Did we watch a first-round playoff preview last night? Maybe! Would that series be a Raptors sweep? If last night was any indication... probably! Am I so scarred by the past that I feel like that series would inexplicably go seven games and my angst level would be of the charts? Definitely.
But that’s looking ahead. Let’s recap last night:
Hitting the Glass
It looked like the Raptors were making an extra effort to rebound the basketball last night, particularly on the offensive end — which was probably a good thing, as overall they shot the ball rather poorly! I definitely appreciated the effort; we’ve talked about this in the past, but when you play a team that shoots a lot of threes — say, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee — you’re going to give up a lot of second chances, because those long rebounds can be unpredictable. So it’s imperative to make it up a bit on your own end, and the Raptors did that last night.
Marc Gasol alone had seven boards in the first half — three of them offensive — while Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard combined for 10 (five of them offensive). Serge Ibaka hauled in 10 total in the second half, four of them on the offensive end. That’s the kind of production you want to see from the front line!
Are we Seeing Playoff Kawhi?
Kawhi Leonard’s outside shot wasn’t dropping last night — he was 0-for-4 from downtown and 11-for-25 overall. But you saw him make a concerted effort to get into the paint, to get defenders on his back and to juke and spin his way to hoop or into the lane for higher-percentage looks. He gave a dream shake to free himself from Rodions Kurucs in the second quarter, dropping in a baseline baby hook, and did you see how QUICK his third-quarter spin around Spencer Dinwiddie was? Pascal is jealous!
Kawhi Leonard: Highlight Machine pic.twitter.com/RPyJmZlgi3— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 4, 2019
Seeing Leonard mix it up like that and keep the defense guessing — if that’s what we’re going to see from Kawhi in the postseason, I have more confidence than ever in this team making a deep run.
Jodie Meeks Eurostep? OK!
10th man Jodie Meeks got some first half minutes last night, and he started them off with a fast break bucket off a Kyle Lowry pass:
I was hoping the Raps would blow this one open and we’d see some more Meeks minutes; he doesn’t fully look like he’s in shape yet, and he airballed a three-pointer right after that little Eurostep, like that fast break tired him out! (He came back and drained one a couple plays later off a Leonard offensive rebound). An extended run might have helped his conditioning! Nevertheless, I still like what Meeks brings to the team in that end of bench role (he’s also been a huge cheerleader on the bench, which I appreciate from the newest guy on the team) and I still maintain he’s going to have at least one playoff moment.
If You Cut, Marc Gasol Will Find You
The Raptors’ passing numbers since the Gasol trade are well documented (they’ve improved significantly) but I feel like the team is finally learning that, should the offense bog down — which it inevitably will — you can just give it to Marc and start running, and eventually he’ll find you.
After collecting an offensive rebound halfway through the second quarter last night, Gasol found Siakam streaking to the hoop for an easy teardrop; a couple minutes later Meeks cut baseline, and Gasol hit him on the run; Meeks immediately dished to Kyle Lowry for an open three-pointer.
Sometimes basketball is a simple game: Give the ball to a good passer, and cut to the basket, and good things will happen. It’s nice to have that kind of backup plan!
More Double-Big Action
Nick Nurse ran out the Marc Gasol+Serge Ibaka lineup last night for about three minutes, ostensibly against a smaller Nets lineup that was playing Ed Davis at centre.
I’m glad to see Nurse giving these guys a few minutes together a night, on the off chance they’re needed together in the postseason. I’m also glad he stayed big, and played his preferred lineups, against whatever the Nets were doing; I think one of Dwane Casey’s faults was too often trying to match up with what his opponents were doing, instead of just trying to do what his team did best and forcing the opponent to adjust. The high-end talent level on this team is so high that it makes way more sense to just let your best players play.
Three games to go! The team seems to be gelling of late, and even though these last two opponents (and the next two) are all fighting for that last playoff spot, the Raptors have handled their business. It’s just making me more eager than ever for the postseason to begin!