For the last half-decade, NBA teams feared “the switch”.
When the opponent was the Golden State Warriors, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when Steph Curry or Klay Thompson would flip the switch, rain from three, and take over a game. Even in the handful of games where it didn’t happen, that lingering fear was always in the air.
Instead of awaiting flamethrowers to ignite, Raptor foes anxiously wait for when Toronto’s vaunted defense kicks into high gear. Passing lanes disappear, the court and rim shrink, and the Raptors defenders are switching so quickly, you’d think the coaching staff were from the Astros.
I am in AWE of how quickly and easily the Raptors switch themselves out of trouble here. pic.twitter.com/8R9ZLpvTCB— ahhhhhh (dats me yellin) (@NekiasNBA) February 8, 2020
The switch could be flipped early, like when the Raptors hosted Washington three weeks ago. They held the NBA’s 4th-highest scoring offense without a point for 4:26 in the second quarter, turning a 10-point lead into a 22-point runaway train.
Or the Raptors can turn up the defensive intensity later in the game, like in San Antonio two weeks ago. Toronto held the Spurs scoreless for almost HALF the fourth quarter (5:49), turning an 8-point deficit into a lead they’d never relinquish.
Actually, the Raptors can wait until the dying moment, like they just displayed last Wednesday. Toronto utilized the full-court press to spur an 11-0 run to finish up a miraculous comeback over Indiana.
The Raptors’ defense is so good, that Fred VanVleet — the “one” in Nurse’s infamous “box-and-one” defense that slowed down Steph Curry in the Finals — is arguably the worst defender in Toronto’s closing lineup! OG Anunoby is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league. Pascal Siakam has the defensive versatility of a swiss army knife. Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are human barbed wire fences, because you can’t get around, over, or through them.
OG Anunoby remains impossible to iso against. Nets' play broke down and LeVert had to create against him to win the game. Airball.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 9, 2020
When the switch gets flipped, good luck finding points!
February 10 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
When these teams met on January 18 at the Target Center, the Timberwolves started four(!) players that were not in the starting lineup for Minnesota’s impressive blowout win over the Clippers on Saturday. Andrew Wiggins was traded to Golden State. Robert Covington was traded to Houston. Shabazz Napier was traded to Washington. Jarrett Culver was moved to the bench.
That’s a lot of new players pic.twitter.com/ZqnnIeYKeF— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) February 7, 2020
In the smallest of samples, the Timberwolves welcomed their newest additions by playing as free-flowing as they’ve ever played. Ten different players hit a three-pointer, led by newly acquired Malik Beasley, who drained 7-of-13 triples. Rookie Jordan McLaughlin made his first career start and made it memorable. He picked up his first double-double, collecting career-highs in points (24) and assists (11). He’s the first undrafted rookie in NBA history to have a 20-point, 10-assist game. (We’re looking at you, Terence!)
Another T-Wolves rookie, Naz Reid, had the weirdest line of the night. He shot 1-of-8 from inside the arc, but 4-of-6 from beyond. He ended up with 14 points and nine boards in only 13 minutes!
While it’s easily the Timberwolves’ best game of the season, it also followed a 13-game losing streak. That’s frustrating information because a) it’s hard to tell which Minnesota team the Raptors will face and b) we were robbed of a matchup between 14-game streaks!
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
The new-look Timberwolves had an unforgettable — and record-breaking — debut on Saturday. Not only did they set a franchise record with 26 three-pointers, but they set an NBA record for most three-pointers made while shooting 50% or better from beyond the arc.
Incredible win over the Clippers aside, it’s hard to overlook how putrid the Timberwolves looked throughout their 13-game losing streak. The worst example was on January 27, when Minnesota had a 17-point lead with 2:49 remaining. The Timberwolves allowed the Kings to finish the 4th with a 21-4 run to force overtime. Just like how Toronto came out of nowhere to beat the Pacers last week, Minnesota came out of nowhere to blow this one. Things won’t bode any better at Scotiabank Arena. The Raptors’ longest home win streak against one opponent is currently 15, against these Timberwolves, and likely to continue. Toronto out-classes Minnesota, winning 122-108.
February 12 @ Brooklyn Nets
The Raptors started the season needing overtime to get past a pesky bunch from New Orleans. Two weeks later, the Raptors blew out the Pelicans on the road.
On November 20, Toronto blew out the visiting Magic. Nine days later, the Raptors were able to grind out a victory in Orlando.
On November 25, the Raptors continued their home dominance over the Sixers. Two weeks later, the full-court pressing Raptors came thisclose to pulling out a miraculous comeback in Philadelphia.
The Christmas Day loss to the Celtics was one of the worst of the season. Three nights later, the Raptors stun their division rivals in Boston.
The next night, Toronto loses a nail-biter to the Thunder. Two weeks later, the Raptors play their best first half of the season and pick up an impressive road win in Oklahoma City.
I may have copy & pasted the previous paragraph, but Toronto loses a nail-biter to the Spurs. Two weeks later, the Raptors play their best first quarter of the season and pick up an impressive (if not emotional) road win in San Antonio.
Narrow loss to Philly aside, did you notice the trend? If you’ve got the Raptors coming to town, after they’ve gotten a good look at you recently, you’re in for a rough ride. Toronto’s championship mettle, combined with Nick Nurse’s outstanding ability to make the right adjustments, gives the Raptors an excellent chance to claim victory.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Since being re-inserted into the starting lineup last week, Caris Levert has been on fire. Over the three games he’s started, the Michigan alum is averaging 29.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.7 triples, on 52/69/100 shooting splits.
Unfortunately for him, Levert was 0-for-1 when being guarded by Anunoby.
Credit Brooklyn for being pesky on Friday and almost pulling out an improbable victory in Toronto. Levert was a menace to defend, DeAndre Jordan had one of his best games as a Net (second time this season, amassing at least 14 points and 14 rebounds in one game), and Spencer Dinwiddie continued doing Dinwiddie things. Brooklyn could very well have another solid game against Toronto. But the Nets are not likely to have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup and the Raptors are going to be hungry to prove a point. Toronto smashes the Nets, winning 125-107.