I have no idea how the Raptors won that game.
The Raptors were a mess. The Pacers were hitting every shot. Pascal Siakam was shooting like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the rim.
Indiana was up 19 and shooting 54% in the third. They were up 11 with 2:40 to go!
I have absolutely no idea how the Raptors won that game.
[Insert Scarf Pun]
So, Serge Ibaka, huh? Game-winning three-pointer? 30 points? Seven boards and three assists, and he played the final eight minutes with five fouls!
And to hit that game-winning three-pointer despite having shot 1-for-6 from downtown!? And that was not an easy shot, either, with Domantas Sabonis flying at him!
What a night. Ibaka is now averaging 18.9 points and 8.9 boards on 57% shooting (.632 TS%) as a starter.
I don’t know what to say. Ibaka was infuriatingly inconsistent in his first 1.5 seasons as a Raptor. Then he was suddenly solidly consistent last year. Now he’s having his best season!? At age 30? He’s going full Benjamin Button on us, and I love it.
Caught a Break
So, Serge’s night wasn’t all perfect. It wasn’t his best night on D; he was dropping way back in screen-and-roll coverage with Malcolm Brogdon handling the ball, which led to a lot of good looks for Brogdon (4-of-7 from downtown).
To be fair, Domantas Sabonis sets some amazing screens, wiping out Raptor guards and leaving Ibaka on a bit of an island. And, Sabonis is a hell of a creator so I understand Ibaka not wanting to give him too much space either.
Which takes us to the Pacers’ final possession. It was a screen and roll with Brogdon and Sabonis sure enough, but this time Serge did not drop back, and stuck to Brogdon, along with Fred VanVleet who fought well through Sabonis’s creen. They trusted the defense behind them to rotate to Sabonis. Which they did, with Kyle Lowry picking up Sabonis as soon as he received Brogdon’s pass.
And Sabonis still nearly burned them! After a ball fake Sabonis found Victor Oladipo on the wing, who had a clean look at a three but missed it. Given how well the Pacers had been shooting to that point (19-of-38 from downtown) I was certain that was going in. It was either the law of averages, or just straight up luck, that it didn’t.
MIP of the Night
Boy, did Pascal Siakam have a rough start to this one. This is his shot chart through three quarters:
2-for-9 in the paint! Yikes. Obviously you have to give credit to Indiana’s defense and their size, but at least three of those misses were just straight up clankers that Siakam either mistimed or misread his angle. It was truly bizarre to see. But check out Q4:
4-for-4 in the paint! And three of them came as part of that closing 14-2 run, in which Siakam had eight points. Talk about coming through when it counts!
In another encouraging sign, Siakam didn’t let that offensive struggle impact his defense, which was pretty solid all night. Yes, he sagged too far off the corner a couple of times and didn’t recover in time, giving up some good looks, but his effort at the rim, picking up Sabonis and Myles Turner, particularly when helping on double-teams, and getting into passing lanes was impressive. And of course, playing the head of the full-court press that generated two turnovers and forced a shot-clock violation during the closing run.
I’m not sure what caused all those missed bunnies but it looks like his energy and activity level is finally back.
Oh, Those Funky Lineups
The Raptors owed much of their offensive malaise last night to transitional lineups that really struggled at the top of the second and fourth quarters. A clearly-rusty Rondae couldn’t find any mojo, and although Patrick McCaw wasn’t terrible, without Norman Powell as a scorer, those lineups — even when Serge Ibaka came in for Chris Boucher — don’t have much punch.
Thing is, they’re necessary at this point. Without Powell and Marc Gasol, Nick Nurse has to find rest for his starters, and McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson have to play.
I suppose the tweak you can make is to stagger Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam more so that at least one of them is on the floor at all times. That also might help separate McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson.
OG Anunoby breaking out of his scoring slump would sure help too.
For all that though, one lineup tweak that did work wonders was the Siakam-at-the-five group that played when Ibaka got in foul trouble in the third quarter. Normally I am all in on this idea; I love the Siakam-at-C, OG-at-PF look. But against Indiana, a big team, and given with how absolutely terrible Pascal had been to that point, I didn’t think it was the night for it.
Naturally that group went on an immediate 10-0 run.
Sabonis Deserves that All-Star Nod
Sabonis was perhaps the player who received the most questions about his All-Star selection (you know, other than perennially under-appreciated Kyle Lowry).
Just looking at his numbers should be enough to see the selection isn’t a mistake; Sabonis is averaging 18-13-5 on 59% shooting. But that aside, watching him, it doesn’t take long to see that he’s an All-Star. I’m completely impressed with his control of the game; he never hurries, he makes incredibly crisp passes (got the from his old man, no doubt), he knows the angles to get in excellent rebound position and he covers an impressive amount of ground on D.
He really anchors that team on both ends of the floor. He may not be a flashy name and maybe that’s why he doesn’t get the All-Star respect, but he deserves it.
All that, and I didn’t even mention Kyle Lowry’s masterful night — 32 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, two steals, and making plays on both ends whenever the Raptors needed them.
12 straight wins! How can you not love this team!?