Last night was not a pretty basketball game. Both the Magic and the Raptors brought their A-games on the defensive end, and the referees did their best to remove any sort of rhythm from the game, but the Raptors escaped with a road win — thanks to a gutsy play by Kyle Lowry and a brilliant all-around game from Pascal Siakam.
How Ya Like Me Now, T-Mac?
Tracy McGrady — veteran of both these teams, and he of the “has Pascal Siakam really improved?” take — was in the house in Orlando last night, and he sure got an eyeful of just how improved Pascal Siakam really is.
Siakam was far and away the best player on the floor last night. He had 30 points on 20 shots with only one free throw (more on that later!), 11 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
Every time the Raptors needed a bucket, rebound or stop, Siakam came through, it seemed. He hit a clutch three-pointer to take back the lead after the Magic had gone ahead for the first time. He grabbed the offensive rebound on a missed Kawhi Leonard free throw with three minutes to go, giving the Raptors an extra possession. When the Magic cut the lead to four with two minutes to go, it was a Siakam floater that put the Raptors back up six, and when Terrence Ross looked to keep the Magic in it with a long three with under 10 seconds to go, it was Siakam’s D that made the shot as tough as possible.
If T-Mac still has any doubts about Siakam now, he better go get his damn eyes checked.
The Kyle Lowry Experience
With four minutes to go, Kyle Lowry had the ball on the wing with Nikola Vucevic guarding him off a switch. Instead of breaking Vucevic down, or calling for another screen to confuse defense further, Lowry ran the clock down... then took one dribble into a side-step long two-pointer. Vucevic blocked it, the Magic went the other way and Evan Fournier drained a three-pointer.
That’s the kind of thing people point at when they want to make their “Kyle Lowry can’t step up in the playoffs!” narratives. Why would he settle for that? Any long two is a bad shot, but a guard with a big switched on him? Take him! Break him down! Get into the paint! Make the defense respond! Don’t bail out a mismatch by giving them exactly what they want.
Three minutes later, of course, Lowry saved the game when he tracked down a Kawhi Leonard miss in traffic; the ball hit the floor, and while Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin each waited for the other to grab it, Lowry just swooped in and took it away, leading to two Leonard free throws that sealed the win.
That’s the kind of thing people point at when they want to make their “Kyle Lowry doesn’t need to score to be a difference maker!” narratives.
Are both things true, somehow? I still firmly believe it’s the latter — Lowry does way, way more good than bad for this team. He even had a clutch three and a crafty drive to the hoop in the fourth (on another Vooch mismatch!) to further dispel any notions of his lack of postseason scoring prowess.
But man, seeing him settle for that jump shot was infuriating.
Nick Nurse, What Are You Doing, Man?
We are officially in “I think Nick Nurse is going to cost Toronto a playoff series” territory. Probably not this one — I don’t think the Magic are quite good enough to capitalize — but the Raptors won’t get past the 76ers, and will get destroyed by the Bucks or Celtics, if they continue to gamble with lineups like last night.
How much data do you need to tell you that the Siakam+bench unit doesn’t work? It’s got a -11.4 net rating so far in the playoffs, and of the Siakam+bench groups from the last 15 games of the regular season, the only one with a positive net rating is the “chaos” group featuring Siakam, Anunoby, McCaw, Powell and VanVleet. The other three groups that played more than 6 minutes have net ratings of -17, -14.7, and -37.5.
Furthermore, if you’re gonna run that group out there... why not have Siakam initiate the offense? The insistence on giving Fred VanVleet the rock, only to watch him pound it in to the ground, miss screens, and settle for long jumpers is just baffling.
I know that foul trouble and injuries to OG Anunoby and Patrick McCaw have made the rotations a little trickier, but I really don’t think this is all that difficult.
Michael Carter-Williams Needs to Chill
What is it with this dude? Michael Carter-Willaims like that kid in gym class who could put the ball in the hoop, but generally had no real motor coordination — he’s just throwing his body into everyone, causing injuries, annoying everyone, and then acting like he did nothing wrong and it’s everyone else who needs to chill.
Nah, bro — it’s you who needs to calm the F down.
Staring down Kyle Lowry? Getting in the face of the officials? He’s practically throwing temper tantrums out on the court. (And yet somehow hasn’t picked up a technical foul yet.)
Of course, as far as backup point guards go, Carter-Williams is having a better series than VanVleet, numbers-wise... so maybe I shouldn’t mock the former Rookie of the Year too much.
Oh, We Get to Talk About the Officials Again?
Some statistics for you:
In the regular season, the Orlando Magic were last in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, at 19.2; 27th in points in the paint, at 44 per game; and 28th in shots within five feet of the rim, at 27.5. (The Raptors averaged 22, 48.5, and 31.6 respectively.)
In other words, you could infer that the Magic were a more perimeter oriented team that wasn’t aggressive in getting to the rim, and therefore, shot fewer free throws than other teams.
In the playoffs, the Magic are shooting 22.3 FTA per game — despite their PITP and shots within five feet decreasing, to 32.7 PITP on 25.3 shots per game within 5 feet.
But now it’s the Raptors who are dead last in FTA, at 13.7 per game — despite scoring 45.3 PITP per game on 32.3 shots per game within 5 feet.
In other words... despite the Raptors being the far more aggressive team at getting into the paint and getting to the rim, it’s the Magic who are being rewarded with more free throws — almost nine more per game!
Hopefully Masai Ujiri can just cut and paste this thought and send it right to the league office, because this right here? This is some bullshit.
As happy as I am to have that win and see the Raptors go up 2-1, and reclaim home court advantage, I really wish this were easier.
That’s all I really thought last night, as the fouls piled up, as Kawhi Leonard played what might have been his worst game as a Raptor (I know he was ill; he was still terrible), as a 17-point lead dwindled and the Magic simply wouldn’t go away. The Bucks are winning their series easily. The Celtics are winning their series easily. The Sixers are winning their series despite an injured Joel Embiid.
Why does it have to be so hard for the Raptors?
At least they proved they can win without Kawhi playing well, and with the whistle not going their way. But I would rally like to see them bury this Magic team in Game 4 and go home with a chance to put it away.