Well that was a rather pleasing start to the seeding games, wasn’t it? A dominant Kyle Lowry performance, a defensive clinic that shut down LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a coming out party for OG Anunoby and a reminder of just how good the champs are... all on U.S. national TV, too!
Before we get into the thoughts, a reminder that the Raptors and the entire NBA are using this time to speak out against racial and social injustice, and we here at Raptors HQ want to help keep the conversation going. We believe that Black Lives Matter. If you want to learn more about what that means, and/or you want some resources to share with others, there’s a good starting point right here. You can also support your local Black Lives Matter organization.
Let’s get to the thoughts:
1. Kyle Lowry Over Orlando
Oh, did you think we were gonna start somewhere else?? I do like to try and focus these thoughts on things other than the main story that we write about in the recaps, but Kyle Lowry was just too damn good last night not to lead off with (Kyle Lowry over Five Thoughts?).
The stat line was amazing: 33 points on 16 shots (5-of-9 from three), 14 rebounds, and six assists, not to mention two charges taken. He pushed the pace at just the right moments, and his control of the secondary break was just brilliant. Every time the Lakers made a run, it was usually with Lowry on the bench, and as soon as he came back in, the Lakers had no answer. Kyle Kuzma? A speed bump. Alex Caruso? Shrug. Anthony Davis? No problem:
LeBron? Well, LeBron got one, but Kyle got his too:
We’ve never really seen what a well-rested Lowry can do in the playoffs. By the time a usual post-season comes around, Lowry is banged up and battered from throwing his body all over the place for six months. If Kyle can make it through these seeding games healthy, we might be in for a real treat come playoff time.
2. Lowry-Siakam PnR, Yes Please
We’ve known for a while that the Kyle Lowry-Pascal Siakam pick-and-roll would be a crunch time staple for this team, and now that we’re seeing it more and more, well, it just makes me want to see it more and more!
The Raptors went to it multiple times in the fourth quarter last night, and it helped them put the game away. Here, with the Raptors up two and less than six minutes to, was the prettiest of them:
They went back to it on the next two possessions, and the first resulted in a Siakam five-footer that just rolled off the rim, and the second resulted in two Siakam free throws. Ultimately, the Raptors closed on a 22-9 run; I’d say the play was pretty successful, yeah?
3. Gonna Need More From the Bench
Lowry was sensational last night, and the rest of the starters were pretty awesome too; OG Anunoby was a delight to watch, with an excellent defensive performance, not just guarding James but helping on Davis to limit the James-Davis two-man game; Marc Gasol didn’t score much, but was a solid anchor on D and a good facilitator on O (as always); Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam didn’t shoot well, but still scored 28 points, nabbed 14 board and dished 14 assists between them.
But the transitional units and bench didn’t give the team much. Nick Nurse kept the rotation mostly to a tight seven (Terence Davis was OK in 12 minutes, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was slowed by a rolled ankle). Serge Ibaka had a ghastly four points and, outside of a throwback block, looked a step slow on defense. Norman Powell, well, we’ll get to him.
What was most concerning was how quickly the offense bogged down whenever Lowry and Gasol left the floor. Everything just stagnated, and multiple possessions went to late-clock situations where the Raptors couldn’t get a good shot off. I think there’s an easy solution, and that’s to ensure transitional lineups include VanVleet+Gasol, or Lowry+Ibaka. The former combo gives you improved ball movement, and the latter gives you the deadly Kyle-Serge PnR.
That’s not a complete cure-all of course. The team needs to find Pascal Siakam in better spots and VanVleet needs to pound the ball less. But those combos should be a good start.
4. Bad Norm Back?
I know it’s just one game, but I can’t help but feel that Norman Powell is reverting to the Norman Powell of yesteryear. Powell didn’t look great in the three scrimmages and he was pretty awful last night, shooting 3-for-12 and missing all four of his three-point attempts. And those attempts just didn’t look good... again, he looked like old Norm, kind of pressing, not letting his scoring come in the flow of the offense.
Powell did get to the rim a few times, and the Raptors did run some sets that have him curling off screens and going downhill to get him going. His explosiveness is still there. But I’m concerned that the team may not be able to rely on him down the stretch here, and that’s going to be a huge bummer if that’s the case.
5. Basketball Genuises at Work
One of my favourite moments last night occurred with 9:20 to go in the first half. The Raptors were inbounding the ball, and Kyle Lowry, as always, was hurrying the ref up to inbound it and beat the Lakers down the floor.
LeBron James was having none of it.
James is a human scouting report. Is there another player in the league who's that aware of opponent tendencies?
Speaking of basketball genius, the Raptors gameplan of aggressively trapping LeBron and collapsing on Davis, and allowing the other Lakers to beat them, worked brilliantly. Yes, Kyle Kuzma had a great scoring night, Dion Waiters got a few too many open looks, and the Raptors are fortunate that Danny Green apparently hates scoring against his old team. But the Raptors can live with those shots, I think, knowing that if they can hold up against the Big Two, chances are that over 48 minutes, the rest of the Lakers don’t have enough to beat them.
So, Finals preview? It might be! There’s a long way to go between here and there, but there were enough positives last night, especially on defense and especially from Kyle Lowry, to show that the Raptors have a damn good shot of getting there.