Last night we saw the Raptors put together one of their most complete games of the season, while the 76ers cobbled together what had to be their worst. The result was a 36-point beatdown.
It felt really good to be on the other side of one of those, didn’t it?
The series isn’t over yet, but if the Raptors can get something similar from their non-Kawhi players on Thursday night in Philly, then it just might be.
Which Dunk Was Dunkingest?
Was it the end of the half dunk?
TRUST THIS pic.twitter.com/0tSwgWwiWW— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 8, 2019
Or the end of the third quarter dunk?
FLYIN' HIGH pic.twitter.com/qfXfzizrlO— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 8, 2019
This is a tough one. The end of the half dunk was more emphatic, it was a great exclamation point to a great half and a statement by Kawhi Leonard — who had a quiet half, by his standards — that “oh yeah, I’m still here.”
On the other hand, the third quarter dunk was right on Joel Embiid’s head, which, given his penchant for taunting, made it extra sweet.
You know what gives the first one the edge for me? Kyle Lowry. He drops the ball off to Kawhi at the top there, then swings around from the wing into the lane. After Pascal Siakam sets the screen for Kawhi’s man (Jimmy Butler), Kyle sets a screen for Siakam’s (Embiid), which gives Kawhi just enough space to dunk over... pretty much everyone else on the Sixers.
Ultimately, we’re all winners, for having witnessed both dunks. But that “unstatable” Lowry play is the icing on top that makes the first half dunk just a little bit sweeter.
Last night, Kawhi Leonard had what was clearly his “worst” game of the playoffs since Game 3 against Orlando (when he was under the weather)... and he still finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and zero turnovers. It’s possible that the extended minutes he played in Game 4 (43 — the most he played in a regulation-length game all season) had him a little worn down, as a number of shots came up short, and he finished 0-for-4 from downtown. Philadelphia was also a little more aggressive and sending bodies at Leonard, giving him less space to operate on the wings.
Thankfully — exactly as I hoped for the other day — his teammates finally knocked down open three-pointers! Brett Brown had mentioned on several occasions that Toronto’s three-point shooting worried him, but it was a threat that hadn’t materialized yet in the series. Last night, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Danny Green combined to go 12-for-24 from deep; if the Raptors are shooting like that, Leonard can afford to have an off-night on offense. It’ll give Brown nightmares, for sure.
Ultimately, Leonard only played 35.5 minutes last night, thanks to the Raptors’ big lead. Hopefully that means he’ll be fresher for Game 6.
Putting the Target on Redick
Nick Nurse deserves a lot of credit for making effective adjustments these last two games, such as going big in Game 4, separating Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry in Game 4, and more closely matching Marc Gasol’s time on court to Joel Embiid’s in Game 5. And, last night the Raptors finally starting targeting JJ Redick in some Kawhi Leonard-Danny Green pick-and-rolls, something that has seemed like an clear advantage all along.
With about three minutes to go in the second quarter last night, Green screened Tobias Harris, leaving Redick on Leonard, and Leonard brushed past Redick like he wasn’t even there. He then had Embiid in space, froze him with a gorgeous hesitation move, got to the rack and drew Embiid’s second foul.
In the third — when Philly had cut Toronto’s 21-point lead to 13 on a 10-2 run — Green screened Butler, who was guarding Leonard at this time, and although Butler fought through the screen so Redick wasn’t left alone on Leonard, Kawhi had enough of a step and got to the baseline for the short runner.
This play is going to be there any time Redick is on the floor. I understand why Nick Nurse might not want to go to the well too often, but, particularly in circumstances when you need a bucket, to slow a run like the aforementioned third-quarter run, I think this is an ideal “break glass in case of emergency” play.
Toronto Crowds... Stay Toronto Crowds
I saw a lot of Twitter talk yesterday comparing Toronto’s crowd to Philadelphia’s — and how much better Philly’s was. I’ll admit, I was pretty disappointed in games 1 and 2. There just wasn’t as much energy or noise in the building; I honestly felt like the Orlando series was louder. The defense chants, the “Let’s Go Raptors” chants... just not as much participation as you’d expect for the playoffs. And it certainly seemed louder and more intense in Philly, even through the TV.
Things didn’t start off well last night. Despite pleas from Jack Armstrong and Masai Ujiri, the arena was barely half-full when the starting lineups were introduced. Thankfully, even though the crowd arrived late, it was the loudest I’ve heard this round; Leonard’s dunk before halftime was explosive. Overall — still not as loud as I’d like, but, better.
The question, is, then, why are the crowds are more subdued? The most obvious answer is that the Raptors and MLSE have priced out the types of fans who really get into games — aka, “real” fans, leaving only corporate bigwigs and fancy rich folk who wouldn’t be caught dead showing any real emotion, and are probably on their phones checking stocks and not paying attention to the games anyway. And maybe some of that is true; the prices are insanely, ridiculously high. It would probably be cheaper to drive to Philly and spend a night in a hotel and buy two tickets there then buy two tickets here.
And yet... one of the loudest moments was this play:
Pascal Siakam better make an All-Defensive team. pic.twitter.com/M8BEUBMocP— :( (@NekiasNBA) May 8, 2019
The crowd really got behind Pascal Siakam as he locked down Jimmy Butler there. A one-on-one defensive play? That tells me that our crowds are smart basketball fans who are paying attention. (And some have a particular sense of justice; more on that momentarily.)
Maybe we’re just too polite? Not drunk enough (beer prices are definitely an issue)? I certainly hope that we raise our game if this thing goes seven.
Wait, Wait... We Did The Clowning!?
After Game 3, I lamented the fact that, while I’ve never expected a perfect postseason and I know blowout losses are part of the game — even for great teams — it just felt like the Raptors had an extra level of “let’s really go out there and get embarrassed” in their franchise DNA.
So for the shoe to finally be on the other foot last night... I can’t lie, it felt good. And, sure, our guys are gentlemen — they’re not taunting, they’re not preening to the crowd — but, despite our crowd having chilled out a bit in the second half as the lead grew, some fine folks down in the expensive seats got into it a little bit, taunting Joel Embiid with his airplane dance, and I dig that. Let our players handle their business while the fans handle the schoolyard stuff.
Raps Fans Airplane as Embiid Leaves pic.twitter.com/10Rsy6XAMC— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) May 8, 2019
Even Drake got in on the action.
Drake and Raptors fans troll Embiid as he checked out in the 4th pic.twitter.com/E7kIEV4Wi4— ESPN (@espn) May 8, 2019
As for Embiid, well, I certainly sense a little “I’m not even mad, bro, it’s funny to me” in his response:
Embiid said he didn't notice fans doing airplane back at him but doesn't care. "I didn't pay attention to what the hell they were doing. Good for them...I'm gonna have fun...I'm gonna do that because I know I'm gonna dominate."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 8, 2019
Do I expect the 76ers to be fired up and prideful, to give back everything they got last night in Game 6? Of course! But right now, I’m going to enjoy this rare feeling.
Things often — not always! — but often tend to even out over a seven-game series. One hot player will cool off. One cold team will warm up. It’s odd, though, to see both of those things on the same team, and for both trends to swing the other way in the same game. But we got it last night from Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, and it worked in our favour, and I couldn’t be happier.
Does that mean Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are due for a big game at home in Game 6? Maybe. But if it also means that Kawhi and the Raptors can settle into their “normal” range, then I’m also completely comfortable with that, because that “normal” range happens to be really damn good.