In the last game of the season that mattered (well, to one of these teams, anyway), the Raptors waxed and waned from mildly interested to outright bored, but mustered enough energy in OT to finally cool off the Heat.
A few quick thoughts from the last home game of the season:
Boy, That Was a Lot of Kawhi Down the Stretch
Kawhi Leonard hardly delivered a marquee performance yesterday, and I’d describe him as being most guilty of looking disinterested early; he was just 2-for-6 in 15 minutes at halftime.
Which is fine! He doesn’t need to give 100% in these final few glorified practices. But that made it a bit disheartening when he tried to take over the game instead of getting his teammates involved late. He struggled in isolation sequences against the aggressive Heat defenders in the final two minutes; on the final Raptors possession, he settled for a long three. Even in OT he ignored a Kyle Lowry screen and forced an awkward banker in traffic; that Lowry-Leonard screen action should be a late-game staple, but it ain’t gonna work if Leonard ignores the screen!
Thankfully, he followed script a few plays later, dishing to Lowry after Lowry set a screen; Lowry, in space, then dished to Marc Gasol, who swung it to Danny Green for three.
Let’s hope Leonard plays a little more in the flow of the offense down the stretch in the postseason.
Danny “Money” Green is (ahem) On the Money
In his pre-game introductions, Raptors in-arena host Mark “Strizzzy” Strong (I recently discovered that it does, indeed, have three z’s) introduces Danny Green by calling him “the money-man from three-point land, Danny ‘Money’ Green”. I’m not sure if this is an actual nickname, or something Strizzzy came up with on his own, but... it sure fits!
I don’t know that the Raptors have ever had a shooter who feels as automatic from downtown as Green. Literally every time he shoots it, I feel like it’s going in; when he rises up from the corners, I feel as confident that it’s going in as I had watching Vince Carter rise up for a dunk in 2001. Green is second in the league in three-point percentage on the season at 45.6%, but even more impressive? He’s shooting 53.9% since the All-Star break. 53.9%!! If that’s not “money,” then I don’t know what is.
The Bench, Not Confidence-Inspiring
The Raptors have, for the most part, abandoned their all-bench lineups in favour of more transitional units and look to be running mostly nine deep (Jeremy Lin got a DNP-CD yesterday... and I think that’s fine). The most common transitional lineup has been a Pascal Siakam +bench crew, which you’d think would be fine, since that was Siakam’s role last year, but it... hasn’t looked great. It was -7 in less than three minutes yesterday.
I think it will be very interesting to see how the Raptors deploy their personnel in the postseason. After watching that Siakam-led group struggle yesterday, I wondered if we might see more “two starters + bench” units, staggering Lowry and Leonard. And then both Lowry and Leonard started the second quarter with the bench! But... that group (which eventually included Danny Green subbing in for Fred VanVleet) was worse, going -12 before Norman Powell provided a surge that stabilized them.
It’s hard to take too much away from these games that don’t matter much, but the lack of stability and consistency in bench-heavy units has to be a concern for the Raptors heading into the postseason.
How ‘Bout a Little Serge Love?
Although the bench units have not performed well overall, Serge Ibaka finally seems to be settling in to his bench role. Over the past 10 games, during which Ibaka only started once (alongside Marc Gasol), he’s averaging 14 points on 57.8% shooting (47.4% from downtown!) along with 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He had three blocks last night, including swats of everyone’s two favourite Heat players, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, and scored three big buckets in the fourth as the game tightened up.
It’s not easy for guys to accept a bench role; in Ibaka’s case, he was told he’d be sharing starting duties with Jonas Valanciunas, but now it looks like Marc Gasol is the full-time starter. I think that’s the best way for the Raptors to play it, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Ibaka, so I give him credit for his play of late. Perhaps most important of all: He’s only averaging 22 minutes a night over the last 10; that number was up over 30 in January and early February, so if Serge is fresh for the playoffs, that’s good for everyone.
Does Nick Nurse Have Personalized Nike Gear? An Investigation
I had to do a double-take when Nick Nurse appeared on yesterday’s broadcast sporting this cap:
Is... is that a double-n logo? As in, “Nick Nurse”? Does Nick Nurse have personalized Nike gear? I think he does! A first-year head coach with his own damn Nike fit? Dwane Casey would never, could never.
What a time to be a alive.
One game to go, one that doesn’t mean anything to either team, and one where we pray that no one gets hurt. Should be a real joy to watch! The more important thing to watch over the next couple of days will be what happens at the bottom of the standings, as we still don’t know who the Raptors will play — but it looks like they’ll get to avenge a past playoff defeat no matter who ends up in seventh. Bring it on!