The Raptors are 2-0 and one step closer to securing the Eastern Conference’s second seed thanks to their victory over the Miami Heat yesterday afternoon in Orlando.
First, I want to acknowledge that Breonna Taylor’s killers are still free. Breonna Taylor’s name is one that’s been heard a lot since the NBA and WNBA arrived in the bubble, but her killers — Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — have yet to face justice. If you agree with the players that this is unacceptable, you can sign a White House petition here asking for the U.S. federal government to take action.
Now let’s get to the thoughts from yesterday’s game:
1. Pick Your Point Guard Poison
One day, it’s Kyle Lowry. The next day, it’s Fred VanVleet. You never know which side of the Raptors’ two-headed point guard monster is gonna beat you! This is not to say Lowry didn’t have a major hand in beating the Heat; he was masterful yet again (14 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one charge taken), but this one belonged to his backcourt partner.
VanVleet finished with a career high 36 and hit 7-of-12 shots from downtown, collecting five boards and four assists as well. But it was his game-high six deflections, including a crucial, game-sealing one with seven seconds to go and Miami, trailing by two, on the attack, that really made their mark on this one. VanVleet showed — as he has all season — that even playing against a much bigger backcourt, he has all the tools to be factor on both ends.
The long mid-season pause kinda made me forget Fred VanVleet is an unrestricted free agent; conversely, this shortened end to the season has made me face the reality in a much more immediate way These could be the last few games we ever see VanVleet play in a Raptors uniform...
...ugh, I don’t wanna think about it.
2. OG Anunoby, Swiss Army Knife Defender
I’ll admit I wasn’t really expecting OG Anunoby to guard Bam Adebayo for almost the entire game. I figured he’d see more time on Jimmy Butler, to be honest. Instead, Anunoby essentially played the five on defense the entire game, and, of course, he was awesome.
Adebayo finished with 10 points on 11 shots, and zero free throw attempts, all well below his season averages of 16.2/11/5.3.
The most fun moment of the matchup was definitely OG calmly knocking away Adebayo’s dribble with about 3:40 left in the game. After the Heat recovered, they fed Adebayo again, and Anunoby almost knocked the ball away again, prompting Adebayo to push OG off with an elbow on his ensuing shot attempt (that missed).
OG is definitely making the case for All-Bubble Defense First Team.
3. Returning the Favour
My favourite play of the game came in the second half when Pascal Siakam took the ball on the left wing and sized up Jae Crowder. OG Anunoby set a solid screen, and Pascal blew past a hedging Duncan Robinson — but when Crowder recovered, Jimmy Butler helped down and the defense rotated, Siakam made a sweet dish to VanVleet in the corner for three.
My second favourite play of the game? One quarter later, Freddy returns the favour!
Here, Andre Igoudala and Kelly Olynyk aggressively trap VanVleet out beyond the three point line on the right wing, and VanVleet gets around Olynyk, leaving three Heat defenders to guard almost entire frontcourt. Kendrick Nunn is forced to come up and take the pass away to the nearest Raptor, Kyle Lowry, so VanVleet calmly skips it to Siakam in the corner for three.
The Heat, obviously, are a great defensive team and like the Raptors, they’re elite at helping and recovering. Attacking and making quick passes is the best way to beat them — and of course, hitting open threes helps too.
4: Yep, Officially Tired of Goran Dragic
I can’t be the only one, right? Goran Dragic always seems to bring it against the Raptors. Which is fine, I guess, when you’re a random dude like Doug McDermott. But when you’re good enough to impact the outcome of a game, like Dragic is, and you’ve got a bit of the ol’ John Stockton dirty-who-me? in your bag of tricks, well... it’s extra infuriating. Dragic finished with 25 points on 14 shots, five rebounds and five assists off the bench. If these two teams meet in the playoffs (no thank you!), he’s starting by Game 3, right?
(Incidentally, is Goran Dragic on the “guys I hate but would absolutely love them if they were on my team” team? Yes, absolutely!)
While we’re here, can we talk about Dragic’s trip on OG Anunoby, and how it wasn’t ruled a flagrant foul even though it clearly wasn’t a basketball play? And how the ref said Anunoby wasn’t injured so therefore it wasn’t a flagrant? And how later when Kelly Olynyk smacked Kyle Lowry in the face while clearly swiping for the ball, he was called for a Flagrant One — perhaps because Lowry was hurt?
Tip of the hat to Doug Smith for following up, post-game:
NBA Referee David Guthrie comments to a pool reporter after Toronto-Miami game: pic.twitter.com/gG4asAv9Cu— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) August 3, 2020
That... doesn’t really jibe with what official David Guthrie said on the broadcast, does it?
Suffice to say I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the NBA to offer any further comment.
5. Ibaka Out of Rhythm
Well that’s two seeding games in the books, and Serge Ibaka looks like he’s in desperate need of some home cooking. He wasn’t as bad yesterday as he was on Saturday, but still, he’s searching out there.
The biggest tell here was how tentative he was in the pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry. On several plays, Lowry looked for Ibaka, and Serge was either out of position, or hesitated when the ball came to him. That hesitation isn’t something we saw from Serge much at all earlier this year; he’s looked so much more comfortable with the ball in space than he has in seasons past, and he’s generally made the right decisions.
That hasn’t carried over to the Bubble though. Best guess, Ibaka is taking some time to adjust to his bench role behind Marc Gasol, after starting for most of the season.
Serge did finish 6-for-6 in the paint, with 12 of his 15 points coming there, so hopefully that’s something to build off of.
The Raptors have what is, on paper, their easiest game of the seeding round on Wednesday, against Orlando — they’re last test before Friday’s huge matchup against the Celtics, that could determine the two-seed.