If you looked at last night’s game on the schedule, with no other context, you’d say it was a schedule loss. In the altitude at Utah, on the second night of a back-to-back, the last game of a five-game road trip? Take the L and blame the schedule.
Then the Raptors ruled out Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol. And then Norman Powell got hurt 95 seconds after the opening tip.
The Raptors had no business beating the Utah Jazz last night. And then they did.
What is this Curse
Why do we get to celebrate Norman Powell winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for a total of five hours before he gets hurt?
Why do we have to recoil in horror two minutes later when OG Anunoby also limps off?
Why are we forced to watch Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Patrick McCaw try to beat a zone?
We’ll get to that last one. But the others are just seemingly inexplicable at this point, other than some curse from the basketball gods.
The good thing — the freaking awesome thing — is that while we’re all out here moaning about it on Twitter and in blogs, the Raptors are just going out there, doing their thing and collecting wins.
What a team.
Siakam Going to Work
Last night might have been Pascal Siakam’s best ball game since January. I really, really liked the effort he made to get into the paint and the craftiness he showed getting the ball up on the rim; he looked a lot more like last year’s Siakam, after struggling for a few games with the angle and velocity of his shot.
Meanwhile, he mixed it up with some midrange turnaround Js, and five threes — which seems like the right amount, not the eight or nine he’d been taking lately.
And how about the playmaking? The Jazz were throwing bodies at Siakam and he did an excellent job passing out of the traps and double-teams. Yes, he still had five turnovers, but there’s a very clear improvement there, against a very good defensive team.
He also nailed his free throws in the clutch.
There’s been a fair amount of concern around Siakam’s role as a number one option as of late. He still has plenty of room to grow, certainly, but I think this road trip has done a lot to allay those fears.
Count me in the camp that looked at this game and thought “man, sure would be nice to have Marc Gasol to counter Rudy Gobert, wouldn’t it?” But Serge Ibaka wasn’t worried! Ibaka completely erased the Jazz big man last night, holding him to six points and four rebounds in 31 minutes (while racking up 27 and 14 of his own).
OG Anunoby also blocked a Gobert shot late and then after a brief scuffle, got the defensive player of the year ejected.
And what about Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley? All Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw (seriously, he was good!) and OG Anunoby did was hold them to 7-for-28 shooting.
As for the Raptors, for all the “next man up” talk surrounding the team, in the end it was the big names — Pascal, Kyle, Serge — who got it done: 75 points on 47% shooting, 29 rebounds, and 18 assists between them.
Not Gonna Beat a Zone That Way
I don’t want to keep harping on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Patrick McCaw playing together. For one thing, both were pretty decent last night! For another, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do without four key players (before OG came back). But when the opponent goes zone? Come on.
When the Jazz went to the zone D in the first quarter last night, Matt Thomas should have popped off the bench immediately. And Pascal Siakam should have been flashing to the middle of the zone, rather than floating on the perimeter — as the best playmaker on the floor they needed him to be the creator in the middle.
Of course, with McCaw, RHJ, Chris Boucher and a slumping Terence Davis, Siakam was also the best shooter on the floor... so, pick your poison I suppose.
And so the Raptors blew two straight possessions, got a Siakam bail-out three, then tried to flatten out for Siakam... who ran into two defenders and got called for the offensive foul.
Mercifully, the quarter ended and OG returned, and Matt Thomas did finally make an appearance. But things were ugly there for a minute.
The Ongoing Misadventures of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the Paint
This was either horrifying or hilarious, and there’s no middle ground:
Four tries at the rim! Two crossovers! One near turnover!
I love Rondae’s energy and hustle, but he really has to make every shot as difficult as possible, doesn’t he?
A 4-1 West coast trip, without Fred VanVleet and only one game of Marc Gasol? Who would have predicted this? They’re 10-3 against the West on the road! I know this for sure: No team has ever deserved a four-day rest more than this one.