So is this what it feels like not to be stressed? The Raptors cruised to another victory in Game 5 highlighted by Kyle Lowry scoring the first nine points of the game and some now-typical Norman Powell Game 5 electricity. It was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors won a best-of-seven series in five games.
Maybe we are right to be feeling a little different. A playoff series has never come this easy. And just like Kawhi Leonard said in his post-game interview, it is now a time to enjoy the victory (with a little look ahead to Philadelphia). Let’s take the Toronto Temperature.
Marc Gasol’s Defense
The Raptors 95.8 defensive rating (tied for first with the Celtics) this playoffs has a lot to do with Marc Gasol. He is blowing up plays he has no business blowing up, swiping steals from hapless guards in the pick-and-roll, and smothering Nikola Vucevic into despair.
The play of Gasol has sealed the deal for Masai Ujiri’s deadline acquisition. Ever since Bismack Biyombo, the Raptors have lacked a centre with the defensive versatility to be factor down low and also contest up to the three point-line. Jakob Poeltl didn’t have the strength to guard bigger centres (although he is only 23), and Jonas Valanciunas didn’t have the savvy to guard up to the three-point line.
The Raptors must be happy with their 34-year-old big man organizing the defense and (somewhat humorously) averaging two steals per game versus Orlando this series — the most steals per game in any playoff series during his career. It’s not hard to see why Gasol was a former Defensive Player of the Year.
Playoff Norman Powell
In his first three games versus Orlando, Norman Powell struggled to find a groove offensively. But boy was he able to turn it around in Games 4 and 5.
There were a number of highlights. In Game 4, he shot-faked Terrence Ross out of his shoes for a layup. And it wouldn’t be a Raptors playoff series without Norman Powell Game 5 dunks. He ended up with two beauties. He jammed one on Aaron Gordon in the second quarter and had a streaking transition dunk in the third quarter. It really is a very unique skill to save your best dunks just for Game 5 situations.
When Powell is playing under control he is a very effective player for Toronto. In Games 4 and 5, he totalled 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting, eight rebounds, and zero turnovers, all in 39 minutes of play. The new Playoff P! (sorry Paul George.)
Kyle Lowry, Not Going Back to Orlando
Kyle Lowry wasn’t having any of it in Game 5. On the first play of the game he received a skip pass in the corner, and promptly drove into the gut of D.J Augustin for a tough lefty finish. No, Lowry wasn’t playing the facilitator role, at least not to start the game. He sensed the weight of the game and wanted everyone to know who was walking away with the victory. He scored the Raptors’ first nine points (and straight up, the first seven points of the game).
And while the rest of his stat line was typical for Lowry — 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, and nine assists — he was able to get his fingerprints all over the game, drawing four offensive fouls, and making deflating plays for Orlando, like his straight-post of D.J Augustin in the third quarter.
In the 177 minutes Lowry played this series, the Raptors outscored the Magic by 106 points. They were a -34 in the 63 minutes he sat.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 24, 2019
Kawhi Leonard’s Whistle
It is admittedly not fun to complain about the refs. They, like any player, can misread a situation or have a bad game. It’s a tough job. But the most egregious missed calls facing Toronto came in the treatment of Kawhi Leonard. He ranks third in drives per game this playoffs, right behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook, yet his free throw attempts are far below those players. In fact, Leonard’s 5.6 free throw attempts per game is only 14th in the playoffs.
He is tough player to call, no doubt. Because Kawhi is so big and strong it is hard to puzzle out what contact is technically against the rules. It’s the same phenomenon that followed around LeBron James for most of his career. But some of the fouls against Leonard are pretty obvious, to me at least. On some possessions, it looks like Leonard is moving in slow motion because he is catching so much body from his defender. Moving forward in the Philadelphia series one would hope Leonard gets the benefit of the doubt on some of those calls. We’ll see.
Heading into the second round, the one distinct advantage the 76ers have over the Raptors is rebounding. During the regular season, Philadelphia was fifth in both defensive and offensive rebounding after the All-Star break, thanks to a roster full of above-average rebounders like Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid.
Philadelphia’s rebounding success has continued into the playoffs. They posted an astronomical offensive rebounding rate versus Brooklyn, collecting 35.7 percent of their misses. The Nets played small of course, often without a traditional centre, but the rebounding is still impressive. Philadelphia will try to exploit Toronto’s defensive rebounding, which was ninth post All-Star break and has been sixth during the playoffs.
In a series where the Raptors have most of the advantages (three-point shooting, defensive efficiency, veteran savvy), rebounding is the one area where Philadelphia can swing the series. Consider Embiid’s rebounding totals versus Brooklyn: 15, 10, 16, 13. Pretty good. Nick Nurse will have his hands full finding the best substitution patterns for his centres. Can Serge Ibaka survive long stretches against Embiid? Will Boban Marjanovic be a factor? It’s going to be a fun series.
OG Anunoby Missing Time
It is such a bummer that OG Anunoby is out after undergoing an appendectomy. The Raptors have incorporated so many new players this season, like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol, that the allure of past player development projects and long time players hold a special place. We cherish moments like Kyle Lowry killing the narrative that he can’t perform in the playoffs in Game 2 and Pascal Siakam dropping a casual 31 points in Game 3. OG Anunoby hasn’t had his moment this season though, which is too bad.
The Raptors will be able to use Anunoby versus the 76ers if he is healthy. Philadelphia has a long list of big wings, such as Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris. We already know that Kawhi Loenard has Ben Simmons under control but how about the other match-ups? Pascal Siakam probably starts on Tobias Harris, leaving Danny Green with the challenge of covering Butler — not ideal. The Raptors will be the smaller team in Round 2. In that sense, OG would represent a big boost for the rotation, allowing Nick Nurse to mix his transition lineups more seamlessly. Get well soon OG!