But on the other, as we saw in the Raptors’ previous two games, for as good as they are, playing with only one point guard and only one third-string centre can be tough to overcome.
What I’m saying is: Even though it was just the Suns, that was still a heck of a win for the Raptors.
Stars Rising Up
Nick Nurse pulled a Nick Nurse and called out his bench players, specifically Chris Boucher, before the game (more on him in a minute). Thing is, he could just as easily have called out Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors’ two best players were just 24-of-72 in the previous two games. When your team is shorthanded, it usually means other guys — role players, bench players — have to step up to win. But you also need contributions from your remaining good players! And the Raptors weren’t really getting that from Lowry and Siakam, until last night. They finished a combined 20-for-39 for 61 points, and Lowry was a master game manager and Siakam did a great job guarding the much bigger Deandre Ayton for stretches.
While the Suns are an atrocious defensive team, sometimes you just need a good all around game, or just to see a few shots fall, to get yourself back on track. Hopefully that’s what the Suns game did for the Raptors’ All-Stars.
More Lowry-Siakam PnR Please
One of the things we saw a little bit more of last night was some pick-and-roll action between Lowry and Siakam. We saw it both ways, where either one can be the screener; it typically led to Siakam getting downhill or Lowry having space on the perimeter.
It’s not something we see all that often from the Raptors, even though in theory, it should be an effective play for them. It’s not exactly Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, but, the same principle applies — force the defense to react and either create a mismatch on a switch or give yourself some daylight while the D fights through or goes under.
I wonder if we have seen it because, much like those Warriors teams with Curry and Durant did, the Raptors are saving it for the playoffs or for big moments. All I know is that it looks good when they do it!
Big Chris Energy
I have to wonder how Chris Boucher has felt seeing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and now Patrick McCaw, start when both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are out. Boucher is, after all, the third centre on the roster, and for Nick Nurse to not use him as a starter when the other centres are hurt, well, I would think it wound my pride to see that.
But as Nick said pre-game, Boucher hasn’t been playing that well in his bench minutes, so that means he didn’t earn the starts. (How McCaw earned one is another story.) (Come on, you know I had to get one McCaw dig in here! But hey: He was mostly fine last night.)
All of which is to say that it was great to see Boucher finally put together an all-around great game. He fought his butt off on the boards, had his usual array of putbacks, and managed to force several turnovers with his length. He earned the start in the second half.
Boucher always plays with energy, but last night it seemed to be a it more of a controlled energy, and it was exactly what the Raps needed.
Being shorthanded has really demonstrated just how much energy and effort it takes to play the Raptors’ style of defense. The aggressive collapsing, rotating and switching, trapping, and sprinting out to shooters is tiring. And when you don’t have key pieces like Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, other players have to play longer stretches, and it’s showing. The intensity is just not there on D for the full 48.
Thankfully, they can get away with it against the Suns!
In the fourth last night, it looked like the Raptors completely ran out of gas about halfway through. Much like the Nuggets did on Sunday, the Suns scored a couple of easy transition looks and got the rim without much resistance, as the Raptors looked a step slow.
But — either because they found a second wind or the Suns are just too terrible to fully take advantage — the Raptors were able to turn it around and seal the win late.
And it Pops Out...!?
How many layups did the Raptors miss last night? Kyle Lowry missed two gimmies late in the third, and then Matt Thomas opened the fourth by missing one. Then OG Anunoby missed one, then Boucher missed the follow! It was, needless to say, frustrating to watch.
This might come back to the tired legs: When you’re tired you don’t jump as high, don’t see the same angles and so on; you might leave your shots, even layups, short, or try to put more oomph on them.
Thankfully, this didn’t hurt the Raptors in the end. But anything that gives me flashbacks to the end of Game 1 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals is not good for my health.
That ends the losing skid at three. Sure would be nice to get some bodies back before the next one though: A Finals rematch, in which the Warriors look to be getting a certain two-time MVP back themselves.