points per 100 possessions. That’s 16 points below the average ORTG league wide. So, playing without Kawhi in this series has roughly meant being twice as far below average offensively as the worst offensive player in the league managed this year. (For reference, fittingly, it was Orlando’s Mo Bamba). It’s a small sample, relatively speaking, but it has not been pretty.
Get well soon, Kawhi.
All stats per NBA.com