If you found yourself having difficulty getting excited about a late January Friday night Raptors game against one of the worst teams in the NBA, I think the Toronto Raptors themselves would feel your pain.
With the least amount of effort possible, the listless Raps eventually overcame a try-hard-but-we’re-really-that-bad New York Knicks team.
These are the games I start to question, “why did I ever think writing five thoughts after every game was a good idea?” Alas.
Are the Raptors “Playing Down to the Competition”?
The Raptors are good, and the Knicks are bad, and yet this game was close into the final minute. We also saw a similar scenario play out on Monday in Atlanta. Shouldn’t this healthy Raptors squad be putting these bad teams away easily?
I do wonder if the Raptors, having climbed the highest of mountains last June, have a hard time getting up for these midseason games against bad teams. I get it, but it’s a really bad habit to get into. Sometimes the switch doesn’t get flipped so easily, for one thing, and the outcomes may not be so favourable. And if the habit carries over against good teams? That’s trouble.
Pascal Siakam came out of the gates like man possessed, with three drives and a fast-break layup in the first couple of minutes. But he didn’t get a foul call on any of those drives, and that seemed to frustrate him all night.
His energy levels definitely waned in the second quarter, but started to pick back up in the third, when he (finally) nailed a three and had an and-1, and had a nice baseline fadeaway too. And the fourth? With under two minutes to go, Siakam really picked it back up, with a late drive and an above-the-break triple to help seal the win.
It wasn’t a great Siakam game, but it was a little bit closer to the Siakam we saw earlier this season. Baby steps.
Defense Wins Championships, and January Games Against the Knicks
While Siakam’s nice finish will get most of the attention, let’s not forget the defensive plays that OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry made down the stretch that helped Toronto seal this win.
First, Lowry tapped a ball away from Elfrid Payton that OG nearly intercepted, but Payton recovered. A couple of plays later though, Anunoby made like a cornerback and jumped the route on a Payton pass intended for Julius Randle and took it away.
A couple of plays after that, Lowry snuck behind Randle on an inbounds play, and as Bobby Portis threw a lazy pass from the far sideline, Lowry was able to easily take away from Randle. It was Lowry’s fourth steal of the night.
The Raptors likely win even without those two steals, but, they sure did help.
I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Knicks out-rebounded the Raptors, since they employ 34 power forwards. But if the Knicks hadn’t pulled in those 14 offensive boards, which generated 28 second chance points — a number that seems almost impossible — this would have been a Raptors blowout.
A number that stands out almost as much as that 14/28 combo is 20/0. That’s how many minutes Serge Ibaka played, and how many rebounds he had. (And no, he did not get 20 rebounds in zero minutes.)
I would like to tell you that I went back and watched Serge’s minutes to figure out how he managed to avoid getting a single rebound. But I could not fathom watching any of this game again.
Just, please do better next time, Serge.
Norm Powell Dropping Dimes
Norman Powell has been a scoring machine lately, and playmaking for others remains on the back burner for him. Which is fine! But he dropped a couple dimes last night that showed us that he at least has some court vision going for him.
First, Norm threw a two handed bounce pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (that was alllllmost behind RHJ — gotta give a little more ooomph on the bounce Norm!) that led to a dunk.
Then he had a really nice dish to Serge Ibaka, after coming around an Ibaka screen and receiving a pass from the top of the arc. That one was clearly a set play and typically I think Powell takes that into the lane. But the Knicks’ defense is, ahem, subpar, and Ibaka was wide open on the roll — good on Norm for finding him.
The Raptors played maybe five minutes of good basketball last night, and it was enough to beat the Knicks. It won’t be enough to beat the Spurs tomorrow. Let’s hope we see a more sustained effort!