The Toronto Raptors took it to the Brooklyn Nets yesterday. The Raptors were the aggressors from the opening tip, and didn’t let up until the final buzzer sounded. There were no letdowns like the third quarter of Game 1, and no amount of scrappiness could get the Nets over the hump like it nearly did in Game 2.
Now the Raptors are only one game away from their first-ever playoff series sweep.
Bubble playoffs are different.
Before the thoughts, once again, I’d like to share an important non-basketball-related message. This one, again, is about education reform and about how the history — and struggle — of Black people and Indigenous people in Canada is barely taught in our public schools., and in many cases what is taught, and the way it is taught, is plainly racist. This history is Canada’s history and should not be ignored. You can ready more about this here, and I also recommend the August 2 episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; even though his segment on history in schools deals with American history and schools, the message is still the same: “History when taught well teaches us how to improve the world, but history taught poorly teaches us there’s nothing to improve. So we have to teach it better.”
OK, let’s think some Game 3 thoughts:
1. Getting the Big Fella Going
After Marc Gasol struggled in Game 2 (zero points!) it looked like the Raptors were making an effort to get him going early in Game 3. It wasn’t entirely successful, I don’t think, but I’m on board with the idea.
Gasol put up a team-high four shots in the first five minutes of the game, hitting only one, and was heavily featured in everything the Raptors did in the halfcourt. He got the ball on the left elbow on the game’s very first possession, kicking out to VanVleet and then screening for him. He initiated the offesne out of the low block on the second possession, setting up Lowry for three. He passed up a wide open three on the third possession, eventually got it back and took a fadeaway in the paint. He the ball again in the paint in the fourth possession, dishing to Siakam who scored after nearly losing the ball.
VanVleet hit a transition three on the next play, and scored in transition on the seventh possession; the sixth and eighth possessions ended with Gasol shots (the second, a made three-pointer). After a Lowry transition three, the 10th possession was another Gasol three, and on the 11th, Gasol was fouled in the post.
So if you’re keeping score: That’s 11 possessions, eight in the halfcourt, and all eight of those either ran through Gasol or ended with a Gasol shot. Did it work? Well, the Raptors ended that stretch up 16-8, and throughout the rest of the game, I think overall Gasol looked more comfortable on offense yesterday than he did in Game 2. (His six assists would seem to attest to that.)
Still, that three-pointer was his only made shot on the day.
Ultimately I think it was a good decision to try and get Marc going. Whatever funk he’s in, he needs to shake before the next round!
2. No Jarrett Allen, No Contest
I was super-impressed with Jarrett Allen in Game 2, and so it came as a bit of a surprise to me that he played nine fewer minutes in Game 3 — and didn’t attempt a single shot! He was featured far less in the offense; only a 4%(!) usage rate yesterday, compared to 18% on Wednesday. And all those flashes to the high post that he had in Game 2 disappeared as well.
I didn’t see the Raptors doing anything particularly different on D so I’m not sure what the difference was, other than the Nets missing Joe Harris. So I’m not sure if this was a deliberate coaching decision, or if Allen simply wasn’t engaged on offense. If it’s the former, well, I can see why Jacque Vaughn might not exactly be a frontrunner for the permanent coaching job... and if it’s the latter, then I guess I’m starting to understand why Nets fans seem to get so frustrated with Allen!
3. Hot Shooting, Sweet Passing Serge
Are we back into trick-or-treat territory with Serge Ibaka? Before his pleasantly consistent performance last year (and this year, pre-Bubble), Ibaka seemed to disappear every other game or so for the Raptors. And that’s what this series has been for him: 8-for-14 for 22 points in Game 1, 3-for-9 for 8 points in Game 2, and 8-for-12 for 20 points in Game 3.
But you know what has been pretty consistent? His passing! Ibaka is making solid reads out of the post, especially when finding cutters. Check him out here, finding OG Anunoby under the rim:
And here again, finding Pascal Siakam on the cut (sideline cam alert!):
The improved playmaking has definitely been fun to see from Serge. Let’s hope the shooting evens out too.
4. Pascal Siakam, Working Through It
Siakam has gotten a lot of attention for his somewhat subpar play in the Bubble. I haven’t written about it too much, especially in the playoffs, because I’ve felt like he was mostly doing the right things and he’d soon shake it off and be back to the Pascal Siakam we saw pre-Bubble.
He’s still not there, yet. Yesterday was another big step in the right direction though. He took 23 shots, his highest number of attempts since the Bubble started, and 14 of those were in the paint. He only hit eight of those 14 paint attempts, though; you’d like to see that number get up a bit higher. It does seem like a lot of his little floaters and push shots are hitting back iron, so it might just be a timing issue. (Or maybe he’s not used to these rims yet?) Again, I’m confident he’ll get the touch back.
Besides, have you seen what he’s done on defense this series? He’s been awesome. His help D timing has been perfect; every time Caris LeVert or Garrett Temple attempts to drive past Fred VanVleet, Siakam is right there to cut them off, and his rotations back to shooters always seem quicker than the shooter expects. I think this is a level of effort from Siakam on D that we haven’t really seen this season; looks like maybe he was saving it for the playoffs! Can’t argue with the results.
5. Uncharted Territory
I think it’ll be interesting to see how the Raptors respond on Sunday. This series has gone pretty much how we expected; the Nets have some fight in them but they’re overmatched by the defending champs. It’s possible the Raptors will come out flat on Sunday, thinking the series is over. And 6:00 p.m. is a weird start time, too.
Then again, you’ll recall the last two times the Raptors won three straight games in a series — last year, against Orlando in Round 1 and against Milwaukee in the Conference Finals — the Raptors took care of business.
This team is even more business-like. I know this isn’t exactly going out on a limb, here, but I’m calling the sweep.
We’ll find out for sure before the weekend is over, and if Game 4 of the Boston-Philly series goes as expected at 1:00 p.m., we’ll also know who Toronto’s round 2 opponent will be. Giddy up!